Innervisions is the sixteenth studio album by American musician Stevie Wonder, released August 3, 1973 on Motown Records; a landmark recording of his "classic period". The nine tracks of Innervisions encompass a wide range of themes and issues: from drug abuse in "Too High," through social anger in "Living for the City," to love in the ballads "All in Love is Fair" and "Golden Lady."
As with many of Stevie Wonder's albums the lyrics, composition and production are almost entirely his own work, with the ARP synthesizer used prominently throughout the album. This instrument was a common motif among musicians of the time because of its ability to construct a complete sound environment. Wonder was the first black artist to experiment with this technology on a mass scale, and Innervisions was hugely influential on the subsequent future of commercial black music. He also played all or virtually all instruments on six of the album's nine tracks, making most of Innervisions a representative one-man band
After Talking Book hit the Top 5 of the Billboard Albums Chart in early 1973 and achieved steady sales during the rest of the year, Motown Records managed to make Innervisions another considerable hit in the charts. The album debuted at the Billboard Album Charts on August 18, 1973 at number 85, then climbed up weekly to number 22, number 14, number 9, number 6 until reaching its peak position of number 4 on September 15. The album remained inside the Top 20 until the end of the year and remained inside the whole Top 200 during the whole calendar year of 1975. It was also Wonder's second consecutive soul album to top the Black Albums chart where it remained for two weeks. (In the Cashbox charts, Innervisions actually reached the #1 near the end of the year.) In the UK also achieved big success, and became Stevie Wonder's first album ever to reach the UK Top 10, peaking at #8.)
Three hit singles were issued from the album. "Higher Ground", released some weeks before Innervisions, reached #4 on the charts on late October 1973 (it was also a #1 on the Cashbox singles charts). "Living for the City" was released immediately and reached #8 in early January 1974. Both singles reached #1 on the R&B charts. Finally, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" was released in March reaching #16 in early June, and also peaked at #2 on the R&B charts. In the UK, "Higher Ground" and "Living for the City" were released as singles but achieved modest success, reaching only #29 and #15 respectively. Only a third single issued there, "He's Misstra Know-It-All", managed to reach the Top 10, peaking at #8 on the UK Singles charts.
"All in Love Is Fair" was a later hit for Barbra Streisand, who recorded it and released as a single in 1974.
|The Austin Chronicle|
|Rolling Stone||(favorable) 1973|
Although Innervisions was recorded and released before Wonder's accident, most people associated it with the musician's fast recovery. As with both Music of My Mind and Talking Book the previous year, Innervisions was received warmly by music critics. Wonder's versatile musical skills were praised by critics. Billboard published that "the liner credits Stevie with playing all the instruments on seven of the nine tunes. So in essence this is a one-man band situation and it works. His skill on drums, piano, bass, and arp are outstanding, and all the tracks work within the thematic framework." The New York Times wrote, "Stevie identifies himself as a gang and a genius, producing, composing, arranging, singing, and, on several tracks, playing all the accompanying instruments. But Stevie Wonder, you see and want to know more. At the center of his music is the sound of what is real. Vocally, he remains inventive and unafraid, he sings all the things he hears: rock, folk, and all forms of Black music. The sum total of these varying components is an awesome knowledge, consumed and then shared by an artist who is free enough to do both."
Many others also praised the variety of musical styles and themes present in the album. One reviewer from Playboy wrote, "Stevie Wonder's Innervisions is a beautiful fusion of the lyric and the didactic, telling us about the blind world that Stevie inhabits with a depth of musical insight that is awesome. It's a view that's basically optimistic, a constant search for the 'Higher Ground', but the path is full of snares: dope ('Too High'), lies ('Jesus Children of America') and the starkly rendered poison of the city ('Living for the City'). Wonder seems to say that all people delude themselves but have to be well to pay their dues and existentially accept the present. 'Today's not yesterday,/And all things have an ending' is the way he puts it in 'Visions,' the key tune of the album—pretty yet serious, harmonically vivid. There's a lot of varied music here—Latin, reggae, even a nod to Johnny Mathis ('All in Love is Fair')—but it's all Stevie, unmistakably."
Some reviewers were less enthusiastic. Jon Tiven from Circus argued that there was a lack of memorable material: "Just when Stevie had some momentum going, he went and put together a concept album of homogeneous music and rather typical lyrics. Unlike his last two albums, there are no real low spots on this album, which I suppose is an improvement, but there are no songs on Innervisions which are truly outstanding either. There's no 'Superstition,' no 'I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).' By constructing a solid ground from which to work, Stevie has lowered the ceiling, and put a damper on his talents."
Musicians also showed consummate respect for the achievements of the album, with Roberta Flack saying to Newsweek that "It's the most sensitive of our decade... it has tapped the pulse of the people."
All songs written, produced, and arranged by Stevie Wonder.
- Side one
- "Too High" – 4:36
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, Fender Rhodes, harmonica, drums, Moog bass
- Lani Groves – background vocal
- Tasha Thomas – background vocal
- Jim Gilstrap – background vocal
- "Visions" – 5:23
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, Fender Rhodes
- Malcolm Cecil – upright bass
- Dean Parks – acoustic guitar
- David "T" Walker – electric guitar
- "Living for the City" – 7:22
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocals, Fender Rhodes, drums, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, handclaps
- "Golden Lady" – 4:58
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, piano, drums, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer
- Clarence Bell – Hammond organ
- Ralph Hammer – acoustic guitar
- Larry "Nastyee" Latimer – congas
- Side two
- "Higher Ground" – 3:42
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, Hohner clavinet, drums, Moog bass
- "Jesus Children of America" – 4:10
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, Fender rhodes, Hohner clavinet, handclaps, drums, Moog bass
- "All in Love Is Fair" – 3:41
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, piano, Fender Rhodes, drums
- Scott Edwards – electric bass
- "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing" – 4:44
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, piano, drums, Moog bass
- Yusuf Roahman – shaker
- Sheila Wilkerson – bongos, Latin gourd
- "He's Misstra Know-It-All" – 5:35
- Stevie Wonder – lead vocal, background vocal, piano, drums, handclaps, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, congas
- Willie Weeks – electric bass