Wonder Year

Hollywood is usually an interesting gauge of a given year. For 1972, this is what could be found in your local cinerama:

behind the green door
the candidate
deep throat
flesh gordon
the godfather
jeremiah johnson
lady sings the blues
pink flamingos
play it again, sam
the poseidon adventure
shaft’s big score
snoopy, come home

Hmm… three curiously mainstream porn films, three esteemed blaxploitation flims, two Robert Redford movies, a Woody Allen film, a movie about a mouse, a cartoon about a lost dog, Diana Ross pretending to be Billie Holiday, Shelley Winters in a sinking ship, Divine doing things only divine did, and Marlon Brando’s defining role.

I was born in an odd year.

1972. The year I was born, and I guess I view it with a bit of natal conceit. The early seventies were an uncomfortable time for this country, as if America was coming down off the highs and trips of 1960s, black coffee in one hand, quivering cigarette in the other, still trying to reconstruct the events of the night before. Watergate was unfolding. The US would pull out of Vietnam a year later.

Stevie Wonder. He has become somewhat of a caricature now, with his long beaded braids and trademark piano bench sway. A cartoon of polished sunglasses and wide open mouth, he has somehow become the guy who plays “I Just Called To Say I Love You” or “My Cherie Amour.”

But in 1972, Wonder was doing a new thing. He was finally breaking free from the image of Little Stevie Wonder, his incarnation in the mid-sixties of the little blind kid who could wail on a harmonica and sang about “Fingertips.” In 1972, Stevie was 22 years old, living in New York City, and needing to break into something new. After all, he had been recording albums since he was twelve. Much like Marvin Gaye had done the previous year with What’s Going On, Wonder needed to transcend the training he received from Berry Gordy’s Motown. And with Music Of My Mind, that is exactly what he did.


The opening track sets you up for what’s coming. One word, that voice, a audible smile telling you that this is going to be good. The lyrics of the opening track are just joyous nonsense, but with the exceptional conviction of one key point.

Everyday I want to fly my kite/
Everyday I want to fly my kite/
Everyday I want to get on my camel and ride…
And when the day is through/
Nothin’ to do, sit around groovin’ with you/
And I say it cause I love… having you around

But Wonder didn’t want this to be another album with a couple of certified hits packed in filler, so he follows “Love Having You Around” with an eight minute opus in two parts called “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” – a song that goes from a lover’s concern about his girl’s dissatisfaction with herself (“Mary wants to be a superwoman”), an acceptance of her possibly misplaced ambition, then the confusion of that lover’s leaving after springtime (“When the summer came, you were not around”).

The album is phenomenal. Perhaps my favorite Stevie Wonder album, it is technically way ahead of its day and often wittier than you might expect. Multitracking, layering, synthesizers that were freshly invented, and there are rumours that some of the technology on the album was invented during its recording. Other tracks of note are “Sweet Little Girl” (featuring this absurd monologue by Wonder about how he loves his girl more than his Clavinet and that he wants to take her to the movies (“Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song”) in the hopes that it might inspire her to make love to him), “Happier Than The Morning Sun” (gorgeously layered), and “Keeps On Running.”

I have been spinning three Stevie Wonder CDs in my car for about four weeks now, alternating them out, but mostly sticking with Music Of My Mind. The others were recorded within two years of Music, Talking Book and Fulfillingness’ First Finale. I am missing Innervisions, but might correct that soon. For this renewed interest in Stevie Wonder I place all blame on the movie, High Fidelity. When the song “I Believe” (from Talking Book) kicks in right at the end, right at the perfect point, underlining John Cusack’s last line, ’cause you have been hearing the intro and the verse underneath and right then, like a rush of good wind:

I believe when I fall in love with you
It will be forever
I believe when I fall in love this time
It will be forever

Damn. It is simply perfect. And it glues you to your seat and fills you with equal parts bliss and hope and despair. If you have heard it, you know. If you have not, you should.

And so I add Stevie Wonder to my pantheon of personal heroes and saints. I hope he will get along well with the others…

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