I bought this album for what I'd consider a strange reason: Every week, I watch American Idol, and very often someone sings a Stevie Wonder song. It never sounds very good, and the judges always say "you'll never compare well with the great Stevie..." Knowing some of the major hits, and generally associating him with "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and "Superstition," I decided I must not be getting the full picture. I was thinking of getting a greatest hits comp, but ultimately decided to try a different route: I'd buy two of his masterpieces. I wanted to see the whole picture, rather than just hear the radio hits. So I bought Innvervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. Holy cow did I make the right choice. It took me only one marathon listening session of both albums to hear what I'd been missing all these years.
Many critics and reviewers indicate the album has a slow start, taking a few songs to kick into gear. True, the first songs are slower in pace, but I'd hardly consider it a "slow start." More like: Stevie eases you into a place that you're going to be (and want to be) for a long time (at two LPs and an EP - this really is an epic). With so many songs, I'll only mention a few for brevity's sake: "Sir Duke" is about as danceable a song as I've ever heard while still being substantial. "Black Man" is a history lesson everyone should hear, and examples of important people in American history of many races are mentioned: black, brown, yellow, and white as well. "As" gets under your skin on first listen and never lets go.
If I could stress one thing about this album, it would be this: These songs are ABOUT something. It's not funk music about wanting to get funky. It's not R&B about sex. Sure, sex and dancing are in there. But so are IDEAS, politics, social theory, parental love, fear, hope, and much more. The music, the singing, and the lyrics work absolutely. And they don't sound "dated" at all. That is no small achievement. Few artists have ever reached this level, and few ever will.
So, as a late-comer to the cult of Stevie, I'm happy to say: Better late than never!
Stevie Wonder spent almost three years working on this album and the time was well spent. The music is probably the most personal and outspoken of his career. He sings about his childhood in songs like "I Wish" & "Easy Goin' Evening", his heroes in "Sir Duke", the birth of his daughter in "Isn't She Lovely" and while "Contusion" is an instrumental the title is a reference to the life-threatening auto accident he was involved in. Mr. Wonder has always been a strong voice for the civil rights movement and the struggles for his race's equality and he expresses his feelings on those matters in "Village Ghetto Land", "Pastime Paradise" & "Joy Inside My Tears". He also gives us a history lesson in "Black Man". "Love's In Need Of Love Today" and "Have A Talk With God" are pleas for togetherness and understanding. Mr. Wonder could always write great love songs and they are here as well in the forms of "Ebony Eyes", "As", "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and others. As I've just mentioned, the album broaches many diverse subjects, but it all comes together in the end. Usually on double albums, there is filler, but not here. Every song serves a purpose and help create a cohesive musical statement. Stevie Wonder has been called a musical genius and this album is further proof that the title is an appropriate one.
on December 10, 1999
The [then] eargerly-awaited double-album opus "Songs In The Key Of Life" - believe this or not - is considered over-rated and over-produced to some of the most hardcore Stevie fans today. In truth, it really is an impressive statement, like earlier albums in the Wonder catalog, Stevie masters many kinds of music without ever losing his own identity. "Songs In The Key..." boasts many elements; most prominent are funk jams & delicate ballads, but there's also acid-rock, swing, latin, gospel, even Hare Krishna chants. As usual, Stevie has an exceptional gift for lyrics and this album makes no exception. There's destitude horror in "Village Ghetto Land", historical declarations in "Black Man", and biblical wailing in "As". "Joy Inside My Tears" acheives in greater effect what Stevie's "Superwoman" did 4 years earlier, it combines happiness & sadness in the same space. It's as if you can hear Stevie laughing & crying at once when this track plays. The very-familiar "Isn't She Lovely" is a beautiful valentine to his wife & daughter. "Another Star" is the epitome of 70's jazz/soul/funk, it mixes lighting voices, wailing horns, rapid percussion & Stevie's beating piano. The album is so varied that it may not have an immediate, exciting appeal to the ears. Like other brilliant music, sometimes it takes several listenings to decipher what it's all about.
Some of the tracks extend themselves to 7 or 8 minutes, but you don't really notice, you could go on singing La-La-La forever. There really is a lot to swallow at once. Once again he repeatedly seems to be reaching for truth. It's as if he's always saying - of all things a blind person could say - "With love, there is always light at the end of the tunnel". It is a landmark album.
on June 21, 2005
This album is Stevie Wonder's Magnum opus; a delightful, intricate musical delight, which is still a powerful lesson in music today.
