Artist: Stevie Wonder
Album: Talking Book
If you want to follow along:
Got to thank Lauren, my girlfriend-for-a-minute from Detroit many years ago, for turning me on to this one. Lauren taught me a lot in a short amount of time. She took me to my very first sweat lodge. And told me, in a 7-Eleven parking lot on the way home, “You’re a blamer.” God, I was so mad at her in that moment. But it didn’t take long to realize she was right. (Usually when I’m really angry about an accusation that has been thrown at me, it’s because there’s a grain of truth underneath the other person’s hurt or anger that my ego doesn’t want to have to acknowledge.)
Thanks, Lauren, for being there when I needed you and for being who I needed you to be at that time in my life. Lauren also made the best damn popcorn I’ve ever eaten. Bathed in real melted butter, and liberally dusted with sea salt, pepper, paprika, and I can’t even remember what other spices. And she made her own herbal chai tea that…well, I could go on and on. But let’s get on with the business at hand.
One night we were sitting up in her apartment in Ferndale smoking herb and she said, “I’m going to play you my favorite Stevie Wonder song.” She used to drop little pieces of dried sage into the bowl before we smoked, in the interests of spiritually purifying the innards. It was a unique smoking experience – very bracing.
I had never heard this song before. In fact, I didn’t know much about Detroit native Stevie Wonder other than Superstition and that syrupy song that went up the charts in the early days of VH1…can’t remember the name…oh, yeah – I Just Called to Say I Love You.
What I heard blew my mind. After Lauren and I broke up, I didn’t listen to it for year but lately this song has taken on a deeper meaning for me.
OK, you ready? Headphones will help you.
Here’s what I like about I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever):
0:00 – I don’t think I’m going to like this song. Sounds too slow and kind of boring.
0:20 – What’s that low, synth bass thing though?
0:30 – Yeah, pretty dramatic lyrics there. But…
0:32 – There’s that bass thing again. It’s kind of…foreboding? Foreshadowing?
1:10 – OK, drum fill. Something’s happening here. Get the idea something even more could be on the way…
1:49 – The “whoa-oh-oh-oh” vocals are a surprise. It is a lot like great sex. Nice slow build-up, now we’ve got some little waves of excitement (devotion?) rolling in…
2:25 – Oh yeah, those are some fat drum fills. Now we’re cooking – with gas!
2:30 – “Ever…ever…ever…” back-up vocals building and panned from right to left. And then:
2:39 – “Owwwww!” First off, let me admit that I’m the world’s biggest sucker for a well-placed and heartfelt yow!, woo!, yeah! and even the occasional unh! (think Huey Lewis, “Heart of Rock and Roll”)…
2:40 – The vocal layering was already amazing, but now he’s gonna lift us to the stratosphere. Stevie!!!! Check out the high vocal in the right speaker on “forever”.
2:52 – OK, try to keep up here. The production from here on in is out of control. I’m only scratching the surface, but here we go:
The drum fills keep growing. Got that same sixteenths hi-hat going in the left speaker but now every chorus is punctuated by these slamming fills. (Stevie’s snare sound is one of my favorites of all time.)
“I’m so glad that I found someone to believe in again” Starts out really dry and up front in the right speaker and then it’s in both speakers, sliding slowly back into the mix as the next vocal comes in. *
3:10 – “God surely will answer my prayer”. Dude! Taking it up another notch, we’ve got a three-part syncopated harmony going on now.
3:24 – “Hey, hey, hey…” in the right channel, then “I’m so glad” shoots up an octave. Are you kidding me?
3:55 – If I may turn your attention to the left channel for a moment? “Thank you God!” Just a ragged, blissed out, last song in the set, going out with a bang vocal. “I’m so glad that I found someone to believe in again, yaaaay! Aaaahowwww!”
I didn’t even mention the drum fills leading up to this moment, or the way he’s working the cymbals now.
4:12 – “Come on let’s fall in love…” I mean, why stop now when we’ve got a good thing going? Let’s just add on a funktified coda.
4:27 – Yeah, that’s good, but it probably needs another vocal part. How about, “Don’t you wanna, don’t you wanna, don’t you wanna fall in love?” Yeah, that should do it.
* Two things here:
- I love the stutter on the first “I” of “I’m so glad.” It sounds to me like Stevie came in a little early on one take but they all decided, “hey, that’s cool – let’s leave it in!” To me, it’s those little mistakes that got left in the mix that surprise your brain and keep you interested – sometimes even though you’re not consciously aware of them!
- One of my thoughts on the analog vs digital debate: I love analog but I think the difference in “feel” between modern pop songs and songs of this vintage has less to do with the technical differences between analog and digital than with the fact that digital makes it too easy to clean up mistakes. Modern commercial records tend to be rigorously pitch-corrected and time-aligned and just basically “cleaned” to the point they lack some of the human vibe that is all over this song.