50. Playing for Change – Higher Ground
The story behind Playing for Change is at least as inspiring as their music. PFC is a multimedia project in which street performers add their contributions to a track that are mixed together afterward. The performers aren’t in the same room; in fact, they’re not even in the same country. The music unites them, though, as this cover of “Higher Ground” shows. Italy, Senegal, Japan, France, the Netherlands – all are represented, and all share the joy of music in a way you can’t help but be moved by. (If you want to contribute, you can toss a little change their way by downloading the song here.) – Patrick Robbins
49. Jacob Collier – You and I
Who doesn’t love a lush a cappella cover? It’s difficult to put into words what makes English jazz musician Jacob Collier so fantastic. He has a certain brand of je ne sais quoi that can’t just be equated to his unique harmonic language. In this cover, Collier showcases a tasteful use of dissonance in the treble harmonies and uses bell-like arpeggios to change the texture of key moments. His timbre shifts in the low range have gospel written all over them, a small homage to Stevie Wonder’s big voice. In case you’d like to see it written out, here is a transcription of Collier’s cover (aka. A small peek into the mind of a musical genius). – Aleah Fitzwater
48. The Word – You Haven’t Done Nothin’
I recently wrote about this song at my other blogging home, in which I admitted to having not known:
- That it was originally directed at Richard Nixon (who resigned one day after the single was released)
- That the background vocals on the song were sung by the Jackson 5–despite the fact that Wonder literally sings “Jackson 5 join along with me”
- That all of the instruments on the song (other than bass) were played by Wonder, including the horn parts on synthesizer.
The Word, a (mostly) instrumental supergroup that includes Robert Randolph, John Medeski, Chris Chew, and Cody & Luther Dickinson, opened their set at 2012’s Mountain Jam in upstate New York with a suitably jammy version of the song, with Randolph’s pedal steel substituting for Wonder’s vocals. – Jordan Becker
47. Anju Ramapriyam – Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
I’m not going to lie. Hearing this cover play at the end of the movie Valentine’s Day kicked off a Stevie Wonder listening streak for me. If the timing of the movie release was a few years earlier, I might be able to make the case for Barack Obama going through a similar listening process, but alas, I guess Obama was ahead of me when he chose this song to feature prominently in his 2008 campaign. This Bollywood-style version kicks the energy up a few notches; it’s a sprint to the post-office, or to the dance floor. Some of the “I’m yours” moments get that little Alanis Morissette chant-twang sound. “Hand in my Pocket” mashup, anyone? – Sara Stoudt
46. Grant Green – If You Really Love Me
In the early ’70s, as Stevie Wonder was just coming into his classic period, the jazz-funk guitarist Grant Green was looking to find his groove again after personal struggles did a number on his career. The guitarist released his version of “If You Really Love Me” just a few months after Wonder’s single came out. The song is an unusual one by any measure. Apart from its rollicking chorus, it’s a series of stops and starts and pauses. It’s an unusual selection for Green in particular because it doesn’t lend itself to the flowing, trance-jazz stylings that were Green’s strength. But the simplicity of Grant’s approach, set against the polished horn arrangements, is a real treat. You hear an older generation of jazzers who had every reason to resent the changes brought about by the rise of commercial rock and pop, bringing genuine enthusiasm to the work of a young Motown artist just starting to come into his own. – Tom McDonald
45. The Lower Lights – Have a Talk with God
The lyrics of Wonder’s “Have a Talk with God” fit perfectly with this country-folk jam. Slide this one into a church service and no one would be the wiser, aside from the fact that the picking expertise here is well above your typical local church band. There’s a great little banjo and guitar solo section, followed by great singalong harmonies. The original song is powerful, but The Lower Lights crank up the joyful feeling of these lyrics for a different experience. – Mike Misch
44. Jen Chapin – Superstition
From an extraordinary album, entirely dedicated to the songs of Stevie. Entitled ReVisions, the album’s twelve songs are very much that, Jen Chapin’s template being to strip back all the songs to the same minimalist palette. When that template is just acoustic bass, tenor sax and voice, boy, has her voice got to be up to it. It is, and the other musicians (Stephan Crump and Chris Cheek) are also pretty damn fine. Jen, daughter of Harry, has form in this sort of enterprise. A bit much to take in at one sitting, this track is the easiest digestible chunk. – Seuras Og
43. Destiny’s Child – Living for the City
In 2004, Wonder won Billboard’s Century Award, and Destiny’s Child – themselves the record holder for the most Billboard Music Awards won by a group – turned up to pay tribute. (As an aside, Beyoncé must be a big Stevie fan; she was part of another tribute, solo this time, with Ed Sheeran and Gary Clark Jr. over a decade later.) The trio really sells this song. I really appreciate all the love for Michelle in the YouTube comments too. One could argue that she really is the star in this performance. All three singers provide the power and emotion behind the storytelling of hard times and perseverance. However, we get an abridged version of the song that robs us of the chance to hear that power escalate when hitting on the more political parts of the song involving discrimination in hiring, police brutality, and urban air pollution. A full version might result in more of a Lemonade vibe. – Sara Stoudt
42. Nick DeCaro – Angie Girl
Admit it–when you first saw the headline, you thought, “Nick DeCaro better be on that list or I’m never reading Cover Me again!” But seriously, while he may not be famous in the standard sense, you will find DeCaro’s name in the credits of dozens of amazing LPs from the ’70s and ’80s, as both arranger and player for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, and James Taylor. He also made three albums of his own, the first of which, 1974’s Italian Graffiti, featured an assortment of sweet covers, including this embraceable version of Stevie’s candy-coated 1969 deep cut “Angie Girl.” DeCaro delicately reshapes the original from unassuming soul sweetheart to a warm bit of Beach Boy-esque AM radio-ready yacht rock. Perfect for soundtracking scenes of swaying palms and for sating besotted hearts. – Hope Silverman
41. Najee – Village Ghetto Land
In 1995, jazz saxophonist and flautist Jerome Najee Rasheed didn’t just cover one Stevie Wonder song; he covered a full album. And he didn’t just cover any album; he covered the entire double album Songs in the Key of Life. Hell, he even tackled the four-song bonus EP too! Najee Plays The Songs From The Key Of Life contains multitudes, showcasing far more soul and inspiration than those anonymous “A Jazz Tribute to Stevie Wonder” type collections. The flute-driven “Village Ghetto Land” services as a good showcase, backing him not with traditional jazz instrumentation, but with a string quartet. If you want more like this, the Najee-featuring compilation album Blue Note Plays Stevie Wonder is worth tracking down too. – Ray Padgett
Excellent list! I got some new ones here to buy.
I would add Art Garfunkel’s version of “I Believe When I Fall In Love” too – it’s lush, over the top, and awesome.
The Brand New Heavies 2006 cover of “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You)” should be on this list!
How could you miss O’bryan’s version of You and I?