Saturday, 18 March 2017

"Classic Album Collection (1972-1976)" by STEVIE WONDER (June 2011 Motown 5CD Mini Box Set - 4 x 2000 CD Album Remasters In Repro Card Digipaks) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Sunshine Of My Life…" 

Here's one that seems to have slipped by the tired eyes of over-stimulated music lovers. Four bona-fide STEVIE WONDER Seventies masterpieces lumped together in a glossy hard card outer box - each in an oversized gatefold card sleeve with individual booklets ("Songs In The Key Of Life" is split across two card sleeves hence the total of five spines).

It's hardly original I know and there's no new remastering in this 2011 reissue (they're the KEVIN REEVES remasters from 2000 repackaged) - but man what a listen. And if you don't own the 2000 remasters - the box is nicely presented and a truly stunning reminder as to why Stevie Wonder is so beloved. These albums are just unbelievably good. Here are the Inner Visions, Superstitions and Sir Dukes...

Released June 2011 - "Classic Album Collection (1972-1976)" by STEVIE WONDER on Motown/Universal 0600753366226 (Barcode 600753366226) breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (43:30 minutes):
1. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
2. Maybe Your Baby
3. You And I
4. Tuesday Heartbreak
5. You've Got It Bad Girl
6. Superstition - [Side 2]
7. Big Brother
8. Blame It On The Sun
9. Lookin' For Another Pure Love
10. I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Talking Book" - released October 1972 in the USA on Tamla T-319L and January 1973 in the UK on Tamla Motown STMA 8002. It has a 12-page colour booklet with lyrics and recording credits (same as the 2000 remaster). JEFF BECK and BUZZY FEITON play guitar on "Lookin' For Another Pure Love" while RAY PARKER, JR. plays guitar on "Maybe Your Baby". Both SHIRLEY BREWER and DENISE WILLIAMS put in backing vocals on "Tuesday's Heartbreak" while TREVOR LAURENCE (Sax) and STEVE MADALO (Trumpet) are the fantastic Brass Section on the uber funky "Superstition".

Disc 2 (44:15 minutes):
1. Too High
2. Visions
3. Living For The City
4. Golden Lady
5. Higher Ground - [Side 2]
6. Jesus Children Of America
7. All In Love Is Fair
8. Don't You Worry 'Bout A thing
9. He's Misstra-Know-It-All
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Innervisions" - released August 1973 in the USA on Tamla T 326L and October 1973 in the UK on Tamla Motown STMA 8011. It has a 12-page colour booklet with lyrics and musical credits (same as the 2000 remaster). LANI GROVES sings Backing Vocals on "Too High" while DEAN PARKS (Acoustic) and DAVID "T" WALKER (Electric) plays Guitars on "Visions" with most other instrumentation played by SW.

Disc 3 (42:36 minutes):
1. Smile Please
2. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
3. Too Shy To Say
4. Boogie On Reggae Woman
5. Creepin'
6. You Haven't Done Nothin' - [Side 2]
7. It Ain't No Use
8. They Won't Go When I Go
9. Bird Of Beauty
10. Please Don't Go
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Fulfillingness' First Finale" - released July 1974 in the USA on Tamla T6-332S1 and September 1974 in the UK on Tamla Motown STMA 8019. It has a 12-page colour booklet with lyrics and recording credits (same as the 2000 remaster). DENISE WILLIAMS sings backing vocals on "Smile Please", PAUL ANKA, SYREETA WRIGHT SHIRLEY BREWER and LARRY "Nastyee" LATIMER sing Backing Vocals on "Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away", SNEAKY PETE plays Pedal Steel on "To Shy To Say", MINNIE RIPERTON sings Backing Vocals on "Boogie On Reggae Woman", THE JACKSON 5 sing Backing Vocals on "You Haven't Done Nothin'", LANI GROVES, MINNIE RIPERTON and DENISE WILLIAMS sing backing Vocals on "It Ain't No Use", SHIRLEY BREWER, LANI GROVES and DENISE WILLIAMS sing Backing Vocals on "Bird Of Beauty" while MICHAEL SEMBELLO plays Guitar on "Please Don't Go" and THE PERSUASIONS sing Backing Vocals with SHIRLEY BREWER and DENISE WILLIAMS on "Please Don't Go".

