Archive for November, 2012

Stevie Wonder is one of those artists you think you know something about because he is so famous and so iconic and  everybody knows that he was a child star and everybody has heard his music on the radio and everybody knows that he is blind, but then you realize that that is all you really know.  At least that’s how it was for me.  Immediately when I hear the name Stevie Wonder I can conjure up the image of him in his sunglasses and long braids sitting behind a synthesizer, and I can hear the groove to “Superstition” in my head, but that’s about it.  Well, I did love his ballad with Paulie, “Ebony and Ivory”, when I was a kid, and “Sir Duke” was one of the first songs I ever learned when I joined show choir my junior year of high school, but that’s about the extent of my Stevie Wonder knowledge.

So this was really my first full Stevie Wonder experience.  And it was fun.  I picked this up on Amazon for $8.87, and right away the funky groove of the first track, “Too High”, captured my attention and got me hooked.  However, this album is not just funk.  “Visions” is an ethereal, meandering ballad, which creates a somewhat odd lead-in to the R&B flavored “Living for the City”.  “Golden Lady” is a mid-tempo ballad, which sets up the return of the funk in “Higher Ground” (which is 1,000 times better than the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover).  Something that I thought was interesting about this album is that there is quite a bid of visual imagery.  For example, in “Visions” Stevie references leaves changing from green to brown, and in “Golden Lady”, well, the lady is golden.  I guess these things go along with Stevie’s theme of “Innervisions”, but since Stevie was basically born blind, I just am curious to know what his interpretations of color actually are in his head and how they differ from the way other people perceive color.  Anyhow, it’s a fun album and well worth a listen or three.

Other lists: “Living for the City” is #105 and “Higher Ground” is #265 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time.  Stevie Wonder is ranked #9 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #15 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was also bumped down one slot from #23 on the original 2003 list (again, due to Robert Johnson’s “The Complete Recordings).

My favorite track: “”Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”

Honorable mention: “Higher Ground”

Quote: “Everybody needs a change, a chance to check out the new.  But you’re the only one to see the changes you take yourself through.”


I bought this used for $7.99 back in the fall of 1994, my freshman year of college.  Unfortunately I can’t seem to remember the name of the record store where I found it, and the faded, generic sticker on the front of the case isn’t any help at all.  There is a sticker on the back that says “Used CD Exchange”, but I’m pretty sure that refers to the condition of the CD and not the name of the store.  I’m pretty sure it was a corporate store, like a Sam Goody or a F.H.E., which made the store an anomaly among all the independent record stores on High Street in the campus area.  It was somewhere between Lane and 16th, and I think the building where it used to be is now UniversiTee’s or something lame like that.  The store didn’t last long…corporate stores never used to fare too well along High Street (that is until Campus Partners came along and replaced all the great independent retailers with wonderfully eclectic businesses like Steak ‘N Shake, Starbucks, and Chipotle) and it was gone by my sophomore year.  But I remember finding this one treasure in the used bin there, and snagging it immediately because I had been searching all over for it, but could never find it at Used Kids, World Record, or Johnny Go’s.

So yeah, I had been looking for this album, mostly because I was homesick for Geneva, and after a summer spent listening to the Beatles at the Whiskey Saint’s bar at the Great Ranch in Trumbull, I was actively seeking out things that reminded me of home.  My freshman quarter at OSU was pretty rough…I was going through a tough breakup, I was 180 miles from home, and Columbus was ginormous compared to the tiny town I had grown up in.  My tribe of high school friends had been scattered to the wind, and my social skills weren’t really developed enough to make many new ones, so I spent a lot of time in my dorm room on the 19th floor of Lincoln Tower listening to the used CDs I would find on High Street in between classes.

I was at a pretty vulnerable time in my life, but this album provided a bit a solace through the loneliness and confusion of my transition to college.  But more than that, it opened my eyes to several new social concepts…most notably the idea of humanism, a concept I wouldn’t come to fully understand until well into my teaching career.  I had already begun to rebel against the tenets of capitalist greed thanks to my experiences as a slave to the Evil Empire, and along came Lennon reinforcing my rebellion and telling me not to believe in any of the mainstream social beliefs anyway.  It was powerful stuff, and as those thoughts continued to germinate and take root in my head over the next couple of years, they shaped my eventual decision to pursue a career in teaching, a career that would keep me away from  the cutthroat corporate suits, and instead let me work shoulder to shoulder with the everyday working class heroes.  Or at least, that what my idealized vision of teaching was back in the day.

The music on “Plastic Ono Band” is simple and melodic.  John Lennon sings of personal pain (“Mother”, “Isolation”), his relationship with Yoko (“Hold On”, “Love”), and of inner conflict (“Look at Me”, “I Found Out”).  But most importantly, he espouses a philosophy of how to live life that is just as relevant in the 21st century as it was back in 1970: believe in yourself, ignore what other people tell you is “right”, and do what you think is “right”.  And most importantly, do whatever makes you happy.  Thanks John…I needed that message back in 1994, and every so often, I need to be reminded of it just to make sure I’m still on the right track.

Oh, and on a side note, this album has a companion piece performed by Yoko Ono.  I tried to listen to it, but it’s just not that * good.

* Omitted at the insistence of E.M.I.

Other lists: As a solo artist, John Lennon is #38 on the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Artists, #4 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #55 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. And of course, he has several accolades with the Beatles that were listed in the entry for “Sgt. Pepper’s”.

Ch-ch-changes: On the original 2004 list, this album was #22, but it was bumped down a slot by Robert Johnson’s “The Complete Recordings” on the current list.

My favourite track: “Working Class Hero”

Honourable mention: “God”

Quote 1: “When they’ve tortured and scared you for 20 odd years, then they expect you to pick a career, when you can’t really function you’re so full of fear”

Quote 2: “I don’t believe in [x], I just believe in me…that’s reality”  (where x=any person, religion, or philosophy)