Stevie Wonder Talking Book

10 Best Stevie Wonder Songs

Michigan’s Stevland Hardaway Morris started his recording career young – taking the name Little Stevie Wonder, he recorded his first album at the age of 12. His second album, Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius, and his 1963 single ‘Fingertips’ both topped the pop charts. Wonder was only getting started – with his skills as a vocalist and a virtuoso on multiple instruments, he released a string of popular Motown singles in the 1960s. Taking artistic control over his records, he became even more popular in the 1970s, releasing a string of top 5 records.

Wonder won the Grammy for Album of the Year three times – Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, and Taylor Swift are the only other recording artists to achieve this feat. He’s been less prolific since the early 1980s, but he’s clearly one of the most significant figures in popular music, helping to bring the R&B genre to maturity with his brilliant full-length albums. ‘Happy Birthday’, from 1980’s Hotter Than July, led a successful campaign to make Martin Luther King day a national holiday.

All of my best song lists are subjective, but this one was particularly difficult. Wonder’s a great album artist, and has a bunch of terrific deep cuts to go along with his hits. Even focusing on his 1970s catalogue, there was no room for hits like ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’, ‘Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing’, ‘Higher Ground’, and ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin”.

10 Best Stevie Wonder Songs

#10 – My Cherie Amour

from My Cherie Amour, 1969
Wonder was still only 17 when he recorded ‘My Cherie Armour’, co-written with Motown songwriter Henry Cosby, who also contributed to Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears of a Clown’ and The Supremes’ ‘Love Child’. It’s schmaltzier than his 1970s work – one of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff’s major contributions to Wonder’s work was to replace strings with layers of synth. But the escalating melody is undeniable – Wonder captures joy more palpably than any other recording artist. Wonder also released a Spanish version of the song under the title…’My Cherie Amor’.


#9 – Summer Soft

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

from Songs in the Key of Life, 1976
‘Summer Soft’ wasn’t a single, and it’s overlooked on a record which boasted two US #1 singles – ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘I Wish’. But it’s a brilliant piece, both funky and wistful. It’s complex harmonically, and the jazzy syncopation on “October” is a great hook. The organ work – not from Wonder, but from jazz player Ronnie Foster – is gorgeous.


#8 – It Ain’t No Use

from Fulfillingness’ First Finale, 1974
1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale won the best album Grammy for its year, but it’s overshadowed by the two famous records released on either side of it. It’s more introspective, inspired by a serious car crash that almost claimed Wonder’s life in 1973 – he was in a coma for four days, and lost some of his sense of smell. ‘It Ain’t No Use’ is a breakup song, but it’s still gorgeous and uplifting. It wasn’t a single but appeared on the b-side of Wonder’s anti-Nixon ‘You Haven’t Done Nothing’.


#7 – Superstition

from Talking Book, 1972
‘Superstition’ opened side B of Wonder’s 15th studio album, Talking Book. The song resulted from a jam session between Jeff Beck and Wonder, with Wonder improvising the famous clavinet riff over Jeff Beck’s funky drum beat on the demo – Wonder is the drummer on the final version. Wonder originally gave the song to Beck to use on his Beck, Bogert & Appice project, but Wonder’s version ended up coming out first. Wonder plays a Hohner Clavinet, also famously used by Garth Hudson on The Band’s ‘Up On Cripple Creek’.


#6 – Golden Lady

Stevie Wonder Innervisions

from Innervisions, 1973
There’s a certain song archetype – bouncy, joyful, and harmonically sophisticated – where Wonder excels. ‘Golden Lady’ is influenced by Cuban music, although the joyful synth improvisations are pure Stevie Wonder. ‘Golden Lady’ stands out on Innervisions as a love song on a record that’s mostly focused on political and social issues.


#5 – Saturn

from Songs in the Key of Life, 1976
Songs in the Key of Life is a long album – ‘Saturn’ is included on the bonus 7″ EP that came with the double LP. But it’s one of Wonder’s best moments with a beautiful ascending melody. In 1975 Wonder considered retiring from the music business and moving to Ghana to work with disabled children – ‘Saturn’ shares similar sentiments with its desire to escape reality.


#4 – Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)

from Music of My Mind, 1972
Wonder signed a new contract with Motown, allowing him complete artistic control over his music. 1972’s Music of My Mind was the first album released under this arrangement – it’s not as consistent as his next few records, but ‘Superwoman’ is one of his best tracks. Wonder plays almost everything, and the arrangement is beautiful – Wonder’s Moog bassline is wonderfully melodic and his synth washes give the song a personal touch. A multi-part epic, at eight minutes, it shifts mood from frustration to hope, anchored by an extraordinary vocal from Wonder.


