Songs in the Key of Life

Songs in the Key of Life

Infobox Album | Name = Songs in the Key of Life
Type = Album
Artist = Stevie Wonder

Released = September 28, 1976
Recorded = 1975-1976; Crystal Sound Studios, Hollywood and Hit Factory New York
Genre = R&B, Funk, Pop, Jazz, Afrobeat, Soul, Instrumental, Orchestra, & Experimental
Length = 87:02 (LPs)
18:02 (A Something's Extra EP)
105:04 (full album)
Label = Motown
Producer = Stevie Wonder
Reviews =
*Allmusic Rating|5|5 [ link]
*BBC (favorable) [ link]
*Robert Christgau (A) [ link]
*PopMatters (favorable) [ link]
*"Rolling Stone" Rating|5|5 [ link] |Last album = "Fulfillingness' First Finale"
This album = "Songs in the Key of Life"
Next album = "Looking Back - Anthology"

"Songs in the Key of Life" is an album by Stevie Wonder, released on Motown on September 28, 1976 (see 1976 in music). It was the last of five consecutive albums widely hailed as his "classic period", along with "Music of My Mind", "Talking Book", "Innervisions" and "Fulfillingness' First Finale". A highly ambitious and experimental double LP, "Songs in the Key of Life" became the best-selling and among the most critically acclaimed album of his career.


As of 1975, Stevie Wonder was one of the most popular figures of R&B and pop music, not only in the United States but worldwide. The albums "Talking Book", "Innervisions" and "Fulfillingness' First Finale" were all back-to-back successes, with the two latter winning Grammy Award for Album of the Year, in 1974 and 1975 respectively. At this point of his career, he realizes he wanted some changes in his career. He stated, "I don't like it when one is put into a category of music. (...) It seems that every person is put into a certain bag. Being an artist is not being limited to one kind of music. For instance, soul music was derived from gospel and early rhythm and blues. In my mind, soul means feeling. When a person is categorized as a soul artist because of his colour, I don't like it. True artistry is about variety, the real spice of an artist's life."Fact|date=October 2008

Intially, Wonder was seriously pondering quitting the music industry at the end of 1975 by doing one more concert and then leave to live permanently in Ghana working with handicapped children. The plan was scrapped when he felt it was better to continue his career. Signing a new contract with Motown on August 5, 1975 would prevent rivals such as Artista or Epic from buying him. The contract was laid out as a seven-year, seven LP $37 million deal and would give him full artistic control making this the largest deal ever made with a recording star up to that point. Lundy, Zeth "33 1/3 Songs in the key of life", pp.14/15.] The project, almost at the beginning was a year off for Stevie in the music market, with a project for a double album to be released in 1976. [cite web|url=|title=Songs in the Key of Life|publisher=Rolling Stone Magazine] The working title would be known as "Let's see life the way it is". Lundy, Zeth "33 1/3 Songs in the key of life" , p.8.] Wonder's new album was largely awaited. But, as a perfectionist, Stevie spent long hours in the studio for almost every track to be recorded. He was "not eating or sleeping, while everyone around him struggled to keep up". [cite web|url=|title=Songs in the Key of Life|publisher=Rolling Stone Magazine] "If my flow is goin', I keep on until I peak," he said. And, by the fall of 1975 he still felt it needed much more work. He had not even decided on a definite title. The year ended, and it had been a rather unique one: in all of 1975, Stevie Wonder had not released a single record. []

Stevie continued to work on his new album into early 1976. By the spring he had decided to call it "Songs in the Key of Life". The title would represent the forumla of a complex "key of life" and the proposals for the indefinite success. Lundy, Zeth "33 1/3 Songs in the key of life", pp.8/9.] The album would finally released on September 28 1976, as a double album plus a single containing four songs, two each side, generally referred as an EP.

Commercial reception

Highly anticipated, the album surpassed all commercial expectations. Surprisingly, it debuted straight at number 1 on the Billboard Album Charts on October 16, becoming the third album in history to achieve that feat and the first by an American artist. In 1975, Elton John released the first two albums to debut right at the top of Billboard, those being "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" and "Rock of the Westies". It's also remarkable that only six albums debuted at number 1 between 1975 and 1991, when the official counting of SoundScan began – the two Elton John albums (1975), "Songs in the Key of Life" (1976), Bruce Springsteen's "Live/1975-85" (1986), Whitney Houston's "Whitney" (1987) and Michael Jackson's "Bad".

