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MusicRadar’s second Classic Album Of The Month is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever recorded. And with its creator about to hit Worthy Farm, Pilton, what better time to revisit it?
The story goes that Songs In The Key Of Life is an album that nearly didn’t get made. In 1975, Stevie Wonder was reported to be seriously considering leaving the music industry to go and work with handicapped children in Ghana; a noble idea, certainly, but surely few who’ve heard his double-LP (plus bonus EP) opus would deny that philanthropy’s loss was very much music’s gain.
Prior to completing Songs’, Wonder’s contract with Motown was up and, according to label boss Berry Gordy, it took $13 million of his company’s money to make him sign a new one. Gordy initially baulked at having to pay what, at the time, was a huge sum, but was quickly appeased after the album’s much-delayed release. It debuted at number one in the Billboard chart on 8 October 1976, spent 13 consecutive weeks there and went on to sell over ten million copies in the US the following year.
Looking back, Songs In The Key Of Life marks a pivotal point in Wonder’s career. It turned out to be the last in a series of classic ‘70s albums (following Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale) and simultaneously heralded the arrival of a patchier period. Suffice to say, its 1979 follow up Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants is unlikely to be featured in our Classic Album series any time soon, and there are moments during Songs In The Key Of Life when the schmaltzier side of Stevie that would frustrate fans during the ‘80s starts to rear its saccharine head.
But this is an album about all that life has to offer, so perhaps it’s fitting that we take the rough with the smooth. The highs, when they come, are still incredible, and the fact that Stevie’s Glastonbury set on Sunday is likely to draw heavily on Songs’ tracklisting is testament to its quality.
We’ll be following the original double-LP running order for our track-by-track review, turning to the A Something’s Extra EP (which was included as a bonus disc) at the end. Let's get started...