Results for Stevie Wonder

interviews

NPR's Don Gonyea

Don Gonyea

For more than 20 years, NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea has covered presidential campaigns. And in that time Don has had to suffer through horrendous sound tracks used to the introduce the candidates. Don tells Jim and Greg that covering a campaign across the country means you hear the same songs over and over and over. Sometimes you find a new appreciation for the music (Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours") and sometimes it leaves you scratching your head (Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend"?). Don shares his memories of campaign songs and offers a better choice of his own. Photo Credit: © NPR 2004 Photo by Steve Barrett

Go to episode 555

Low Cut Connie

Philadelphia rock ‘n’ rollers Low Cut Connie was founded in 2010 by lead singer and pianist Adam Weiner and drummer and guitarist Dan Finnemore. They later added musicians James Everhart, Will Donnelly and Larry Scotton to round out their 1950s-influenced, signature sound. A key element of their music is the use of a piano to pound out some raunchy, rock tunes and make people get up and dance. They've released three albums so far: Get Out the Lotion, Call Me Sylvia and Hi Honey. Even President Obama is a fan, he put the group's song "Boozophilia" on his summertime Spotify playlist alongside artists like Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. The band visited our studio a few weeks ago where Greg and Jim asked them about how they first formed, their career ups-and-downs and singer Adam Weiner's experience with the TV show The Voice.

Go to episode 519
specials

The Moog

The Moog company of Asheville, North Carolina recently announced it would end production on its flagship synthesizer, the Minimoog Voyager. That got Jim and Greg to thinking about the incredible influence the Moog synthesizer has had on rock and pop music since it debuted in 1964. Robert Moog's invention has seen a renaissance in the past decade, as acts ranging from M83 to Future Islands to Taylor Swift have taken inspiration from the synthpop sound.

To get some perspective on the Moog's history and legacy, Jim and Greg turn to Brian Kehew, the former official historian for the Bob Moog Foundation. Kehew also co-founded an all-analog band called Moog Cookbook in the '90s and has worked in the studio with Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann and Moog superstars Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In addition to ELP, Kehew points to the following as great synthesizer musicians:

Go to episode 522
classic album dissections
Songs In the Key of LifeSongs in the Key of Life available on iTunes

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Every so often Jim and Greg like to get all professorial on us and dissect a classic rock album. Stevie Wonder's 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life will be turning thirty-five next year, so it's a perfect opportunity to revisit their 2006 discussion about this album. Songs in the Key of Life was released as a two-LP set with a bonus EP for a total of twenty-one songs.

One of the reasons Songs in the Key of Life stands out so radically in Wonder's catalog is because it was such a massive undertaking. He had great success with the albums released prior, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness First Finale, so Motown gave Wonder the freedom to stretch out-for two whole years. Jim and Greg talk to keyboardist Greg Phillinganes about the recording sessions. As many listeners know, Wonder himself is an amazing keyboardist, but Phillinganes explains that the songwriter liked the idea of having some fresh blood in the band. And you couldn't get much fresher than Phillinganes; he was only eighteen when he signed on, making this session his first job.

To cap off this album dissection, Jim and Greg each pick one signature track from Songs in the Key of Life. Jim's pick is "Pastime Paradise." Many listeners will recognize the instrumental as the basis for Coolio's 1995 hit "Gangsta's Paradise," but the original far surpasses that soundtrack song. Jim explains that this Stevie Wonder album can be a bit too sweet for his punk rock tastes, but“Pastime Paradise”is reminiscent of the funkier, more political songs Wonder previously released such as "Living For the City" and "Superstition." He says Wonder is calling out for the listener to take action against a list of woes –“dissipation, race relations, segregation…”Ultimately, the song is brought to an upbeat, optimistic point that matches the attitude of the rest of the record.