After debuting at the summit, "Songs in the Key of Life" spent 13 consecutive weeks at number 1, 11 of them inside the calendar year 1976. Achieving this, it was the album with most weeks at number 1 during the year. In those 11 weeks, "Songs in the Key of Life" managed to block 4 albums to reach the top – in order, Boz Scaggs's "Silk Degrees", Earth, Wind & Fire's "Spirit", the Led Zeppelin's soundtrack for "The Song Remains the Same" and Rod Stewart's "A Night on the Town". [] On January 15 1977, the album finally dropped to #2 behind Eagles "Hotel California" and the following week, it fell to #3, but on January 29 managed to spend a 14th, and final, week at the top. The album then began its final fall. It spent a total of 35 weeks inside the Top 10 and 80 weeks inside the overall Billboard Album Charts.

In all, "Songs in the Key of Life" became the second best-selling album of 1977 in the U.S., only behind Fleetwood Mac's blockbuster "Rumours", and it was certified Diamond album by the RIAA, which means 10 million copies sold in the U.S. alone. [cite web |url=|title=Welcome Back, Wonder|publisher=RIAA|accessdate=2007-11-11]


"Songs in the Key of Life" was also the most successful Stevie Wonder project in terms of singles. The lead-off, the upbeat "I Wish" was released over a month after the album was released, in November 1976. On January 15 1977 it reached #1 on the Billboard R&B Chart, where it spent 5 weeks at the top. 7 days after, it also reached the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, though occuped only one week at number 1. The track became an international Top 10 single, and also reached #5 in the UK. "I Wish" became one of Stevie Wonder's standards and remained as one of his most sampled songs. In 1999, Will Smith used "I Wish" as the base for his U.S. #1 single "Wild Wild West". The song repeated the main melody of "I Wish" as a riff and some lyrics reformed. The follow-up, the jazzy "Sir Duke" even surpassed the commercial success of "I Wish". It was released on March 1977, and also reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (spending three weeks at the top starting on May 21) and the R&B Charts (for 1 weeks starting on May 28). It also reached #2 in the UK, where it was knocked-off the top spot by Deniece Williams's "Free".

As interest for the album began to disappear during the second half of 1977, the two other singles from "Songs in the Key of Life" didn't achieve the commercial success of "I Wish" and "Sir Duke". "Another Star" was released in August and reached only #32 on the Hot 100 (#18 on the R&B charts, and #29 in the UK) and "As" came out two months later, peaking at #36 on both the Pop and R&B Charts.

Critical reception

At the time of release, reporters and music critics, and everyone who had worked on the album, traveled to a farm in Connecticut for a press preview of the album. Stevie received everybody, autographed copies of the album and gave interviews.

Critical reception was warmly positive. Most people were awed by "Songs in the Key of Life". At is time, it was like a guided tour through the whole range of musical styles as well as through the life and feelings of the artist. It included recollections of childhood, of first love and lost love. It contained songs about faith and love among all peoples and songs about social justice for the poor and downtrodden. []

The album won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal and Album of the Year. With the time, the album became a standard, and it is considered Stevie Wonder's signature album. "Songs in the Key of Life" is often cited as one of the greatest albums in popular music history.cite web |url=|title=Acclaimed Music - Songs in the Key of Life|publisher=Acclaimed Music|accessdate=2007-11-11] It was voted as the best album of the year in "The Village Voice"'s annual Pazz & Jop critics poll; in 2001 the TV network VH1 named it the seventh greatest album of all time; in 2003, the album was ranked number 56 on "Rolling Stone" magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Elton John called "Songs in the Key of Life" the best album ever made. In September 2008, the album was voted the "Top Album of All Time" by the Yahoo! Music Playlist Blog, using a formula that combined 4 parameters - "Album Staying Power Value + Sales Value + Critical Rating Value + Grammy Award Value". []

