Stevie Wonder - FIngertips Pt. II
Fell into a bit of a Prince hole and ended up here. It’s where the harmonica on Chaka Khan’s 1984 cover of “I Feel For You” comes from: a 1962 live recording of an instrumental track from Stevie’s debut album that became a vocal track when Stevie starts shouting a call-and-repsonse with the audience. It’s fantastic, but a mess. The band repeatedly gets lost, Stevie drops in a quote of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on harmonica, there’s a false ending, the announcer comes in to get him off stage way too early, and there aren’t really any lyrics or movement to the song. it’s an end-of-set vamp with some great harmonica playing. And the damn thing went to #1 on the pop charts in 1963. #1! On the pop charts! For an end-of-set vamp! This is an enormously important song in pop history - Motown’s second #1 single, Stevie’s first, and the foundation of one of the biggest songs of the 80s. But it’s hard for me to imagine a context in which this song could get anywhere near the top of the charts. It’s a reminder, to me at least (none of this will be at all surprising to certain writers), that our present-day understanding of the musical past has little to nothing to do with what was actually going on 50 years ago. We only remember the pieces that make sense with what we’re listening to now. You can see it in the way large swaths of the early Beatles songs have been essentially written out of their mythos - the Broadway covers, the instrumentals, the jazz pretensions. What’s nice there, of course, is that A Hard Day’s Night is in many ways a documentation of the pop machinery context of the time. (The TV show, the style consultant, the screaming fans.) Not every pop-culture landmark comes with such a handy guide. It’s hard to think of any modern analogy for what happened with Stevie here, and that makes it hard to hear in the way it sounded at the time.
This is pretty cool, with and without the context.