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Cream of The Crate: Album Review # 173 – Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium

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cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"Wonderworks of nearly two years preparation." - (New Music Express 1982) .. .. .. "He makes your ears happy, again and again." - (Rolling Stone July 1982) .. .. .. "What we have, is an album that has on it, some of the best tracks Stevie Wonder has recorded." - (This review)

This is album retro-review number 173 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

One of the great artists of the seventies may have had his start in the 1960’s, but he came into his own as the 70’s opened up.

I am talking about Stevie Wonder and the vinyl album I’m featuring is titled – Original Musiquarium.

It was originally released on vinyl in 1982, on the Motown label it has the identifying code of 6002 TL2.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
LP Label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

It is a double album in a gatefold cover with 16 tracks. Twelve of these tracks were released across a range of seven albums and it also had four previously unreleased recordings.

Released worldwide, it was first released in Australia.

Being a double album it has a gatefold cover which features the seven albums that tracks on this compilation have been drawn from as well as listing all the tracks on those various albums. 

It also includes the lyrics but no information on the musicians, which is a shame.

The album really was crying out for some form of fold-out insert to give some idea of the artists, the recording credits and some words about Stevie Wonder. Definitely a missed opportunity although “marketing” did slip in a single sided sleeve advertising other Stevie Wonder “Classic” albums, for the then princely sum of $6.99 each.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
Inner left hand gatefold cover – [CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
Inner right hand gatefold cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

One nice touch is that the bubbles coming from the fish on the cover are raised above the surface of the cover as if they were bubbles.

The rear cover simply lists the tracks on the album.

LP 1

Side 1

  1. Superstition
  2. You Haven’t Done Nothin’
  3. Living For The City
  4. Front Line *

Side 2

  1. Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)
  2. Send One Your Love
  3. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
  4. Ribbon In The Sky *

LP 2

Side 1

  1. Higher Ground
  2. Sir Duke
  3. Master Blaster (Jammin’)
  4. Boogie On Reggae Woman

Side 2

  1. That Girl *
  2. I Wish
  3. Isn’t She Lovely
  4. Do I Do *

* Represent tracks previously unreleased.

Stevie Wonder (originally known as “Little” Stevie Wonder) has a story as long as any great musical artist and like many, he started at a very young age.

Stevie Wonder was born Steveland Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Michigan. His blindness should never have happened as it resulted from receiving too much oxygen in the incubator as a premature baby.

From a very early age he demonstrated a gift, a skill in fact, for music.

It first manifested itself with his singing in a church choir in Detroit, Michigan, where he and his family had moved. He was only four years of age when he began singing and to the surprise of many around him he began to master many instruments including the harmonica, piano and drums.

Self taught, he was proficient with all of them before he reached ten years of age.

Wonder was just eleven years of age when he came to the attention of Ronnie White who was a member of the highly successful and respected Motown band, the Miracles.

White arranged for an audition for Stevie with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., who on hearing and seeing the talent and the potential still to be realised, didn’t hesitate to sign the young musician to a record deal.

In 1962, the newly renamed Little Stevie Wonder released his debut album, The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie and notLittle Stevie Wonder the 12 Year Old Genius” as is often cited as being his first release.

The album, which included the hit “Fingertips” was an immediate hit in itself reaching the number 1 position in the charts. Not prepared to rest on this success rest he set about studying classical piano and pushed himself to improve both his musicianship and songwriting capabilities.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
1962 – [CLICK to enlarge]
  

In the space of only two years – 1962 and 1963, he released a total of five albums but despite their quality, they largely failed to provide the hits singles which were considered as a must.

In 1964 he released Stevie At The Beach, which was an abortive attempt to cash in on the “beach/surf” music craze, which itself was on its last legs. In fact it would be over 18 months before his next album was released, the 1966 Uptight album, which did contain the hit single by the same name.

In a further attempt to make him more relevant to contemporary music and particularly the buying public, the “Little” had been dropped by him and he became simply Stevie Wonder.

It was after dropping “Little” from his stage name in 1964, that he churned out the successful single “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”. Albums continued to be produced and he received reviews that variously described the efforts as being good, through to lacklustre.

However in 1968, at the age of eighteen, he released his ninth album – For Once In My Life which not only contained multiple successful tracks, but had a more sophisticated and relevant sound to what was happening around him.

