The early 1970s were good to Stevie Wonder. First he married Syreeta Wright, who proved to be a songwriting companion. While their personal relationship would end within a couple of years, their professional relationship lasted for two decades. Secondly he turned 21, which gave him the option to void his Motown contract.
Berry Gordy ruled the Motown label with an iron hand. He never gave his artists a free hand in selecting their material. He was also a businessman and he desperately wanted to reign Stevie Wonder. He accomplished his goal but gave him full artistic control of his career.
Stevie Wonder released Where I’m Coming From during early May of 1971. It signaled a new era for both Wonder and Motown. He began moving his lyrics in a socially conscious direction, and the music quickly moved away from the simple pop/rhythm & blues sound that had made Motown famous. He and Wright also composed all the tracks and Wonder played most of the instruments himself. Berry did not have much time to adjust to this new direction, as Marvin Gaye released his What’s Going On album for the label several weeks later, which became one of the pivotal albums of its era.
It was not by any means a perfect album, but can be seen as a blueprint for what would soon follow. It was more experimental than cohesive as he was exploring various styles and sounds. Most of the songs featured layers of sound and formed some of the more complex music that he had created up until that point in his career. The songs tended to work better individually than collectively. In the final analysis the parts are better than the whole, but that would also quickly change.
The first track on the original vinyl release was “Look Around.” It can best be characterized as psychedelic soul and featured some nice funky organ work. “I Wanna Talk To You” introduced a new Stevie Wonder as it featured a dialogue between a young black and an elderly white southern man. “Think Of Me As Your Soldier” was a gentle soul ballad with more incisive lyrics.
“If You Really Love Me” was a top ten pop single but the ballad about failed relationships, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” remains the most memorable track. This was a song he sang at Michael Jackson’s memorial service.
Stevie Wonder became an adult, legally and artistically, with the release of Where I’m Coming From. While it’s an album that many times gets lost in his vast catalogue of releases, it deserves some attention as it can be considered the pivotal album in the career of an American musical icon.