Stevie Wonder – Talking Book (1972)

AllMusic Review: After releasing two “head” records during 1970 and 1971, Stevie Wonder expanded his compositional palette with 1972’s Talking Book to include societal ills as well as tender love songs, and so recorded the first smash album of his career. What had been hinted at on the intriguing project Music of My Mind was here focused into a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances — altogether the most realistic vision of a musical personality ever put to wax, beginning with a disarmingly simple love song, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (but of course, it’s only the composition that’s simple). Wonder’s not always singing a tender ballad here — in fact, he flits from contentment to mistrust to promise to heartbreak within the course of the first four tracks — but he never fails to render each song in the most vivid colors. In stark contrast to his early songs, which were clever but often relied on the Motown template of romantic metaphor, with Talking Book it became clear Wonder was beginning to speak his mind and use his personal history for material (just as Marvin Gaye had with the social protest of 1971’s What’s Going On). The lyrics became less convoluted, while the emotional power gained in intensity. “You and I” and the glorious closer “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” subtly illustrate that the conception of love can be stronger than the reality, while “Tuesday Heartbreak” speaks simply but powerfully: “I wanna be with you when the nighttime comes/I wanna be with you till the daytime comes.” Ironically, the biggest hit from Talking Book wasn’t a love song at all; the funk landmark “Superstition” urges empowerment instead of hopelessness, set to a grooving beat that made it one of the biggest hits of his career. It’s followed by “Big Brother,” the first of his directly critical songs, excoriating politicians who posture to the underclass in order to gain the only thing they really need: votes. With Talking Book, Wonder also found a proper balance between making an album entirely by himself and benefiting from the talents of others. His wife Syreeta contributed two great lyrics, and Ray Parker, Jr. came by to record a guitar solo that brings together the lengthy jam “Maybe Your Baby.” Two more guitar heroes, Jeff Beck and Buzzy Feton, appeared on “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love,” Beck’s solo especially giving voice to the excruciating process of moving on from a broken relationship. Like no other Stevie Wonder LP before it, Talking Book is all of a piece, the first unified statement of his career. It’s certainly an exercise in indulgence but, imitating life, it veers breathtakingly from love to heartbreak and back with barely a pause. — John Bush

Track Listing

Side one

  1. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (Stevie Wonder) – 2:58
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, Fender Rhodes, drums
    • Jim Gilstrap – first lead vocal, background vocal
    • Lani Groves – second lead vocal, background vocal
    • Gloria Barley – background vocal
    • Scott Edwards – electric bass
    • Daniel Ben Zebulon – congas
  2. “Maybe Your Baby” (Stevie Wonder) – 6:51
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, Hohner Clavinet, drums, Moog bass
    • Ray Parker Jr. – electric guitar
  3. “You and I (We Can Conquer the World)” (Stevie Wonder) – 4:39
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, piano, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, Moog bass
  4. “Tuesday Heartbreak” (Stevie Wonder) – 3:02
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Clavinet, drums, Moog bass
    • David Sanborn – alto saxophone
    • Deniece Williams – background vocal
    • Shirley Brewer – background vocal
  5. “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” (Stevie Wonder, Yvonne Wright) – 4:56
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, Fender Rhodes, drums, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer
    • Jim Gilstrap – background vocal
    • Lani Groves – background vocal
    • Daniel Ben Zebulon – congas

Side two

  1. “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder) – 4:26
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, Hohner Clavinet, drums, Moog bass
    • Trevor Lawrence – tenor saxophone
    • Steve Madaio – trumpet
  2. “Big Brother” (Stevie Wonder) – 3:34
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocals, Hohner Clavinet, drums/percussion, harmonica, Moog bass
  3. “Blame It on the Sun” (Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) – 3:26
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, piano, harpsichord, drums, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer
    • Jim Gilstrap – background vocal
    • Lani Groves – background vocal
  4. “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love” (Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright) – 4:44
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, Fender Rhodes, drums, Moog bass
    • Debra Wilson – background vocal
    • Shirley Brewer – background vocal
    • Loris Harvin (Delores Harvin) – background vocal
    • Jeff Beck – electric guitar
    • Buzz Feiten (Howard “Buzz” Feiten) – electric guitar
  5. “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” (Stevie Wonder, Yvonne Wright) – 4:51
    • Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, piano, Hohner Clavinet, drums, Moog bass

 

Schill Score: 8.5/10

 

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