Released way back in 1976, where it performed the (then) rare feat of debuting atop the Billboard 200 album charts. It spun off two hot 100 no.1 singles; the horn laden 40s big band sounding `Sir Duke', and the nostalgic, funky `I wish', as well as `As' and `Another star' which both made the top 40.
It also won the Grammy for album of the year (Stevie's third win in that category) and three others: one for best male r&b vocal for 'I wish' best male pop vocal for the album, and best producer for Stevie.
Not to talk of the cover versions and samples inspired by this album over the years: George Michael & Mary J Blige ('As'), Coolio ('Gangsta's Paradise' samples 'Pastime paradise'), Tevin Campbell ('Knocks me off my feet') Mary J Blige ('Time' samples `Pastime paradise') to name a few.
Stevie Wonder paved the way for future soul vocal styling as utilized by people like Charlie Wilson (GAP band), Aaron Hall (Guy), Boys II men to name a few, and the Neo soul pack.
What can I say about this masterpiece that hasn't been said already? I wouldn't call this just soul music. More than that, it's more of psychedelic soul, with sprinklings of jazz, rock and pop. With lyrics that touched on everything from love, life, death, war, sadness, and joy. Lyrics that were way ahead of their time, still relevant today.
The delightful `Ebony eyes' has a faint Beatles feel to it. A real pop gem!
`Saturn' is a pop epic with lyrics even more relevant today. It's about wanting to leave earth with all her troubles for a fantasy utopia on Saturn. Featuring lyrics like `'we have come here many times before/to find your strategy to peace is war/killing helpless men, women and children/that don't even know what they're dying for'. Are we sure it wasn't written for the world of today?
`Another star' is a delightful upbeat, almost disco number with great `la la la la' backing vocals sweeping in and out, featuring excellent percussion, great horns, and guitar and backing vocals from George Benson.
`Blackman' is a history lesson, teaching us about the accomplishments of the black man, as well as a few red, yellow and white people. The different peoples who made America. Also featuring excellent percussion and darting horns, as well as a classroom segment towards the end. What a wonderful musical history lesson which still needs to be told this day.
`Have a talk with God' is a gently bubbling psychedelic soul number, encouraging prayer to God when all seems lost and desolate. Beautiful musicianship, played entirely by Stevie himself.
`Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing' is a delightful synthesized jazzy number which ends all too soon. Even jazzier is 'Summer soft'.
`Love's in need of love today' begins with some choir like humming, which breaks into an inspiring but subdued ode to love. Anthemic vocals towards the end.
`Village ghetto land' is a tale of life on the streets. Stark, icy synth strings and Stevie's passioned voice make up this brilliant song. `children play with rusted cans/sores cover their hands/politicians laugh and drink - drink to all demands'. Still so true.
`Pastime paradise' is a wonder! Great synths, percussion, cutting strings, and intricate vocal layering, not to talk of the lyrics. `Proclamation/race relations...' I can't describe this song well enough. Fantastic!!!
Then there's the two part `Ordinary pain', the second part sung by Shirley Brewer making for an interesting song. The instrumental `Contusion' which is a brilliant, upbeat fusion jam. The tender, instrumental harmonica laden `Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)'. The harmonica driven, sunny ode to his daughter `Isn't she lovely'. The beautiful, powerful testament to love called `As' which here, is the ultimate version. Again, intricate vocal layering and superb musicianship.
What more can I say. This album was recently certified diamond for shipments of 10 million copies in the US alone.
A classic which has stood well up to the test of time, almost 30 years on.
on December 27, 2013
As several reviewers have stated, this is a 2-channel Blu-Ray. I do like and own many 5.0 audio discs, but that is not my first criteria for purchasing a recording. My first priority when purchasing an audiophile disc is excellent sound and that is exactly what you'll get with this Blu-Ray release. Beyond the disc not having a 5.0 version, I can't believe any true audiophile would be disappointed with this Blu-Ray.
on August 9, 2005
I originally bought this on vinyl over 20 years ago when my drum teacher told me to learn "Contusion" and "Sir Duke." I have been missing listening to this treasure since getting rid of my turntable, so I was thrilled to finally get it on CD! Only now have I started getting into some of the lesser-known cuts and I love every single one.
Some of my favorites:
"Love's in Need of Love Today"--thematically sets the tone for the rest of the album.
"Village Ghetto Land"--between the synth orchestration and the stark lyrics, it really grabs you.
"Contusion"--instrumental--the musicians on this cut are outstanding.
"Sir Duke"--one of the most sparkling songs on the album!
"I Wish"--I love the reminiscent lyrics--this song just rocks.
"As"--One of the smoother cuts--you'll find yourself singing along with this song all the way through!