#3 – Creepin’

Stevie Wonder Fulfillingness First Finale

from Fulfillingness’ First Finale, 1974
A deep cut from Fulfillingness’ First Finale, ‘Creepin” is described perfectly by its title. It slinks along with a jazzy feel. and its atmosphere is ambiguous and dreamy. Minnie Riperton is on backing vocals but Wonder plays everything else, including a gorgeous harmonica solo.


#2 – I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)

Stevie Wonder Talking Book

from Talking Book, 1972
You can keep your ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ and ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ – Wonder’s best romantic ballad is the closer to 1972’s Talking Book. It’s almost hymn-like in its elegant melody, although the funky coda adds some levity. ‘I Believe’ was never a single but it’s still taken on a life of its own – it was used in the closing credits of High Fidelity, and has been covered by everyone from Art Garfunkel to George Michael.


#1 – Living For The City

from Innervisions, 1973
The centerpiece of 1973 masterpiece Innervisions is the social commentary of ‘Living For The City’. It’s perhaps overly dramatic – the protagonist is framed and arrested within ten seconds of arriving in New York – but it remains hard-hitting. With its political message and samples of street chatter, it’s ahead of its time – it was later sampled by Public Enemy for ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’. Wonder recorded every instrument on this 7:22 magnum opus, and the way that his voice thickens up on the final verse is astonishing

Did I miss your favourite Stevie Wonder song?

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39 Comments

  1. Excellent idea. I came up with about 20 from which I culled these. We have some overlap. I like ‘Superstition’ but it hasn’t worn well for me over time.

    10. Ribbon in the Sky a beautiful song
    9, Golden Lady – Ditto what you said
    8. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing – “Everybody’s got a thing but some don’t know how to handle it:
    7, I Believe When I Fall in Love – Used well in High Fidelity
    6. I Wish – Songs in the Key of Life is his Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds
    5. Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing – another gorgeous love song
    4. Living for the City – Skyscrapers and everything
    3. For Once in My Life an earlier cut and a great one
    2. Sir Duke – a tribute to the jazz masters
    1. Another Star pure joy

    • That’s a good list too – hard to go too far wrong. I would take Songs in the Key of Life behind the previous two, still lots of great songs but the second half drags a bit.

      • We saw Stevie’s “Key of Life” tour about seven years ago. Pure joy. BTW, we went to Vegas a couple of years ago. We were staying at the MGM Grand. The door opened at a floor and some guy on the elevator said ‘Hey that’s Stevie Wonder!” And lo and behold, there he was walking by (he’s tall) with his entourage. We all freaked out. It’s a good thing I wasn’t out on the floor. I would have made a fool of myself by running up to him and saying, ‘You’re my biggest fan.” One of the greatest artists in the history of music IMHO.

        • That’s amazing – he does look pretty tall. Huge hands too. He’s clearly a giant in popular music – I find it hard to believe that someone wouldn’t at least enjoy something from his catalogue.

  2. Great list Graham…hard to go wrong here and this list is fantastic. I would have to add an early one…I Was Made To Love Her…that was a fantastic single.

      • You caught me flat footed on that.. I just listened to it.
        That IS a good cover. I would have never put them with that song. Carl did a great job…short but a good cover.

        • I think their records between Pet Sounds and Sunflower are pretty patchy, but Wild Honey (which that cover is from) is pretty good, their R&B record with lots of good Carl Wilson lead vocals.

  3. Stevie and I go back a long way. I bought Fingertips, Part Two in 1963 in a cut out bin, 33 cents and stayed a big fan through Hotter Than July 27 years ago. There are a great many songs eligible for his Top Ten. I could make a credible top ten and not even get to the seventies or make a seventies only list with which it would be hard to argue.

    Fingertips, I have to start here. What was he, eleven? What an explosive beginning.
    Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby. Mid-sixties Motown in its soul-rocking best.
    Blowin’ in the Wind. An impassioned rendition. He almost sounds like Sam Cooke at times.
    Master Blaster (Jammin’). From the beginning and now to the end of my time with Stevie. This gets them up and dancing and singing.
    All I Do. Another from 1980 that I’ve always loved and sung along to.
    Isn’t She Lovely. Everything about this song is sweet and lovely.
    Golden Lady. You know thirty seconds in, before he starts to sing, that this is special.
    Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.
    Superwoman. Have you ever noticed how carefully he constructs the opening twenty or thirty seconds of his songs?
    For Once in My Life. I had to pick a giant hit and I prefer this to Superstition. Another great dancin’ tune. And he gets to play his instrument too.

