Stevie Wonder

Where I'm Coming From

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One month before he turned 21, Stevie Wonder released Where I'm Coming From, the most distinctive record of his young career, and one that looked forward -- in its breadth of material as well as its futuristic production aesthetic -- to his many successes later in the '70s. There's a fabulous song here for nearly every type of fan; the soothing love ballad ("Think of Me as Your Soldier"), a gritty, apocalyptic funk extravanganza ("Do Yourself a Favor"), a kinetic, refreshing nod to the pop charts (the Top Ten hit "If You Really Love Me"), and an agonizing piece of heartache soul ("Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" (slightly reworked for "Superwoman" on his next album Music of My Mind). Still, there are a few echoes of his occasionally pedestrian '60s work, and a pair of songs on the flipside sound especially anachronistic. The first is a piece of inspirational fluff called "Take up a Course in Happiness" with an odd arrangement pitched halfway between Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sgt. Pepper's, the second a jokey pick-up number named "I Wanna Talk to You" (complete with leering old-man vocals). Those two however, are the exceptions; the rules are uniformly excellent. The set closers "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" and "Sunshine in Their Eyes" are bravura performances, Stevie summoning his purest register to convey heartbreak and hopefulness, respectively, in equal measure. For all the great material included, there was little chance of these songs hanging together as a proper album, and Berry Gordy's misgivings about releasing a record like this on a Motown label were, temporarily, well-placed. Still, Where I'm Coming From was a frequently astonishing album from Motown's new genius of the recording studio.

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