Deep Album Cuts Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder

Monday, January 08, 2018

On this day in 2013, I posted my first 'deep album cuts' playlist. So as I approached the 5th anniversary of that date as well as the 100th installment in the series, I decided to combine the two occasions. At any given time I've had a wishlist of dozens of artists I've wanted to dedicate a post to, and in many ways this series is aimed at celebrating those famous acts whose albums are not often celebrated. But for DAC 100, it seemed like I should go big, and it's hard to think of any albums artist held in higher esteem than Stevie Wonder, certainly outside of the 99 artists I've already covered.

Stevie Wonder deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Soul Bongo
2. Sunset
3. Music Talk
4. Thank You Love
5. Every Time I See You I Go Wild
6. How Can You Believe
7. Do I Love Her
8. Somebody Knows, Somebody Cares
9. I Gotta Have A Song
10. Do Yourself A Favor
11. I Love Every Little Thing About You
12. Blame It On The Sun
13. I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
14. Too High
15. Golden Lady
16. They Won't Go When I Go
17. Too Shy To Say
18. Summer Soft
19. Knocks Me Off My Feet
20. Same Old Story
21. All I Do

Track 1 from The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie (1962)
Track 2 from Tribute To Uncle Ray (1962)
Track 3 from Up-Tight (1966)
Track 4 from Down To Earth (1966)
Track 5 from I Was Made To Love Her (1967)
Track 6 from Eivets Rednow (1968)
Track 7 from For Once In My Life (1968)
Track 8 from My Cherie Amour (1969)
Track 9 from Signed, Sealed & Delivered (1970)
Track 10 from Where I'm Coming From (1971)
Track 11 from Music Of My Mind (1972)
Tracks 12 and 13 from Talking Book (1972)
Tracks 14 and 15 from Innervisions (1973)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
Track 20 from Journey Through "The Secret Life Of Plants" (1979)
Track 21 from Hotter Than July (1980)

With any artist with over 20 albums, I of course have to narrow things down, and in Stevie's case, it was easy enough to pick the point in the early '80s where his work stopped being urgently essential. But I really wanted to make room for his youthful '60s work, which can sometimes be a bit underestimated in the shadow if his enormously important '70s output. There's something about Stevie's voice in those early records that just embodies joy and love to me, and he maintained a lot of that exuberance even in his more emotionally complex later music. And it felt natural to me for this playlist to mirror my Beatles deep cuts playlist, where you start with the brief and simply recorded pop songs and then proceed into the more ambitious material as they become studio innovators.

I included songs from nearly all of Stevie's early studio albums and tried to trace his maturation as a songwriter (skipping only the two LPs comprised entirely of covers, 1963's With A Song In My Heart and 1964's Stevie At The Beach). So I got to select various milestones as he took more and more control, year after year: "Soul Bongo" is among Stevie's first writing credits on an instrumental, co-written with a rising young singer and drummer named Marvin Gaye. "Sunset" was his first writing credit for a vocal track. "How Can You Believe" is his first instrumental as the sole writer, and"Do I Love Her" is his first vocal track as the sole writer. Stevie was certainly fortunate to have his talent recognized early and to have it nurtured by a label like Motown, but there's still just no precedent for how much Stevie Wonder came into his own over the course of the first decade of his career and became one of the greatest to ever do it.

I remember when I first got a turntable as a teenager and started digging through my parents' vinyl collection and acquainting myself with Stevie's big '70s albums. One of my dad's best stories from college was when he and some friends got high listening to Innervisions, and the skit with sounds of police sirens and an arrest freaked them out so much that they'd flushed their pot down the toilet before they realized that there weren't any police in their building.

As with any artist of this caliber, some songs feel almost too famous to be considered deep cuts. It's crazy to think that songs like "All I Do" and "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and "Blame It On The Sun" weren't among the singles released from their respective albums, within the context of R&B they're practically standards.

