Ranking the 5 Best Songs on Stevie Wonder’s Masterpiece Album ‘Talking Book’

Talking Book, released in 1972, was Stevie Wonder’s 15th studio album. At the time of its release, Wonder was 22 years old. Let that sink in for a moment.

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Now that’s out of the way, it’s important to note that the record marks a bit of a demarcation line in Wonder’s career, as he graduated from precocious young hitmaker to mature album artist about to take up the mantle as one of the most important artists of the ’70s.

Ten songs long, Talking Book doesn’t contain a single clunker. That’s what makes it so tough to pick the five best out of the bunch, but we’re here for it.

5. “Maybe Your Baby”

That’s Wonder playing all the instruments on this track, except for a young Ray Parker Jr. getting a chance to rip on electric guitar. Yep, Wonder is all the backing vocals as well, playing with the pitch so that he seems to take on different guises for each voice that he uses. Notice how he slows the pace down here, which allows him to take a funk setup and deconstruct it so you can hear every element that makes it so captivating. This is the longest song on the record, but Wonder makes it worth it by continuously adding interesting aural elements so that it never peters out.

4. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”

Wonder was in full crowd-pleasing mode on the album-opener, and it worked as the song soared to No. 1. What an interesting choice to introduce the record with two voices other than his own. (Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves sing the refrain to begin the song before Wonder gets a word in.) Wonder keeps things flowing with his Fender Rhodes, which offers both melodic counterpoint to his vocals and helps create the rhythm with the congas of Daniel Ben Zebulon. Smooth, jazzy, and relaxing as a summer day.

3. “Blame It on the Sun”

Wonder first started working with synthesizer innovator Robert Margouleff on his earlier 1972 album Music of My Mind. The collaboration truly flourished on Talking Book. The synths cast a woozy but alluring glow on this ballad, turning it from simply a pretty song to a mesmerizing one. Syreeta Wright contributed lyrics to a couple key tracks on the record, including this one. Wonder is at his soulful best portraying a man who wants to find some rational explanation for the implosion of his romance, refusing to accept the truth that it was probably all his fault.

2. “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”

Here is another track where Wonder’s skill as a record-maker, honed through all those years watching it get done at Motown, came to the fore as he took charge of his own sound. The album-closing track benefits a great deal from how the music in the verses seems almost hesitant, refusing to take too much of a stand as if someone is worrying about entering a new romance. That makes it all the more triumphant when Wonder goes charging with decisiveness into the chorus. Classic albums tend to have wonderful last songs, and Talking Book has a lulu for sure.

1. “Superstition”

Before you start going on and on about this being one of the most engaging grooves in the history of music, keep in mind Wonder is entirely responsible for it. That’s him not just on the irrepressible clavinet part, but also on bass and drums for good measure. The horns deserve some credit, adding just the right flavors in between the rest. On paper, you might take the lyrics at surface level. But when added to the music and sung by Wonder with tense fervor, you start to understand they’re a call for vigilance and personal responsibility as powerful as any you’ll hear.

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Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns

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