In some ways, Stevie Wonder's over 50-year long career output makes him the quintessential Motown artist. His willingness to mix jazz, rock, soul, and r&b seamlessly perfectly embodies the Motown sound. But in other ways, the artist who began his Motown career in 1961 at age 11 as “Little Stevie Wonder” transcends the Motown, or any other label. Not only has Wonder been a fearless musical experimenter during his career, he has also proven himself to be one of the most talented songwriters. From tender love ballads to a massive output of socially and politically conscious protest songs, Wonder's lyrical flare has given fans plenty to love.
Arguably Stevie Wonder's most well-known song, with its funky intro and hot guitar licks, “Superstition” was the first single from Wonder's 1972 Talking Book album and his first #1 hit in two years. While it doesn't overtly tackle weighty subjects like love, peace, or racial equality, the lyrics to “Superstition” are deceptively topical. In it, Wonder takes a bevy of popular superstitions and uses them to make a statement about the dangers when “you believe in things that you don't understand.”
“Very superstitious, wash your face and hands.
Rid me of the problem, do all that you can.
Keep me in a daydream, keep me going strong.
You don't wanna save me, sad is my song.”
Few artists could pen a love song like Stevie Wonder and few objects of his affection ever elicited as sweet a love song as his Aisha. Written soon after her birth and released on Wonder's landmark 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, “Isn't She Lovely?” makes the list of Wonder's best lyrics for the earnest simplicity of its sweetness, capturing the elation and unconditional love of a new father perfectly.
“I never thought through love we'd be
making one as lovely as she.
But isn't she lovely?
Made from love.”
Songs in the Key of Life may be considered by many critics to be Stevie Wonder's masterwork, but there is a vocal minority who point to 1973's Innervisions as the true high point in his career. While never released as a single, “Visions” is one of the most lyrically stark songs on Innervisions. A slightly darker take on Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech, “Visions” paints a utopian picture of a world where all men walk hand in hand, but then wonders if this vision is possible or just in his mind.
“But what I'd like to know.
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful,
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away?
To the visions in our minds."
Another song from Innervisions, “Higher Ground” was a Top 5 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been a Stevie Wonder concert staple since its release. Addressing the subject of reincarnation, Stevie Wonder wrote the song a few months before his near fatal car accident but has said since that the accident made the song even more important to him.
“I'm so glad that he let me try it again
'Cause my last time on Earth, I lived a whole world of sin.
I'm so glad I know more now than I knew then,
gonna keep on tryin',
'til I reach my highest ground!”
Easily Stevie Wonder's most politically and socially provocative song, “Living for the City” is Stevie Wonder's call to arms for the fight against oppression. A live favorite, it is usually accompanied by Wonder firing up the crowd to take on politicians and leaders who perpetuate war and racial oppression.
“Her brother's smart, he's got more sense than many.
His patience long, but soon he won't have any.
To find a job is like a haystack needle.
'Cause where he lives, they don't use colored people.”