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Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (33 1/3 Series)by Zeth Lundy
Synopses & Reviews
Songs in the Key of Life is imperfect but audacious. If its titular concern — life — doesn't exactly allow for rigid focus, it's still a fiercely inspired and definitive collection of songs. Lundy's book, in keeping with the album's themes, is structured as a life cycle. Within this framework, Lundy covers Wonder's recording methodology, his reliance on synthesizers and the album's place in the gospel-inspired progression of 1970s R&B.
"It was only a matter of time before a clever publisher realized that there is an audience for whom Exile on Main Street or Electric Ladyland are as significant and worthy of study as The Catcher in the Rye or Middlemarch. The series... is freewheeling and eclectic, ranging from minute rock-geek analysis to idiosyncratic personal celebration." The New York Times Book Review
"Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren't enough." Rolling Stone
"One of the coolest publishing imprints on the planet." Bookslut
"These are for the insane collectors out there who appreciate fantastic design, well-executed thinking, and things that make your house look cool. Each volume in this series takes a seminal album and breaks it down in startling minutiae. We love these. We are huge nerds." Vice
"A brilliant series... each one a word of real love." NME
"Passionate, obsessive, and smart." Nylon
"Religious tracts for the rock 'n' roll faithful." Uncut
"We... aren't naive enough to think that we're your only source for reading about music (but if we had our way... watch out). For those of you who really like to know everything there is to know about an album, you'd do well to check out Continuum's 33 1/3 series of books." Pitchfork
33 1/3 is a series of short books about a wide variety of albums, by artists ranging from James Brown to the Beastie Boys. Launched in September 2003, the series now contains over 50 titles and is acclaimed and loved by fans, musicians and scholars alike.
Like all double albums, Songs in the Key of Life is imperfect but audacious. If its titular concern - life - doesn't exactly allow for rigid focus, it's still a fiercely inspired collection of songs and one of the definitive soul records of the 1970s. Stevie Wonder was unable to control the springs of his creativity during that decade. Upon turning 21 in 1971, he freed himself from the Motown contract he'd been saddled with as a child performer, renegotiated the terms, and unleashed hundreds of songs to tape. Over the next five years, Wonder would amass countless recordings and release his five greatest albums - as prolific a golden period as there has ever been in contemporary music. But Songs in the Key of Life is different from the four albums that preceded it; it's an overstuffed, overjoyed, maddeningly ambitious encapsulation of all the progress Stevie Wonder had made in that short space of time.
Zeth Lundy's book, in keeping with the album's themes, is structured as a life cycle. It's divided into the following sections: Birth; Innocence/Adolescence; Experience/Adulthood; Death; Rebirth. Within this framework, Zeth Lundy covers Stevie Wonder's excessive work habits and recording methodology, his reliance on synthesizers, the album's place in the gospel-inspired progression of 1970s R'n'B, and many other subjects.
About the Author
Zeth Lundy is Music Columns Editor at the online magazine Popmatters.
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