Although Motown boss Berry Gordy had to be dragged kicking and screaming (practically) into the 70s, his label wound up releasing some of the most important black music of the decade. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On and Let’s Get It On certainly contributed to this, but nobody could hold a candle to Stevie Wonder. The string of albums he released between 1972 and 1976 stand among the greatest of any major artist, Beatles and Stones included.
Stevie basically grew up at Motown, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he was ready to make his first very personal statement as an artist. Actually, that year saw two incredible records, Music of My Mind and Talking Book. As the old cliché goes though, he was just getting started. In 1973, he released Innervisions, which many consider to be his first out and out masterpiece.
The good folks at Audio Fidelity certainly believe in the record, as it is one of the latest releases in their 24K+ Gold Edition series. It never fails to amaze me just how much these older recordings can be improved with the technology AF brings to the table. After remastering the original tapes, the digital master is then etched onto a glass disc surface in real time by laser. From this, the CD is made out of real gold, rather than the standard and often imperfect aluminum. The end result is a remarkably clean and “warm” sounding product, with the original analog depth intact.
I hate to get too bogged down in these details though, because it all really boils down the music. If the songs weren’t there, then no amount of audio improvement is going to help. The songs are certainly there on Innervisions, without question.
Let’s start with the trio of radio hits, “Livin’ For The City,” “Higher Ground,” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” Not to get too over the top on just how great this album is, but honestly, a lesser artist would be satisfied to have written just one of these classics.
I have heard “Livin’ For The City” described as Stevie’s “epic.” That term brings to mind too many long-winded prog efforts for me, so I would prefer to call it “cinematic.” Maybe this is politically incorrect, but I have long felt that during the middle, “street-scene” section, Stevie was able to express the sounds so well because of his blindness. Even as a little kid, I was astonished at how much I could visualize a busy city street when hearing this song. Oh yeah, and the funk is as hard as anything one could imagine as well.
Although Stevie’s funk credentials have been weakened over the years by songs like “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” they were there in full force on Innervisions. Give “Higher Ground” a shot for verification. The Red Hot Chili Peppers had a hit with a version of this song, but you gotta hear the original to hear it done right. Nothing against Anthony Kiedis, but Stevie’s voice just kills, as does the whole arrangement.
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” does not swing as hard as most of the rest of the album, but it is still a great song. There is something about Stevie Wonder’s vocals (again) that just makes this track work for me. The lyrics themselves are pretty great as well. There are a total of nine tunes on Innervisions, and each one has its own merits. Check out the opening two, “Too High,” and “Visions” for some lesser known, yet truly excellent additional album songs.
The bottom line is simple. A record that is very possibly Stevie Wonder’s finest has been given the audiophile treatment it deserves, and has never sounded better. Just go out and get it.