The album “Songs In The Key Of Life” shaped and formed my taste in music. The songs on the album were unlike anything I had heard before and ever since. It was on my wish list for Christmas 1980. I was fourteen years old. The album was already out for four years and it was only during late 1979 early 1980 that I heard “Sir Duke” on the radio. I still remember unwrapping the gift. A double-LP with an extra 7″ single containing another four songs. The ultra thick booklet included so much info, credits and liner notes – it meant so much to me as the latest fantasy novel or crime thriller or bicycle or whatever.
The soothing opening of “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” epitomized for me what I thought was a complete, perfect, heaven-sent song. His spiraling background vocals towards the end were just like a dream. I can still listen to this track for hours and hours. Clocking in at just over 7 minutes, I really thought that I didn’t need to listen to anything else ever again. And that was just the first of 21 songs! Of course I had heard his success single “Sir Duke” on the radio – it was through Stevie Wonder that I was actually turned on to Jazz. Who was this Duke? I started to read the credits intensively and over and over again (130 musicians involved!) and started to buy records from George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Deniece Williams, Bobbi Humphrey, and Minnie Riperton. It was the start of it all.
The hypnotic arrangement of another 7-minute song from the album, “As”, was like magic. The majesty of the vocal chorus was so utterly immaculate and pure. The equally irresistible “Joy Inside My Tears” was so full of Soul and grace and style and profound perfection – it still ranks among my all-time favorite Stevie songs. I soon started to buy every single album and a whole new world opened up. The music on this particular album is the reason why I’m still totally curious about any kind of music today – whatever the genre. He made my ears wide open and started to take me on a fantastic journey that is still going on. “Black Man” later helped me to decide on studying American History at University. “I Wish” with its crisp horn section and timeless production helped me earn my first money as a DJ. As did “Isn’t She Lovely”.
“Pastime Paradise” was so haunting and beautiful that it almost hurt. “I Don’t Wanna Bore You With It”, the repeated phrase of the intense Soul masterpiece “Knocks Me Off My Feet”, was ringing in my ears for weeks on end. “Summer Soft” had this typical, bubbling Stevie effects I couldn’t resist. “Village Ghetto Land” with its catchy strings and brooding, incriminating lyrics, “Ordinary Pain” and its sassy background vocals, or the epic “Another Star” with its still unbelievable chorus made this the most important album to me. I had the chance to see Stevie Wonder in concert in Hannover back in 1987 and then again on my 40th birthday in Cologne in 2006, and once more in a fierce open-air concert in Berlin, but never actually met him. It was another revelation when I saw snippets online of his latest concert tour throughout the US where he played the entire “Songs In The Key Of Life”, the album that started it all.
The Wonder turns 65 today. Happy Birthday!