Sometimes in life,its vital to celebrate a particular work of art that’s relevant to your own creative talents. And one such even seems to have come upon us. I speak of myself and my blog partner Henrique. That work of art I am celebrating is the really of Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale-forty years ago today in fact on July 22nd,1974. Inspiration for this actually came via YouTube,a tribute video to this album posted there by my friend Brandon Ousley. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was that,in the grand outlook of popular music history Fulfillingness’ First Finale a somewhat overlooked album in comparison to his previous two recordings Talking Book and Innervisions. From that verbal launching pad,I am now going to launch into my own personal outlook on this album which…is,for me anyway the part of the very root of the musical viewpoints I present in this blog.
Since myself and Brandon have both done our own musical rundowns on the album? I am going to focus attention on the history,both for Wonder and on a personal level,with this album and discuss the music within that context. Around the time I bought my first CD copy (the original if I recall) in a 2 for $20 sale (along with Innervisions interestingly enough) at a now defunct record store chain called Strawberries in the summer of 1996? I had just learned from author John Swenson’s paperback book on Stevie Wonder that Stevie had intended Fulfillingness’ First Finale to be a double album. But elected to release it in two parts. Later on I came to learn that Stevie had intended for the second part,alternately referred to as both FFF2 and Second Finale,in 1975 while he was working on his magnum opus Songs In The Key Of Life. Only one song from this second album of the set has been discussed to any degree. Its apparently called “The Future”,one of Stevie’s more fatalistic lyrical statements. Since I’ve never heard it along with most everyone else? Cannot comment beyond finding that history telling.
Of course Fulfillingness’ First Finale came along while Stevie was recovering from the near fatal 1973 car collision that nearly took his own life. As far as how this album effected my life lyrically and musically? It made it clear to me that different styles of making music could,in the hands of a talented composer and master of instrumentation,could coexist with enormous success and clarity. That also effected my personal appreciation of the album. Lyrics such as “It’s okay/don’t delay in smiling/there’ll be brighter days ahead” were greatly consoling during times when Stevie’s consoling,forward thinking optimism was definitely needed. One thing about this album that I do notice is Stevie showcasing the righteousness of his inner preacher. From the “god lives within” theme of “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Years Away” to the psychologically weighty musing on death in “They Won’t Go When I Go”? Stevie blends together the celebratory spirits of black spiritual-based gospel with European classical’s “sacred music” and its melodic lyricism.
One of my personal favorite songs is the heavily Brazilian oriented uptempo song “Bird Of Beauty”. It really encompasses why I’ve never needed illicit drugs,same as with Stevie,to enhance my understanding of life and emotions-that you don’t need white,red or yellow pills to have a mind excursion. In 2002,after years of nightmares induced by her fear of flying as well as surviving,my mother decided to go skydiving. The agency that provided this made a video of the event and my mom picked “Bird Of Beauty” for the soundtrack. As much in approval as my father,who himself first heard Fulfillingness’ First Finale on the high end stereo of a friend of his youth’s in the mid 70’s,the song “Bird Of Beauty” and the albums tone of objectifying life and death-both through vocal lyricism and Stevie’s trademark invention of instrumental sounds,took on yet another level of meaning in my life.
During the time that this album would’ve been celebrating its 20th anniversary? The concept of sentimentality was viewed by many of the adolescent generation of that era with a strange mixture of suspicion,irritation and awe. Stevie Wonder’s overt expressions of this emotional sensibility was part of this condemnation for some. On the other hand? What is sentimentality anyway but an authoritative statement of emotionalism? If that is the case? Sentimentality is part of the very foundation of everything Stevie Wonder stands for. When he is in love with a woman or the world? He exhibits the most profound sense of joy. When lacking in romantic love such as in a song like “Creepin'”? He is questioning his own sense of reality. Or how the cynicism of Watergate bought out Stevie’s political preacher man on “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”-both of which feature some of his most elaborate uses of synthesizers and live rhythm in his amazing use of that form of soulful funkiness.
When it comes right down to it? My love of this album not only stems for the fact that its very therapeutic. But that it is so as much because of Stevie’s instrumental approach on this album. Throughout this album,his use of synthesizers and his own backup harmony vocals create the sense not only of an inner vision but an inner conversation. And one that he fully intends the listener to feel with him. One thing Stevie does,perhaps more so here than on any album of his classic early 70’s period is understand very fully why his vocals function with his musical approach. He sings on every song on this album with such an enormous amount of emotional investment,wringing every last ounce of soul that he can from the always expansive musical blanket he’s creating. Stevie Wonder was able to take his near death experience and transform it into a complete celebration of life itself. That may be way the unsentimental struggle to fully understand this albums virtues. And why it would help evolve ones interests in funk,soul and jazz. So for the next 40 years of music lovers who will be celebrating this album long after Stevie Wonder has left this Earth? I live in hope it continues to inspire more musical works of art representative of the phoenix rising from the ashes of cynicism into the friendly skies of life’s great joys.