Track listing

ide one

#"Love's in Need of Love Today" (Wonder) – 7:06
#*Eddie “Bongo” Brown—Collinga
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"Have a Talk with God" (Calvin Hardaway, Wonder) – 2:42
#*All Instruments Stevie Wonder
#"Village Ghetto Land" (Gary Byrd, Wonder) – 3:25
#*All Instruments Stevie Wonder
#"Contusion" (Wonder) – 3:46
#*Mike Sembello—Lead Guitar
#*Raymond Pounds—Drums
#*Nathan Watts—Bass
#*Ben Bridges—Rhythm Guitar
#*Gregory Phillinganes—Keyboard
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder
#*Michael Gray, Josie James, Shirley Brewer, Artece May—Vocals

#"Sir Duke" (Wonder) – 3:52
#*Raymond Pounds—Drums
#*Nathan Watts—Bass
#*Mike Sembello—Lead Guitar
#*Ben Bridges—Rhythm Guitar
#*Hank Redd—Alto Saxophone
#*Raymond Maldonado—Trumpet
#*Trevor Laurence—Tenor Saxophone
#*Steve Madaio—Trumpet
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

ide two

#"I Wish" (Wonder) – 4:12
#*Nathan Watts—Bass
#*Hank Redd—Alto Saxophone
#*Raymond Maldonado—Trumpet
#*Trevor Laurence—Tenor Saxophone
#*Steve Madaio—Trumpet
#*Raymond Pounds—Drums
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"Knocks Me Off My Feet" (Wonder) – 3:36
#*All Instruments Stevie Wonder
#"Pastime Paradise" (Wonder) – 3:27
#*Raymond Maldonado, Bobbye Hall—Percussion
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder
#*Hare Krishna, West Angeles Church Choir—Background Vocals

#"Summer Soft" (Wonder) – 4:14
#*Ben Bridges—Rhythm Guitar
#*Ronnie Foster—Organ
#*Larry “Nastyee” Latimer—Percussion
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"Ordinary Pain" (Wonder) – 6:16
#*Mike Sembello—Lead Guitar
#*Hank Redd—Alto Saxophone
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder
#*Minnie Riperton, Mary Lee Whitney, Deniece Williams, Syreeta Wright—Background Vocals
#*Shirley Brewer—Reply
#*Linda Lawrence, Terri Hendricks, Sundray Tucker, Charity McCrary, Madelaine Jones—Reply's Background Vocals

ide three

#"Isn't She Lovely" (Wonder) – 6:34
#*Gregory Phillinganes—Keyboard
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"Joy Inside My Tears" (Wonder) – 6:30
#*Gregory Phillinganes—Keyboard
#*Susaye Green—Background vocals
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"Black Man" (Byrd/Wonder) – 8:27
#*Hank Redd—Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone
#*Steve Madaio—Trumpet
#*George Bohanon—Trombone
#*Glen Ferris—Trombone

ide four

#"Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing" (Wonder) – 3:48
#*Charles Brewer, Shirley Brewer, Renee Hardaway, Nelson Hayes, Marietta Waters, Nathan Watts, John Fischbach, Amale Mathews, Josette Valentino—Background percussion
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"If It's Magic" (Wonder) – 3:12
#*Dorothy Ashby—Harp
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"As" (Wonder) – 7:08
#*Nathan Watts—Bass, Handclaps
#*Dean Parks—Guitar
#*Herbie Hancock—Keyboards, Handclaps
#*Greg Brown—Drums
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder
#*Mary Lee Whitney—Background Vocals
#*Dave Hanson, Yolanda Simon, Josette Valentino—Handclaps

#"Another Star" (Wonder) – 8:08
#*Bobbi Humphrey—Flute
#*George Benson—Guitar & Background Vocals
#*Hank Redd—Alto Saxophone
#*Raymond Maldonado—Trumpet
#*Trevor Laurence—Tenor Saxophone
#*Steve Madaio—Trumpet
#*Nathan Alford, Jr.—Percussion
#*Carmello Hungria Garcia—Timbales
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder
#*Josie James—Background Vocals

"A Something's Extra"

ide one

#"Saturn" (Michael Sembello, Wonder) – 4:54
#*Mike Sembello—Lead Guitar
#*Ben Bridges—Rhythm Guitar
#*Gregory Phillinganes—Keyboard
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

#"Ebony Eyes" (Wonder) – 4:11
#*Nathan Watts—Bass
#*Jim Horn—Saxophone
#*Peter “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow—Steel Guitar
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

ide two

#"All Day Sucker" (Wonder) – 5:06
#*Ben Bridges—Rhythm Guitar
#*Mike Sembello—Rhythm Guitar
#*W. G. "Snuffy" Walden—Lead Guitar
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder
#*Carolyn Denis—Background Vocals

#"Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)" (Wonder) – 3:55
#*Nathan Watts—Bass
#*All Other Instruments Stevie Wonder

The "A Something's Extra" 7" EP was included with the special-edition version of the original LP. These tracks are also on most CD versions of the album, either split between both discs or appended to the end of the second disc.


