Great Albums – Songs In The Key Of Life

There comes a time in the life of an artist when he or she is poised to do something truly great, if only the whims of circumstance would allow it. In 1975, the planets had aligned for Stevie Wonder, who was riding high on the success of recent top ten singles such as “Superstition,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Higher Ground” and “Living for the City.” His contract with Motown Records gave him full creative control, and a combination of critical acclaim (eight Grammy Awards up to that point) and commercial success allowed him the luxury of stretching his legs on his next project. Songs in the Key of Life eventually hit the record racks in the fall of 1976, a year after its originally anticipated release. What must have seemed an interminable delay at the time is now a mere moment in music history. A rare album like Songs in the Key of Life is worth whatever amount of time its creator deems necessary.

The legendary result is a flawlessly executed work of genius. 21 songs written by Stevie Wonder (only four of them with the help of co-writers) with a total running time of more than 100 minutes. An embarrassment of riches that could not fit within the vinyl confines of a double album, and so four of the songs were pressed onto a bonus EP. A richly produced work that featured contributions from Herbie Hancock, George Benson and Minnie Riperton, among others, yet three of the tracks were performed exclusively by multi-instrumentalist Wonder. A stunning range of musical styles written, arranged, produced and performed with the confidence of an industry veteran. Astonishingly, though Stevie Wonder was a seasoned talent by the time of the album’s release, he was nevertheless only twenty-six years old.

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Touch And Go

A few things I learned on a recent Saturday afternoon:

  1. If you want to send someone’s car into an uncontrollable spin, simply veer sharply into the side of the vehicle just ahead of the rear wheel.
  2. The back seat of a police cruiser is not upholstered.
  3. Concrete median barriers are a really good idea.
  4. Never assume that a stranger has an active moral conscience.
  5. My brother and I are lucky to be alive and uninjured.

It would be the last time that Brian would drive his late-model Saturn, though neither of us could have known. Like most days that are later defined by a singular incident, this particular Saturday began as unremarkably as any other. We simply thought it would be fun to have lunch on the other side of town, and 670 was the way to go. We had just passed the Neil Avenue exit, enjoying an animated conversation, and I was right in the middle of saying something when Brian suddenly muttered a tense word of alarm. Someone in the lane to our left had just run into our rear driver side. Read More

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