On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder is released. Written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, it is the seventh pop and twelfth R&B top ten hit for the Motown superstar. Written in 1965 by Motown staff songwriters Miller and Murden, it is originally composed as a ballad. The song is first recorded by singer Barbara McNair, and also by Jean DuShon whose version is released as a single by Chess Records in 1966, though neither makes any significant impact. The first male artist who cuts the song is actor Jack Soo ( Detective Nick Yemana of “Barney Miller”), signed to Motown in 1965. Soo records the song in a slow pop ballad style. His version is not released, and remains in the Motown tape archives to this day. The Temptations record “For Once In My Life” in 1967 for their “The Temptations In A Mellow Mood” album with Paul Williams on lead vocals. Around this time, singer Tony Bennett records it, becoming a part of his live performance repertoire for the next forty years. Having heard previous versions of “Life”, Stevie Wonder asks Miller if he can record it in a dramatically different and uptempo style, to which he agrees. The basic track for Wonder’s version is recorded at Motown’s Studio B (the former Golden World Studios located in the Donovan Building in downtown Detroit) on January 18, 1968 with members of The Funk Brothers providing musical backing. He overdubs his initial lead vocal the next day on January 19, 1968 at Studio A, with the horns and strings added on January 25, 1968. Wonder’s initial version is rejected by Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jr., and the master is shelved. When work begins on a new Stevie Wonder album later in 1968, it’s pulled from the vault, with background vocals by The Originals and the Andantes added on August 28, 1968. Wonder overdubs the signature harmonica break on September 8, 1968, also re-recording his lead vocal. When these changes are made, Billie Jean Brown, the head of Motown’s Quality Control department plays the revamped version for Gordy, who then finally gives it his approval for release. Stevie Wonder’s version of “For Once In My Life” peaks at #2 on both the Billboard R&B singles chart and the Hot 100 on December 28, 1968. It peaks behind Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, which ironically had also been shelved before finally being released. Published through Motown’s Stein & Van Stock Music (sister to the company’s Jobete Music publishing arm), “For Once In My Life” becomes one of Motown’s most recorded songs with versions by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Wilson, Andy Williams, Cilla Black, and Gladys Knight & The Pips. Stevie Wonder’s recording of “For Once in My Life” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2009.
On this day in music history: October 13, 1984 – “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart and the Adult Contemporary chart for 3 weeks on the same date. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the eighth pop and sixteenth R&B chart topper for the Motown superstar. Included on the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder directed comedy “The Woman In Red”, Wonder composed the music for the song in 1977 but writes the lyrics during the recording sessions in mid 1984. Released as the first single from the soundtrack on August 1, 1984, it is an immediate across the board smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #58 on August 18, 1984, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. Wonder’s long time friend and sometime songwriting collaborator Lee Garrett (“Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours”, “It’s A Shame”, “Let’s Get Serious”) and Lloyd Chiate claim to have helped co-write the song and file a lawsuit. The suit is settled in Wonder’s favor, with the jury finding that the other two alleged writers did not provide adequate proof that they had co-written the pop and R&B smash. Stevie Wonder wins a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” for “I Just Called To Say I Love You” in 1985. When Wonder accepts his Oscar, he dedicates the award to then still imprisoned South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela. With South Africa still under apartheid rule at the time, Stevie Wonder’s music is banned from radio airplay and television broadcast. The ban is lifted with the end of the segregationist system in 1994. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 28, 1984 – “The Woman In Red – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, it is recorded at Wonderland Studios in Los Angeles, CA, Townhouse Studios and Roundhouse Studios in London, Marcadet Studios in Paris, France, Far Studios in Frankfurt, Germany, Union Studios in Munich, Germany, Jacob Studios in Surrey, UK, Brunwey Studios in Hamburg, Germany and Dierks Remote Truck in Pulheim, Germany from Early 1984 – Summer 1984. Featuring music from the comedy starring and directed by Gene Wilder (co-starring Kelly LeBrock, Charles Grodin and Gilda Radner), Wilder asks Wonder if he will write a few songs for his film. Stevie commits to the project, also inviting his friend Dionne Warwick to sing on three songs on the album. The musician works on the film music mostly in between dates on his European tour during the Spring and Summer of 1984. He works on the music right up until the last possible moment, nearly missing the deadline to submit the songs to the films distributor Orion Pictures, who have to hold up the manufacturing of film prints to movie theaters for its August 15, 1984 release date. The soundtrack spins off three singles including “I Just Called To Say I Love You” (#1 Pop and R&B) and “Love Light In Flight” (#4 R&B, #17 Pop). “I Just Called To Say I Love You” wins Wonder an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1985. The duets “It’s You” and “Weakness” featuring Warwick are also included on her album “Finder Of Lost Loves”, released