Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book”

by Grant Tillery

A trip to Seattle to visit music-loving relatives led to a spin of an original copy of Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album “Talking Book” on an unseasonably sunny Saturday night.  Straight off the success of “Music of My Mind,” Wonder was in the middle of an unparalleled creative streak, releasing eight critically acclaimed albums over six years.  “Talking Book” is arguably the best of the octet, striking the middle ground between in-the-pocket funk (“Maybe Your Baby,” “Tuesday Heartbreak” and “Superstition” are all on this album) and Tonto-driven love songs (“You and I,” “You’ve Got it Bad Girl”).  While Wonder was angling for experimentation over populism (which would be a given either way), it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy “Talking Book;” everyone in my party was longtime fans of the album, an opinion backed up by 493 people on All Music who rated the album five out of five stars, as well as Barack Obama, who used “You and I” as his wedding song.

Though “Talking Book” is best enjoyed, as I’ve found, on vacation with good company, a glass of rosé and a killer cheese plate, the static clarity of the vinyl creates a much greater emotional attachment to this masterpiece than a quick listen on Spotify, no matter where you are.  Rarely is pop music profound, but “Talking Book’s” earnest lyrics and groundbreaking melodies prove to be an exception.  It’ll be one of the albums people talk about when referencing the music of the 1970s, years down the road.