Songs in the Key of Life

I purchased this album on Amazon for $13.58 and this is the first time I have ever listened to it, yet somehow this album is deeply connected to my personal musical history and my journey to becoming a music edumacator.  Or at least one song on it is.  See, “Sir Duke” was the first song I ever learned as a member of the G.I.’s (aka Geneva’s Image), the show choir in my hometown of Geneva, Ohio.  I remember doing summer rehearsals between my sophomore and junior years in some random person’s basement, and this was the first song we learned.  The group had done it the year before (someone had learned it at the famous show choir camp at Heidelberg University) and so it was an obvious choice as a starter song for all the newbies like me.

Now, my road to joining the show choir was not obvious at all.  In fact, it was a somewhat random occurrence (which makes it all the more strange that I have made a career out of it).  At that time I had never been in choir, and honestly, I had never wanted to be in choir, even way back in 5th grade when Mr. Parker pretty much recruited anybody who wanted to sing into choir.  But I had decided at the time on being a band guy, and the alto saxophone (and for a little while in 9th grade the tenor sax) was all I really wanted to play.  But then at the beginning of my sophomore year, Black Cloud auditioned for the fall play and got in.  It was “The Crucible”, and as I sat there and watched him on stage, I had the old “anything you can do, I can do better” thought.  Add to it that the girl who I had a huge crush on was in that play (and also in the show choir), and my path was set…I auditioned for the next show, which was a series of one-act plays, and got a small part.  Well, next up was the spring musical, “The Sound of Music”.  I didn’t sing at all in that point in my life, but I knew some Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes from the marching band, so I worked up “Memory” from Cats (yes, I know a chick sings that song in the Broadway show) and tried out.  And I got in…in a non-singing role.  But the two male leads in the show, who were the only two tenors in the show choir, were graduating and were looking for their own replacements.  So I got a crash course in singing and along with Black Cloud and Nascar Sheets, I auditioned for the G.I.’s and by some minor miracle I got in.  The rest is history, and hear I am now, the proud director of my very own show choir, with a gold medal show choir competition trophy on my mantle (well, actually its on top of a filing cabinet in my office at work).  You can feel it all over, people…go!

So this album is a monster…a double album plus an EP that clocks in at almost 90 minutes.  And musically its all over the place, with a bit of prog rock (“Contusion”) and big-band jazz (“Sir Duke”) mixed in with Wonder’s usual mix of R&B, funk, and soul.  There is even a bit of classical chamber music thrown in on “Village Ghetto Land”.  Yet, despite the wide musical variation, it all holds together through Wonder’s Beatles/Lennonesque vision of love and humanism (filtered through a Motown lens of course). A couple of the longer tracks probably could have been edited down a bit (I’m looking at you, “Joy Inside My Tears”), but when Wonder really gets cooking, like he does vocally on “As”, it’s pretty great. This is also one of the more parodied album titles, with “Songs in the Key of X” for the X-Files and “Songs in the Key of Springfield” for the Simpsons among the more amusing variations.

Other lists:  Oddly no individual songs from this album made the list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  For a rundown of Stevie’s accolades, see the entry on “Innervisions”.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was also bumped down one spot from its position on the original list by the rise of “Meet the Beatles!”

My favorite track: “Sir Duke”

Honorable mention: “Pastime Paradise”

A word from the Princess: “Hey, isn’t that Coolio?”

Quote: “We can’t trust you when you take a stand with a gun and bible in your hand”