Disc 4 (42:47 minutes):
1. Love's In Need Of Love Today [Side 1]
2. Have A Talk With God
3. Village Ghetto Land
4. Contusion
5. Sir Duke
6. I Wish  - [Side 2]
7. Knocks Me Off My Feet
8. Pastime Paradise
9. Summer Soft
10. Ordinary Pain
Tracks 1 to 10 are Sides 1 and 2 of the double-album "Songs In The Key Of Life" - released October 1976 in the USA on Tamla T13-340C2 and October 1976 in the UK on Tamla Motown TMSP 6002. It has a 28-page booklet with complete album credits (same as the 2000 remaster) with the "A Something's Extra" 4-track EP tagged onto the end of Disc 5.

Disc 5 (62:15 minutes):
1. Isn't She Lovely [Side 3]
2. Joy Inside My Tears
3. Black Man
4. Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing [Side 4]
5. If It's Magic
6. As
7. Another Star

A Something's Extra Bonus:
8. Saturn
9. Ebony Eyes
10. All Day Sucker
11. Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call)
Tracks 1 to 7 are Sides 3 and 4 of the double-album "Songs In The Key Of Life" - Tracks 8 to 11 are the 4-track EP that came with original copies of the vinyl 2LP set (has no booklet, 2000 remaster).

I love the KEVIN REEVES remasters (done in 2000 at Universal using original tapes ) - warm and full of presence - bringing songs like "You've Got It Bad Girl", "He's Misstra Know-It-All" and "Isn't She Lovely" to life. The only title I find slightly sonically disappointing is "Songs In The Key Of Life" which seems to lack real sparkle on some tracks (the way it was recorded?).

For many Stevie's true musical journey begins with March 1972's "Music Of My Mind" and his new found Seventies sound and songwriting voice - so it's a shame it isn't here. But opening with the gorgeous "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" works for me. You also forget how good tracks like the slow funk of "Maybe Your Baby" and the ballad "You & I" are - "Tuesday Heartbreak" the same. And who can resist the fabulous ARP boogie of "Superstition".

We then of course step up into unmitigated genius with "Innervisions" - second only to "Songs" as a fan fave. Listening again to the beautifully remastered "Too High", "Visions" and "Living For The City" in a row is a thrill - even after 40 years. The album nuggets "All In Love Is Fair" and "Jesus Children Of America" still have that cool and warmth that amazes. It ends on the superb "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" which would surely have been another Top 5 hit.

After the magnificence of "Innervisions" - I can remember that "Fulfillingness First Finale" felt like a bit of a disappointment - but again a rehear and a reappraisal are in order. "Too Shy To Say" is as lovely a tune as he's ever penned and the double-whammy of "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and "You Haven't Done Nuthin'" (with The Jackson 5) are funky moog workouts that still thrill. The Latin-scat of "Bird Of Beauty" is cool too as is the slink of "Creepin'" (great vocal work from Minnie Riperton) and the Smokey Robinson vibe to the finisher "Please Don't Go".

What can you say about "Songs In The Key Of Life" - it feels like "Blonde On Blonde", "The Beatles", "Exile On Main St." and "Physical Graffiti" - a double album you'll never tire off and can dip into for years to come and still seemingly find something new. It opens with the truly gorgeous "Love's In Need Of Love Today" and the brilliance (and social conscience) rarely lets up. I love the instrumental "Contusion" and Minnie Riperton and Denise Williams in the Backing Vocals of the acidic "Ordinary Pain' - with Shirley Brewer singing the angry 'response' lyrics with such conviction as to be positively unnerving. Album nuggets include "Joy Inside My Tears", "Pastime Paradise" and his soaring vocals in "Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing" brings tears to my eyes. Yet it has to be said that sonically this remaster lets the side down somehow - it feels strangely dull - you'd expect it to deliver - but it's good rather than great. I had the Japanese SHM-CD but I think it's based on the same remaster so that was an expensive waste of money on my part...

Stevie Wonder would annoy everyone with the indulgent 1979 2LP extravaganza "Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants" and then regain his crown with the slimmer "Hotter Than July" in 1980 - but these Seventies marvels are the bedrock of his reputation - and rightly so.

"Classic Album Collection (1972-1976)" by Stevie Wonder is a lovely thing to own or gift to someone you love - joyful and life all great music is...

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