Songs in the Key of Life Album Review


Kellan Raterman, Sports Co-Editor '23

Album: Songs in the Key of Life

Artist: Stevie Wonder

Year: 1976

Genre: Soul, R&B, Pop, Motown

Songs in the Key of Life was released in the fall of 1976 and was Stevie Wonder’s longest studio album.  Recently, I listened to this album after I heard from many people that it is a must-listen. Aside from Al Green and Marvin Gaye, who are both great, I had not listened to any 70s R&B. Steve Wonder is one of the few talented artists who excels at songwriting, producing, singing, and playing several instruments.

The impact and positivity of Stevie Wonder is immediately felt as the first track, “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” opens the album with Stevie Wonder spreading love with his incredible vocals. A few tracks later he shows how talented he is with multiple instruments on Contusion, which is a 3.5-minute instrumental track of Stevie Wonder combining elements of jazz, rock, and R&B.

“Sir Duke” marks the halfway point for the first half of the LP and this song radiates positive energy while also showcasing his ability to adapt to any genre. This track includes jazz elements that pay tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, who died a few years before the release of the album. “Sir Duke” is one of my favorites and a fan favorite because Stevie Wonder creates a cheerful song about loving music and the feeling it brings, which makes the song feel like a celebration that you should be dancing along with.

The other big hit on the first half of the LP, “I Wish,” is a funk inspired track about Stevie’s childhood with a strong bass throughout the song. Stevie also dominates this track with his strong vocals during the chorus. The first half ends with the first love song in “Knocks Me off My Feet,” the hip-hop sampled “Pastime Paradise,” “Summer Soft,” which uses changing seasons and rhythms to describe a breakup, and “Ordinary Pain”,” another breakup song with vocals from Shirley Brewster.

The biggest hit of the album, “Isn’t She Lovely,” is the catchiest song off the album for good reason. Stevie repeats the hook several times throughout the song. Paired with the harmonica solos, this pop track is a great fresh start to the second half of the album.

Right after this track, we are hit with the slow, bittersweet “Joy Inside My Tears.” The tone of the album quickly switches to the groovy, soul, and funk-inspired track, “Black Man,” which is an informative track where Stevie sings that “This world was made for all men.”  Another standout track on the second part of the album, “As,” starts off as a gentle love song that leads to an intense ending with harsher vocals from Stevie Wonder and backing vocals as well.

The album ends with the synth-heavy “Saturn,” Motown-inspired “Ebony Eyes,” “All Day Sucker,” another funky track, and an instrumental ending with “Easy Goin’ Evening.” Even though I could talk about each song on this album and how intricate and unique they are, the best way to experience this album is by listening to it for yourself.  Sometimes, after listening to an album a few times, I get tired of it or it grows off me, but Songs in the Key of Life has grown on me, if anything.

I cannot stop listening to this record and I am amazed when I keep learning about Stevie Wonder’s backstory and how he evolved through Motown Records and was influenced by artists like Marvin Gaye. He was also working with these artists before he was 18, and did I mention he is blind?!  Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder’s 18th studio album at just 26 years old. Overall, I’d highly recommend giving this classic album a listen.