#58, "Sir Duke," Stevie Wonder (1976)

I'm not having the best work day and have had it up to HERE with political hot takes, so Stevie's first appearance on my top-100 is well-timed. 


I'm not mad at Stevie for the 1980s. I know many are, but "I Just Called to Say I Love You" is a very sweet little tune and "Overjoyed" is one of my favorite tear-jerker love songs of all time. But like anyone who has explored beyond the hit singles of the 80s, my favorite Stevie is 70s Stevie. 


The basic choice for Grooviest 70s Stevie is "Superstition," the rare undisputed if overplayed banger I've lost my enthusiasm for after hearing it no fewer than 8 million times, just in the last 15 years or so. This may have been my selection for Favorite Groovy 70s Stevie at one time, but "Sir Duke" has overtaken it. 


I'll once again give Pete credit for ushering me into the world of 70s Stevie because he picked up Talking Book, so long ago I can't even tell you what decade it was. More on Talking Book later on in the top 100. I picked up the slack on Stevie several years later when he was coming through DC on his Songs in the Key of Life tour back in 2014. I saw he was coming through and casually inquired with Pete as to whether he wanted to go and he casually responded that he did and we casually got some shitty tickets in the upper deck of the then-Verizon Center. I wasn't even sure whether I was going to be in town for it. 


Not being 100% familiar with the album he would play in its entirety (and then close with "Superstition," natch), I committed to self-study and very quickly Songs in the Key of Life became my favorite. It's a double album and every single song on it is worthy of your attention. There's absolutely no filler. I could have also included "Saturn" (a bonus track) on this list with its lovely innocence and idealism. "As," "Joy Inside My Tears," "I Wish?" All similarly lovely and comforting in a way only Stevie can produce.


I ultimately prefer "Sir Duke" because of that hook! Or should I say "those hooks?" The horns in the intro that make appearances later on? I guess I'm a sucker for a callback. And the chorus? It's 100% feel-good music, but I am definitely here for it. Among topical songs (counting, days of the week, articles of clothing, etc.), I'm most tolerant of "here are a list of influences" songs (see also Le Tigre's unfortunately titled "Hot Topic"). The focus here is on Duke Ellington (woo! Civic pride!), but it's generally a tribute to jazz. I'll be really clear here, I think in terms of overall influence and quality of songs for a very broad audience, it's impossible to beat Stevie Wonder. That's in part probably a function of knowing no world without Stevie, but I think I'm right. I can't think of an artist off the top of my head for whom I have more genuine reverence and respect. So it's fucking OUTSTANDING to hear the man backup and say "this is where I came from" in the grooviest manner possible.


The concert was great, but if I could do it again, I would have found out about it sooner, been way less casual about it, and gotten some goddamned floor seats. In the rafters, you've gotta sit during "Sir Duke," which is a crime against god.