Stevie Wonder - A Musical Guide to the Classic Albums
by Steve Lodder
Book Review by Brian McAlley / 10/2005


Stevie Wonder -
A Musical Guide to the
Classic Albums
Author: Steve Lodder
Backbeat Books
Paperback: 224 pages

March 12, 2005



Stevie Wonder has been creating some of the best soul, R&B and popular music for the past 4 decades and is still at the cutting edge of music today. He is one of the most respected musicians/entertainers of all time, and an indisputable musical genius who has won a total of 19 Grammy awards throughout his storied career. In March of this year, Backbeat Books proudly announced the release of "Stevie Wonder - A Musical Guide to the Classic Albums" written by author, accomplished musician, and longtime Wonder expert, Steve Lodder. It's an excellent volume of work featuring detailed and in-depth analyses of Wonder's personal life, career, and musical accomplishments, plus it includes 80 color and B&W photos, many never before published.

In Chapter 1, Lodder examines Wonder's childhood years growing up in Saginaw, Michigan and his dealings with the harsh realities of life as an African American in the 1950s. His mother, Lula Hardaway, who was raised on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama during the depression-ridden 1930's gave birth to Stevie (birth name: Stevland Hardaway) on May 13, 1950. Wonder was born 2 months premature, was in an incubator for 52 days and found to be blind at birth after doctors discovered he had detached retinas. The book details the early stages of his childhood, Wonder's audition and signing with Motown Records in 1962, and how he came to join the Motown Review as an opening act at the age of just 12 years old.

Chapter 2, entitled "Sixties Recordings," gives an extensive overview of Wonder's studio activities and musical output during the 1960s, starting with his first Motown single, "I Call It Pretty Music (But The Old People Call It The Blues)" released in 1962. This tune, along with three subsequent singles did not chart, but his fourth release, the live recording of "Fingertips" soared to the top of the charts and stayed at number one for 3 weeks in July 1963. Stevie started writing or co-writing his own material, but it was 3 years before he had his next big hit, "Uptight (Everything's Alright)".

As Lodder explains in the next chapter, "Independence and Transition," Stevie's musical career began to take off, and it was at this point that he began to break away from the traditional Motown sound and started leaning more toward funk and a Stax/Volt musical style. He started to include more social and political commentary into his music, and before the age of 21 released "Where I'm Coming From," an album whose theme was primarily social issues regarding the struggles of the African American community.

In Chapter 4, "The Classic Album Years 1972-76," Lodder studies the amazing body of work that Wonder created in that 5-year time span. He thoroughly examines each release and details the musical influences and characteristics of each one of these timeless classics: "Music On My Mind," "Talking Book," "Innervisions," "Fulfillingness' First Finale," and "Songs In The Key of Life." Musicians and casual fans alike will be captivated by Lodder's in-depth analysis of each release, ranging from the dissection of chord progressions to Wonder's use of electronic instruments. It's a fascinating excursion into the world of Mr. Wonder's creative process and gives the reader a heightened appreciation of his musical brilliance.

The remaining chapters are dedicated to the various styles of Mr. Wonder's music, and in each chapter, Lodder analyzes selected songs recorded in that particular style. For example in Chapter 5, which is entitled "Funk," the songs "Keep On Running," "Superstition," and "Boogie On Reggae Woman" are thoroughly examined. The subsequent chapters entitled "Ballads," "Social/Political Comment," "Latin Influences," "Pop Songs," and "Jazz/Miscellany" all follow suite with the same format. Each analysis is engaging, as every style has it's own creative intricacies and influences. As in the previous chapters of this book, Mr. Lodder delves deep into the creative process and inner workings of every song with intricate detail. The final chapter of the book, "Later Work 79-2005" is just that a capsulation of Mr. Wonder's musical output from 1979 to the present.

Through his extensive research, Mr. Lodder has created an outstanding book that takes the reader on a musical journey of wondrous proportions. His detailed analysis of Mr. Wonder's career and personal life will captivate even the most casual of fans. It's an embracing look at one of the greatest musical talents of our time an artist that has touched many lives throughout his remarkable career.


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