Not only one of the most iconic songwriters of our time, but Stevie Wonder is also a one-man band, a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer, who has contributed his lyrics, vocals, instrumentation, and more to countless songs throughout his 60-year career.
Dubbed “Little Stevie Wonder” at the age of 11, his career started off with some first singles beginning at the age of 12 and his early days on the Motown label. By 1963, the child prodigy already had his first No. 1 hit “Fingertips” and was the youngest artist at the time to top the charts. Wonder continued to have more success throughout the 1960s and ’70s, releasing his 15th album Talking Book in 1972 with the mega-hit “Superstition,” while his 1976 release Songs in the Key of Life earned him the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. By the 1980s, Wonder enjoyed more mainstream success through collaborations with Michael Jackson (“Get It,” 1987) and Paul McCartney on the 1981 hit “Ebony and Ivory,” and more.
Throughout his six-decade career, Wonder, now 72, has written countless classic songs for himself, crossing genres from funk and gospel, to soul and more mainstream pop, earning him inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, along with countless awards and accolades.
Here’s a brief backstory on seven songs Wonder wrote for other artists over the decades.
“The Tears of a Clown,” Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1967)
Written by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Henry Cosby
Smokey Robinson thought “The Tears of a Clown” sounded like a circus song when Stevie Wonder first played it for him during a Motown Christmas party. The two later worked on the lyrics for Robinson to use. Originally recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the song was released on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen; the album was later reissued in 1970 as The Tears of a Clown.
“It’s a Shame,” The Spinners (1970)
Written by Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright, and Lee Garrett
“It’s a Shame” was written by Wonder, his then-wife Syreeta Wright, and Lee Garrett—who also co-wrote Wonder’s 1969 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”—for The Spinners. Adding to The Spinners’ hits like “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love?” and “Working My Way Back to You,” “It’s a Shame” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart.
“Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” Aretha Franklin (1973)
Written by Stevie Wonder, Morris Broadnax, and Clarence Paul
Stevie Wonder recorded “Until You Come Back to Me” in 1967, but since it didn’t have any movement, he gave it to Aretha Franklin who added her own soulful spin to the track. This song was with Wonder most of his life since he wrote it at 13 and later reworked it with co-writers Morris Broadnax and Clarence Paul to better suit Aretha Franklin, who released it on her 20th album Let Me in Your Life. “Aretha blew the thing out,” said Wonder of Franklin’s version. “Obviously we all know that is one of her all-time classics. You are convinced of what she says, of what she’s singing.” Wonder’s version does appear on his 1977 anthology Looking Back.
“Bad Weather,” The Supremes (1973)
Written by Stevie Wonder and Ira Tucker Jr.
Wonder wrote and produced one of the first post-Diana Ross Supremes songs for the group, a subtle transition for the group into the early 1970s disco era. The song, which only peaked at No. 74 on the R&B Singles chart, became the last charting hit with The Supremes for then-singer Jean Terrell, who replaced Ross in 1970.
“Tell Me Something Good,” Rufus, Chaka Khan (1974)
Written by Stevie Wonder
Stevie loved Chaka Khan’s voice and always wanted to write a song that would suit her vocals. When released by Rufus, the early funk band featuring Khan, the song became the first hit for the group, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Wonder later collaborated with Khan again, playing chromatic harmonica on her 1984 hit “I Feel For You,” written by Prince, and also samples Wonder’s 1963 song “Fingertips.”
“Perfect Angel,” Minnie Riperton (1974)
Written by Stevie Wonder
Best known for her high-octave hit “Lovin’ You,” Minnie Riperton’s second album Perfect Angel was co-produced with her husband Richard Rudolph. Wonder also penned the title track for the album for the R&B singer. Using the pseudonym “El Toro Negro,” Wonder also contributed harmonic, drums, electric, and acoustic piano on Riperton’s album, released just five years before her untimely death from cancer in 1979.
“I Can’t Help It,” Michael Jackson (1979)
Written by Stevie Wonder and Susaye Green
Released on Michael Jackson’s fifth solo album Off the Wall, “I Can’t Help It,” was originally written with The Supremes’ Susaye Greene and was a song Wonder initially wanted to record himself. Produced by Quincy Jones, Off The Wall also featured song contributions for Jackson by Paul McCartney (“Girlfriend”), Rod Temperton—who also wrote Jackson’s 1984 mega-hit “Thriller”—David Foster, and more.
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