Of the classic albums from Stevie's untouchable run, Songs In The Key Of Life is usually singled out as the best, but I always felt that it lags a bit. Like most double albums, it has as many great songs as the artist's other albums, but it also has a lot of other stuff of varying quality. I liked it more revisiting it recently, though. And it was fun to dig into Journey Through "The Secret Life Of Plants," perhaps the single strangest and most experimental album any superstar has made at the height of their success. I really think Fulfillingness' First Finale is something special despite its status as kind of the least revered of his classic run, and I thought I should include the original "They Won't Go When I Go" since I already had George Michael's cover on a previous deep cuts playlist.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift
Vol. 99: INXS

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Today I'm releasing a new 4-song Western Blot EP called Too 30 on Bandcamp.  As with previous releases from this project, I wrote the songs and played most of the instruments with some guest vocalists and musicians. Lizzy Greif of 20ooo and Wishing Rock sang one track, and Scott Siskind of Vinny Vegas sang another, and he also designed the EP's cover art. Koye Berry played some keyboards and Ishai Barnoy played some guitar.

Last summer I started planning out an EP that I wanted to record and release really quickly before making the second Western Blot album, but then I found out that my producer, Mat Leffler-Schulman, was closing down the Mobtown Studios building he'd been operating out for the last decade, where we made the first Western Blot record. So I booked some studio time and very quickly wrote a bunch of songs, and Mat has been traveling across Europe while mixing the stuff we recorded in August and September. An album will be out later this year of mostly different material (maybe one song from the EP will be on the album), but I wanted to get these songs out first. 

Monthly Report: December 2017 Albums

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

1. Miguel - War & Leisure
My little monthly posts are a fun way to keep track throughout the year, but of course the December posts are always a little awkward since I already did the big year-end list, which included a couple of these records, but I enjoy sifting through the stuff released at the tail end of the year. Wildheart was a good record but felt a bit like Miguel was delving a little deeper into the aesthetic he figured out on Kaleidoscope Dream and getting less out of it. War & Leisure feels like he's in it to win it and prove that he's still at the forefront of R&B and should be on the radio every day, while still pushing his own idiosyncratic sound into ecstatic new territory on "Pineapple Skies," one of my favorite songs of the whole year. The central metaphors of "Criminal" and "Banana Clip" imply that War & Leisure has some kind of overarching concept folding together sex and violence, but Miguel's wordplay tends to make me cringe a little so I'm glad that he doesn't lean on that theme too much. Here's the Spotify playlist where I dumped all the 2017 albums I listened to over the course of the year.

2. Boosie Badazz - BooPac
Boosie released 5 solo albums in 2016, an incredible and at times overwhelming run. In 2017, he basically saved up his output for one big 90-minute album. I've always been wary of most albums that pushed the 80-minute limit in the compact disc era, and I've skipped quite a few albums this year because they were just way too long, but I made an exception for Boosie. "Webbie I Remember" is by far the standout of BooPac, literally a piano ballad about his complicated friendship with Webbie, one of the most incredible and surprising songs Boosie has ever written. The other 23 songs are less essential but he's pretty incredibly consistent in terms of picking beats and having something interesting to say. Boosie was kind of born a cranky old man, but he's really playing the role now, rapping about his cancer scare and complaining that children "play on they damn iPod" too much and defensively attempting to defuse accusations of homophobia ("I got no problem with gay (never had no problem with gay!)").

3. Shy Glizzy Quiet Storm
Shy Glizzy has always reminded me a bit of Boosie, and a year ago I thought he was probably on his way to a similar long tail of regional stardom. But then "Crew" happened and he's got a whole new wave of momentum to ride. And he's chosen to use that goodwill on a pretty heavy solo single, "Take Me Away," and an album that follows through on that vibe really well. I heard a lot of these songs for the first time when Glizzy went on WKYS the day of the release and kinda introduced each song as they played it and it was a really great way to hear where he's coming from with this record. It's got some fun moments, though, and "One Day" and "Get Jiggy" are worthy additions to the catalog of Glizzy/Zaytoven tracks.

