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  1. #1
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    Stevie Wonder in the 1980s

    So, how do we feel about Stevie's work in the 80s?

    I feel that the casual narrative is that he was part of the Motown machine in the 60s and had classic 60s Motown hits

    In the next decade, he took control over his music and went on a streak of unparalleled creativity and talent [[I would put Stevie in the 1970s as a better run than any artist, at any time, in any genre, at the very least on the Mount Rushmore of greatest musical streaks)

    Then in the 80s that creativity well seemed to dry up and he started churning out corny pop songs that his 70s self wouldn't have recorded in a million years

    Is this a fair assessment?

    I've seen "I just called to say I love you" listed as one of the worst hit songs of the decade, and worst song he ever did [[multiple times), with "Part Time Lover" not far behind

    I'd say that Do I Do and Overjoyed stands proudly next to any of his 'classic' songs

    And he gave the world Black Happy Birthday - Honestly what percentage of the time is it the version sung at black birthday parties? I’m taking the over at 70%






    Last edited by Optimal Saint; 06-28-2022 at 08:51 PM.

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    Last edited by Optimal Saint; 06-28-2022 at 10:10 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Optimal Saint View Post

    I've seen "I just called to say I love you" listed as one of the worst hit songs of the decade, and worst song he ever did [[multiple times)
    And it sold muliple times - his only UK number one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mysterysinger View Post
    And it sold muliple times - his only UK number one.
    really? That’s surprising

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    Optimal Saint, your assessment is not only fair, but right on target. While Stevie indeed continued to give us some timeless bops and ballads in the '80s [and yes, "Happy Birthday" is an African-American standard, fa sho! ], his glory days were behind him, IMHO. After his meteoric, unmatched early-to-mid-'70s streak, his music, on the whole, suffered--not only from subpar material, but an over-reliance on synths and electronic gizmos. Great topic!

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    I'll comment more fully in a minute, but yes, an interesting topic, and Stevie did indeed continue to create great music in the 80's. An imperfect but worthy of revisiting era.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sansradio View Post
    Optimal Saint, your assessment is not only fair, but right on target. While Stevie indeed continued to give us some timeless bops and ballads in the '80s [and yes, "Happy Birthday" is an African-American standard, fa sho! ], his glory days were behind him, IMHO. After his meteoric, unmatched early-to-mid-'70s streak, his music, on the whole, suffered--not only from subpar material, but an over-reliance on synths and electronic gizmos. Great topic!
    Do you have a theory on why the Glory Days were over?

    Music, Styles, culture, era changed and passed him by?

    Not as focused on music anymore? Not putting in the same effort?

    Content to Follow trends instead of creating them?

    I agree on too much synths and drum machines but that was 80s music in general

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    Quote Originally Posted by Optimal Saint View Post
    Do you have a theory on why the Glory Days were over?

    Music, Styles, culture, era changed and passed him by?

    Not as focused on music anymore? Not putting in the same effort?

    Content to Follow trends instead of creating them?

    I agree on too much synths and drum machines but that was 80s music in general
    My take on it is that while Stevie failed to match his golden era in the '70s [Music Of My Mind thru Songs In The Key Of Life], he still had enough great songs to keep him going in the 1980's. You'll find the very same thing in any long running artist; there's the peak creative and commercial era and then it trails off [this also happened with Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, Earth Wind & Fire and others].

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    Quote Originally Posted by Optimal Saint View Post
    Do you have a theory on why the Glory Days were over?

    Music, Styles, culture, era changed and passed him by?

    Not as focused on music anymore? Not putting in the same effort?

    Content to Follow trends instead of creating them?

