At the Close of a Century
From the cotton-candy sweetness of "Hey Love" to the social commentary of "Living for the City" and "Happy Birthday," the unofficial theme song of the movement to establish a Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, Stevie Wonder is an icon in the American cultural landscape. Fittingly, Motown Records has released AT THE CLOSE OF A CENTURY, a 70-track box set of his greatest hits. Unlike previously released overviews, CENTURY spans the entire four decades of Wonder's recordings, from 1962 to the mid-'90s. Disc One is stocked with tunes from Little Stevie Wonder's adolescent years, including his first hit, 1962's harmonica-pumping "Fingertips Pts. 1 & 2," and a 1967 version of "Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” later remade by Aretha Franklin. Wonder's early songs alternately snap with enthusiasm ("Uptight (Everything’s Alright)" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours") and sway with romanticism ("My Cherie Amour" and "For Once in My Life"). But it was after leaving Motown's sometimes-confining creative reins that Wonder went on to make soul -- and pop -- music history with a string of brilliant albums, beginning with the ambitious 1972 MUSIC OF MY MIND. Wonder ruled the decade from that point on, reaching even higher ground with the follow-up TALKING BOOK (1972), the near-perfect INNERVISIONS (1973), the double-LP masterpiece SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE (1976), and the pop success HOTTER THAN JULY (1980). With period essentials like "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Superstition," "Golden Lady," and "Sir Duke," this collection offers a window into Wonder's heightened social awareness as well as his innovations with the Moog synthesizer. Even in his later period, Wonder was adept at keeping his ear on the pulse of popular music, evident with "Part-Time Lover" from the platinum-selling IN SQUARE CIRCLE (1985) and the tepid yet hugely successful movie soundtrack contribution, "I Just Called to Say I Love You." The compilation's finale, "How Come, How Long," a duet with Babyface -- this generation's soulman, with an R&B Midas touch that rivals Wonder's -- symbolizes a metaphorical passing of the torch and is a telling tribute to the enduring legacy of black musicianship at the century's end. On the eve of the new millennium, this must-have collection is right on time.