Friday 10/15/21 12:05am ET: Feature LP: Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key of Life (1976)

Songs in the Key of Life is the eighteenth studio album by American singer, songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder. It was released on September 28, 1976, by Tamla Records, a division of Motown. The double album has been regarded by music journalists as the culmination of Wonder’s “classic period” of recording. The album was recorded primarily at Crystal Sound studio in Hollywood, with some sessions recorded at the Record Plant in Hollywood, the Record Plant in Sausalito, and The Hit Factory in New York City; final mixing was conducted at Crystal Sound.

By 1974, Wonder was one of the most successful figures in popular music; Wonder’s previous albums Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale were all back-to-back critical successes. However, by the end of 1975, Wonder seriously considered quitting the music industry and planned to emigrate to Ghana to work with handicapped children. Plans for a farewell concert had begun, but Wonder subsequently changed his mind and signed a new contract with Motown on August 5, 1975. This outlined a seven-year, seven-album, $37 million deal with full artistic control. At the time, it was the biggest recording deal in history.

Songs in the Key of Life was released as a double LP with a four-song bonus EP. It debuted at number one on the Billboard Pop Albums Chart becoming only the third album to achieve that feat and the first by an American artist at the time. Both the lead single “I Wish” and follow-up single “Sir Duke” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Songs in the Key of Life spent thirteen consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming the album with the most weeks at number one during the year. It was the second best-selling album of 1977 in the US. In 2005, Songs in the Key of Life was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Songs in the Key of Life won Album of the Year at the 19th Grammy Awards. It is the best-selling and most critically acclaimed album of Wonder’s career. Widely regarded as Wonder’s magnum opus and one of the greatest albums in the history of recorded music, many musicians have remarked on the quality of the album and its influence on their own work. Additionally, notable musicians have cited it as the greatest album of all time. It was voted number 89 in Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums and ranked number 4 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2002, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2005, Songs in the Key of Life was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, which deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

  1. “Love’s in Need of Love Today” 7:06
  2. “Have a Talk With God” 2:42
  3. “Village Ghetto Land” 3:25
  4. “Contusion” 3:46
  5. “Sir Duke” 3:52
  6. “I Wish” 4:12
  7. “Knocks Me Off My Feet” 3:36
  8. “Pastime Paradise” 3:27
  9. “Summer Soft” 4:14
  10. “Ordinary Pain” 6:16
  11. “Isn’t She Lovely” 6:34
  12. “Joy Inside My Tears” 6:30
  13. “Black Man” 8:27
  14. “Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” 3:48
  15. “If It’s Magic” 3:12
  16. “As” 7:08
  17. “Another Star” 8:08
  18. “Saturn” 4:54
  19. “Ebony Eyes” 4:11
  20. “All Day Sucker” 5:06
  21. “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” 3:55

Stevie Wonder – lead vocals, musician, arrangement, composer, producer
Nathan Watts – bass guitar (4-6, 16, 17, 19, 21), percussion (14), handclaps (16)
Raymond Pounds – drums (4-6)
Greg Phillinganes – keyboards (4, 11, 12, 18)
Michael Sembello – lead guitar (4, 5, 10, 18, 20)
Ben Bridges – rhythm guitar (4, 5, 9, 18, 20)
Eddie “Bongo” Brown – collinga (1)
Shirley Brewer – backing vocals (4, 14), “Ordinary Pain” reply vocals (10), handclaps (11)
Josie James – backing vocals (4, 17)
Michael Gray – backing vocals (4)
Artece May – backing vocals (4), handclaps (11)
Hank Redd – alto saxophone (5, 6, 10, 13, 17)
Trevor Lawrence – tenor saxophone (5, 6, 17)

Raymond Maldonado – trumpet (5, 6, 17), percussion (8)
Steve Madaio – trumpet (5, 6, 13, 17)
Renee Hardaway – backing vocals (6, 14)
Bobbye Hall – percussion (8)
West Angeles Church of God Choir – backing vocals (8)
Hare Krishna – backing vocals (8)
Ronnie Foster – organ (9)
Nastee Latimer – percussion (9)
Minnie Riperton – backing vocals (10)
Mary Lee Whitney – backing vocals (10, 16)
Deniece Williams – backing vocals (10)
Syreeta Wright – backing vocals (10)

Linda Lawrence – “Ordinary Pain” reply backing vocals (10)
Terry Hendricks – “Ordinary Pain” reply backing vocals (10)
Sundray Tucker – “Ordinary Pain” reply backing vocals (10)
Charity McCrary – “Ordinary Pain” reply backing vocals (10)
Linda McCrary – “Ordinary Pain” reply backing vocals (10)
Madelaine “Gypsie” Jones – “Ordinary Pain” reply backing vocals (10)
Josette Valentino – handclaps (11, 16), percussion (14)
Dave Henson – handclaps (11, 16)
Brenda Barrett – handclaps (11)
Colleen Carleton – handclaps (11)
Carole Cole – handclaps (11)
Nelson Hayes – handclaps (11)
Edna Orso – handclaps (11)
Tucker – handclaps (11)
Susaye Greene – backing vocals (12)
George Bohanon – trombone (13)
Glenn Ferris – trombone (13)

Al Fann Theatrical Ensemble – verbal replies (13)
Amale Mathews – percussion (14)
Charles Brewer – percussion (14)
John Fischbach – percussion (14)
Marietta Waters – percussion (14)
Nelson Hayes – percussion (14)
Dorothy Ashby – harp (15)
Greg Brown – drums (16)
Herbie Hancock – keyboards (16), handclaps (16)
Dean Parks – guitar (16)
Yolanda Simmons – handclaps (16)
Bobbi Humphrey – flute (17)
George Benson – guitar, backing vocals (17)
Nathan Alford, Jr. – percussion (17)
Carmello Hungria Garcia – timbales (17)
Jim Horn – saxophone (19)
Peter “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow – steel guitar (19)
W. G. Snuffy Walden – lead guitar (20)
Carolyn Dennis – backing vocals (20)