Writer and musician Nabil Ayers on Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”

The memoirs of the writer, musician and music industry entrepreneur Nabil Ayers “My life in the sun“tells the story of growing up barely knowing his famous father, jazz musician Roy Ayers. In The Treat, he explains why Stevie Wonder’s seminal 1976 album”Songs in the key of lifeis “the most spectacular record of all time”. Ayers describes how the record almost didn’t happen because, although Wonder was at the height of his career, the artist wanted to take a break from music and move to Africa to do some charity work. Instead, Wonder was convinced to make another album.

On August 5, 1975, Wonder signed a seven-year, seven-album, $37 million deal with Motown and assumed full artistic control of his music – the biggest musical deal at the time and a level of independence almost unheard of in the world. industry. The following year he released the double album “Songs in the Key of Life”, Wonder’s 18th studio release, and won the 1977 Grammy for Album of the Year.

For me, it’s sort of the culmination of all those things. It’s amazing that the superstar was able to kick things up a notch by also taking big risks. I think he played most parts of the record. The opening track is seven minutes long, which is obviously not the most commercial thing to do.

There are songs like “Village ghetto land“, which comes across as the kind of light and elegant string song, but it’s actually [a] really heavy graphic protest song about humans eating dog food.

“Love’s In Need Of Love Today” by Stevie Wonder, the opening track from his 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life”. Credit: YouTube.

His big thing, of course, was creative control. But it’s amazing that he’s already so huge, that he demanded that control, that he made that record and that he proved that it could work. It was an even bigger success.

“Contusion” has always been my favorite song, probably because he’s kind of the drummer nerd in me. I like time changes and instrumentality. It’s really amazing live video of them playing a radio session around the time this album was released in Germany in the early 70s, and they’re playing “Contusion”. It’s Michael Semblello on guitar and this amazing band, and it’s so much fun to watch. I’ve looked this way too many times.

Stevie Wonder performs several songs from his album ‘Songs in the Key of Life’, including ‘Contusion’, on German radio Musikladen on January 23, 1974. Credit: YouTube.

People ask me all the time who my favorite drummer is, and he’s always on the list. And people are just like, “What? Stevie Wonder plays the piano? It’s like, come on, he definitely should be known as a drummer.

For me, it’s one of the most incredible records of all time. The fact that it was directed by a blind black man in the 70s makes it all the more incredible and unlikely. But even without that, it’s just amazing and inspiring work.