Further albums bought more success and his 1971 album, Where Am I Coming From was his first album where all the tracks were written by him.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
In the studio – early ’70s – [CLICK to enlarge]
  

In 1972 and 1973 he released two albums that are generally considered as his best to that date, those being Talking Book and then Innervisions.

It was three days after the commercial release of Innervisions, on August 6, 1973, that Stevie Wonder played a concert in Greenville, South Carolina. While on the way back, just outside Durham, North Carolina, he was asleep in the front seat of a car being driven by his friend, John Harris.

They were snaking along the road, behind a truck loaded high with logs. Suddenly the trucker jammed on his brakes, and the two vehicles collided

Logs went flying and one smashed through the wind shield, sailing squarely into Stevie Wonder’s forehead.

He was bloody and unconscious when he was pulled from the wrecked car. For four days he lay in a coma caused by severe brain contusion, causing media attention and the preoccupation of relatives, friends and fans.

There was great concern as to whether he would ever play again, but he fully recovered.

More albums followed and again largely failed to capture the greatness particularly of Innervisions.  In fact the 1979 Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants – was generally panned.

However he bounced back in 1980 with the album Hotter Than July, which went certified platinum and reached number three on the US Billboard chart. This was his most successful album in the UK, peaking at number two and producing four top ten singles.

Subsequently, in regard to studio albums, he only produced another five albums in the following years with only the 1991 Jungle Fever not receiving acclaim.

In 1980 we had the release of this album – Musiquarium I – which drew on tracks from:
* Music On My Mind – 1972
* Talking Book – 1972
* Innervisions – 1973
* Fulfillingness’ First Finale – 1974
* Songs In The Key Of Life – 1976
* The Secret Life Of Plants – 1979, and
* Hotter Than July – 1980
Plus the four previously unreleased tracks.

I have decided that are there so many great tracks on this album to chose one great track from each of the albums these tracks came from.

Track one
on side one of album one is Superstition taken from Talking Book.

Along with You Are The Sunshine Of My Life it was the big hit and a regularly played track from the original album. It really is a fantastic track which won much acclaim and was ranked as number 74 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

Unlike “Sunshine” which while I appreciate its quality is just a bit “saccharine” for me, this is a powerful track!

Now Stevie insisted on playing most of the instruments on most of his tracks, but with this track when he learned that Jeff Beck was interested in collaborating, he agreed and they worked on the track together.

In fact it was Beck who came up with the pulse – the opening drum beat for Superstition.

Stevie was also happy for Beck to record and release his version of this track before Talking Book was released. Yet fate has a way of intervening. 

Due to some issues within Beck’s then new trio, Beck, Bogert and Appice – and the fact that Berry Gordy Jnr wasn’t happy with this arrangement, as he knew they had a big hit on their hands if they got it out first, the Stevie Wonder/Jeff Beck version ended up being released first.

It has to be one of the funkiest openings to any track and really features that wonderful voice of Stevie Wonder. He just makes vocal delivery sound so damn easy. It also has one of the most infectious repetitive lines of any track from that decade.

Superstition

I have gone no further than track 2 – which is You Haven’t Done Nothin’

This track was lifted from the 1974 Fulfillingness First Finale album.

A quick word about the album. For me it’s an album of two parts – there are tracks in one part that are quite sombre and then in part 2 there are some very powerful and excellently arranged pieces, and this track sits nicely in that second category.

Like much of his work from 1972 onward, the track has its fair share of early technology.

It uses early synthesisers, and a very early drum machine features heavily but, I think the drum machine almost spoils the track.

We need to remember these were analog devices, crude and basic with a rather ‘tinny” sound and on this track, that’s just how it sounds.

Yet the other instrumentation and playing in the rest of the piece soon makes up for this.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – [CLICK to enlarge]

The track was released as a single and reached the #1 position on the charts.

It starts in a way that is kind of reminiscent of Superstition but quickly establishes itself in its own right. The track was a direct political statement by Stevie Wonder – the young “Little” Stevie really had grown up and faced with the disturbing events surrounding the Nixon years.

Here, Stevie directs the track directly at the then discredited President Nixon. It’s a really punchy piece and the punch of the instrumentation supports the punch of Wonder’s lyrics.

