Last night’s Grammy Awards Show got me to reminiscing about those shows from the Seventies, when it appeared that the musicians had been served a meal AND an endless flow of drinks. Because of that, you never knew what kind of speech would be given. Personally, I miss Stevie Wonder’s speeches where he thanked all of God’s children for the inspiration for his song or album that had one. His speeches would last like what seemed like tens of minutes before the officials could pull him off the stage. Then came Guns N’ Roses’ fantastic drink and high-influence thank you speeches on the American Musical Awards in 1988 or 1989. Between those, and probably Yoko Ono’s tear-filled thank yous for hers and John Lennon’s last album ‘Double Fantasy’ for winning the Album of the Year in 1981 whose speech was cut off by many local stations. All of these and more incidences led to time limits on those thank you speeches and five-to-ten-second delay that the channels run to keep our tender ears from hearing foul language. So, we are missing out on these great moments now.
Now, the nominees for the awards were sort of boring to me, but the performances were entertaining, with a couple even transcendent. I loved the pairing of Alicia Keys & Maren Morris pairing; those two might consider actually recording together. It was fun for this old guy to see Prince’s greatest proteges, The Time, perform truncated versions of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird”. Of course, I love the rock and roll chaos of A Tribe Called Quest’s performance. And, the Metallica/Lady Gaga match-up was more fun than we have gotten at one of these shows in years. Beyoncé’s act was just plain strange. I just couldn’t get the image of Keenan Thompson and Tracy Morgan acting like her twins in utero the night before on Saturday Night Live. The funniest thing I heard last night was what my wife said to me about her music. My wife thinks it would be hilarious to hear some rapping in the middle of one of her songs. Now, that’s something to contemplate.
Anyway, in honor of last night’s Grammy Awards Show, I am giving to you My Top 25 Stevie Wonder Songs, since he always seemed to be winning awards during the those shows in the Seventies.
25. “Happy Birthday” (1981). Was a hit in the UK. This was written in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back when people were pressing the US government for a holiday in his honor.
24. “Part-Time Lover” (1985). When I heard this song, I knew his magic had been used up.
23. “We Can Work It Out” (1971). Only Stevie Wonder could take one of my favorite Beatles’ song and turn it into a Motown standard.
22. “Ebony and Ivory” with Paul McCartney (1982). Yes, the metaphor was tired, and so seemed the duo’s performance, but their hearts were in the correct place during the early days of the Reagan era.
21. “Send One Your Love” (1979). Yes, the album from which this song comes IS dopey. Still, the tune remains one of Stevie’s finest ballads.
20. “Do I Do” (1982). In 1982, Stevie released something of a double album greatest hits collection. At the end of each side of the two albums had a new song, and this light funk number was one of them.
19. “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1966). Stevie takes Bob Dylan to church and changes this song into a gospel song.
18. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” (1965). Stevie took the Motown sound as far as he could. He was ready to take over the creative reigns for his music.
17. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” (1970). That transition from Stevie as part of the Motown factory to being his own self-contained music production company.
16. “Living for the City” (1973). Now, we are getting to hear the benefits of allowing Stevie to run loose within a studio on the album from which this funky song with sociological lyrics.
15. “Fingertips” (1963). Hello music lovers! This is Little Stevie Wonder, and he’s only 12 years old. And he can sing like that? And blow that harp too? Yes, he’s our newest musical genius.
14. “Skeletons” (1987). Here is Stevie embracing hip hop into his repertoire, and he doesn’t miss a beat either.
13. “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” (1974). Stevie was at his creative peak between the years of 1972 through 1980, as this funky single proves.
12. “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It” (1980). This underappreciated slice of rhythm & country was just a minor hit in 1980/1981. Still, the song displays two thing about Mr. Wonder. First, he is a genius at melding these two genres that had drifted far apart, and to predict the direction in which country music would move 30 years later.
11. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (1973). Just to prove he could battle the Carpenters on equal ground, Stevie Wonder releases this timeless display of love.
10. “I Wish” (1976). This beautiful cut comes from his classic double album Songs in the Key of Life. It will always remind me of my youthful optimism.
9. “I Was Made to Love Her” (1967). This is Stevie at his Motown machine’s best.
8. “Boogie on Reggae Woman” (1974). Few had heard of reggae or Bob Marley before this song. But, Stevie was finding inspiration everywhere for his seemingly insatiable musical appetite.
7. “For Once in My Life” (1968). Stevie shows his growth as a musician as he fits in with Sly & the Family Stone.
6. “My Cherie Amour” (1969). That’s right! Stevie melts women’s hearts all over the world with this song.
5. “Superstition” (1972). Originally written for guitar god Jeff Beck for his band to perform. But, Stevie was creatively antsy and recorded the definitive version himself. And what a great funk/rock song he made here.
4. “Sir Duke” (1977). This salute to Duke Ellington displays Stevie flexing his musical muscles by now amalgamating big band, pop, rock, soul and a tincture of disco into this brilliant song.
3. “That Girl” (1982). This slinky make-out song was the last truly great Stevie Wonder song ever released.
2. “Higher Ground” (1973). I cannot hear this song and not think of the ABA-playing Julius “Dr. J” Erving showing all of his moves in that old Converse basketball shoes commercial as this thick slice of George Clinton-style funk plays on. The whole thing just reeks cool.
1. “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (1980). Stevie Wonder goes back to the Bob Marley well for an even better tribute to the reggae legend who was dying at the time from cancer. Stevie turned up the bass on this one to make a timeless work of art.
Stevie Wonder played a huge role in my musical life, but I did not fully appreciate it until I got in college. Nevertheless, the Grammys will never be the same as when he was showing us a sanitized version of rap in his seemingly endless acceptance speeches. Everything Stevie Wonder did was always iconic, plain and simple.