Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

STEVIE WONDER IN CONCERT – Songs In The Key Of (My) Life

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Stevie Wonder concert at Madison Square Garden. This wasn’t my first Stevie Wonder live experience, as I had Stevie Wonder Image (from Songs In The Key Of Life booklet)previously seen him at Radio City Music Hall in January 1995, when he was supporting the Conversation Peace album. That was an excellent show and, in spite of the fact that he battled a sore throat that night, his voice was a thing of beauty. I marveled at how he effortlessly hit all the notes in songs both old & new, and I basked in the glow of having experienced a live performance by one of my earliest musical heroes.

Last night, however, had the makings of something special, as he was set to perform his classic 1976 double-album Songs In The Key Of Life in its entirety. I got that LP when I was 10 years old after hearing “I Wish” on the radio and having my young mind blown by the funky, offbeat, bubbling rhythm. I had been taking drum lessons Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key Of Lifefor about 2 years and that groove was an eye-opener for me. I quickly became obsessed with the album, listening to it every day after school, poring over the lyrics, liner notes and musician credits in the thick booklet and constantly drawing the sketch of Stevie from the front cover to the best of my abilities. Songs In The Key Of Life is arguably the most diverse yet cohesive double-album ever released…and it’s certainly among the most consistent from start to finish. It’s best known for radio staples like the aforementioned “I Wish,” “Sir Duke,” “Pastime Paradise” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” but the less-exposed songs like “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” “Joy Inside My Tears,” “Another Star,” “Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” and “Saturn” (the highlight of the show for me) are just as inspiring.

How one man in his mid-‘20s could dream up such a collection and bring it to life is truly a wonder, and that’s not even taking into account that he’s blind. What was astounding about last night’s show is that, at the age of 64, he’s singing & playing as Stevie Wonder - I Wish (single sleeve)good as he did 40 years ago. As far as I could tell, everything was in the original key (of life?) and he hit every note from the recordings, often soaring even higher. I’m not sure there’s another “heritage artist” like him out there who hasn’t lost a step over the course of a 40-50 year career. Needless to say, the concert far exceeded my expectations, and I urge anyone with even a passing interest in Stevie Wonder to see him on this tour if you have the opportunity. If you’re unfamiliar with this album, it’s out there waiting to be discovered.

As an added bonus, I’m sharing with my readers an a capella recording I made of “I Wish” in early 1977, when I was still 10 years old (my rendition of “Welcome To My Nightmare,” from the same cassette, was featured in Part 3 of my Alice Cooper series). I clearly wasn’t going to win any singing contests but my heart was in every note of the song, and until today I had forgotten about my brief inclusion of “Knocks Me Off My Feet” at the end. I hope you enjoy it.
[Rich(ie) Kamerman, Age 10 (1977) – “I Wish”]

As a point of comparison, here’s Stevie’s original recording. I’ll let you decide which one is the definitive version.

18 comments on “STEVIE WONDER IN CONCERT – Songs In The Key Of (My) Life

  1. Gary
    November 7, 2014

    It’s close but I’m giving your version the edge. Nice job.


    • I’m flattered, Gary. I have to give Stevie credit for inspiring my version, and of course he had a much higher recording budget.


      • 1537
        November 8, 2014

        I’m with Gary on this one too. He could learn a thing or two from you.


      • Thanks for supporting my 10-year-old self in “Time Travel Star Search.” Haha. Glad you enjoyed it.


  2. Alan K.
    November 7, 2014

    Rich – very well written. This is the thing I think about too: “How one man in his mid-‘20s could dream up such a collection and bring it to life is truly a wonder.” And you could say that about many of his albums of the period, not just SITKOL. It’s the same thing I think about Brian Wilson, and it’s why I think Brian and Stevie are the only two genuine musical geniuses our country has produced in the rock era, a stance I have expressed often to other with some controversy but which I am always willing to defend and discuss. Having had the privilege of being one of the people who saw that concert last night with you, I can add that in addition to his extraordinary musical vision and lasting power he is the closest to the human embodiment of joy I think I have ever witnessed up close. The man just exudes positivity. I’m glad he’s had all those kids – we need more human beings like Stevie Wonder. That’s my 2 cents anyway.


    • Thanks Alan. I agree that my comments could have applied to any of his albums from Where I’m Coming From through Songs In The Key Of Life. If I ever do a series on his discography, that will be a really enjoyable sequence of albums to revisit & discuss.

