STEVIE WONDER – Hotter Than July – (Motown) – 1980

Well of course Stevie Wonder is a legend as a result of being one of the most influential acts in soul music. What I have always liked about Wonder is his inventiveness and his energy. He transcends straight soul and incorporates many styles into his music even though everything is underlined with some funky signature grooves.
Allmusic, "His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements — and they weren't just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression. His range helped account for his broad-based appeal, but so did his unique, elastic voice, his peerless melodic facility, his gift for complex arrangements, and his taste for lovely, often sentimental ballads. Additionally, Wonder's pioneering use of synthesizers during the '70s changed the face of R&B; he employed a kaleidoscope of contrasting textures and voices that made him a virtual one-man band, all the while evoking a surprisingly organic warmth".
I wholeheartedly agree that at his best Stevie manages to merge the various styles into a unified whole which is something all the best acts do.
By way of background, Wikipedia, "Stevie Wonder (born Stevland Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950, name later changed to Stevland Hardaway Morris) is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. Blind from birth, Wonder signed with Motown Records at the age of eleven, and continues to perform and record for the label".
I should add his first single was released in 1963.
Generally, his best albums are thought to be, and I would agree, "Music of My Mind" (1972), "Talking Book" (1972), "Innervisions" (1973), and "Songs in the Key of Life" (1976). The albums are fairly late in the piece though he was extremely influential in the late 60s and early 70s through his singles.
People usually ask "Frank have you actually heard these LPs, or are you referring to something you have read?" It depends obviously on whether I am "into" the artist, and if so then "yes". Otherwise, the answer is "a little from column A and a little from column B". Let me explain … in years of record selling and with a slavish OCD like obligation to listen to what I sell, before I sell, I can say that I have heard the albums I refer to, but some I haven't heard for decades, so I need to refer to reviews to jog my memory.
Back to Stevie … most of his stuff through the early 80s is listenable and thoughtful. The later stuff, from what I have heard, I find patchy.
At his best Wonder has the knack of mixing a message with a beat. Though he wasn't a "in your face militant" like the O'Jays, or as hip as Marvin Gaye, Wonder tackled all the 70s issues (race relations, ecology, modern living etc) in a thoughtful manner with a fair bit of style.
"Hotter Than July" is generally regarded as his last great album though I think it is something less than that to me it is a half good album. Put it on in the background and there will be no complaints but only a few of the songs hit the mark. Surprisingly, given his output in the 70s, he generally, though not totally, steers away from social themes on this LP. Maybe he could see the writing on the wall in relation to the conservative 80s –  Reagan won the election in 1980 and took the presidency in 1981.
Musically, on this LP, he has added some disco beats and some reggae to his normal brew. Whatever you may think of those styles, Wonder, who also wrote and produced this LP, hit the mark in terms of sales and the album was certainly influential. I can certainly hear his influence on Michael Jackson as well as on a host of lesser soul artists.
Best Tracks
  • Did I Hear you Say You Love Me – a nice slice of soulful funk.
  • I Aint Gonna Stand For It – a great song about infidelity and mistrust. Only an Afro-American or country singer could get away with such lyrics …
            Don't wanna believe what they're telling me 
            Somebody's been pickin in my cherry tree 
            Don't wanna mistrust nobody by mistake 
            But I hear tell someone's been diggin round in my cake
            Don't wanna believe what they're telling me 
            Somebody's been pickin in my cherry tree 
            Don't wanna mistrust nobody by mistake 
            But I hear tell someone's been diggin round in my cake
  • Master Blaster (Jammin) – reggae flavoured and as close to reggae as I want to get. As a kid I remember this track was everywhere. And it's hard not to like it.
  • Happy Birthday – a tribute to Martin Luther King (Stevie was trying to get King's birthday passed as a national holiday – I think he picked the wrong decade for that ….)
And …
Yo, I'm gonna tape a few songs and sell the LP. Whatever. See, I talk the talk.

Chart Action

The album was a big hit

The Album:
1980  Hotter Than July  R&B Albums #1
1980  Hotter Than July  The Billboard 200 #3

The Singles:
1980  Master Blaster (Jammin')   Dance Music/Club Play Singles 10
1980  Master Blaster (Jammin')   R&B Singles 1
1980  Master Blaster (Jammin')   The Billboard Hot 100 5
1981  Did I Hear You Say You Love Me   R&B Singles 74
1981  I Ain't Gonna Stand For It   R&B Singles 4
1981  I Ain't Gonna Stand For It   The Billboard Hot 100 11
1981  Lately   R&B Singles 29
1981  Lately   The Billboard Hot 100 64

Did I Hear you Say You Love Me (live 1990)
I Aint Gonna Stand For It
Master Blaster (Jammin)
Live 1980
Happy Birthday

About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
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