By 1966, Little Stevie Wonder had released four studio and one live album. The studio albums had garnered limited commercial success, while his live release had topped the Billboard Magazine Pop and Rhythm & Blues Album Charts. In retrospect, it’s surprising that Motown did not go to the well again and issue another live album. But Little Stevie Wonder was growing up and, while he was not quite ready to assume complete control of his career, he was beginning to assert himself.
Little Stevie Wonder was gone and Stevie Wonder was on the rise. Motown had given up on trying to make him the next Ray Charles and had begun the process of accepting him as the first Stevie Wonder.
Up-Tight can be considered the beginning of the second phase of Wonder’s career. His voice had deepened and he had changed from a shouter to a singer who could now follow a melody. He was also beginning to compose his own material as he co-wrote three of the tracks, including the up-beat title song. The record buying public of the day would begin to embrace his new persona as the album would reach number 33 on the Billboard Pop Chart and number three of the R&B Chart.
Two songs pointed toward his developing maturity. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” is a driving blast of Motown soul that would become a hit single. His infectious vocal soared over the instrumentals. It may be a little off the topic but the single’s flip side, “Purple Rain Drops,” was a beautiful love ballad, which quickly disappeared from the Stevie Wonder landscape. It has not appeared on any Wonder album - studio, live, or compilation, in nearly 40 years. I don’t know if that oversight has been corrected during the past few years, but it is a long lost gem.
The other track which presented his advancing maturity was his cover of the Bob Dylan tune, “Blowin’ In The Wind” with additional vocals by Clarence Paul. He changed Dylan’s classic protest song into an aching soul classic. It’s one of the most inventive covers of a Dylan song that you can find.
There are a number of other good tracks that made the release an overall strong album. “Hold Me” was a gentle ballad, while “Nothing To Good For My Baby” is another hard driving track. His cover of “Teach Me Tonight” included additional vocals by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops. The album closed with another gentle ballad, “With A Child’s Heart.”
Stevie Wonder would spend the next four to five years of his life honing his skills, which would ultimately enable him to produce a series of some of the best and most creative albums in music history. Up-Tight catches him at the beginning of that maturation process. and remains a fine listen in its own right.