Fifty years ago, in 1963, The Tymes, The Essex, Jan & Dean, Lesley Gore, Little Peggy March, Ruby & The Romantics, and The Rooftop Singers were some of the artists that topped the Billboard Hot 100. The common thread a half century later is all have either faded from the music scene or been consigned to the oldies circuit. That is not the case for the artist that topped the chart 50 years ago this week.
Stevie Wonder, or Little Stevie Wonder as he was known early in his career, was signed to Motown’s Tamla Records in 1961 at the age of 11. The next year, he released two albums for the label. One of those albums was The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, which contained the song “Fingertips.” The instrumental clocked in at around three minutes. The album failed to chart and disappeared, but the song would soon return.
Motown used to run “package tours” for their roster of artists called The Motortown Revue. During June of 1962, the revue pulled into the Regal Theater in Chicago. The tape was running when Wonder recorded a nearly seven-minute version of “Fingertips.” It was released in 1963 on Wonder’s Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius album, which followed up his other 1962 LP, Tribute to Uncle Ray.
The song received a positive reaction but singles during the early 1960s were not seven minutes long. Berry Gordy (the Motown CEO who signed him to Tamla) had the idea of dividing the song into two parts, with each part on one side of the release. It was “Fingertips (Pt. II)” that became the hit. It first charted June 22, 1963, and 50 years ago this week became the number one song in the United States where it reigned for three weeks. It was the first number one hit of his career, which has spanned over 50 years. To date, Stevie Wonder has 30 number one hits.
“Fingertips (Pt. 2)” may seem raw and a bit antiquated today but it was the beginning of huge commercial success for one of the most successful and respected artists in American music history.