‘The Tears of a Clown’
It would be an exaggeration to say we were legit shook when we found out Wonder co-wrote this classic but we were definitely shook-adjacent because who knew? First of all, this Smokey Robinson & the Miracles track came out in 1967 when Wonder was just 17. But by that time, Wonder had already been on Motown’s Tamla label for six years because he’s the child prodigy formerly known as Little Stevie Wonder who was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles. We’re throwing a lot of facts at you but it’s Little Stevie’s birthday so try to keep up. Wonder wrote the music in ’66, it had that calliope motif (hey, let’s call it a “circus sound”, gang) and it inspired Robinson to bring the clown idea into the lyrics and from there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to invoke a 19th-century Leoncavallo opera. Here’s a picture we found of Wonder, who's been blind since infancy, in 1965 with a little white dog with tear marks.
'Isn't She Lovely'
Clay Aiken is a great, great, great runner-up. He came in second to Ruben Studdard in the 2003 season of "American Idol". He came in second to Arsenio Hall in season 5 of "Celebrity Apprentice". As a Democratic candidate in the race for the US House of Representatives in North Carolina, he came in second to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers. And while Stevie Wonder’s version of “Isn’t She Lovely” is No. 1, Aiken’s version is a solid candidate for runner-up.
People who thought the Red Hot Chili Peppers were funky were knocked right back on their arses when they heard Stevie Wonder’s 1973 original version, on which he plays every instrument. In 2000, “Total Guitar” proclaimed that RHCP’s 1989 version was the second greatest cover ever. (The best? Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.) Here’s Wonder with RHCP bassist Flea at a music charity event in L.A. back in 2010. Mmm, that’s good bass.
‘Love Me Not’
This 2010 track from North Carolina rapper J. Cole’s third mixtape, ‘Friday Night Lights’, samples Stevie Wonder’s 1969 hit "My Cherie Amour”. “Cherie amour” means “darling love” in French and it sounds sexy and romantic, unlike the song’s working title, "Oh, My Marsha”, written for Wonder’s then-girlfriend.
'It’s a Shame'
Stevie Wonder wrote this smash hit for the Spinners with his then-wife Syreeta Wright, and Lee Garrett. (Wonder also worked with Garrett on his 1969 smash/Obama nostalgia bait “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours”.) “It’s a Shame” was recorded by Motown group the Spinners, whom you also know from hits like “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love?” and “Working My Way Back to You”.
'Livin’ It Up'
Rapper/“Growing Up Hip Hop: New York” star/Fyre Festival documentary inspiration Ja Rule sampled Wonder’s “Do I Do” on “Livin’ It Up”. The track appeared on Ja Rule’s 2001 album, ‘Pain Is Love’. The 1982 album version of “Do I Do” is about 10 minutes long and Wonder raps in it and also it has a Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo and the whole thing is jazzy as heck. We don’t have a picture of Wonder with Ja Rule so please enjoy Eddie Murphy impersonating Wonder with Wonder in 1988.
Jay-Z’s 2017 record ‘4:44’ was sample heavy. He deployed Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today" for “Smile”. Over the course of the album he dipped into the Clark Sisters' "Ha Ya (Eternal Life)", Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free", and "Four Women", and "Baltimore" from Nina Simone.
"Pastime Paradise" from 1976’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ is so major that it’s been a sonic cultural touchpoint for, like, your whole lifetime. On top of being a tense, provocative jam, it's the first song to synthesize a full string section. Think about that. In the entire history of music before Yamaha unleashed the GX-1, if you wanted to hear a full string section, you needed a room full of string players and their various associated stringed instruments. Here in 2020, it’s easy to think of pushing a button on a robot to make a quartet sound as a cop-out. But think of how hard it was to get there in the first place. Wonder didn’t create synthesizers, but he did create how we use them. Coolio’s 1995 song “Gangsta’s Paradise” owes so much of its groove to Wonder that he has a songwriting credit here. “Gangsta’s Paradise” became the bestselling song of 1995. Wonder is here for it at the Billboard Music Awards alongside Coolio.
Are you a fan of songs that sample "Pastime Paradise" but wish that an English boy band had created one and also sang it in French? We’ve got you covered. In 2000, Blue formed in London, England, and caused quite a stir because there were only four boys in this boy band, as per this 2002 photo. In 2004, they released “Curtain Falls” and everyone was, like, “Hey, this sounds a lot like 'Gangsta’s Paradise'... ” — except for the music nerds and the olds, who were, like, “Hey, this sounds a lot like 'Pastime Paradise'.” For French audiences, Blue also recorded it as "Quand Le Rideau Tombe”. Blue were big in Europe. In fact, this track was the lead single in their first greatest hits package.
Wonder co-wrote and produced this 1973 post-Diana Ross Supremes song, which announced the disco era. Please watch this video of the Supremes performing it on “Soul Train” so you can see that the host and also the crowd is wondering who these Supremes are and how long they have been these Supremes, plus clip-on earrings, press-on nails, and all the other glories that unfold beyond the flickers of lens flare.
'Wild Wild West'
It was a Will Smith song that was also a Will Smith movie and Stevie Wonder had a hand in the song part because “Wild Wild West” samples Wonder's 1976 hit song "I Wish”. "Wild Wild West" came out in 1999 and here’s how totally ‘90s it is:
It was nominated for a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favourite Song from a Movie.
Its extended music video was a hit on MTV.
The album version is introduced by Smith talking to his then-baby son, Jaden.
It appeared on Smith’s sophomore album, ‘Willennium’.
This photo is unrelated and yet related because it looks like the wild, wild west but it's actually Usher there with Oprah during a star-studded double-taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in Chicago. And if you look over Oprah's shoulder, you can see Will Smith. And that's Stevie Wonder beside Usher. So it all ties in.