4. American Pleasure Club - i blew on a dandelion and the whole world disappeared
This band used to be called Teen Suicide but had, quite understandably, grown uncomfortable with carrying on with that name in recent years. Last summer I had run into Sean and he told me about the new band names they were considering, and I remember telling him and Sam that I really liked one of the name ideas and really disliked one of the others. In October, they announced they were going with the name I didn't like, Dumpster, but then a few weeks later changed their minds and went with this American Pleasure Club, an alright name that I don't remember them mentioning over the summer. So this is their first release under that name, a cassette collection of Sam's lo-fi solo recordings, and it has a nice tape hiss intimacy to it, "I'll Get the Car Tonight" in particular is quite lovely.

5. K. Michelle Kimberly: The People I Used To Know
I don't think many artists, in R&B or any other genre, have made 4 albums in the last 5 years as strong as K. Michelle has. Unfortunately, she seems to be slipping away from prominence; after three top 10 albums, but this one charted at #56 on the Billboard 200. Even the reliable Hail Mary of a single featuring Chris Brown hasn't done much to get her back on the radio. But she's as much a force of nature as ever, big voice and bigger personality, most notably sticking her neck out on "Kim K" ("wish I could be a Kardashian, so I could be black") but her little nod to James Brown grit on "God, Love, Sex, and Drugs" is probably my favorite display of her musical range. The spoken interludes really don't work, though.

6. Lil Wayne - Dedication 6
Post-C3 Weezy can be pretty erratic in his output, and the weird strained delivery he favors lately really gets on my nerves. But Wayne still has one of the sharpest minds in rap and it's still fun to hear him run circles around someone else's track, perhaps moreso than his original songs at this point (although I still would love for him to drop Carter V and prove me wrong). And in a way it's fun to hear Wayne sound so relaxed and effortless in contrast to Eminem just getting so tightly wound and effortful that his overwritten rhymes become painful to listen to.

7. Craig Wedren - Adult Desire
I've long thought that Craig Wedren is one of the most unique and gifted songwriters of his generation, and that he hasn't been recognized as such in part because he's spent most of his time since the breakup of Shudder To Think doing score work for film and television. His last solo album, 2011's Wand, was a wonderfully omnivorous overview of all the different things he does well, and by comparison Adult Desire is a little quieter, more subdued, and homogeneous, which I found disappointing at first. But it's growing on me, the second half is more interesting than the first.

8. Lithuania - White Reindeer
When I interviewed Dom from DRGN King a few years ago, he mentioned kind of in passing that he had a new band with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog called Lithuania that was working on its first record. Now Lithuania has beefed up to a full on power trio with their second record, which sounds to me a bit like a slightly punkier DRGN King, I really love "5000 Year Leap" in particular.

9. Cordite Tracker - Autumn Cluster EP
I wrote about a different recent EP by Matt in this space 2 months ago, but I think I like this one even more, some really lovely wistful guitars over weird atmospheric instrumentals.

10. Brockhampton - Saturation III
I've generally approached Brockhampton with a lot of skepticism -- a rap 'collective' that formed on a Kanye fan site message board, whose entire public image consists of being compared to Odd Future, just seems excessively like not my thing. But I tried to give Saturation II a chance earlier in the year, and found it more forgettable than objectionable, and Saturation III is suiting me a lot more, some really playful and offbeat production choices that balance out my disinterest in the usually snarky deadpan tone of however many indistinguishable MCs are on this record. If anything they kind of strike me as a millennial Pharcyde or something.

Worst Album of the Month: Travis Scott & Quavo - Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho
December was a really banner month for deeply unnecessary collaboration projects. I already spent an entire podcast episode disrespecting the Big Sean/Metro Boomin record, but Kangaroo Jack, Jack Reacher is arguably even worse. And I think that's because Travis Scott and Quavo is just a bad pairing with no yin/yang match of strengths and weaknesses; they're both guys who get by on a lot of offhanded charm and melody but often seem to run out of words halfway through verses and just go on autopilot. They could've blown up the formula and done an album full of hooks, but instead they really try to make songs and it all becomes really dull and repetitive. At one point Travis seems to unconsciously remake "Butterfly Effect" on two songs in a row.