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Talking Book

Talking Book is the fifteenth studio album by American singer, songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder, released on October 28, 1972, on the Tamla label for Motown Records. The album is widely noted for being the signal recording of Wonder's "classic period". The sound of the album is sharply defined by Wonder's keyboard work, especially with the synthesizers he incorporated. His use of the Hohner clavinet model C on "Superstition" is widely regarded as one of the definitive tracks featuring the instrument.

Relying less on Motown's head Berry Gordy for musical direction and expression, Talking Book is often considered as the beginning of the turning point in Wonder's career from a youthful prodigy to an independent and experimental artist. Speaking on the album in 2000, Wonder said, "It wasn't so much that I wanted to say anything except where I wanted to just express various many things that I felt—the political point of view that I have, the social point of view that I have, the passions, emotion and love that I felt, compassion, the fun of love that I felt, the whole thing in the beginning with a joyful love and then the pain of love."

Talking Book peaked at number three on the Billboard Top LPs chart and finished at number three on the Billboard 200 Albums Year-End of 1972. The album's first track "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening chart. The album's first single, "Superstition", also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart. Talking Book earned Wonder his first Grammy Award, with "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" winning Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 16th Grammy Awards. "Superstition" also won Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song.

Reviewing for Rolling Stone in 1973, Vince Aletti regarded Talking Book "ambitious" and "richly-textured", writing that "even at its dreamiest, the music has a glowing vibrancy ... Altogether, an exceptional, exciting album, the work of a now quite matured genius". Talking Book is often included in lists of the greatest albums of all time. It was voted number 322 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000). Rolling Stone ranked it number 90 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Background

Sandwiched between the release of Music of My Mind and Innervisions, Talking Book saw Wonder enjoying more artistic freedom from Motown. Guest musicians appearing include Jeff Beck, Ray Parker Jr., David Sanborn, and Buzz Feiten. The sound of the album is sharply defined by Wonder's keyboard work, especially with the synthesizers he incorporated, giving a funky edge to tracks like "Maybe Your Baby". His use of the Hohner clavinet model C on "Superstition" is widely regarded as one of the definitive tracks featuring the instrument. His clavinet embellishments on "Big Brother", though, evoke a six-string acoustic guitar, and his note-bending harmonica work touches on some folk and blues influences.

Cecil and Margouleff produced four of Wonder's "classic" albums in all: Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale, as well as several albums by the Isley Brothers and others. They employed an unusual production technique using multiple layers of instruments such as the clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric pianos, and Arp and Moog synthesizers in place of the string orchestras used in conventional production techniques. This combination is what gives Talking Book and these other three albums their distinctive sound.

The cover depicts Wonder with cornrows, wearing Indian jewelry and a velvet kaftan.

Reception

Released after Wonder toured with The Rolling Stones in 1972, Talking Book became a major hit, peaking at #3 on the Pop Albums chart in February 1973, and became the first album by Wonder to top the Top R&B Albums chart, where it remained for three weeks. The popular appeal of the recording helped destroy the myth that R&B artists were incapable of creating music that could be appreciated by rock audiences, and marked a unique period for R&B artists (especially Motown artists). Wonder won three awards for Talking Book at the 1974 Grammys: Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "You Are the Sunshine of My Life", and both Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song for "Superstition". Incidentally, at the same ceremony, Wonder's next album, Innervisions, won Album of the Year and Talking Books associate producers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff won the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical award for their work on that album.

Reviewing for Rolling Stone in 1973, Vince Aletti called Talking Book "ambitious" and "richly-textured", writing that "even at its dreamiest, the music has a glowing vibrancy ... Altogether, an exceptional, exciting album, the work of a now quite matured genius". It was voted number 322 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000). In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it 90th on the magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. According to Robert Christgau, the record found Wonder taking artistic control and breaking through, continuing his "wild multi-voice experiments" and writing better ballads without losing "his endearing natural bathos"; Christgau also highlighted "Superstition" as a translation of Wonder's "way of knowledge into hard-headed, hard-rocking political analysis". J. D. Considine called the album "a pop tour de force".

Track listing and personnel

Side one # "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" – 2:58 #* #* #* #* #* #* # "Maybe Your Baby" – 6:51 #* #* # "You and I (We Can Conquer the World)" – 4:39 #* # "Tuesday Heartbreak" – 3:02 #* #* #* #* # "You've Got It Bad Girl" – 4:56 #* #* #* #*

Side two # "Superstition" – 4:26 #* #* #* # "Big Brother" – 3:34 #* # "Blame It on the Sun" – 3:26 #* #* #* # "Lookin' for Another Pure Love" – 4:44 #* #* #* #* #* #* # "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" – 4:51 #*

Inscription Original pressings contain Braille lettering of Wonder's name and the album title, along with a message only embossed on the album artwork in braille until the 2000 pressing:

Additional personnel

  • Malcolm Cecil – programming, engineer, Associate producer
  • Robert Margouleff – engineer, Associate producer, photography
  • Austin Godsey – engineer, recording
  • Joan Decola – recording
  • George Marino – mastering

    Charts

    Weekly charts

    Year-end charts

    Certifications