Monday, September 15, 2014
LP of the Week - "Hotter Than July," Stevie Wonder (1980)
If you asked a random music fan to name what he/she thought was Stevie Wonder's best album, I'm sure one of the first you'd hear would be "Songs in the Key of Life." No doubt there would be a few "Innervisions," some "Talking Book," and probably "Music of My Mind." I doubt that many people would say "Hotter than July," but today we're going to try and do something about that. And don't get me wrong; even I wouldn't say that "Hotter than July" is his greatest work. But what I am saying is that it belongs on any short list of great Stevie, and is in fact my favorite Stevie Wonder album.
From start to finish, with absolutely no roadblocks along the way, "Hotter than July" is classic Stevie Wonder. It's got great dance tunes ("Did I Hear You Say You Love Me," "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It," "As If You Read My Mind"), it's got great political tunes ("Cash In Your Face," "Happy Birthday"), it's got an all-time tear jerker ("Lately"), and it's got "Master Blaster (Jammin')," a Bob Marley tribute that I'm convinced, nearly 35 years later, is one of his greatest songs.
And the band? Just absolutely smoking hot. Particularly in his latter career, Stevie was one of those guys (like John Fogerty) who liked to do it all himself, sometimes to the detriment of the songs themselves. But here, he is accompanied by a classic band, the core being Nathan Watts on bass, Benjamin Bridges on guitar and Dennis Davis on drums. And they are awesome - driving each song well past its limits.
You could almost call this Stevie's "Tattoo You" - the last great album from an indisputably great artist.