We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you'll do
Though much concerned but not involved
With decisions that are made by you

But we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
You haven't done nothing

It's not too cool to be ridiculed
But you brought this upon yourself
The world is tired of pacifiers
We want the truth and nothing else, yeah

And we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
You haven't done nothing

Jackson 5 join along with me say doo doo wop
Hey hey hey, doo doo wop
Wow wow wow, doo doo wop
Hm hm hm, doo doo wop
Co co co, doo doo wop
Bum bum bum, doo doo wop

We would not care to wake up to the nightmare
That's becoming real life
But when mislead, who knows a person's mind
Can turn as cold as ice un hum

Why do you keep on making us hear your song
Telling us how you are changing right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
You haven't done nothing
Yeah, na, na, nothing

Jackson 5 sing along again say doo doo wop
Hey hey hey, doo doo wop
Oh, doo doo wop
Bum bum bum, doo doo wop
Sing it, baby, doo doo wop
Bum bum bum, doo doo wop
Bum bum bum, doo doo wop
Hm-mm, sing it loud now, for your people, sing doo doo wop
Bum bum bum, doo doo wop, better come and say doo doo wop
Co co co, doo doo wop
Oh, doo doo wop
Bum bum bum, doo doo wop
Doo doo wop
Doo doo wop
Doo doo wop
Doo doo wop
Doo doo wop

And, Yes! It is the Jackson 5 supporting Stevie in the chorus.

Coincidence? Nixon resigned two days after the track was released.

You Haven’t Done Nothin’

Track 3 on side one of album one is from the Innervisions album and is Living In The City.

The track was one of Innervisions central pieces and remains one of the only moments in Wonder’s career as a politically-minded pop star where he allows himself to come face to face with utter pessimism, or is it realism?

He seems to caves in to it wholesale, underpinning frustration with the track ending with Noooo!

It kicks off with a gently panned and rather bouncy bass line underpinning a simple but effective piano line.

It’s one of his longest pieces at over seven minutes. It is an eyes wide open description of what is must have been like in the black areas of America at that time (in fact has it really changed that much?).

Once again his delivery is impeccable but I must say to my ears, that while he was using some cutting edge instruments at the time they now sound a bit corny, if not empty.

That is the trouble with technology, it dates very quickly. This doesn’t take away from the fact that it still is a genuinely great track.

Living In The City

 

Turning the album over to side 2, I have looked at track 1Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You).

I actually thought hard about using this track.  It comes from the 1972 album Music Of My Mind, where the album did kind of represent the move into a more “adult” form.

I find that most of the tracks are too “gimmicky” with the over-use of the then embryonic synths and effects, and frankly, while a couple of tracks were released as singles, namely Keep On Running, and this track, Superwoman, the album left me a bit cold.

Superwoman is an eight and a bit minute track. I am somewhat bemused by the fact that it actually reached #33 on the Top 100 in 1972, the year it was released.

Variously termed soul and alien, the track and indeed the album, was a reflection of the fact that at last Wonder was given total control over his music.

As a result he set about playing everything himself and I think he must have failed to have anyone around to use as a sounding board. Sometimes being given “your head”, is not a good thing.

Whilst writing, playing and producing everything is an achievement in itself, there is “magic” that forms when musicians play together and find a groove, a synergy.

This rarely happens happen when a musician plays everything himself.

Part of the reason such a long and unnecessarily so track gained favour, may have been that it was a single.

At this time Stevie Wonder could almost do no wrong. Mind you, once you get past the “techno” elements – which rather bizarrely became the mainstream of production in decades to come – there is one very strong element in this track.

It does have a mighty strong and mutating melody that strongly reflects Wonder’s love of jazz and his ability to slip it into the “popular” form of the day. No wonder  that so very skilled jazz musos, like Ramsey Lewis, went on to cover the track and add their own feel.

It also has an old music “trick” in its form, where Wonder both sings the story of Mary (the “star” of the track), while also playing the part of a narrator.So if you have forgotten the track, or maybe never heard it, then check it out and see what response it invokes in you.

 

Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)

Track 2Send One Your Love.

It’s yet another track I would not normally consider as featuring when talking or writing about Stevie Wonder, but as I have said earlier, I’ll pick a track from every album represented and, this is the only track from the 1979 – Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants that I could bring myself to review. 

It would be easy to be critical of this album, it was experimental in many ways in fact it was a very early experiment in pure digital recording and is believed to be the first “popular” digitally recorded album.

Once again Wonder used whatever cutting edge techno instruments he could get his hands on, such as the digital sampling synth – the Melodian.

