100 Best Albums On the heels of his first post-Motown-emancipation masterpiece Music of My Mind, 1972 was Stevie Wonder’s biggest year yet. He opened for The Rolling Stones on their enormous US summer tour, exposing his exploratory soul-funk hybrid to countless rock fans, and released his second opus Talking Book before the end of the year. An April 1973 Rolling Stone interview dubbed the erstwhile teen-pop star “The Formerly Little Stevie Wonder” and quoted the 23-year-old as saying that he wanted to “get in as much weird shit as possible”; 1973’s Innervisions was a start. The boldest political statement of Wonder’s career yet—assailing drug addicts, infrastructural racism, charismatic con men, and superficial Christians—Innervisions was also deliriously funky and boundary-pushing. Wonder played and produced just about everything, with the help of his experimentally minded studio sous-chefs Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. The musical peaks were as high as Wonder would ever get, though the tone was more pointed than ever. “Living for the City” is a feverish seven-minute operetta about the unforgiving toll of urban life for the Black working class in the post-Black Power moment. With the journalistic soul of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On broadcast straight from the street corner and central booking, “Living” is among the most scathingly beautiful indictments of the American justice system. The album-ending slow burn “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” suavely identifies the character types who prey on those same marginalized people, including, many surmised, the soon-to-resign “law and order”-claiming US president. There’s salvation to be found in “Higher Ground,” an impossibly groovy sequel to Talking Book’s No. 1 funk odyssey “Superstition” that asserts Wonder’s belief in reincarnation over his trademark wah-wah clavinet and Moog bass; the tongue-in-cheek Latin workout “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” a Dylanesque barb at a social climber delivered with a potent display of Wonder’s bottomless charm; and the hopelessly romantic “Golden Lady,” which spirals upward into the kind of ecstatic joy that only Wonder could generate. Both a kiss-off to late-’60s hippie optimism and a pathway to numerous possible spiritual futures, Innervisions cemented Wonder as the most inspired and singular mind in 1970s American popular music.

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