Episode 1: Living for the City
In this week's episode of Word. Life, Donney unpacks Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" and the longstanding complexities of Black migration
It can be hard to decide which songs or albums of Stevie Wonder’s are his greatest offerings. There are very few musicians in the history of the recording industry who has had a career close to Stevie’s. For the past six decades, the man born Steveland Hardaway Morris has been one of the most revered creatives in American music and has the accolades and the adoration of fans around the globe to prove his invaluable worth.
Many music critics and fans consider 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life to be Stevie’s quintessential stand-out album, and it would be hard to argue that Stevie [or anyone else for that matter] could have composed a better body of work. But among the albums in his stellar discography that gives Songs in the Key of Life a run for its money is 1973’s Innervisions.
At the time of its release, Innervisions was Stevie’s 16th album and peaked at #4 on Billboard within a month of its release. The New York Times described his musical prowess on Innervisions as “as a gang and a genius, producing, composing, arranging, singing, and, on several tracks, playing all the accompanying instruments,” but what signified Innervisions from other previous releases was the range in topics it covered during a pivotal moment in Black/American history.
With songs that tackled issues like drug abuse (“Too High”) and critiques of American leadership (“He’s Misstra Know-It-All”), Stevie took on many of the most critical issues of the day in a post-Vietnam, post-Civil Rights leaders’ assassinations era. One of the most powerful songs on Innervisions for me is “Living for the City” which tells the story of a Mississippi-born young Black man seeking to escape the overt racism of the Deep South for what he assumed would be “greener pastures” in the bright light megatropolis of New York City, only to discover that systemic racism against Black folks also followed its own migration pattern.