    I’ll now look at your list (and any others posted) and will, no doubt, mutter to myself “of course, how did I miss that one?”

  4. I’ve just been revisiting The Secret Life Of Plants and found myself really enjoying what is a much-maligned album. Give it a listen.

    Incidentally, I really like the new graphics/settings on the blog – very nice colour contrast and good revamped title highlighting, album cover positionings etc. I’ve been tweaking my blog too. It took me ten whole days! Hours of work done for my two readers!

    • Yup, I should go back to that and Signed, Sealed, Delivered to cover everything from the 1970s.

      I’m glad someone noticed the change – it didn’t take long – it’s just a template change and I just needed to do a little CSS to go with it. Took half an hour, rather than days. It’s very hard making changes to every page!

  5. Oh, and my favourites include He’s Misstra Know-It-All, I Wish, Visions, Too High, Superstition, Boogie On Reggae Woman, You Haven’t Done Nothin’, Heaven Help Us All, As and Uptight.

  6. Higher Ground
    Superstition
    Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing
    Golden Lady
    He’s Misstra Know-It-All
    You are the Sunshine of my Life
    Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday
    Too High
    All in Love is Fair
    My Cherie Amour

      • Yeah I know. Innervisions is my favorite but this list makes it look like I don’t like anything else after that, but I do. Even some of his ’80s stuff are my favorites. Ok, so if I made a list not including Innervisions some of these would be there instead:

        Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
        They Won’t Go When I Go
        Overjoyed
        I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It
        Part Time Lover
        Too Shy to Say
        I Wish

  7. Great list, man… can’t fault it really, but I’d chuck My Cherie Amour for Higher Ground. Living for the City definitely number one.

  8. So many great songs to choose from. I completely agree with My Cherie Amour, which would be on my list of 10 songs to take to a desert island. It killed me as a lovesick teenager and still affects me now. i would also include All In Love Is Fair as one of the wistful ones.
    However, as you say, he does joy like no one else, and for that reason I would include For once in my Life, which also has the merit of being a radical overhaul of a rather schmaltzy number in everyone else’s hands. He didn’t write it, but that’s the point: he reinterpreted it. By the by, he wrote some great songs for other people, and don’t you love it when you hear something and think “I don’t know why this is so good, but it is”? That happened to me with Aretha’s Until You Come Back to Me and Rufus’s Tell Me Something Good, both Stevie songs.

  9. Aph I deferred this to a friend of mine who said “I have a much better tolerance for pop and love songs (and sensitive bleeding artists) than you do CB – lol”

    He said it was easy for him
    1 Superstition
    2 Living In The City
    3 Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
    4 My Cherie Amour
    5 Isnt She Lovely
    6 Signed Sealed Delivered Im Yours
    7 You And I
    8I Was Made To Love Her
    9 Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
    10 I’m Wondering

    He said looking over his list “My Cherie Amour” is the one he loves to listen to the most. When he was a kid in the 60’s learning to play the keyboard (Hes a musician) he got a couple books with just a verse and chorus for thousands of songs, used by pros. A big influence on him was ‘My Cherie Amour’.
    I didnt mind playing middle man on this. Truth be know I like Stevie just dont listen to him a lot.

      • I dont think SW is cheesy, apologize if I came across that way. Like my friend says, I dont do a lot of pop but I do enjoy some of it.
        My friend has his own internet radio show and we have a lot of common ground. He has total respect for Wonder, talent all over the place. About as musical a person as there is. His words. I think you’d like his show.
        Yes I like that cut you mentioned. I think I told you that it was just recently that I found out ‘Sir Duke’ was an ode to Ellington. Talk about being out of the loop.

  10. Here I am cruising along in my music world and a Stevie cut comes on, but done by your neighbor Jimmy Barnes. ‘Signed Sealed Delivered’. Has a Southside Johnny, Delbert McClinton vibe. Very punchy and a good cover of a Wonder tune. I like covers.

      • I had a passing interest in Jimmy. A few years ago he did a cover of ‘Lazy’ with Joe Bonamassa. It’s very good. Then I stumbled onto some of his later stuff and quite like it. Live album and a covers album called ‘Soul Deep’. Thats where the Wonder song comes from.

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