"Saturn"--A beautifully written song.
"Ebony Eyes"--Yet another song I just can't help singing along with.
For the first few years I had this album, I only listened to my favorites, and I missed out on a lot. As some others have said, you will get the full benefit of Stevie Wonder's masterpiece if you listen to the album in its entirety.
on November 21, 2006
Why do we listen to the music we do? Sometimes I forget. But as several occasions have affirmed, all I have to do is put on 'Another Star' and I remember. This is why I listen to music. It is music like THIS that is why I listen. Because it is a soul connection.... a connection with the infinite.
Such are the impressions of awe and beauty that the music of Stevie Wonder engenders. They transcend both time and space. This album, released in 1976, 30 years ago as I write this, affects me every bit as powerfully today as it ever did. Although Stevie's musical output has been quite prodigous, I think this was probaly his masterpiece. It is just such a total singular experience from start to finish. If one really listens, I don't know how they could not be profoundly moved.
Originally packaged as two LP and a 2 song EP, the entire collection is a result of a 3 year recording session. The work reflects quality in both concept and execution. The musicians are awesome. (listen to 'Contusion'!) But like all his best work, it is Stevie Wonder's spirituality that brings this recording to life. And while all of the album is excellent, with tight R&B songs like 'I Wish', 'Sir Duke' and the melanchcoly 'Summer Soft', the album really kicks into high gear with 'side four' with 'Isn't She Lovely' through to 'Another Star'. This segway of five exquisite compositions, pardon the pun, simply knocks me off my feet!
The infectious 'Isn't She Lovely' is irresistable in its happiness. A song he obviously wrote for his newborn daughter, it also coincided with the birth of my first son. The playful harmonica is a masterful improvisation of the instrument and is a perfect fit that really communicates the joy of the artist. It also runs for 'longer than radio length', as do many of the tunes here. Stevie obviously had earned the right with this album to do what he wants and he joyously indulges with lengthy treatments of these songs, but they are never too long. They just give him room to really express his extraordinary passion. "The latin-tinged 'Ngiculela' (I am singing) is a pure, beautiful piece both in lyric and melody. Stevie expresses his most passionate singing in this song: "I am singing... of tomorrow! - I am singing... of love. - I am singing... that someday love will rule throughout this world of ours. I am singing.... of love from the heart." Expressed only as Stevie Wonder can say it. "If it's Magic" is a shorter piece, but also beautiful,arranged with harps and a simple acapella vocal. Again, the lyrics carry beautiful poetry with, "It holds the key to every heart, throughout the Universe, it fills you up without a bite, and quenches every thirst."
Next are what I consider the two back-to-back most powerful recordings of probably the entire decade let along this album: 'As', and 'Another Star'. They go together seemlessly as a singular passionate statement, although each is quite different musically. 'As' starts out with a laid-back R&B verse, and then just gathers momentum as it morphs into a untraditional 'gospel' style piece with a call an answer section that is just too cool for words. What is awesome here are the lyrics. "Until the day that 8X8X8 is four - Until the day that is the day that are no more, etc." This song really rocks and posesses a passion rarely captured on a studio recording. Stevie allows the tune to heat up until a point where he 'steps out' and has s few things to say: "We all know that life's heartache and trouble can make you wish you were born in another time and place. But you can bet your life times that and twice it's double... that God knew exactly where He wanted you to be placed. So make sure when you say you're in the world but not of it.... you're not helping to make this a place sometimes called hell... Change your words into Truth and then change that Truth into Love and maybe our children's grandchildren and their great grandchildren will tell..."
on May 20, 2001
"Songs in the Key of Life" is truly Stevie Wonder's opus. It is hard to imagine this, having already fallen in love with "Talking Book" and "Innervisions." Many, including myself, consider it to be the greatest pop album ever recorded. It is just about the most magnificent, wide-ranging and deeply moving recording I've ever heard. This record truly displays the depth and integrity of Stevie's gifts as a composer, instrumentalist, vocalist and producer. His choice of musicians on this record (including Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and Greg Phillangaines) is of course top-notch. Musically and artistically it is a masterpiece on every conceivable level. However, I am saying all of this of the original recording, not the one you see here.
I have been trying for some time now to dispell the notion that digital remastering somehow enhances the quality of an older record. I have heard remasters that were excellent, and I think for recordings of the 1950's and 60's vintage they can improve the overall fidelity of early stereo. However, Stevie's albums in the early and mid 70's were also masterpieces of recording technology. I have such fond memories of hearing this record on LP and being so entranced by the warmth and intimacy of the sound. Analog masters sound as though the musicians are with you in the room! Many new recordings lack this quality, sounding sterile and reproduced. I was greatly disappointed with this particular remaster, as well as all of the Stevie Wonder remasters that were recently released by Motown. It sounds to me as if someone simply compressed all of the waves and then cranked up the treble about a hundred notches. Some of the cymbal crashes on this record left my ears ringing, I can't understand why so many people prefer to listen to this.