However it is rare, if ever, that an album becomes popular based upon simply the instruments used. In fact this is probably the least popular of any Stevie Wonder album produced, because the listeners just didn’t get it!

Rolling Stone said of this album, “Stevie Wonder presumes nature to exist in a state of pure innocence. Thus, the presexual condition of children is equated with green, tender sprouts — a neat, bold leap.

Less neat and bold is the sad fact that, probably for the same reason, Wonder’s longtime musical representation of sensual awareness — tough, terse R&B and rock & roll — never penetrates Journey through the Secret Life of Plants.”

The problem is, that there are little gems of beauty hidden throughout the album, but brother, you have to have some serious “stickability” to sit through some pretty tedious moments to come across those gems.

It seemed as though Stevie was totally enamoured with the concept of having the book by the same name read to him, while he then scored and played around with the ideas that came to him.

The music was then used to support the film by the same name – but really, it was a brave and sometimes interesting experiment – but it plain and simply failed to work.

So what of the track Send One Your Love? Well, released as a single it actually reached the #4 position in the charts.

It does little for me, how does it affect you?

Send One Your Love 

 

We jump to album 2, side one track 2Sir Duke. 

This was on the 1976 Songs From The Key Of Life Album. This track is a very upbeat and happy track and Wonder wrote it as a tribute to a man who had considerable influence on him – Duke Ellington who died around 2 years previously.

The lyrics share his joy for the music of the jazz greats led by Ellington, but as the lyrics reveal, he also paid homage to Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald.

It’s a bloody infectious track and was a great (still is) a great track to dance to.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
1976 – [CLICK to enlarge]
  

The track was very popular reaching #1 in both the R&B and the Top 100 Charts and reached #2 in England. 

Music is a world within itself 
With a language we all understand 
With an equal opportunity 
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands 

But just because a record has a groove 
Don't make it in the groove 
But you can tell right away at letter A 
When the people start to move 

They can feel it all over 
They can feel it all over people 
They can feel it all over 
They can feel it all over people 

Music knows it is and always will 
Be one of the things that life just won't quit 
But here are some of music's pioneers 
That time will not allow us to forget 

For there's Basie, Miller, Sachmo 
And the king of all Sir Duke 
And with a voice like Ella's ringing out 
There's no way the band can lose 

You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
You can feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 

I can feel it all over-all over now people 
Can't you feel it all over 
Come on let's feel it all over people 
You can feel it all over 
Everybody-all over people

Sir Duke

 

The following track on this album, track 3, was from the 1980 Hotter Than July album and is Master Blaster [sub-titled “Jammin’].

Ok this is one “mother” of a hot track. A damn fine reggae track!

Stevie Wonder tracks are always top productions but to my ears this one stands out as one of his best ever !

It’s so full of energy it is one of those rare tracks where if your feet aren’t moving, then either they are nailed to the floor or, you are just plain dead!

You would not need to be a Rhodes Scholar in music to not work out that it could only be an ode to one man – the great Bob Marley – who also had a track Jammin’.

There is absolutely no point even considering which is the better – they are different songs, by two top black artists and both are out of this world!

For me, revisiting this track after a lengthy absence from playing it was the highlight of this whole album.

cream of the crate: album review # 173 – stevie wonder: original musiquarium
1980

This is a great uplifting track to go out on.

Master Blaster
 

So what we have, is an album that has on it some some of the best tracks Stevie Wonder has recorded.

It reminds us that not only was he, and indeed is he, extremely talented but that he had an amazing knack for engaging his listeners and transferring his energy and love through his music.

But every coin has two sides, and the other side is that there are also tracks that remind us that even a musical genius will “bomb out” sometimes.

Overall Original Musiquarium I is a most excellent album indeed and if tracks whet your appetite then you go and buy the particular album that track or tracks came from.

However you might consider buying this one as it stands on its own and as a very good example of the amazing music of Stevie Wonder.

There are any number of copies of the re-released Cd available and even cassette copies (like who still has a working cassette player?), but the vinyl version is a bit harder to find.

If you do find a vinyl copy you could expect to pay up to Au$30.00 plus postage dependent upon condition.


VIDEOS:

Here are a selection of live performances of tracks on this album by Stevie, as located on Youtube.

 

You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – 1974

 

Higher ground – 1974

 

Boogie On Reggae Woman – 2011

 

 Isn’t She Lovely – 1990

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