David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 12: Stevie Wonder (I Wish)

May 8, 2020

When I posted the "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" entry this week, I was reminded of all the first-rate songs that have the word "wish" in the title: Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," The Boo Radleys "Wish I Was Skinny," A Flock of Seagulls "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph of You)," Fleetwood Mac's "Wish You Were Here" (not a Floyd cover), even the little known Bruce Springsteen beauty "I Wish I Were Blind." Then yesterday I heard Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" and realized it may be the best of the wishes. 

Do songs about wishing, with their deeper supplications for hopes and dreams for the future, naturally lend themselves to the poignancy of lyric or the wistfulness of melody? Does the audience feel that lure themselves when the artist sings about wishes? Or, is it just me? (I know, frankly, everything in this 365 day challenge is about me.)

In the case of Wonder's song, poignancy of lyric or wistfulness of melody are trumped by the audacity of the song. How paradoxical to wish for long-ago days when we remember our moms as the "her [who's] whoppin' your behind;" or, to remember your childhood mates as "those hoodlum friends of mine." How bad is Wonder's current state that he longs to return to the time when he would encourage blackmail with his brother to stay out of trouble: "Brother says he's tellin' 'bout you playin' doctor with that girl/Just don't tell, I'll give you anything you want in this whole wide world." The lyrics are strengthened by Wonder's voice, with my favorite moment coming from the deep growl punctuating the line "church is through."

On top of the lyrical juxtaposition of a romanticized childhood surprisingly un-romantic, Wonder punches the song with a bold beat. I already wish in profound ways that I was a musician, but even beyond wishing I could play the music in this song, I wish I could translate the musical nuances of this song into language. Maybe it is impossible, or maybe it requires a smarter man than me. If you are out there, smarter man (and let's face it, there are millions of you), I dare you to grant my wishes.

I wish I could open a piece of writing in the same way that Nathan Watts' bass immerses us in this song from the outset. Out of the gate, the bassline provides a swing that the rest of the instruments can cling to. It is unrelenting without the space that often accompanies a pop song's bass. It is gut-wrenching in every good way.

I wish my words could carry the kind of bluster that comes from the band's brass section, which bounces out of the speaker like a slapped hand, the instrumental equivalent of Mamma's backhand slap when the narrator's younger self comes home late. 

I wish I could sprinkle in some atmospheric elements into my words in the same way that Wonder's synthesizer sounds like raindrops hitting a surface, delicate notes that bounce in and out among the brash (and brass) theme of the melody.

I wish I could verbally create that funky bass note (go to 3:18 in the song for just one example) that sounds like the verbal equivalent of a pinch. Momma's done her slapping, now she's doing her pinching. And those pinches get more pronounced as Watts extends that amazing sound up the bass's neck.The song's rather pronounced instrumentation after the last chorus is highlight by that ever-growing pinch.

I wish I had that female voice in my ear saying "you nasty boy." Then again, Stevie Wonder's sister provided that voice. Hmm, all of a sudden, I am wishing I hadn't gone down this road.

"I Wish." 'Nuff said.

"I Wish." Stevie Wonder. Songs In The Key Of Life. Tamla. 1976. Link here.

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Day 13: The Boo Radleys "Stuck On Amber."->

See full unfinished list here.