Greg's pick is the anthemic track "As." One of the important things to note about the recording of Songs in the Key of Life is the emphasis Wonder gave to having a band and a band-like atmosphere. Wonder could have played almost any instrument himself, but he wanted guests to join him and bring life to the music.“As”was definitely recorded live, and the highlight of the song for Greg is Herbie Hancock's Rhodes piano part. According to Greg, Hancock“dirties”up his playing, making way for Stevie (and an overdub of multiple Stevies) to come in with huge gospel vocals. The result is an epic love song fitting an epic album.

Go to episode 265
Songs In the Key of LifeSongs in the Key of Life available on iTunes

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Every so often, Jim and Greg like to get all professorial on us and dissect a classic rock album. Stevie Wonder's 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life turns 30 this week, so what a perfect opportunity to delve into the making of the record and why it still means so much to so many people. The best way to kick off a dissection is with a sampling of Wonder's music. Of course, Songs in the Key of Life was released as a two-LP set with a bonus EP for a total of 21 songs. We couldn‘t squeeze ’em all into this two-minute montage, but here is what you do get to hear:

  • "Sir Duke"
  • "Knocks Me Off My Feet"
  • "Another Star"
  • "Summer Soft"
  • "Love's in Need of Love Today"
  • "I Wish"

One of the reasons Songs in the Key of Life stands out so radically in Wonder's catalog is that it was such a massive undertaking. Having had huge success with earlier albums, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness First Finale, Motown gave Wonder the freedom to stretch out — for two years, in fact. Jim and Greg speak to two men involved with the recording. The first is keyboardist Greg Phillinganes. Wonder himself is an amazing keyboardist, but Phillinganes explains that the songwriter liked the idea of having some fresh blood in the band. And you couldn't get much fresher than Phillinganes; he was only 18 when he signed on, making this session his first job.

John Fischbach, the second voice we hear from, was one of two engineers recording the session. Fischbach explains that of the many artists he has worked with in the studio, no one compares to Stevie Wonder. He says Wonder was the consummate professional and highly prolific, but also had rather atypical work habits… like calling in his musicians in the middle of the night. One such late night session resulted in the classic "I Wish."

To cap off this album dissection, both Jim and Greg pick one signature track from Songs in the Key of Life. Jim's pick is "Pastime Paradise." Many listeners will recognize the instrumental as the basis for Coolio's 1995 hit "Gangsta's Paradise," but the original far surpasses that soundtrack song. Jim explains that this Stevie Wonder album can be a bit too sweet for his punk rock tastes, but "Pastime Paradise" is reminiscent of the funkier, more political songs Wonder previously released such as "Living For the City" and "Superstition." He says Wonder is calling out for the listener to take action against a list of woes —“Dissipation, race relations, segregation…”Ultimately, though, the song is brought to an upbeat, optimistic point that matches the attitude of the rest of the record.

Greg's pick is the anthemic track "As." One of the important things to note about the recording of Songs in the Key of Life is the emphasis Wonder put on having a band and a band-like atmosphere. Certainly, as we heard from Greg Phillinganes and John Fischbach, Wonder could play almost any instrument himself, but he wanted guests to join him and bring life to the music.“As”was definitely recorded live, and the highlight of the song for Greg is Herbie Hancock's Rhodes piano part. According to Greg, Hancock“dirties”up his playing, making way for Stevie (and an overdub of multiple Stevies) to come in with huge gospel vocals. The result is an epic love song fitting an epic album.

Go to episode 45
reviews
Ain't Nobody Worryin'Ain't Nobody Worryin' available on iTunes

Anthony Hamilton Ain't Nobody Worryin'

Next up is a review of Ain‘t Nobody Worryin’, the new album from Anthony Hamilton. This R&B singer reminds both critics of classic vocalists like Bill Withers and Bobby Womack. While keeping his day job as a barber in in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hamilton began recording. He sang back-up for D'Angelo on his Voodoo our, and eventually caught the eye of mega-producer Jermaine Dupri during a Grammy performance honoring Stevie Wonder. While Greg initially objected to the lack of up-tempo songs, both he and Jim appreciate the quality of the songwriting and the substance of the lyrics. Therefore Ain‘t Nobody Worryin’ gets two Buy It ratings.

