This article, published on October 10, 2016, is the first in a new djrobblog Greatest Of All Time (or G.O.A.T.) series celebrating landmark album anniversaries. In Vol. 1, it’s the 40th Anniversary of the 1976 LP Songs In The Key Of Life by the legendary Stevie Wonder, an album released on Motown’s Tamla label on September 28 that year. This article, as will others featured in this series, includes a review and ranking of all the songs on the album, in countdown fashion, at the end of the article.
On Sunday, October 10, 1976, Stevie Wonder’s landmark album Songs In The Key Of Life debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 (chart dated for the week ending October 16), making it the first album by an American artist to start its chart life at the top (two albums by British superstar Elton John had done so the year before and it’s become a regular occurrence since 1991 when Billboard incorporated point-of-sale measuring technology that tracks actual consumption).
Songs was the culmination of Wonder’s classic album period, which arguably began with 1972’s Talking Book (although one could legitimately include that year’s Music of My Mind in this grouping) and continued with ’73’s Innervisions and ’74’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. All four albums were huge sellers and Grammy winners, with the latter three taking “Album of the Year” awards, and the last two topping Billboard’s pop and R&B charts.
Songs, released after a then-unheard-of two-year break, was the most highly anticipated and, ultimately, the most successful of any of Wonder’s albums, spending 14 weeks at #1 (13 of those consecutively), generating four top-40 singles along with many more unreleased classics, and becoming a musical and cultural phenomenon against which many future R&B and pop albums, including Wonder’s own, have been futilely compared.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Wonder’s magnum opus making American music history by entering the chart at the top, I’ve created a special djroblist ranking the album’s 21 tracks from good to greatest. I don’t consider any songs on the album to be bad, so this really is a ranking of the songs in order from the good ones to the greatest one.
Like many of you, I’ve had 40 years to digest these 21 songs, which originally appeared in vinyl form on a two-album set plus a special 4-song, 7″ extended play record titled “A Something’s Extra.” Those 40 years have certainly changed the perspective and context with which I’ve judged these tunes, as I’ve morphed from a ten-year-old boy who better identified with the more pop, hook-laden hits like “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” to the now 50-year-old who better appreciates the cautiously hopeful, message-driven “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” and the introspective beauty of “Joy Inside My Tears.”
Hence, this list is the culmination of 40 years of different perspectives, created without losing sight of the youthful excitement that some of the songs brought me and so many other people upon Songs original release by the then-26-yr-old genius on September 28, 1976. Indeed, the album is considered by many to be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest albums of all time.
So now, here is my special 40th anniversary countdown of the 21 Songs In the Key Of Life, from the good to the greatest!
Stevie Wonder was getting his mack on in this romp, except one thing: he was the one being played. It seemed the love-starved protagonist only wanted some lovin' from his love interest, but she saw fit to lead him on at each offering. By verse three of this déjà vu scenario, you'd think he'd learn to leave this girl alone, but, by his own admission, we know he won't.
Click here to see my review of the November 2014 live concert performance of Stevie’s masterpiece in Atlanta, Ga.
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