Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13: Stevie Wonder, "Boogie On Reggae Woman"

Artist: Stevie Wonder
Song: "Boogie On Reggae Woman"
Album: Fulfillingness' First Finale
Year: 1974

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

While there are countless aspects of music that are very difficult to achieve, one can easily make the case that among the most challenging to create and sustain is that of "the groove."  Regardless of genre or instrumentation, to truly get "in the pocket" and make an irresistible sound, one must have a very special musical gift, and to be able to do this on a consistent basis, one is almost instantly placed into the most elite group of performers in history.  While many have been able to produce a memorable, funky groove at one point or another in their career, there are very few artists who did so at the level of musical amazement or in the sheer volume as one will find within the catalog of the one and only Stevie Wonder.  From his earliest days with songs like "Fingertips" to unforgettable classics like "Higher Ground," Stevie Wonder pioneered so many different musical approaches that it is almost impossible to grasp them all, and the number of brilliant grooves he gave the world is in equal number.  During the first half of the 1970's, Wonder was in a musical space so amazing that nearly every song on every album during that time period remains an absolute musical classic, yet his 1974 release, Fulfillingness' First Finale seems to get left slightly in the shadow of his other records of the time.  Perhaps hit was due to the fact that this album was a bit more about personal relationships as opposed to the social critiques of his other records at the time, yet the music is just as impressive, and one cannot ignore that the record contains one of this finest songs, the classic groove, "Boogie On Reggae Woman."

The core of any great grooving song is without question the bassline, as this "thump" is what, in nearly every case, "drives" the groove.  It is this fact that immediately sets "Boogie On Reggae Woman" apart from other such songs, as the bassline is very much present, though it is not being played on a bass guitar.  In truth, the funky rhythm that dictates the pace of the song is being played by Stevie Wonder on a Moog organ, and the elasticity that it gives makes it a song like no other.  It is this "bounce" that Wonder creates that makes the song so distinctive, and the simple piano hook that he plays over it creates an absolutely fantastic contrast in sound.  On top of all this, Stevie Wonder places one of the most brilliant and inspired harmonica solos ever captured on tape, and the fact that he is able to make so many instruments work so perfectly without ever "losing the groove" is a testament to his uncanny talents as a composer and musician.  The fact of the matter is, the song does slightly lend itself to a reggae sound, as the almost rock-steady style rhythm guitar clearly draws from that style of music.  This is more understandable when one learns that there are many who were involved with the recording that state that the song was originally slated to be a duet with Bob Marley, but he passed away before the session could be discussed or scheduled.  Regardless, the song is able to walk the line between genres, and it is much of the reason why "Boogie On Reggae Woman" was part of the long string of top ten hits for Stevie Wonder during the early 1970's.

While the grooves that Stevie Wonder creates are based within his amazing compositions, it is often his voice that pushes them into the realm of "classic," as his singing is able to make the groove "stand out" and in many cases, swing.  Without question, Wonder is one of the most openly emotional singers in history, as his vocal performances are rarely guarded, and whether it is a song of loss or a song of happiness, the spirit behind the song is always present in his singing.  Able to perform brilliantly in any octave, on "Boogie On Reggae Woman," Stevie Wonder seems to let the song "take him," and it is truly a special vocal performance.  From the more relaxed verses to the overjoyed bridge and chorus, Wonder sings a masterful vocal track, highlighted by the contrasting lyrics that run throughout the song.  Though it may not be apparent at first take, the fact of the matter is, the lyrics to "Boogie On Reggae Woman" are actually in many ways, two lyrics spun into a single song.  The songs' words seem to be half "nice" an half "naughty," as he professes both love and lust simultaneously, with Wonder speaking quite clearly to both sides of this coin.  While he gets a bit sentimental with lines like, "...I'd like to see both of us fall deeply in love, I'd like to see you na-, under the stars above..." one can clearly guess what the "cut off" word was meant to be, and he pushes the point home with the legendary lines, "...I'd like to make love to you, you can make me scream..."  Though at the time, many might have considered such sentiments a bit too risqué, Stevie Wonder makes them work perfectly, and the song remains an absolute classic.

Truth be told, there are few elements of music as elusive as "the groove," and those who have proven their mastery over it throughout the decades stand as the most important and influential artists in history.  Standing high atop this list of musical geniuses is Stevie Wonder, adn during the first half of the 1970's, it seemed that he could not record any song that was less than a massive hit.  Album after album during this time for Wonder soared quickly to the top of the charts, collecting consecutive "Album/Song of the Year" Grammy's, as well as largely shaping the direction of music both in that time, as well as in the years that followed.  Coming on the heals of his classic album of social criticism, Innervisions, Stevie Wonder's 1974 album, Fulfillingness' First Finale takes a far lighter, more personal approach, and it is this duality in ability that makes Wonder even more an artist in his own category.  Though they lack the rallying cries and stark stands against society as his previous effort, the songs are just as amazing, and the grooves are equally impressive as any other album in his storied recorded catalog.  Powered by one of the most memorable Moog basslines in history, the song is a joyous celebration of a love between two people, and nearly forty years after it was first released, the song still brings an irresistible groove and bounce that is beyond that of nearly any other recording.  Though it is sometimes lost in the stunning catalog of Stevie Wonder, one cannot overstate the power and musical mastery that can be found in his uniquely brilliant 1974 hit, "Boogie On Reggae Woman."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do realize that Boogie On Reggae Woman was released in 1974 while Bob Marley didn't die until 1981. Jeez Louise, how could you make such a gaffe? Other than that blunder, I agree wholeheartedly about your musical analysis; I have been obsessed with the driving, synthesized bass line of BORW for many years.