JimGreg
Go to episode 7
Raymond v Raymond (Deluxe Edition)Raymond V. Raymond available on iTunes

Usher Raymond V. Raymond

Usher is back this week with his 6th record called Raymond V. Raymond. The title is a reference to the R&B singer's divorce, and based on the content of the songs, Jim and Greg would say he's quickly back to being a playboy. Usher carved out a successful niche as a less threatening version of R. Kelly, but Jim thinks a few of the songs would make even Kelly blush. He calls it empty, tasteless, and worst of all-boring-and gives Usher a Trash It. Greg believes the singer should've known better. He has always admired artists like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, but is currently doing a poor job emulating them. There are a couple of tracks where he digs deep and explores his relationship issues, but Greg gives the rest of it a Trash It as well.

JimGreg
Go to episode 227
Channel ORANGEchannel ORANGE available on iTunes

Frank Ocean channel ORANGE

Speaking of musicians who put their sexuality out there, rising R&B star Frank Ocean recently made the news when he wrote on his tumblr that he‘d fallen in love with a man when he was 19. That’s a bold statement coming from an artist linked to the outwardly homophobic hip-hop collective Odd Future. The buzz surrounding Ocean's major label debut channel ORANGEwas already intense given the success of his mixtape, last year's nostalgia, ULTRA. Does it live up to the hype? In short, yes. Jim thinks Ocean's a contender to be the next Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Not only is he bringing new sounds into R&B, but he's writing about money, sex, and class in a way that's honest and gimmick-free. What's getting him riled are those interstitial skits and snippets of conversation. They break the flow of the record and make channel ORANGE a Burn It for him. Greg echoes Jim's praise but isn't as bothered by the skits. For him this record is all about a singer telling emotion-packed stories. He gives channel ORANGE a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 347
G I R LG I R L available on iTunes

Pharrell G I R L

For a long time, baby-faced Pharrell Williams was better known as a producer for artists like Jay-Z and his own N.E.R.D. But in 2006 Pharrell stepped out more as a vocalist, releasing a lukewarm solo album and increasing his guest appereances on other artist's tracks. In 2012, two of those tracks, one with Robin Thicke and the other with Daft Punk, launched him to new heights of stardom. And with that momentum, Williams is back with a second solo album. G I R L's slick combination of disco and R&B sounds make the record an instant Try It for Jim. He would‘ve gone Buy It if it weren’t for Pharrell's tired lyrics about women. Greg also sighs at the empty lyrics, adding that Williams should stick with what he does best: producing. His ability to channel dancable rhythms from the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder is his greatest asset and ultimately the only thing earning G I R L a Try It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 433
dijs

Jim

“Heaven Help Us All”Stevie Wonder

Jim's Desert Island Jukebox pick was inspired by a documentary he saw on the summer of '68. He saw the footage of the riots in Chicago during the Democratic Convention in a whole new light because of the reporting he's been doing on the city government's attitude toward live music. The city council is attempting to pass legislation that would severely hinder local promoters. And Jim couldn't help but compare the image of our current mayor to that of his father screaming, yelling and proclaiming himself“the law.”That image was juxtaposed with the Stevie Wonder song "Heaven Help Us All," and Jim thinks it's a perfect choice to bring with him to the desert island.

Go to episode 173

Jim

“C·30 C·60 C·90 Go”Bow Wow Wow

Jim riffs on tUnE-yArDs' love for African rhythms for his Desert Island Jukebox pick. It reminds us of yet another Western band to put African beats to its own creative use. This week, it's the British new wave group Bow Wow Wow. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood created the band in 1980, but were out a lead singer until they discovered 14-year-old Annabella Lwin working at a dry cleaner and singing along to Stevie Wonder. Jim's pick, "C·30 C·60 C·90 Go" makes ample use of the then-popular "Burundi Beat," a rhythm cribbed from a French anthropologist's recording of native Burundian percussionists. Tracked down years later, the original Burundian musicians singled out Bow Wow Wow for special props. Sure, they stole the beat, but they also gave it a new spin.

