Music of My Mind

Music of My Mind

By 1972, Stevie Wonder was already established as Motown’s in-house wunderkind. He’d released a stunning 13 studio albums for the legendary label before he was 21—including a 1963 live album titled The 12 Year Old Genius. As the 1970s dawned, however, Wonder began chafing at the creative restraints imposed upon him by the famously restrictive Motown founder Berry Gordy, and followed labelmate Marvin Gaye in negotiating a new contract, one that gave Wonder full creative control over his music, as well as the opportunity to experiment—both musically and politically. The back cover of Music of My Mind even includes a declaration of independence: “Stevie Wonder comes of age…Now he’s free,” it reads, before noting “this album is virtually the work of one man.” To be sure, Music was nowhere near as revolutionary as Gaye’s What’s Going On. At this point in his artistic evolution, Wonder’s newly untethered imagination was focused mostly on his exuberance (and worry) regarding his new marriage to singer-songwriter Syreeta Wright. Still, the album does find him pushing his ultramodern musical gizmos to their limits: On the seven-and-a-half-minute opener “Love Having You Around,” Wonder engineers a joyous and funky robot romanticism from the talk box and Moog bass, both of which accompany his trademark clavinet. That leads into the bittersweet ballad “Superwoman,” which finds Wonder patiently mansplaining his insecurity at the titular lady (widely assumed to be Wright) who wants to become a star herself. It’s an eight-minute mini-epic, one that picks up the narrative thread from Wonder’s 1971 weeper “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer”—proof of Wonder’s budding fondness for self-referential concept records. But while the solemn “Summer” could’ve been released in the 1950s, the second half of “Superwoman” sounds like the future, courtesy of the shimmering, otherworldly tones Wonder wrenches from a room-sized analog synth named TONTO, built by ambitious musician-engineers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Wonder took to TONTO because, he later explained, it seemed like the only medium capable of translating his fountain of musical ideas into recorded sound. Fittingly, Music of My Mind concludes with “Evil,” a relatively concise, TONTO-assisted production that sounds like a more soulful Emerson, Lake & Palmer production, and which finds Wonder offering his first statement on the malevolent forces threatening the modern world. He was just getting started.

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