Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions was his 19th album, released when he was just 23 years old. It came right in the middle of a five-year streak among the greatest of all time: Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life. I’m not a Stevie Wonder fanatic — I appreciate more than love his music — but the genius of that run of albums is undeniable.
In terms of sales, Dark Side is fourth on the all-time worldwide list, having sold more than 45 million copies while spending over 900 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200. It’s really pretty amazing that an album full of sound effects and instrumentals, and so few traditional songs, is nestled among Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, the Saturday Night Live soundtrack and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as one of the most popular albums of all time.
Piano Man was inspired by John’s Tumbleweed Connection, in its use of Western themes and country-fueled character sketches (including a literal ‘Ballad of Billy the Kid’). The album’s classic title track offers up a bar full of memorable characters, enough to stock a decent NetFlix series.
Here’s another 1973 album I recently revisited on the blog, after the film Rocketman sent me down an Elton John rabbit hole.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ended a run of six excellent and highly successful albums, all released before John was out of his mid-20s. Few artists have pulled off a streak like that (next week, I’ll write about another who pulled it off).
I’ve written about another of my favorite 1973 albums a number of times already. In fact, this is the fifth track from Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle I’ve posted as a Song of the Day. And the album has only seven songs.
In one of those posts, I described this as “an album bursting with musicality, theatricality and an infectious creative energy. Springsteen spins his street-smart character sketches with staccato bursts of bruiser poetry. The lyrics could pass for stream-of-conscious if they weren’t so meticulously shaped. Musically, the newly formed E-Street band tore through multiple genres, but mostly settled into a jazz-rock groove that makes every track feel like the world’s coolest lawn concert.”
It’s time for the next installment in the Decades series, where I do a deep dive into the same year across the past four decades. I’ve done the 0s, 1s and 2s, and for the next several weeks I’ll tackle the 3s. First out of the gate is 1973.
As always, I will first offer up songs from my favorite 1973 albums and then songs from albums that received commercial and/or critical acclaim but with which I am largely unfamiliar.
My final 2001 album is one I have owned for quite some time, by a band I like a lot. And yet I haven’t listened to The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World enough to have considered it for my list of favorite albums from the year.
I’m glad I’ve had a chance to remedy that, because this is an excellent album, one many critics consider the band’s finest (though I would give that honor to 2012’s Port of Morrow). It is credited with ushering in an era of indie pop more introspective than ironic.