in early 1985. “The Woman In Red” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number four on the Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 27, 1967 – “I Was Made To Love Her”, the seventh album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Henry Cosby and Clarence Paul, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Late 1966 – Mid 1967. After releasing the albums “Up-Tight” and “Down To Earth in 1966, it is well into the next year before Stevie Wonder releases a brand new album. Scoring four consecutive top ten R&B hits during 1966, Wonder’s next single "Travelin’ Man” (#32 Pop, #31 R&B) stalls on the top 40 on both charts. It’s B-side “Hey Love” (#9 R&B, #90 Pop) winds up finding favor on R&B stations, but meets with a tepid response from pop radio. Concerned that Stevie’s commercial success might be waning, Motown founder Berry Gordy allows the now seventeen year old musician more freedom to express himself creatively, rather than simply relying on the label’s writing staff to provide him with material. Having co-penned the smash “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, Stevie collaborates once again with staff producers Sylvia Moy and Henry “Hank” Cosby. Among the songs they write together includes “I Was Made To Love Her”, which Stevie writes along with Moy, Cosby and his own mother Lula Mae Hardaway. The single is an instant smash after its release in May of 1967, and prompts Motown to quickly follow it with a full album to capitalize on it. Titled after his recent R&B chart topper and top five pop hit, the album features covers of Ray Charles’ “A Fool For You”, James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please”, and Aretha Franklin’s then recent hit “Respect” as well as several Motown standards such as “My Girl” and “Can I Get A Witness”. “I Was Made To Love Her” peaks at number seven on the Billboard R&B album chart and number forty five on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: August 27, 1966 – “Blowin’ In The Wind” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #9 on the Hot 100 on September 3, 1966. Written by Bob Dylan, it is the third R&B chart topper and third top 10 pop single for the then sixteen year old Motown star. Written folk rock icon Bob Dylan in 1962, the song is a meditation on themes of war, peace, and freedom. He records and releases the song on his second album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” in May of 1963. His version is released as a single in August of 1963, but does not chart. In spite of this, it goes on to be one of his most popular and most recorded songs. Folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary are the first to bring widespread popularity to “Blowin’ In The Wind” when their version peaks at #2 on the Hot 100 on August 17, 1963. Stevie Wonder records his version of the song after receiving many requests from fans who have heard him perform the song in his live show. Stevie’s producer Clarence Paul sings the co-lead vocal on the track. Motown releases Wonder’s version on June 28, 1966, rising up the R&B and pop charts quickly. The song originally appears on Stevie Wonder’s 1966 album “Uptight”.
On this day in music history: August 24, 1963 – “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius” by (Little) Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 1 week. Produced by Berry Gordy, Jr. it is recorded at the Royal Theater in Chicago, IL in June 1962. Following the failure of his first two studio albums, Motown founder Berry Gordy hits upon the idea of recording the young singers electrifying live performances. Performing as part of the legendary Motortown Revue in 1962, Wonder turns in a highly energetic set in front of an audience at the legendary Royal Theater in Chicago. When the album is released in May of 1963, it quickly attracts attention when radio DJ’s who begin playing the second half of the mostly instrumental track “Fingertips”. Bolstered by Stevie’s call and response with the audience as well as his virtuoso harmonica playing, both the single and album race up the charts. With the single “Fingertips Pt. 2” (hitting number one on August 10, 1963) also holding at number one on the Hot 100 for a third week, Wonder (thirteen years old and three months old at the time) becomes the youngest artist in Billboard chart history to hold down the top spots on the pop album and singles charts simultaneously.
On this day in music history: August 16, 1962 – “I Call It Pretty Music, But… (The Old People Call It The Blues) Pts 1 & 2”, the debut single by Little Stevie Wonder is released. Written by Berry Gordy, Jr. and Clarence Paul, the young singer and musician (born Stevland Hardaway Judkins) is brought to Motown founder and chairman Berry Gordy’s attention by Miracles member Ronnie White after his brother Gerald sees Stevie perform at a friends house. White is so impressed, that he arranges for the then eleven year old to audition for Gordy. Motown quickly signs Stevie and pairs him with Motown staff producer and songwriter Clarence Paul. It is Paul that gives the singer his professional surname after hearing someone exclaim, “that boy is a wonder!” Paul and Gordy co-write Wonder’s debut release, which features another newly signed Motown artist named Marvin Gaye playing drums on the song. Motown initially markets the twelve year old singer as “a young Ray Charles”. The two sides of the single stand in stark contrast from each other, with part one having a straight ahead uptempo R&B sound, while part two is slower and has a more traditional blues feel. Initial pressings of the 45 are issued in a picture sleeve showing Wonder singing into a microphone. Though “I Call It Pretty Music, But… (The Old People Call It The Blues) Pts 1 & 2” bubbles under the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #101, and does not chart on the R&B singles chart, it marks the beginning of Stevie Wonder’s over fifty year association with Motown Records.
