The Class of 1971: ‘Where I’m Coming From’ — Stevie Wonder

1971 was a year of transition for Stevie Wonder. Since 1962, he had recorded a dozen albums on Tamla, one of numerous Motown labels. The last three were a good indication of where Wonder was at the time: 

1968  For Once in My Life
1969  My Cherie Amour

1970  Signed, Sealed and Delivered

 

The recording of Where I’m Coming From was a memo to the world that Wonder’s true creative genius was about to explode, resulting in five of the greatest albums of all time in succession:

1972  Music of My Mind
1972  Talking Book
1973  Innvervisions
1974  Fulfillingness’ First Finale
1976  Songs in the Key of Life

 

A number of significant events were taking place at this time. Wonder had seized control of his contract situation at Motown, which previously had control over the content of his albums. Where I’m Coming From is the first of his album’s without interference. It came out a month and a half before Marvin Gaye issued What’s Going On. We had never heard music like this from Wonder… or Gaye, heavy on social commentary and anti-war themes. Wonder’s album made it to number 62 on the charts, while Gaye’s smash hit number 6. This album marked the dividing line between the Stevie Wonder of the ’60s and the supercharged edition which was about to emerge.

All songs written by Wonder and Syreeta Wright, Wonder’s first wife. The album was arranged by Wonder, David Van DePitte, Jerry Long, and Paul Riser.

 

Where I’m Coming From

 

SIDE ONE

You need look no further than track 1 to see that this is an entirely different Stevie Wonder. He accompanies himself on harpsichord on ”Look Around” (2:45). The chorus:

Look around and you’ll see
Ruins of the human history
Look around and you’ll find
Time is only floating in your mind
You will find
Searching for time
Empty is your mind
Look around

“Do Yourself a Favor” (6:10) is equally jarring, clavinet prominent along with deep, funky bass. His organ solo is very trippy, and his multitrack voices appear from all over. This is powerful music — and this powerful reminder in the chorus:

Do yourself a favor
Educate your mind
Get yourself together
Hey, there ain’t much time

“Think of Me as Your Soldier” (3:37) sounds much more like Wonder’s earlier love songs, and it is, but sentiments such as “Think of me as your soldier, Through worlds of hate” show this is a new man.

There is still a dark side to “Something Out of the Blue” (2:59), but it is the most hopeful tune . There is lovely orchestration behind his vocals and keyboards, including melodica. 

“If You Really Love Me”(3:00) is the song everyone knows from this album, a glorious if-you-love-me duet with Syreeta, with a horn section, hand-clapping, and a driving beat. This song made it to number 8 on the singles charts.

 

SIDE TWO

“I Wanna Talk to You” (5:18) is a piano-driven R&B dialogue between a black man and an old white Southerner, both voiced by Wonder. 50 years old and as relevant as ever today. The side issue here is that the dialogue, especially the line “I’m gonna take my share,” also reflects Wonder’s refusal to sign a new contract with Berry Gordy and Motown until Wonder had complete control.

For something completely different, there’s “Take Up a Course in Happiness” (3:11), a bouncy positive outlook on life. Horns and orchestration swirl. Throughout the album, we are treated to the various aspects and abilities of his voice.

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” (2:53) is the other song from the album released as a single, peaking at number 78. Piano and his plaintive voice tell the story, again orchestrated.“Sunshine in Their Eyes” (6:58) sounds like a happy song, but a brief listen to the lyrics shatters that illusion. Syreeta is featured again. This reminds of what we would hear in “Livin’ for the City,” a song of despair and the sentiment that “I can’t wait until there’s sunshine in their eyes.” Only half the lyrics appear on the back cover.

A lonesome tear, a hungry face
A barren pain, a dream unchased
Oh, I can’t wait until the day
There’s sunshine in their eyes

A prayer is heard by one so small
Let love be in the hearts of all
Oh, I can’t wait until the day
There’s sunshine in their eyes

You and I may never see them cry
Or wonder why the world’s so cold
(You feel that they’re too young)
(To take a look around)
But in their faces I can see the trouble all around

The day we must turn into lies
The truth already in their minds
Oh, I can’t wait until the day
There’s sunshine in their eyes
(He can’t wait to see the day) doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo
There’s sunshine in their eyes

Oh, no, no
Sunshine in their eyes

Oh, my mother’s worried ’cause she feels the world is ending
She believes that everything is coming to an end
Papa’s being real careful ’cause his brother Sam was robbed
Tryin’ to buy just a loaf of bread for baby John

All the streets turning bare
(Most of the news is bad)
Crime just speeds in the air

Sad is the song
Rolling along
Everything is happening

Weird is the tune
Are we all doomed?
Everything is happening

Cost of living’s up, but the pay is low down
Hate to see the babies starve ’cause momma can’t be found
Sister lives alone, bolts and chains the door at night
Never ever walks an alley or a shorter way

All the streets turning bare
(Most of the news is bad)
Crime just speeds in the air

Sad is the song
Rolling along
Everything is happening

Weird is the tune
Are we all doomed?
Everything is happening

Father Bill’s gone fighting in a place where he’s a stranger
But good men die a stranger in every war
We all hide in shame, boldly pointing to another
When the blame we know for sure is right in ourselves (in ourselves)
In ourselves (in ourselves)
In ourselves

And fasten your seatbelts, because Music of My Mind and Talking Book are right around the corner. Welcome to the new, improved Stevie Wonder.

Comments are closed.