Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
Innervisions, Stevie Wonder
Release Date: August 3, 1973
Good For: Contemplating the social order of modern-day America, religiously-oriented interventions, questioning what your place in life is
Standout Tracks: “Living for the City,” “Higher Ground,” “Too High”
Stevland Hardaway Morris, better known today as Stevie Wonder, is successful no matter how one spins it; 30 U.S. top ten hits, over 100 million sales, 25 Grammys and a net worth of over $100 million are just a few of his accolades.
Wonder’s journey to worldwide stardom started at the age of 11. The blind prodigy from Saginaw, Michigan signed to Motown’s Tamla label after displaying an array of musical skills, including his natural singing voice and talents on the piano, harmonica and drums. 12 years of label work resulted in 15 projects, but none as strong as his 16th project, Innervisions.
Innervisions is Wonder’s artistic peak. A culmination of daunting life experiences and creative experimentation resulted in Rolling Stone’s 24th greatest album of all time. The timeless project encompasses much more than your normal 1973 album; ballads of love and existentialism are neatly packed in between tracks dealing with drug abuse, systemic racism and a confusing political climate under the Nixon administration.
With studio sessions split between Los Angeles and New York, the 44-minute project exemplifies Wonder’s talents to their maxima. The album’s one-man band production stands as one of the most prominent works of art mostly composed and recorded by only one person.
The project opens with “Too High,” a Moog bass-filled trance filled with wonderful drums and a sprinkled Rhodes keyboard. Wonder sings with an anti-drug proposition as he delicately paints his musical canvas with vivid portraits of social realism. The following track, “Visions,” offers a smooth transition from funk fusion to a low-tempo and guitar-led song. Here, Wonder pivots from a story of drug usage as a means of escapism to dreaming of an ideal society where peace is the only thing available.
Other highlights include near eight-minute marathon “Living for the City” and side two’s intro, “Higher Ground.” “Living for the City” is the album’s center masterpiece. Separating two parts with an interlude of a man being racially harassed in New York, Wonder’s worldly-applicable message of racial inequality in America both motivated musicians of the time to follow in his footsteps and transcended time in the years since its release, as the music is now more relevant than ever. “Higher Ground” speaks to Wonder’s gratitude of being able to live life how he wants. The title’s reference speaks to transcendentalism, specifically taking inspiration from Buddhist and Christian teachings.
Innervisions is one of the most important works of modern music history. Sonic exploration and thematic interest paved ways for many artists of different genres to add onto Wonder’s music legacy. However, Wonder’s role as one of the world’s most impactful artists is on full display on Innervisions.