By John-Paul Shiver
Sometimes it is forgotten that Stevie Wonder, the arch-type creative genius after Ray Charles and before Prince, has assembled a herculean back-catalog of music. A self-produced multi-instrumentalist who wrote far more compositions than he could perform and release himself, Wonder wrote songs for everybody but still retained his spirit and methodology in the process. Meaning, you can identify a Stevie Wonder song as quickly as hearing a Keith Richards guitar lick. It’s that instantaneous and apparent. Early on Wonder helped to compose songs for Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (Tears of A Clown) and The Spinners (It’s A Shame) at Motown. So by the time he turned 21, gained artistic control of his music for the first time in his career and started to compose using the Moog synthesizer. He had numerous recording artists at Motown and beyond, just waiting to record anything by, with and for him.
So what becomes so blatantly apparent with the comprehensively curated DJ Spinna Presents The Wonder of Stevie Vol. 3, released last week on BBE Records, is how the artistic and musical being that is Stevie Wonder transcends through these 18 songs written by him, no matter who is doing the interpreting.
Buttercup, performed by The Jackson 5, is a masterclass on song construction and chord progression all the while Michael Jackson politely explaining to a lover that the present situation has expired. It’s a selection from the rumored Stevie Wonder & The Jackson 5 album that has yet to see the light of day. Make My Water Boil, recorded by David Ruffin, with Wonder playing all the instruments, is a crackerjack of a mid-tempo neck-snapper that was recorded around the time Wonder created his own hit Superstition. The Moog synthesizer groove becomes so infectious that you hear Wonder yelping in the background while Ruffin chews lyrics like scenery.
The carnival, church revival funk of It’s My Pleasure performed by Billy Preston, resides in a hue of glowing glory. The swirl of organ, church-piano playing and harmonica completes this auditory trifecta with grit, transparency and joy. If You Don’t Love Me by G.C. Cameron, the main voice behind The Spinners It’s A Shame co-penned by Wonder, delivers a polite “kiss-off” to a former lover as an up-tempo 2 1/2-minute workout. With the opening lyrics “I can’t stand your backseat driving if where we are going you don’t know” percolating over the drum machine punch and fender Rhodes coloring scheme, you wish this farewell could be stretched out to five minutes.
DJ Spinna aka Vincent Williams is the progenitor of the “Wonderfull” parties where Stevie Wonder and his massive canon of music is celebrated. As an extension to the “Wonderfull” parties, this compilation serves as a document to how one artist has significantly impacted the direction of popular music over the past 50 years. Williams has masterfully selected a detailed representation of Wonder’s work that deserves to be honored while this artist is still in our midst.
1. East St. Louis Gospelettes – Have A Talk With
2. The Jackson 5 – Buttercup
3. Betty Everett – Just A Little Piece of You
4. The Foreign Exchange – If She Breaks Your
5. Sunlightsquare – Pastime Paradise
6. US Atlantic First Navy Show Band – Birds Of
7. Billy Preston – It’s My Pleasure
8. John Minnis’ Big Bone Band – Love’s In Need
Of Love Today
9. Tony Sherman – As
10. David Porter – I Don’t Know Why I Love You
11. David Rufn – Make My Water Boil (Loving
You Has Been So Wonderful)
12. G.C. Cameron – If You Don’t Love Me
13. Reel People feat. Tony Momrelle – Golden
14. Quincy Jones – Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me
15. Jrod Indigo – Go Home
16. Black Sugar – Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing
17. F.B.I. – Keep On Runnin’ *
18. B.J. Thomas – Happier Than The Morning
*only included on CD