On this day in music history: August 10, 1963 – “Fingertips Pt. II” by Little Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 7 weeks on August 3, 1963. Written by Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby, it is the first chart topping single for the Motown icon from Saginaw, MI. Having struggled for his first year on Motown with his first three singles and first two albums failing to chart, Berry Gordy, Jr. comes up with another plan. Noticing audiences response to Wonder’s energetic live performances, Gordy decides to record him live during his first outing on the Motortown Revue Tour in 1962 at the famed Regal Theater in Chicago. Among the songs featured is “Fingertips”, written by Wonder’s producers Henry “Hank” Cosby and Clarence Paul. Recorded on June 1, 1962, it features the singer backed by members of The Funk Brothers, and a pre-fame Marvin Gaye playing drums. Over six and a half minutes long, the first half features Stevie playing the harmonica and bongos. During the second half, he begins a call and response with the audience, who respond enthusiastically. At the five and a half minute mark, the song appears to end with Wonder playing a short bit of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, followed the MC telling him to take a bow. With The Marvelettes up next, bassist James Jamerson has steps off stage with Joe Swift taking his place. At this point, Wonder makes an unexpected encore, continuing to play the harmonica, with the other musicians slowly falling back in. Then Swift is heard frantically yelling out “what key??? what key???”. Then the band launches back into “Fingertips” for another minute as the crowd roars its approval, with Stevie responding with “goodbye, goodbye… goodbye, goodbye… goodbye, goodbye, goodbye… I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna go, yeah… But let’s just swing it one more time!!!”. The results are undeniably electric, moving Motown to release the song. “Fingertips” is divided into two parts, and is issued on May 21, 1963. DJ’s begin playing part two featuring the encore half, which listeners respond to immediately. Entering the Hot 100 at #85 on June 22, 1963, it rockets to the top of the chart seven weeks later. The huge success of “Fingertips Pt. II” also propels the album “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius” (though is actually thirteen at the time of its release) to number one on the Top 200 and R&B album charts. Stevie Wonder becomes the youngest artist in history to score a chart topping single and album. It is also the first live recording to top the charts since Johnny Standley’s “It’s In The Book”, eleven years earlier. Years later, part of Wonder’s vocal from “Fingertips” is sampled on Chaka Khan’s version of the Prince penned “I Feel For You” (#1 R&B, #3 Pop), which also features Stevie on harmonica. “Fingertips Pt. II” is the first of twenty R&B and ten pop chart toppers Wonder has over the course of his five decade plus career.
On this day in music history: August 7, 1970 – “Signed, Sealed & Delivered”, the twelfth album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby, Ron Miller and Steve Marcel BegaIt, it is recorded at Motown Studio A and Studio B (Golden World) in Detroit, MI from November 1969 – March 1970. After co-writing several of his hit singles going back to “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” in late 1965, Stevie Wonder becomes restless at being under the control of various producers at Motown. The musician longs to become more involved, and have a great say in the creative process of making his records. Though only nineteen years old at the time, Wonder successfully lobbies for the right work as a co-producer. “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” is the first album in which Stevie Wonder receives a production credit, producing or co-producing five tracks. The album spins off three hit singles including “Heaven Help Us All” (#3 R&B, #9 Pop), “We Can Work It Out” (#3 R&B, #13 Pop) and the title track (#1 R&B, #3 Pop). Originally issued on CD in the US in the mid 80’s (as a two-fer with “My Cherie Amour”), it later reissued as a stand alone disc. The album is also available in remastered form as a Japanese SHM-CD, issued in a mini replica of the original vinyl LP artwork. “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” peaks at number twenty five on the Billboard Top 200, and number seven on the R&B album chart.
On this day in music history: August 3, 1973 – “Innervisions", the sixteenth album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, it is recorded at The Record Plant in Los Angeles, CA and Media Sound Studios in New York City from March – June 1973. Following the major breakthrough success with his previous album “Talking Book", Stevie Wonder continues his remarkably prolific streak of creativity when he begins work on his next album. Covering a wide variety of social issues and topics from relationships to drug abuse. Wonder is a virtual “one man band”, playing nearly all of the instruments on six of the albums nine tracks. Only three days after its release, Stevie is seriously injured in a car accident, suffering a contusion to the brain that puts the musician in a coma for four days. Miraculously, he survives with his physical and creative abilities intact after a long and slow recovery period. He emerges from the accident even more conscious and spiritually aware. Like its predecessor, it is another artistic and commercial triumph, and is widely regarded as one of Stevie Wonder’s most important and influential works. It spins off three hit singles including “Higher Ground" (#1 R&B, #4 Pop), “Living For The City" (#1 R&B, #8 Pop) and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing" (#2 R&B, #16 Pop). The album wins three Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year. Originally released on CD in 1984, it is remastered and reissued by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab as a 24k gold CD in 1991. The MoFi edition has become highly prized by audiophiles and collectors, for its excellent mastering and superior sound quality. To date, it is the only digital edition of the album to be mastered from the original first generation master tapes. Other remasters including the 2000 CD reissue by Motown/Universal, a recent gold CD release by Audio Fidelity Records and vinyl reissue by Mobile Fidelity which were all made from 1:1 safety copies of the masters. The original tapes are in Stevie Wonder’s possession, who has not let them out of his personal tape archive for further use. The album is reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Motown/UMe in Europe in 2014, and in the US in 2017, replicating the original packaging. “Innervisions" spends two weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, and peak at number four on the Top 200. The album is also inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999.