“Songs in the Key of Life”

Stevie Wonder’s magnum opus from the end of his Golden Era of Classic Recording.


“Songs in the Key of Life” Album cover

by Haylee Hampton, Reporter

Stevie Wonder is an American musician and songwriter who was signed to Motown Records during the 1970’s. His eighth studio album “Songs in the Key of Life” was released September 28, 1976, and is considered his magnum opus, and is certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The double album was the first to be produced by Wonder after signing his new $35 million, 7 year, 7 album contract with Motown Records. 

Wonder, during this time considered leaving the music business to pursue humanitarian efforts in Ghana; however, after signing his new record deal he began working on the album, recording at Crystal Sound Studios, The Record Plant, and The Hit Factory Studios. In total 130 people are listed as contributors to the making of the album, numerous well-known musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Minnie Ripperton, George Benson, and Deniece Williams are noted on that list of 130. 

There are diverse themes throughout the album both musically and lyrically. This album goes through everything a person experiences in life; love, sadness, childhood, faith, admiration, frustration, parenting, and how one might all deal with that. However, what makes this album and Wonder’s tone unique is the optimism and positivity that is carried through these different stages in life.

“Love’s in Need of Love Today”

  • The opening track for the album “Love’s in Need of Love Today” sounds similar to gospel choir, however its Wonder’s voice stacked on top of each other. This effect was intentional in order to properly deliver his message to listeners. That message being the importance of using and appreciating love, and the destruction hate can have on everybody if we’re not careful. Being the first track on the album it sets up the general tone of reflection which is carried throughout as you listen. 

“Have a Talk With God”

  • The idea of everyone having a friend that will listen to them and cares about them, is something that everyone could relate to. This track also features a funky synth throughout the song and Wonder’s harmonic skills.

“Village Ghetto Land”

  • The track opens up with what sounds like a string orchestra, however it is actually a programmed synthesizer. This sound which could be associated with wealth adds contrast to the lyrics which address socioeconomic disparity.

“Sir Duke”

  • Sir Duke is a jazzy upbeat track in which Wonder expresses his love for both music and the happiness it brings people. He also honors famous jazz musicians such as Count Basie, Steve Miller, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and of course Duke Ellington. The bass, drums, and horn session especially stand out in this track.

“I Wish”

  • Wonder discusses the trials and tribulations of his childhood and the unideal realities of it; but still longing for the feeling of ignorant bliss which is then tainted by age and a better comprehension of the world. Following up from “I Wish”, the horn section and keys offer an upbeat-danceable tempo.

“Pastime Paradise”

  • The duality of history between the oppressed and the oppressor is what makes up the “Pastime Paradise”. Relishing in the past and glory which they were able to achieve from segregation and slavery is “them” or white reactionaries. While the oppressed have to look for a future paradise whether that be heavenly or earthly. Notably the instrumentation was sampled on another famous track “Gangsters Paradise” by American rapper Coolio. 

“Summer Soft”

  • Going through the different seasons as the diverse amount of feelings in a relationship “Summer Soft” travels through the beginning excitement, expectations, satisfaction, and disappointments of a relationship. However, with the theme of seasons you aren’t able to change the flow of time and what comes with it. 

“Ordinary Pain”

  • In “Ordinary Pain” Wonder plays the perspective of a relationship which has degraded over time. One side is dealing with the pain which is caused by this new emptiness, wondering if the pain they are feeling is “ordinary”. And the other side is glad the relationship is over since they weren’t happy in it and felt cheated by it. This perspective shift also happens in the lyrics and the instrumentation; with the first half of the song being melancholy and the second half being rejoiceful.

“Isn’t She Lovely”

  • Wonder’s dedication song to his daughter Aisha Morris “Isn’t She Lovely” is an easy going tune in which he shows off his harmonica skills in numerous solos. In the song he reflects on the new joyful perspective parenthood has brought him.

“Joy Inside My Tears”

  • “Joy Inside My Tears” emotes feelings of goodbye to a person you’re fond of. Expressing gratitude for being able to bring some release from the pain; as well as describing the fear of having those conversations where the truth is difficult to speak. The vocal layering throughout  the track also illustrates the different pains felt during these conversations.


  • With the flow of life and things you have no control of. The love Wonder describes in “As” will exist till the world is no longer as we know it now. The key playing accompanies the converse singing between Wonder and the choir-like background singers. There are aspects of gospel and preaching in the delivery of lyrics.

“All Day Sucker”

  • The narrator is describing a one sided relationship in which they are self aware that their partner is unfaithful and doesn’t take the relationship seriously. However they still are a sucker for them and end everyday in disappointment. With such a depressing topic the song is rather funky .

This album is considered Wonder’s last great album from his classic recording period of the 60s-70s. Countless artists from a wide variety of genres have sampled and taken inspiration from this album, which has further carried Wonder’s ideas and sounds throughout the music world. The album is generally regarded as one of the best albums in popular music history. The personal impact of the album on me was profound, especially tracks such as “Summer Soft”, “Ordinary Pain”, and “As”. The diverse range of sounds in Wonder is able to not only explore but masterfully execute is astounding for a 21 track album. This album is the definition of the word classic and should be seen as a source of inspiration and serenity for all.