Classics: Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground (Tamla)
‘Higher Ground…’ Or the fifth single taken from the seminal ‘Innervisions’ album!
Hard to believe more than 40 years have gone since its release. As hard to believe Wonder recorded it at the (early) age of 23… Therefore playing all the instruments on this song via overdubs in addition to be singing.
The proof of an incredible talent makin’ of him, as far as I’m humbly concerned, the best arranger of all time in addition to serious songwriting skills, as as many signs of his hyper-sensibility.
A song which Wonder is said to have written and recorded in a three-hour period of inspiration in May 1973. ‘Higher Ground’ has obviously been overshadowed by previous singles from the album, beginning with ‘Living For The City’.
The ‘Higher Ground’ album version has an extra verse, making it slightly longer than the single release…
Quite a child prodigy, Stevie Wonder had mastered harmonica, keyboards and drums by the age of 10. He would sign to Motown the year after with the help of a neighbour – Johnnie Glover – whose cousin was Ronnie White of The Miracles.
1962 saw the release of ‘I Call It Pretty Music’ which marked his debut as Little Stevie Wonder, with a certain Marvin Gaye on drums. International recognition would come 4 years later though with ‘Uptight’ co-written with singer / songwriter and producer Sylvia Rose Moy. Another standout track from their collab being ‘My Cherie Amour’ from the 1969 album of the likes…
By 1971, Wonder signed a new deal with Motown allowing him to have more artistic freedom on his recordings. He soon after released ‘Where I’m coming From’ which established him on the Rock scene. And also led him to be the opening act for The Rolling Stones tour with Bohannon and Ray Parker, Jr. among his back up musicians.
It’s most likely during this period that Wonder started to become fascinated by the Moog synthesizer. Something one could firmly feel on the memorable ‘Superstition’ or ‘Living For The City’ for instance. The albums ‘Talking Book’ (1972), ‘Innervisions’ (1973) and ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (his biggest success ever) standing as absolute manifestos. Meanwhile spanning classics such as ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ and ‘Superstition’. But also ‘Higher Ground’, ‘Living For The City’ and ‘Don’t You Worry About A Thing’. Not to mention ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’, ‘I Wish’. These in addition to ‘Pastime Paradise’, ‘Joy Inside My Tears’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and ‘Another Star’ to name some more.
Wonder opened the 80’s in the same vein with ‘Hotter Than July’. An album which contributed to add extra classics to an already impressive collection with tracks such as ‘All I Do’ or ‘I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It’. But also ‘Master Blaster’. Not to mention ‘Happy Birthday’, a campaign song for Dr Martin Luther King‘s birthday (Jan. 15) into an American national holiday.
Extra hits would follow on his double album, ‘Original Musiquarium’ in 1982. An effort that saw him sharing the bill with Jazz trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie, on ‘Do I Do’. The following years bringin’ ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ and ‘Don’t Drive Drunk’ from the ‘Women In Red’ album. Not to mention ‘Part Time Lover’ (from ‘In Square Circle’ in 1985).
Other cuts of his worth the listen including ‘Make Sure You’re Sure’ from the ‘Jungle Fever’ OST and its title track. Then ‘What The Fuss’ from ‘A Time 2 Love’, his last studio album released back in 2005.
As writer or producer, Wonder has been working with countless artists from Whitney Houston, to Dionne Warwick. But also Jermaine Jackson, Third World and Gary Byrd among others.
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