Stevie Wonder’s life was almost lost on August 6th,1973. A truck driven by his late brother Calvin hit the back of a truck. Wonder was in a coma for four days. And the ensuing health complications almost denied him his sense of taste and smell. Blind from shortly after birth due to overexposure to an incubator leaving him with retinophothy of premurity, this knowledge of near death combined with losing two more of his senses had a profound effect on Wonder’s artistry. Already in a state of commercial and creative revelry with his music,these events deeply informed his music that was just yet to come.
Having dealt with a near death experience really informed Wonder’s next album entitled Fullfillingness’ First Finale. It was originally planned (and seemingly recorded) as a double album that Wonder decided to release in two parts. He never did. The part we did get in 1974 was a more somber,reflective album with a more stripped down instrumental approach. With songs such as “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Creepin'” being fairly representative of the albums overall sound,it’s interesting that the album closes with two more upbeat songs. The first of which was called “Bird Of Beauty”.
Wonder begins the song with a 2 beat salsa rhythm-sticking the clave percussion in around the middle while Bobbye Hall plays a solo on the hollow sounding guica drum. The main body of the song has intertwining,jazz melodies played on the Clavinet and Fender Rhodes electric piano-with a rhythmic Moog bass bubbling in around the bottom. The chorus of the song has Wonder building up the hi hats before returning to the refrain. In addition to a bridge sung in Portuguese Denise Williams,Lani Groves and Shirly Brewer provide the backing vocals-with the song extending ethereally on the chorus as it fades.
Stevie Wonder’s fascination with Brazilian rhythms became very apparent after he gained his creative freedom in the early 70’s. They were very prominent before this on “I Love Every Little Thing About You” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”. This songs blend of sunny Latin jazz/salsa rhythms and funky rhythmic keyboards really emphasize it’s joyous sound. One that allows it to instrumentally dance and sing in so many different ways-all at the same time. Rhythm,melody and harmony all come together in the most beautiful ways here-all under the light of the musical sun Wonder creates.
The songs lyrical content has a double meaning for me. One is very personal. To overcome a fear of flying,my mother went skydiving 14 years ago. The words of “mind excersions” of this song made it part of the soundtrack to the video they assembled of the dive for her. It’s actually a song about altering ones state of consciousness naturally-without “black,white or yellow pills”. One could speculate this may have derived from Wonder having perhaps been given pain killers after his accident. With the recent and possibly pain killer related death of Prince,this is something to think about.