Monday, March 16, 2009
The 21-Year-Old Genius
Although he was signed to Motown as an eleven-year-old, and all of his hits (save the duets) were on Motown or a Motown-affiliated label such as Tamla, Stevie Wonder hasn't always been a member of Berry Gordy's stable. Stevie's kiddie contract with Motown expired on his 21st birthday, May 13, 1971, just after his album Where I'm Coming From was released and his cover of "We Can Work It Out" peaked at Number Thirteen, and it was on that date that Stevie officially left the Motown fold.
A free agent, Stevie decamped to New York and worked in the studio for almost a year, without a record deal of any kind. When he had completed the material for his next album, Music of My Mind, he shopped it around to several labels, eventually deciding to sign with ... Motown.
In the interim, toward the end of 1971, Motown released a collection of Wonder material called Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits Vol. 2. Think about that: Even before "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Living for the City," even before he turned twenty-one, Stevie Wonder had already produced enough music to fill two volumes of greatest hits.
My favorite Stevie stories revolve around the pranks he used to pull. When he was just a kid hanging around the Motown studios, he'd ask one of the secretaries in the morning what kind of tie Mr. Gordy was wearing that day. Then when he finally "saw" the boss that day, he'd say, "Oh, Mr. Gordy, I love the tie you're wearing, with the green stripes on that electric blue background."