Go to episode 294
lists

Musical Grand Slams

With Chicago baseball trying to keep their heads up during this World Series, we thought we'd inject a little joyous noise into this baseball season. Jim and Greg team up with Len Kasper, TV voice of the Chicago Cubs, to pay homage to their version of a Grand Slam. We all know how this works in baseball (though sports-phobe Jim DeRogatis is still getting the hang of the rules). A batter hits a home run with bases loaded, sending four players to home plate. In music, Jim and Greg define a grand slam as four masterpiece albums in a row. Which artists have achieved this rarest of rock feats? Jim and Greg sit down to compare stats.

Go to episode 518

Desert Island Jukebox Highlights

As the hosts of the show, Jim and Greg are always given the tough challenge of picking just one song they can‘t live without to drop into the Desert Island Jukebox. But, over time, they’ve also asked some of their favorite musical guests to make this difficult decision. It's interesting to hear what music these artists want to be stranded with. Here are just some of the selections:

  • Thom Yorke of Radiohead - "The Old Man's Back Again" by Scott Walker
  • Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead - "Kool Thing" by Sonic Youth
  • Robyn Hitchcock - Revolver by The Beatles (in his mind)
  • Scott McCaughey - "Walking in the Rain" by The Ronettes
  • Peter Buck - "Daddy Rollin' in Their Arms" by Dion
  • Lupe Fiasco - "The Highwayman" by The Highwaymen
  • Julian Casablancas of The Strokes - "Moonlight Sonata" by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Jon Brion - "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tenille
  • Rhymefest - "All I Do," by Stevie Wonder
  • Jason Lytle of Grandaddy - "Roscoe" by Midlake
Go to episode 67

Hero Worship

Today's theme is Hero Worship. The genesis of this idea was that we here at Sound Opinions started noticing that a lot of artists have written songs about their own heroes. Think of Bob Dylan's "Song To Woody." It's the kind of love only one rocker could express to another. Though when it comes to name-checking important musical figures, critics like Jim and Greg come a close second. Here are their favorite moments of musical Hero Worship.

Go to episode 307

Hero Worship

Without a doubt, musicians influence one another. Sometimes in subtle ways with a borrowed riff or lyric. Sometimes by overtly name-checking another artist. This week, we look at those obvious examples of Hero Worship - songs written about another musican. Think of Bob Dylan's Song to Woody, or David Bowie's Song For Bob Dylan. Jim and Greg picked some tracks from their musical heroes, that mention other musical heroes.

Go to episode 575

Grand Slam Allstars

Go to episode 383
rock doctors

Julie

For what has become a recurring segment on Sound Opinions, Jim and Greg again don their white lab coats and assume the role of Rock Doctors. This week's patient is Julie, a listener who needs Drs. Kot and DeRogatis to prescribe some new music for her ailing ears. Julie consumes a steady (and stale) diet of Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald and Lauryn Hill.

So, what do Jim and Greg prescribe to bring Julie into 2006?

Jim keys into how Julie appreciates Ella Fitzgerald's vocals and recommends L'Altra. He knows this is a risky (non-FDA) approved medication, but thought he'd go out on a limb and ask Julie to check out the latest album from the Chicago duo. His second remedy is D'Angelo's Voodoo. He knows Julie likes dense, layered R&B like that of Lauryn Hill and Stevie Wonder, and thinks Voodoo, though much darker and moodier, is one of the best R&B records made in the last decade.

Greg also keys into Julie's appreciation for songwriting and strong vocals, and gives her a dose of Jill Scott. He thinks that the patient will appreciate the way Scott describes the world and the way she playfully uses her voice. His second prescription is John Legend's debut album Get Lifted. Though Legend is often compared to singer/songwriters like Stevie Wonder, Greg thinks he brings that genre forward in a wonderful way.