*Stevie Wonder - Harmonica, Arranger, Keyboards, Programming, Vocals, Drums
*Michael Sembello - Guitar
*Sneaky Pete Kleinow - Pedal Steel
*George Benson - Guitar, Vocals
*Ronnie Foster - Organ
*Herbie Hancock - Keyboards, Handclapping
*Dean Parks - Guitar
*Greg Phillinganes - Keyboards
*W.G. "Snuffy" Walden - Guitar
*Nathan Watts - Bass, Vocals, Handclapping
*Greg Brown - Drums
*Raymond Lee Pounds - Drums
*Hank Redd - Sax (Alto), Sax (Tenor)
*George Bohannon - Trombone
*Ben Bridges - Guitar, Sitar
*Dorothy Ashby - Harp
*Bobbi Humphrey - Flute
*Howard "Buzzy" Feiten - Guitar
*Steve Madaio - Trumpet
*Trevor Lawrence - Sax (Tenor)
*Glen Ferris - Trombone
*Jim Horn - Saxophone
*Deniece Williams - Vocals
*Minnie Riperton - Vocals
*Gary Byrd - Vocals
*Michael Wycoff - Vocals
*Larry Scott - Sound Effects
*Carol Cole - Percussion
*Bobbye Hall - Percussion
*Jay Boy Adams - Vocals
*Nathan Alford, Jr. - Percussion
*Henry America - Vocals
*Linda America - Vocals
*Baradras - Vocals
*Brenda Barnett - Vocals
*Khalif Bobatoon - Vocals
*Starshemah Bobatoon - Vocals
*Sudana Bobatoon - Vocals
*Charles Brewer - Percussion, Programming, Vocals
*Shirley Brewer - Percussion, Vocals, Speaking Part
*Berry Briges - Vocals
*Cecilia Brown - Vocals
*Eddie "Bongo" Brown - Percussion
*Jean Brown - Vocals
*Rodney Brown - Vocals
*Colleen Carleton - Percussion, Vocals
*Addie Cox - Vocals
*Agnideva Dasa - Vocals
*Duryodhana Guru Dasa - Vocals
*Jayasacinandana Dasa - Vocals
*Jitamrtyi Dasa - Vocals
*Vedavyasa Dasa - Vocals
*Cinmayi Dasi - Vocals
*Yogamaya Dasi - Vocals
*Carolyn Dennis - Vocals
*Bhakta Eddie - Vocals
*Doe Rani Edwards - Vocals
*Jacqueline F. English - Vocals
*Ethel Enoex - Vocals
*Al Jocko Fann - Vocals
*Barbara Fann - Vocals
*Melani Fann - Vocals
*Shelley Fann - Vocals
*Tracy Fann - Vocals
*John Fischbach - Percussion, Programming, Vocals, Engineer
*Susie Fuzzell - Vocals
*Carmelo Garcia - Percussion, Timbales
*Anthony Givens - Vocals
*Audrey Givens - Vocals
*Derrick Givens - Vocals
*Mildred Givens - Vocals
*Michael Lee Gray - Vocals
*Mimi Green - Vocals
*Susaye Greene Brown - Vocals
*Bhakta Gregory - Vocals
*Renee Hardaway - Percussion, Vocals
*John Harris - Sound Effects
*Jeania Harris - Vocals
*John Harris - Programming
*Troy Harris - Vocals
*Nelson Hayes - Percussion, Sound Effects, Vocals
*Terry Hendricks - Vocals
*H. David Henson - Assistant Engineer
*Don Hunter - Programming, Sound Effects
*Adrian Janes - Vocals
*Josie James - Vocals
*Calvin Johnson - Vocals
*Carol Johnson - Vocals
*Patricia Johnson - Vocals
*Madelaine Jones - Vocals
*Bhakta Kevin - Vocals
*Phillip Kimble - Vocals
*James Lambert - Vocals
*Linda Lawrence - Vocals,
*Irma Leslie - Vocals
*Kim Lewis - Vocals
*Carl Lockhart - Vocals
*Gail Lockhart - Vocals
*Raymond Maldonado - Percussion, Trumpet
*Carolyn Massenburg - Vocals
* _en. Artice May - Vocals
*Charity McCrary - Vocals
*Linda McCrary-Campbell - Vocals
*Lonnie Morgan - Vocals
*Kim Nixon - Vocals
*Lisa Nixon - Vocals
*Larri Nuckens - Vocals
*Larry Latimer - Percussion, Vocals
*Amale Mathews - Percussion, Vocals
*Gary Olazabal - Engineer , Bass Sound
*Edna Orso - Percussion, Vocals
*Marietta Waters - Percussion, Vocals
*Josette Valentino - Percussion, Vocals, Handclapping
*Gwen Perry - Vocals
*Gregory Rudd - Vocals
*Rukmini - Vocals
*Yolanda Simmons - Vocals, Handclapping
*Keith Slaughter - Vocals
*Rosona Starks - Vocals
*Dennis Swindell - Vocals
*Sundray Tucker - Vocals
*Gary Veney - Vocals
*Sheryl Walker - Vocals
*Mary Lee Whitney - Vocals
*Syreeta Wright - Vocals
*Michael Gray - Vocals
*Susaye Greene - Vocals
*William Moore - Vocals
*Fountain Jones - Programming

