In discussion with Sassy J on “Songs In The Key Of Life” by Stevie Wonder (1976).
I found „Songs In The Key Of Life“ in the record collection of my mother in the 70s and secretly transferred it to my own after listening to it. How did the album find you?
I grew up listening, dancing and singing to this album as a little girl. It was one of the rather few soul records amongst my parents Jazz collection. I made my babysitter put it on. I was singing along the lyrics using my skipping rope as a mic. Oh well… That’s why I picked this record for this interview. I think next to all the Jazz at home “Songs In The Key Of Life” built the firm roots of musical tree of life.
Were interested your parents’ Jazz collection as well, or did the album offered an alternative to what you were used to hearing around the house?
The Jazz records that were playing and Jazz tunes my dad played on the piano was just the music that was mainly there. I remember being scared when Duke Ellington’s „Caravan“ would play, or that I loved to fall asleep to Sarah Vaughn’s voice. The funky clothing or jewelry and style of the musicians that stayed with us stuck with me. I also remember artists performing in our living room on house parties. So I was interested in those other aspects of Jazz at home. When I started getting into Hip-Hop later on, finding out about the samples & originals, I got more interested in their Jazz collection again – up to now. I am still pulling out things.
Some childhood memories are very formative and lasting. Was it important that you were introduced to the album at a young age?
I guess so. It reached out to the little girl in that living room. It triggered the attention of her ears and eventually made me choose it for this particular interview.
Why did you think the album had such on impact on you, and what kind of impact was that?
I liked it and I wanted to hear it over and over again, because it made me feel good. The sound, the groove, the melodies, the moods and of course his voice. Next to all the other music at home, this record surely made me fall in love with music. Music is the love of my life. I couldn’t live without it. That’s a hell of an impact!
I remember that even the format of the album was very special to my fledgling music enthusiast self. There was a lot of music spread over two discs, plus a bonus 7“ and a fat booklet. Even at a time when I did not spend too many thoughts on an album’s background that seemed extraordinary. Does the album justify this grand scope, could it not have been any other way?
Yes, the format added an extra attraction to it. I used to love to sit down, open it, take out the booklet and look at it while the record was playing out and out: the cover art, his signature and fingerprint, all the content of it. The older I got, the more I would discover. Singing along to the lyrics, finding out who was featured on there or who was listed in his thank you’s.
What are the highlights of „Songs In The Key Of Life“ for you? And is it mandatory to swallow it as a whole, or can you skip parts that do not hold up to others?
To me the highlight is the journey you go on, listening the whole record. The cover artwork and title reflect it: Mr. Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. Genius. Timeless. So much to hear and discover. So rich.
Most critics heralded „Songs In The Key Of Life“ as a masterpiece ever since, fewer noted that it is patchy in parts. Not only in terms of songwriting, but also in terms of stylistic diversity. The latter I always found very unfair, as the diversity was always one of the aspects I found most fascinating about the album. Would you agree that this ambitious palette is a pro rather than a con?
I groove, feel, get inspired, sing, dance … to music. I don’t approach it that way. To me the record is genius. It is ONE. No drawers or palettes needed.
It is quite astonishing that Stevie Wonder was only 26 years old when he released „Songs In The Key Of Life“. Yet he signed to Motown when he was 11, and before he started work on the album he even considered quitting the music business for good. So he had a long career going on already. Does this inform the music contained on „Songs In The Key Of Life“? Is this a statement bursting out he could not deliver before? How much artistic freedom is needed for an epic like this?
It is a beautiful thing in life to learn, grow and get better and more experienced in all you do.
I think the beauty in this album lies in the journey he made up to then. On “Songs In The Key Of Life” you can hear his experience, all of his brilliance and essence. It feels so complete, strikingly timeless. A flower, fruit, expression of the genius he is. I believe delivering a record, an epic like this, you need to be yourself to the fullest and complete artistic freedom is needed – else it wouldn’t be that complete. Read the rest of this entry »