A week later the patient returns to the Rock Doctors to let them know how she's progressing. While she appreciated the Jill Scott record, she found the songs almost too clever. Still, she wasn‘t completely turned off by this remedy, and also understood why Jim would prescribe her the D’Angelo — but that didn‘t really hit the spot. In fact, she completely forgot that she bought and listened to this album years ago. L’Altra overwhelmingly had the worst side effect. This patient can appreciate alternative medicine, but even a spoonful of sugar didn‘t help this album go down. By far the big winner of the bunch was John Legend’s Get Lifted; Julie loved this album. Sound Opinions hopes that it was just the right cure to keep her healthy and full of good, new music.

Go to episode 44
news

Music News

The news starts with Front Line Management's lawsuit against Axl Rose. Front Line's founder and chief executive is Irving Azoff, who is also executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, which merged with Ticketmaster last month. Jim and Greg discuss the impact of such a lawsuit on an artist. Considering the mega-corporation controls ticketing, venues and many other aspects of the industry, they may not be one to tangle with. Also, they note that the lawsuit is over a breach of "oral contract." Who agrees to an oral contract these days? Especially with Axl Rose!

Jim and Greg discuss the yet again delayed emergence of Spotify in the U.S. The Internet music service, introduced in 2008 by Daniel Ek, has become one of the most popular of its kind in Europe with 7 million users. But despite rumors that it would come to the States this summer, Ek is still having trouble navigating our thick legal system. He wants Spotify to be legitimate, and that means a lot of licensing fees. But once it does hit our soil, Greg predicts big success.

It hit about 80 degrees this week in Chicago, and while it may snow again next week, we've got our eye on the summer. Jim and Greg run down some of the biggest music festivals of the season. First up is Coachella this month, which will feature Jay-Z, LCD Soundsystem and Faith No More among others. The following month, music fans can travel to Washington for the Sasquatch Festival to see My Morning Jacket, Kid Cudi and Ween. In June Bonnaroo will host the Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder and Weezer. Two of the biggest festivals are right here in our hometown: Pitchfork Music Festival, which will boast a Pavement reunion, and Lollapalooza, which Greg can nearly confirm will have headliners Lady Gaga, Green Day, and a reunited Soundgarden. But, Jim points out that not all of the best multi-act concerts are destination festivals. Lilith Fair is back this year as a traveling women-fueled act with Mary J. Blige, Cat Power and Kelly Clarkson.

Go to episode 227

Music News

Traditionally the Grammy Awards honor commercial success more than critical. So it was refreshing to see Daft Punk take home so many prizes, including the two biggest: Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Jim and Greg were also pleased with the live performance featuring the French robots with Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Omar Hakim and Nathan East (Usually the televised ceremony's odd couple pairings are nothing more than stunts). The last dance music album to win the top prize was Saturday Night Fever in 1979. Jim and Greg hope they don't have to wait another two decades for more EDM Grammy wins.

At 94, Pete Seeger lived long enough to know that his music inspired multiple generations. Greg describes him as a working-class advocate who delivered the news through song. And sometimes that news was met with controversy, as with his performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, attempted unsuccessfully in 1967 and then again in 1968. Jim and Greg play a recorded version of that song in honor of Seeger, who died January 27 of natural causes.

Go to episode 427

Music News

When People Magazine calls an artist the "World's Biggest Pop Star," who are we to argue? The person in question is 16-year-old Justin Bieber, and he recently became the youngest artist to debut at #1 on the charts since Stevie Wonder. Bieber has appeared on American Idol and at The White House and has been causing tween hysteria across the country. What Jim and Greg find interesting about the singer is how his fame seems to be the result of a purely 21st century digital music model. He can thank YouTube for his success. Also, Jim marvels at the relative innocence of Bieber's lyrics. Greg predicts that Bieber's transition to the adult contemporary market could be pretty seamless, even if his adolescence isn't.

Go to episode 228