Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
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 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 for 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 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.