Stevie Wonder's 1976 grand soul pop double LP, Songs in the Key of Life, debuted at number one on the charts, surpassing all of its highly anticipated success and going on to become one of the most influential and beloved albums of the 20th century. An ambitious, expansive effort, it contains multitudes; fittingly Zeth Lundy opens his discourse on the album with a quote from Walt Whitman. Lundy takes a holistic approach, splitting his analysis of the album into sections on the themes of birth, innocence, experience, death, and transcendence. Allyson Johnson brings vibrancy to her performance of the audiobook, reflecting Wonder's joys and pains while creating this single minded and celebratory work.
In the autumn of 1976, when Stevie Wonder unveiled Songs in the Key of Life to the world, it was immediately apparent that this was an album of considerable genius and undeniable scope. Here, Zeth Lundy tells the compelling story of the album's background, creation and enduring influence.
Zeth Lundy is Music Columns Editor at online magazine PopMatters.
33 1/3 is a new series of short books about critically acclaimed and much-loved albums of the last 40 years. Focusing on one album rather than an artist's entire output, the books dispense with the standard biographical background that fans know already, and cut to the heart of the music on each album. The authors provide fresh, original perspectives - often through their access to and relationships with the key figures involved in the recording of these albums. By turns obsessive, passionate, creative, and informed, the books in this series demonstrate many different ways of writing about music. (A task which can be, as Elvis Costello famously observed, as tricky as dancing about architecture.) What binds this series together, and what brings it to life, is that all of the authors - musicians, scholars, and writers - are deeply in love with the album they have chosen.
©2007 Zeth Lundy; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.
As a big fan of this album, I was very much looking forward to listening the inside story of how it was made. Instead, I was presented with an album review that purports to be an academic criticism, but is really the worse kind of verbal effluence, the sort that I thought had died-out in the drug-fuelled sixties. Unless you are into the type of pseudo-intellectual, over-analytical clap-trap that seeks more to demonstrate the writers extensive vocabulary than to serve the needs of the reader, avoid this audiobook like the plague. I really wish I could have my money back, and be compensated for the assault on my ears from "...indiscernible oblivion," the "maliable identity re-alignment," and the something or other "...evaporated on the wings of bled dried dominance." This book is so bad, it doesn't deserve more than a fraction of one star, and that's being generous.
This author had a WONDERFUL topic that he destroyed with too many words. Please redo this after reading Stunk and White's Elements of Style.Additionally, this author did not recognize that Stevie Wonder's audience loves him for his ability to say so much, so well, so succinctly. Don't even try this one.
The 33 1/3 series is great. My problem is with music criticism in general, and the review of "Songs" is an example of it. In the absence of actual music to listen to, the review becomes so overly wordy and conceptual that you wonder if the reviewer isn't just way overthinking things! After all, it's just music. Not everything we hear is to be cerebralized to death. Sometimes it's just to be listened to and enjoyed for what it is.
By contrast, the 33 1/3 review of Prince's "Sign o' the Times" is much more relevant, because the reviewer talks a lot about how the music makes them FEEL, and the importance that Prince has had in their personal life, as a backdrop to their review of the album. The review of "Songs" was accompanied by biographical and historical info about Stevie, but it was mostly a cold, almost academic dissection of each song - - and just fraught with too many multi-syllable words and "esoteric" concepts. It was less about describing the emotions of the music, and more about trying to sound impressive.
Music doesn't have to be cerebrally justified. It just is.
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