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Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Talking Book

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Talking Book was Stevie Wonder’s second album release of 1972. Building on the style and creativity of Where I’m Coming From and Music Of My Mind, it proved to be his breakthrough release, both commercially and creatively. It was his biggest selling album to date, produced two number one pop singles, and won three Grammy Awards. It was one of the first soul albums to cross over to a large rock audience. 

The album was part of a series of releases that were among some of the best in American music history. It continued Wonder’s experimentations with odd rhythms and chord changes. The music was emotional, melodic, textured, and poetic. The best part is that it was never boring or repetitive.

Wonder was no longer a child prodigy but had evolved into a mature musician. He continued to write or co-write all the material and played most of the instruments himself, although he did make use of such guest musicians as Ray Parker, David Sanborn, and Jeff Beck on individual tracks. It was his keyboards that were the central instruments and his drumming provided the foundation for the rhythms.

The most memorable track was “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” which became a number one pop hit. It was a smooth, soulful, and dramatic performance. The single version was different from the album track, as a brass section was added to the mix.

“Superstition” was the other number one pop hit. The song was originally offered to Jeff Beck but Berry Gordy nixed that idea and it became one of Wonder’s signature songs. From the opening drums, to the funky clavinet, it is Stevie Wonder at his creative and quirky best.

The album was consistently excellent from beginning to end as there were no weak tracks. “Maybe Your Baby” was a slow tempo tune with bass and clavinet in support. “You and I (We Can Conquer The World)” was the simplest track with romantic lyrics, in spite of the fact that his marriage was falling apart at the time. “Looking For Another Pure Love” featured Jeff Beck, who brought a jazzy feel to the music. “Big Brother” continued his development of producing socially and politically relevant lyrics.

Talking Book is Stevie Wonder’s private journey into his vision of what soul music was at the time and pointed ahead to what it would become in the future. It remains a solid five star album and an essential release when exploring the mind and music of Stevie Wonder.

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