Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The early- to mid-’70s marked the pinnacle of Stevie Wonder’s career, both in terms of chart success and recorded output. Between 1972 and 1976 he released one Top-5 and three Number 1 albums, including his 1976 magnum double-opus Songs in the Key of Life, recorded when Wonder was only 26 years old. Innervisions, released in 1973, is arguably the cream of this crop.
The album, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year, spawned three hit singles. What is most remarkable about the album, however, is the extent of Wonder’s involvement in the production. He didn’t just turn up, record his vocals, and rely on studio musicians to carry the rest of the load. He played the vast majority of instruments and sang most of the background vocals. In fact, three of the tracks (“Living for the City,” “Higher Ground,” and “Jesus Children of America”) feature only Wonder, and nobody else. That’s right – drums, bass, keyboards, background vocals, even handclaps – all Stevie. An amazing feat for any musician, but particularly outstanding given Wonder has been blind since birth.
To celebrate the just recently passed 40th birthday of Innervisions, we present covers of every song on the album.
MP3: Hugo Montenegro – Too High (Stevie Wonder cover)
Bandleader Hugo Montenegro was best known for his soundtrack work and covers of spaghetti-Western theme songs. He was also, however, an electronic music pioneer, releasing his groundbreaking Moog Power in 1969 that prominently featured – you guessed it – the Moog synthesizer. This cover of “Too High,” the first track from Innervisions, comes from Montenegro’s 1974 album of Wonder covers Hugo in Wonder-Land. As you can hear, his cover relies almost completely on synthesizers. While many covers of pop hits recorded by bandleaders in the late ’60s and early ’70s veered off into schmaltzy Lawrence Welk territory, Montenegro manages to keep an edge to the recording and avoids this trap.
MP3: Nite Jewel – Visions (Stevie Wonder cover)
Based in Los Angeles, Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) has been putting out electronic-driven pop with a hint of the otherworldly since being discovered on MySpace by director Noah Baumbach in 2008. Here she provides us with a sparse and reverential take on Wonder’s “Visions,” and Wonder’s visions. Accompanied by a Rhodes-like electric piano, she allows the listener to fully immerse in Wonder’s lyric, an ode to human solidarity.
MP3: The Dirtbombs – Living for the City (Stevie Wonder cover)
The Dirtbombs grew out of the fertile ground that was the late-’90s garage-rock scene in Detroit that also spawned The White Stripes. Their album of (mostly) soul covers, 2002’s Ultraglide in Black, is a modern day garage-rock classic and features this raucous cover of “Living in the City.” Singer-guitarist Mick Collins’ snarling vocal sounds equally menacing and desperate as he delivers Wonder’s tale of a young naive boy swallowed up by big city living.
MP3: Jose Feliciano – Golden Lady (Stevie Wonder cover)
Like Wonder, Jose Feliciano has been blind since birth. He is most well known for his (too?) ubiquitous Christmas hit “Feliz Navidad” and his cover of the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” With this version of “Golden Lady,” he predictably adds a Latin beat to the song and brings up the tempo. It works, and grows on you with repeated listens – although, like almost any song, if it was played as much as his Christmas hit, you’d eventually come to disagree.
MP3: The Blind Boys of Alabama – Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder cover)
Side two of the LP begins with “Higher Ground,” which hit Number 4 on the singles chart in 1973. A cover of the song was prominently featured on The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1989 album Mother’s Milk. Here The Blind Boys of Alabama (hmmm, there seems to be a bit of a theme here) lend their much-practiced vocal harmonies (they’ve been together since 1939) to what was the title track of their 2002 Grammy-winning album. There’s no shortage of soul here as the boys team up with a killer band to give us an equally killer version of the track.
MP3: Miles Bonny and Circle Research – Jesus Children of America (Stevie Wonder cover)
In 2011, Canadian DJ duo Circle Research teamed with US DJ Miles Bonny to record a couple of Wonder tunes, including “Jesus Children of America.” Though less instrumentally complex than the original, the deceptively simple drum and bass lure you in immediately. Bonny deftly handles the vocal and contributes some well-placed trumpet as well.
Video: Dionne Warwick – All in Love is Fair (Stevie Wonder cover)
Okay, so the orchestral arrangement is a little bit cheesy, and with most vocalists this version would not be suitable for listening outside of a smoky ’70s lounge, but in Dionne Warwick’s hands this becomes a work of art. Just listen to her voice, and watch how easy she makes it all look. Nothing more needs to be said.
MP3: Incognito – Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing (Stevie Wonder cover)
Wonder brought a Latin beat to the penultimate track of the album, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” British acid jazz veterans Incognito keep the Latin influence, while delivering a take that is smooth without ever being sterile. They released the track as a single in 1992 and it became one of their biggest hits, cracking the Top Twenty on the British charts.
MP3: Moxy Fruvous – He’s Misstra Know-It-All (Stevie Wonder cover)
Canadian comedy-rock band Moxy Fruvous experience limited success outside of their home country during their ’90s heyday, but were quite popular and received significant airplay in Canada. Here they perform Innervisions‘ last track, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All,” in a live gig at Toronto’s legendary Lee’s Palace. Fruvous’s drummer, Jian Ghomeshi, now hosts the popular CBC Radio national cultural affairs program Q.