How Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’ Rode Funky Nostalgia to No. 1

Attachment Steve Wonder I Wish Single Motown

Stevie Wonder was finishing a prolonged journey when he hit No. 1 on Jan. 22, 1977 with “I Wish,” his funky ode to the innocence of childhood.

As Fulfillingness’ First Finale arrived in 1974, this 25-year-old new father had someway launched 5 albums over simply 39 months – and 17 in all. He truly talked a few farewell live performance, earlier than reversing course and signing an unprecedented $13 million seven-album take care of Motown a yr later.

But Songs in the Key of Life would not be issued till the autumn of 1976, as Wonder downshifted to meticulously craft what turned out to be his multi-disc masterpiece.

He took so lengthy, in actual fact, that Motown printed up promotional T-shirts that mentioned, “We’re almost finished.” Fans accustomed to new music on an annual foundation have been pressured to cool their heels for some 26 months. “The phrase ‘long-awaited album’ may nicely have been coined for this one,” Billboard sniffed.

“I would like to give the general public the most recent feeling that I’ve skilled,” Wonder mentioned in a 1976 radio interview, “and I’ve to be sure that I’m fully happy with the fabric.”

It was value it. A course of that concerned herculean effort – “there have been occasions,” bassist Nathan Watts later confided, “when he’d keep within the studio 48 hours straight” – resulted in tune after tune after tune after tune. In the top, Wonder’s subsequent studio challenge could not be contained on two discs. Initial pressings additionally included an extra seven-inch EP.

Songs within the Key of Life was meant to be loved as a unified expertise. In preserving, there have been no advance 45s, a contemporary staple of file promotion. “I Wish” wasn’t launched till months after the set hit retailer cabinets – however this primary single was truly one of many final issues added to the observe itemizing.

Listen to Stevie Wonder Perform ‘I Wish’

Every element of its creation was etched in Wonder’s reminiscence. “The day I wrote it was a Saturday, the day of a Motown picnic in the summertime of ’76,” he later advised Musician journal. “God, I do not forget that as a result of I used to be having this actually dangerous toothache. It was ridiculous.”

The setting drew Wonder again to easier occasions. “I had such a great time on the picnic that I went to Crystal Recording Studio proper afterward and the vibe got here proper to my thoughts – working on the picnic, the contests, all of us participated,” he added. “It was plenty of enjoyable … and from that got here the ‘I Wish’ vibe.”

The observe got here a lot simpler than the lyrics, which – in line with a few of the extra critical subjects discovered elsewhere on Songs within the Key of Life – initially touched on a lot broader subjects.

Wonder started by attempting to insert “plenty of cosmic sort stuff, non secular stuff. But I couldn’t do this ‘trigger the music was an excessive amount of enjoyable — the phrases didn’t have the enjoyable of the observe,” he advised Musician. He merely “could not give you something stronger than the refrain, ‘I want these days [claps] would [claps] come again as soon as extra.’ Thank goodness we did not change that.”

Songs of remembrance like this one – and the Ellington tribute “Sir Duke,” this album’s subsequent No. 1 – in the end served as balancing parts amongst deeper ideas on spirituality (“Have a Talk with God”) and the sociopolitical (“Village Ghetto Land”). Having his sister Renee Haraway readily available seemingly helped loosen issues up: She’s the voice heard admonishing a younger Stevie Wonder for a childhood prank.

He wasn’t completed tinkering, as periods for the album ended up going down at 4 separate studios – Los Angeles’ Record Plant and Crystal Industries, New York’s Hit Factory and the Record Plant in Sausalito, Calif. Each location had its personal distinctive really feel, and that impacted the songs: “You consider it as being a canvas on which I used to be ready to draw and paint photos,” Wonder later mused.

This monumental imaginative and prescient had already been acknowledged lengthy earlier than “I Wish” was ever pressed as a single. Wonder earned album of the yr honors on the Grammys a month after the tune reached No. 1. (Songs within the Key of Life had already change into simply the third LP in historical past to debut on the prime of the Billboard album charts.) “I Wish” simply introduced that genius to automobile radios and native jukeboxes.

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