Songs in the Key of Life (Classic Album Dissection) & Opinions on Duffy and Daft Punk

Jim and Greg revisit their Classic Album Dissection of Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. Later they review new records by French duo Daft Punk and British singer Duffy.

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Songs in the Key of Life

Songs In the Key of Life

Every so often Jim and Greg like to get all professorial on us and dissect a classic rock album. Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life will be turning thirty-five next year, so it’s a perfect opportunity to revisit their 2006 discussion about this album. Songs in the Key of Life was released as a two-LP set with a bonus EP for a total of twenty-one songs.

One of the reasons Songs in the Key of Life stands out so radically in Wonder’s catalog is because it was such a massive undertaking. He had great success with the albums released prior, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness First Finale, so Motown gave Wonder the freedom to stretch out-for two whole years. Jim and Greg talk to keyboardist Greg Phillinganes about the recording sessions. As many listeners know, Wonder himself is an amazing keyboardist, but Phillinganes explains that the songwriter liked the idea of having some fresh blood in the band. And you couldn’t get much fresher than Phillinganes; he was only eighteen when he signed on, making this session his first job.

To cap off this album dissection, Jim and Greg each pick one signature track from Songs in the Key of Life. Jim’s pick is Pastime Paradise. Many listeners will recognize the instrumental as the basis for Coolio’s 1995 hit Gangsta’s Paradise, but the original far surpasses that soundtrack song. Jim explains that this Stevie Wonder album can be a bit too sweet for his punk rock tastes, but Pastime Paradise is reminiscent of the funkier, more political songs Wonder previously released such as Living For the City and Superstition. He says Wonder is calling out for the listener to take action against a list of woes – dissipation, race relations, segregation... Ultimately, the song is brought to an upbeat, optimistic point that matches the attitude of the rest of the record.

Greg’s pick is the anthemic track As. One of the important things to note about the recording of Songs in the Key of Life is the emphasis Wonder gave to having a band and a band-like atmosphere. Wonder could have played almost any instrument himself, but he wanted guests to join him and bring life to the music. As was definitely recorded live, and the highlight of the song for Greg is Herbie Hancock’s Rhodes piano part. According to Greg, Hancock dirties up his playing, making way for Stevie (and an overdub of multiple Stevies) to come in with huge gospel vocals. The result is an epic love song fitting an epic album.

Endlessly Duffy

Endlessly

Moving on to new releases, Duffy has a new album out called Endlessly. The British singer emerged out of a wave of retro-soul singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele. But here, she’s also going for a pop sound. Greg compares her voice to Lulu, and worse, Betty Boop. He’s not sure what’s special about Duffy. Jim agrees, noting that it feels like Duffy is not wed to the ‘60s sound, but is instead trying to be everything to everyone. They both give Endlessly a Trash It.

Tron: Legacy Daft Punk

TRON: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Kids of the ‘80s are excited about the revamped Tron movie. But what about the soundtrack? The original was composed by synth master Wendy Carlos, but Daft Punk were tasked with the music for Tron: Legacy. Like Carlos, the French duo merges electronica with symphonic music, but they aren’t as successful. Jim hears some playful nods to video games and older synths, but there’s nothing that blows his mind. He doesn’t see himself ever listening to this soundtrack again, so Jim gives it a Trash It rating. Greg isn’t as harsh, but agrees that none of the music stands out. There are a lot of toys, and a handful of classic Daft Punk tracks, so he gives Tron: Legacy a Burn It.

Greg

Greg’s in a stoner rock mood this week, so he adds a song by Kyuss to the Desert Island Jukebox. The band has announced plans to reunite next year, sans Josh Homme. Greg describes their sound as a particular kind of heavy music that has great melody and could accompany you on a long drive through the desert….or the desert island. So pop Green Machine in your stoner van and get going.

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