    I agree on too much synths and drum machines but that was 80s music in general
    I'd have to say a combination of all of the above. His muses weren't blessing him as consistently as they did during the halcyon years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sansradio View Post
    I'd have to say a combination of all of the above. His muses weren't blessing him as consistently as they did during the halcyon years.
    What?!!
    Wait a minute, here. Excuse me. Pardon me....coming through.
    No mention of another wedding standard: "These Three Words?" And the "Jungle Fever" mover? Which I might add, at the time, was reported to have been written by Steveland in a week!!; supposedly due to the movie - of the same name's production constraints.
    I know, I know, it wasn't technically an 80s product. The movie & soundtrack blew up in the 90s. Rant complete.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nativeNY63 View Post
    What?!!
    Wait a minute, here. Excuse me. Pardon me....coming through.
    No mention of another wedding standard: "These Three Words?" And the "Jungle Fever" mover? Which I might add, at the time, was reported to have been written by Steveland in a week!!; supposedly due to the movie - of the same name's production constraints.
    I know, I know, it wasn't technically an 80s product. The movie & soundtrack blew up in the 90s. Rant complete.
    You answered your own rant. This thread is about his output in the '80s. Yes, he did return to form in later decades with Jungle Fever and A Time to Love. My points about his '80s material still stand. [ETA: I should say '80s work post-Musiquarium; Hotter than July was certainly more than satisfying. The Woman in Red was his tipping point for me; by and large, it was a commercial cash-grab beneath his usual high standards.]
    Last edited by sansradio; 06-29-2022 at 08:34 AM.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Optimal Saint View Post
    So, how do we feel about Stevie's work in the 80s?
    He still had {and still has, which is worth noting in the context of recent discussion about Diana Ross and Paul McCartney} ... a fantastic voice and I think he was still writing good songs, IJCTSILY excepted. I think I would enjoy his work more, however, if it wasn't for the 80s instrumentation and production. I know people want to stay current but I'll never understand how the horribly cheap and cheesy sounding 80s keyboards took over from and dominated over the gorgeous tones of a Fender Rhodes or a Clavinet or an actual piano. And don't get me started on those crappy drum machines! Take 'Happy Birthday'. Fine tune, but the opening bars sound like the 'demo' button on a Casio keyboard! Same with 'Go Home'. Play that on a clavinet and get Stevie on a real drum kit - I bet it would be funky as hell.

    This is why, I reckon, even though every now and then I give something like Characters a spin, I can't get right into it like the 60s and 70s stuff. Songs like 'Skeletons' hint at the funk of old, but it never really comes back {until, perhaps A Time To Love}. I must say though, I think 'Fun Day' from the 90s is one of my all-time favourite Stevie tracks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stupidactingsmart View Post
    He still had {and still has, which is worth noting in the context of recent discussion about Diana Ross and Paul McCartney} ... a fantastic voice and I think he was still writing good songs, IJCTSILY excepted. I think I would enjoy his work more, however, if it wasn't for the 80s instrumentation and production. I know people want to stay current but I'll never understand how the horribly cheap and cheesy sounding 80s keyboards took over from and dominated over the gorgeous tones of a Fender Rhodes or a Clavinet or an actual piano. And don't get me started on those crappy drum machines! Take 'Happy Birthday'. Fine tune, but the opening bars sound like the 'demo' button on a Casio keyboard! Same with 'Go Home'. Play that on a clavinet and get Stevie on a real drum kit - I bet it would be funky as hell.

    This is why, I reckon, even though every now and then I give something like Characters a spin, I can't get right into it like the 60s and 70s stuff. Songs like 'Skeletons' hint at the funk of old, but it never really comes back {until, perhaps A Time To Love}. I must say though, I think 'Fun Day' from the 90s is one of my all-time favourite Stevie tracks.
    I agree on the 80s production

    When I'm listening to one of my best of/anthology/box set [[of any artist) once the songs get into the 1980s as a general rule I lose interest

    There are some gems here and there to be sure. But even then I always think how much better this song would be with real instruments

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    As brilliant as he is, Stevie has a tendency to make a really sappy song, be that in the 70s, 80s or 90s. I personally find "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" quite boring and sappy… much in the same vein as "I Just Called To Say I Love You", although the latter is truly dreary.

    I do think Stevie made some great music in the 80s, including "Do I Do", "That Girl", "Skeletons", and "Get It" with Michael Jackson. I even quite like "Part Time Lover"…!

    And not to mention some of his many collaborations… like "Just Good Friends" with MJ, "That's What Friends Are For" with Dionne, Gladys & Elton, and "The Crown" with Gary Byrd!

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    I imagine that for many, "Ebony and Ivory" might represent the corny eighties Stevie… but his other and much less well-known collaboration with Paul McCartney, "What's That You're Doing", is pure Stevie FUNK…

    Last edited by TomatoTom123; 06-29-2022 at 07:23 PM.

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    More than enough great songs from Stevie in the 80s, although I do wonder how many were written earlier [["All I Do", as we know, comes from the 60s and there are several vocal/instrumental full band demo versions of "Cryin' Through The Night" dating from '73/'74).

    There's no denying that "I Just Called To Say I Love You" is a good song - it's easily one of my least favourite Stevie songs, but it's well crafted and clearly resonates with many people. Possibly the worst aspect of it is the anaemic cheesy production that's not too far removed from the sound of a cabaret singer let loose on a Bontempi organ with a built in drum machine...

  17. #17
    I think we are being too harsh on Stevie here.

    The best thing about Stevie's 80s work is it continues being HIS work. It would have been easy for him to chase the latest trends by working with Jam/Lewis or some other producer. Instead we get beautiful albums which are uniquely Stevie.