      I would have to give it some thought, but your statement about Stevie Wonder & Brian Wilson being “the only two genuine musical geniuses our country has produced in the rock era” is probably close to accurate. Perhaps Dylan should be added to that list. Otherwise, many American artists have shone brightly but briefly, while Wonder & Wilson had extended periods of brilliance. as for your comment about him being “the closest to the human embodiment of joy,” I wholeheartedly agree, both in his songs and his approach to life. Great point about him procreating. The world needs a lot more people like Stevland Hardaway Morris.


  3. mikeladano
    November 7, 2014

    Rich, I’ve been keeping up with your social media posts about this — I’m so thrilled that you had such a great time at Stevie Wonder. I read a great review in the New York Daily News too.

    I love this little kid recording! I found an old tape of mine from the same age…I MAY have the courage to post some.

    This is great 🙂 I have to say that Stevie might have competition 😉


    • Mike, I was hoping to read some reviews of the concert today but I got backed up at work. I plan on doing that this weekend. As my friend Alan Kennedy stated in an earlier comment, Stevie might be “the closest to the human embodiment of joy.” I don’t think there’s a better description of what makes him such a special person, beyond his incredible musical abilities.

      Thanks for giving my version of “I Wish” a listen. My 10-year-old self appreciates the support. I hope you work up the courage to post your recordings at some point. I never got the sense that you held back from posting anything. I’m guessing the quality of your recordings will be better since you’re younger than me and the technology was probably better. Mine was on a single mono cassette deck. A classic.


  4. 1537
    November 8, 2014

    Really enjoyed this one, sounds like you had a lovely time too. Innervisions was the one that got me, more so than SITKOL.


    • The run that Stevie had in the ’70s with Where I’m Coming From, Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs In The Key Of Life is as good as it gets, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that all of that music came from him with little to no collaboration. Not sure if I have a favorite out of those albums, but I obviously have a very special connection with Songs In The Key Of Life because it was my introduction to his music at such a young age. All of those albums hold up extremely well, don’t you think?


  5. 45spin
    November 8, 2014

    This was the album that really “Knocks Me Off My Feet” to use a song title from the album. Interesting enough he used a lot of non-Motown musicians on this record. And they sure stretched the musical boundaries as you discussed.


    • Hi Rob. Nice job referencing that song, which has always been a personal favorite. The version he performed the other night was spectacular. I think he stopped using Motown musicians a few years before this, and many of his early-70s records mostly feature him on the majority of instruments. Also Michael Sembello, who would later gain fame with “Maniac” from Flashdance, played guitar on this album and also co-wrote “Saturn,” which gave me chills when he played it on Thursday night.


  6. Phillip Helbig
    November 10, 2014

    “I’m not sure there’s another “heritage artist” like him out there who hasn’t lost a step over the course of a 40-50 year career.”

    A few months ago at an unplugged Scorpions concert, I was amazed that Klaus Meine sounded exactly like he did on the studio version when singing “Blackout”. With a high, power-rock voice, one might think that it would have lost some of its glory, but not at all.

    Last Friday I saw Michael Schenker accompanied by Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz (rhythm section from the classic Scorpions lineup), Wayne Findlay (not sure about the spelling) on guitar and keyboards and Doogie White on vocals. Now Michael has lost more steps in his life than many people even make, but it’s great to see him back in tremendous form. Highly recommended!

    I guess it shows their and our ages when one could consider Iron Maiden to be a heritage artist. 🙂 But I can’t think of another band who has been so consistently high quality.


    • Phillip, I’m always impressed at how you can bring any music conversation back to Iron Maiden (&/or Jethro Tull), and getting from Stevie Wonder to Maiden here is especially impressive. You make good points about Scorpions, Schenker & Maiden, and they certainly do sound amazing for artists who have been around as long as they have, but I can say objectively that Stevie sounded exactly as good as he did 40 years ago (and at times even better), and I’m guessing there are only a handful of artists who can make that claim.


  7. stephen1001
    December 11, 2014

    Great vocal performance past-Rich!
    I really like the idea of those ‘album in its entirety’ shows, glad to hear he’s still got it almost 4 decades later


    • Thanks Geoff. This was the first album-in-its-entirety show I’ve seen. Glad I picked a good one. Thanks for listening to my vocal performance as a youngster.


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