In the 1970s Stevie Wonder co-produced and co-wrote his final studio album with The Funk Brothers and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra string section led by Gordon Staples. His contribution to The Spinners track was meant to be a showcase of his talent and thus a weapon in his ongoing negotiations with Gordy about creative autonomy. He began to redefine a sound completely different from “The Sound of Young America”, as his musical genius took him away from the assembly line sound of the Motown hit factory with its formidable power and influence!
The next decade was a golden era for Stevie Wonder as he developed in a completely new direction. As the 1970s unfolded, the musician went through an unrivalled period of brilliance which transcended cultural borders internationally. He produced a dynamic emotionally rich jazz-soul opus that highlighted Wonder’s pioneering work in synthesized/electronic sounds. A chain of creative artistic achievements set him apart from his contemporaries during the 1970s, with his powerful interpretation of menacing Blaxploitation dynamic beats, which featured in other landmark recordings performed by some of his contemporaries during that period, such as Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” soundtrack (1971), Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (1971) and Curtis Mayfield’s “Super Fly” (1972).
Wonder set another landmark by becoming the first American to receive the Grammy Award for “Album of the Year” for three non-consecutive releases starting with “Innervisions” (1973), “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1974), and “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976). Before the major success of “Innervisions” Wonder recorded a studio album entitled “Talking Book” which was a total departure from the Motown sound coming out of the label’s West Coast recording studio. The studio album featured the innovative technical skills of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, who were pioneers of cutting edge electronic music, based in New York City. These two individuals developed masterpieces with new sounds, based around a group of synthesizer instruments including the Moog synthesizer, which had recently been developed.
These instruments created a new music technology that impacted many artists across different musical genres such as Billy Preston, Jeff Beck, Quincy Jones, David Sanborn, Depeche Mode, Gil Scott-Heron, The Doobie Brothers and many others. Due in part to his innate talent, but also because of his deep commitment to his craft, Wonder faced the difficulty of staying relevant as a musician as he grew from boy to man, and his voice matured and evolved into a shining and powerful tenor.
In 1971, Wonder allowed his Motown contract to lapse but began negotiating a new contract with Motown that gave him almost total creative control over his records and greatly increased his royalty rate. It was signed in 1972. It was an unprecedented concession by Gordy, but, artistically, just what Wonder needed. Gordy certainly did not want to lose this powerful emerging musical genius to another label.
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