By Harvey Summers
Simply the best album to have ever been released,'Songs in the Key of Life' marked the zenith at the end of a spectacular run of albums from Stevie, starting with 'Music of my Mind' five years earlier and concluding with this magnum opus. Only the Beatles' magisterial sequence of albums between the mid to late '60s comes close for consistence in quality.
Though the title sounds pretentious, it delivers on its promise, delving into a whole range of topics, concerns and human emotions, including childhood nostalgia ('I Wish'), poverty ('Village Ghetto Land'), parenthood ('Isn't She Lovely'), spirituality ('As') and the history of America ('Black Man'). And that's just the surface scratched...
Wonder used his status at Motown to allow these songs to breathe; the long gestation period of the album (though not by later standards!) meant that the songs could develop and breathe before their release, but nothing here feels indulgent. The
label left him to it, and he took full advantage, crafting long and involving tracks that showcased his curiosity and interest in various musical styles. There's funk and soul in abundance of course, but also jazz and even a string quartet!
Listening to 'Songs' you can tell he is a man desperate to get all of this creativity out there, a man at the height of his considerable powers.
He never reached these heights again, but neither did anybody else.