There are things I take for granted as a rapidly-approaching-fifty-year-old person. The relative convenience of air travel. Modern medicine. Grocery stores full of food. The bullshit that is the two-party political system. And, of course, recorded music.
Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions came out a couple of years after I was born, and the album itself is now 46 years old. And here I am listening to it on a vinyl disc that’s almost half a century old while enjoying some coffee on a Saturday morning. However, if I was my current age in 1973… would I be listening to a 46 year old recording for enjoyment? Said recording would have to date from 1927 and would have been on a shellac disc or a cylinder, so I guess it’s possible, though I likely would have needed a vintage machine to play it, unlike my ability to use my modern Rega to spin some old school Stevie. And would middle-aged 1973 me actually even want to listen to that music from 1927? Maybe. I don’t know. But chances are I wouldn’t have been born into and grown up in a household in which music was readily available on records, 8-tracks, cassettes, and dozens of radio stations. I suppose as I get older I’m simply more likely to notice how things change, but also how they stay the same, all the while recognizing that just because an experience has been ubiquitous in my lifetime doesn’t mean it was for people just a couple of generations older than me. People who are still alive. To paraphrase the incomparable Lemmy from Motörhead, “I remember a time when there was no rock ‘n’ roll, when there was only your parents’ Rosemary Clooney records.”
So what about Innervisions? Well, the more recent Rolling Stone lists rank it as one of the Top 25 albums of all time. Think whatever you like about Rolling Stone, but that’s still some high praise. And it won the Album of the Year Grammy, which despite some historically questionable choices (Toto IV in 1983…) isn’t an accident.
Wonder’s signature ARP synth certainly makes it feel dated today, but his voice and passion, not to mention those sweet grooves, will still hold you. His original version of “Higher Ground” is every bit as funky as the better known (to my generation) cover by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Lyrically it’s incredibly deep, covering a range of issues like drug abuse and racism while somehow being both cautionary and optimistic at the same time. And those Latin vibes on “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”? C’mon. If that doesn’t make you dream of dancing outside with that special someone you might be dead. And it goes pretty great with a cup of coffee on a quiet Saturday morning too.