Having come of age after the advent of CDs, I feel I am being as objective as one can be. I think this is not simply an issue of preference, or analog vs. digital. I think this about preserving and respecting the original 'voice' of the record. Stevie Wonder, in addition to all of his musical accomplisments, was a master producer. He knew what he wanted to hear, and when I listen to the original recording I am so stimulated by the entire sonic experience. There are textures and nuances in many of the layers (especially the intricate bass lines and synth work) that have been obscured by the high frequency, high compression sound format that has somehow become the standard. I am afraid that the fascination with technological advancement has superceded the pure listening experience, and it's disappointing.
Nevertheless, the music speaks for itself. I would only advise that those who wish to hear the album how it was intended to be heard in 1976 buy the original.
One of Stevie Wonder's seminal albums, "Songs in The Key of Life" receives the audiophile treatment from Audio Fidelity. This new remaster is a marked improvement on the remaster from a decade ago; the album sounds full, warm but without the goosed bass and bright sound of that previous remaster.
How does this compare to the original CD issue? Detail and clarity are slightly better but the biggest improvement comes in area of the bass and soundstage the latter particularly has greater depth and dimension to it. Stevie's vocals also sound marvelous here--a marked improvement over some of the previous editions.
I've had some issues with some of the Audio Fidelity reissues on CD. For example "The Pretenders" and reissue of The Doors' "The Soft Parade" both suffered from peak limiting (and in the case of "The Pretenders" there was at least one overdub that was missing because it was "flown in" later for the original release)and The Cars' "Heartbeat City" although a stronger, sharper sounding release didn't have the flow of the original album with its overlapping and quicker fades. I can happily report none of these issues are apparent here.
The artwork which also was an issue with some of the early AF releases isn't an issue here either; the full booklet with all the lyrics has been included. Although the type is a bit smaller than I had hoped for the lyrics and credits, the print is clear and the quality of the glossy paper is more so what one would expect from an audiophile release. As with all AF releases (a carry over from the old DCC)we get images of the original vinyl labels included in the booklet which continues to be a nice touch.
I do wish that AF would adopt the SACD/CD hybrid format for their releases (although even Mobile Fidelity only uses it on select titles based on their licensing agreement). Although this is marked as an HDCD release that has to do with (if I recall correctly)the use of the HDCD converters during the analog to digital process and the peak extensions characteristic of most HDCDs isn't presented here (which could be good or bad depending on how you listen to your music--on a regular CD player for example HDCD can sound a bit shrill and bright to some folks).
For those who do have SACD players the SHM SACD recently reissued from Japan reportedly sounds remarkable and has a slightly better soundstage and detail than this CD remaster. I don't own it but that has been attributed to everything from the fact that it's an SACD (although NOT a hybrid--I only purchase hybrids which is why I don't have this so I can play them anywhere)to the remaster being slightly goosed. I can't comment on the latter but the former makes sense. For a regular CD issue however this is probably the best one out there with an improved soundstage, depth and less "thin" sounding compared to the original CD issue and a marked improvement over the goosed remaster from a decade ago.
Over all this is an impressive presentation of a classic album and I'm happy that AF has done such a fine job with this release. Kudos to AF and Kevin Gray (who did the remastering here)for doing such a fine job with this seminal release.
on September 16, 2013
The re-mixing of the songs in this collection scrape away the baritone and bottom of Stevie Wonder's voice. Here his tonal quality sounds like John Legend's. The collection destroys Stevie's unique, individual timbre. It is very apparent in "Isn't She Lovely" when the spoken part is clearly in a different timbre than Stevie's singing (yes, speech and singing are different, but the contrast here is obvious.) This is an ego-driven, I-am-the-mix-master-who-loves-Stevie and here is my opportunity to improve on his recording. In doing so, they have erased the compelling, essential quality of his voice, that thick, husky throated fog that give Stevie a thickness to his sound, unmatched by other singers. That harmonic bottom offered a rich of overtones that were like shades of color in a painting. Stevie has a unique tonal palette tied to his emotional expression that enhanced every song he performed.
I listened to him on the original recordings. I saw him live. I've been listening to him for 50 years. This subtle cleansing desecrates his legacy and conceals his greatness under the guise of improvement.