Covers and Samples

Jazz saxophonist Najee covered the complete album as a tribute to Stevie Wonder in his 1995 release aptly named "Songs From The Key Of Life".

Several songs from "Songs in the Key of Life" have been covered and sampled by other artists.

; "Love's In Need of Love Today" : Later recorded by BLACKstreet in 1994, Dave Hollister in 2002; also by Joan Osborne on the cover album "How Sweet It Is".; "Have A Talk With God" : Sampled by Snoop Dogg for his 2006 song "Conversations", which featured a re-recorded vocal by Stevie Wonder himself.; "Contusion" : Later chopped up and melded with other jazz samples for the Venetian Snares song "Banana Seat Girl" (2002).; "I Wish" : Later recorded, with different lyrics, by Will Smith as the theme song for the film "Wild Wild West". Sampled and remixed by Ben Leibrand for inclusion on his 1990 album "Styles" and featuring the rapping talents of (Miss) Nasty Chat. Sampled by Digital Underground for their song "No Nose Job". Sampled by The Black Dog for their song "Ambience With Teeth". ; "Isn't She Lovely" : a UK top ten hit for David Parton in 1977.; "Black Man" : Sung by a group of children on "The Richard Pryor Show?"; "Pastime Paradise" : Later recorded by Ray Barretto and reworked into "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio in 1995, whose version was parodied by "Weird Al" Yankovic as "Amish Paradise" in 1996. Sampled again as the basis of "Curtain Falls" by the boy-band Blue on 2004. In 1999 the song was covered by the Finnish humppa band Elakelaiset as "Paratiisihumppa". Also recorded by Patti Smith on her 2007 cover album "Twelve". Also sampled in "3–6 in the Mornin" by Three–6 Mafia and "Crack", a bonus track off Scarface's 2007 album "Made".; "Knocks Me Off My Feet" : Later recorded by Luther Vandross in 1996 and then by Donnell Jones in 1996.; "Village Ghetto Land" : Covered by George Michael. Later sampled on Warren G's "Ghetto Village", off his 2001 album "Return of the Regulator". In this version the melody is slightly accelerated and the song is retrofitted with Warren's signature brand of G-Funk.; "As" : Later recorded as an instrumental by Jean-Luc Ponty in 1982. Other covers include Nichole Nordeman in 2000 and by Michael Bolton in 2001. Also a successful duet between George Michael and Mary J. Blige in 1998.; "Another Star" : Covered by Kathy Sledge and included (twice) in the 1995 Ministry Of Sound "Sessions 4" double CD. Later recorded by Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul in 2002.; "If It's Magic" : Covered by Sarah Connor for her album "Soulicious".

Chart Performance




External links

* [] Audio streams: WBEZ program 'Extensions' broadcast a 3 hour special commemorating the album's 30th anniversary

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