    Hotter Than July would be a standout career high for anyone else.

    The 4 new tracks on Original Musiquarium are excellent. We don't talk about That Girl enough. When everyone else was using synths to create thin sounding pop, Stevie creates a funky masterpiece. 9 weeks at number one on the R&B chart, so it went down well there.

    I like the consistent sound on In Square Circle. Some great songs like Overjoyed, Spiritual Walkers, Go Home etc

    But perhaps the most overlooked is Characters. Skeletons, Free, You Will Know, My Eyes Don't Cry, With Each Beat Of My Heart. All brilliant.

    And IJCTSILY is a superbly crafted song and is brilliant when performed live.

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    The Stevie of the '70s I worked with was the hardest working songwriter and producer I've ever seen. Those songs are the best of many hundreds of songs he wrote. I suspect he simply wanted a life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Motown Eddie View Post
    My take on it is that while Stevie failed to match his golden era in the '70s [Music Of My Mind thru Songs In The Key Of Life], he still had enough great songs to keep him going in the 1980's. You'll find the very same thing in any long running artist; there's the peak creative and commercial era and then it trails off [this also happened with Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, Earth Wind & Fire and others].
    Expanding on my post: Stevie Wonder's work in the 1980's may fall a bit short when stacked against his now classic albums of the '70s, however, his best songs during this period more than hold up today [and kept Stevie in the public eye during the '80s-not bad for someone who's been making records since the early '60s]. Here's a song by Stevie from the '80s that doesn't get talked about much.



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    Here's a Stevie Wonder song from 1991 that proves he was still near the top of his game; "Feeding Off The Love Of The Land" was featured in the closing credits of Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. It was left off the soundtrack album for the movie and wasn't made available until the release of Stevie's The Complete Studio Recordings collection [from iTunes].


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    Alas, "Feeding Off The Love Of The Land" [[first released as the B side of "Gotta Have You") was written in 1973/4, with the vocal and piano version dating from that time being released on the "Nobody's Child - Romanian Angel Appeal" compilation in 1990. Bill Lee then added a superb string arrangement for the "Jungle Fever" version.

    I remember buying the CD single of "Gotta Have You" and being blown away by "Feeding Off The Love Of The Land". Quite baffling how it wasn't on the soundtrack album.
    Last edited by JM27; 07-03-2022 at 08:43 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JM27 View Post
    Alas, "Feeding Off The Love Of The Land" [[first released as the B side of "Gotta Have You") was written in 1973/4, with the vocal and piano version dating from that time being released on the "Nobody's Child - Romanian Angel Appeal" compilation in 1990. Bill Lee then added a superb string arrangement for the "Jungle Fever" version.

    I remember buying the CD single of "Gotta Have You" and being blown away by "Feeding Off The Love Of The Land". Quite baffling how it wasn't on the soundtrack album.
    Thanks for the info about "Feeding Off The Love Of The Land". I didn't know that Stevie first wrote and recorded the song in the '70s [and that it was released on a compilation in 1990]. Also didn't know that it was released on the "Gotta Have You" single.

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    I love Stevie through it all, but echo Sans' sentiments regarding the instrumentation he relied on so heavily. But he still made out with a ton of cuts in the 80s that get as much play from me as anything he did in the 60s and 70s.

    It's so interesting to learn of how much "I Just Called" is disliked by so many. I remember when you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing it. It was on TV too. Clearly a huge hit. I was just a little kid. And I hated it. One of those songs you hate but you know all the words to. Yuck. But somebody had to love it. I wonder what all those people who dug it then think about it now. Hell, I'd love to know what Stevie thinks about it now.

    The 90s also saw Stevie producing high quality stuff. I rank "For Your Love" as good as anything he had done before. I've been crazy about that one ever since I first heard it on the radio back in the day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RanRan79 View Post
    I love Stevie through it all, but echo Sans' sentiments regarding the instrumentation he relied on so heavily. But he still made out with a ton of cuts in the 80s that get as much play from me as anything he did in the 60s and 70s.

    It's so interesting to learn of how much "I Just Called" is disliked by so many. I remember when you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing it. It was on TV too. Clearly a huge hit. I was just a little kid. And I hated it. One of those songs you hate but you know all the words to. Yuck. But somebody had to love it. I wonder what all those people who dug it then think about it now. Hell, I'd love to know what Stevie thinks about it now.

    The 90s also saw Stevie producing high quality stuff. I rank "For Your Love" as good as anything he had done before. I've been crazy about that one ever since I first heard it on the radio back in the day.
    I'm almost positive that "I just Called" was the first time I became aware of Stevie, and you're right, it was everywhere

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