Monday, February 02, 2009

“I Was Made to Love Her” / Stevie Wonder


I suppose I could have written about “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – but after Jack Black’s record-store tirade in High Fidelity, I’ll never again admit I like that song.

It’s still safe to like early Stevie Wonder, though, right? This one’s just a pure, clear soul beauty from 1967. It’s a perfect Happy In Love song, about two childhood sweethearts who are still together. Except for a little parental friction way in the past (“my papa disapproved it, / My mama boo-hooed it”), they’ve made it through and are still happy together.

He almost sounds out of breath, rushing enthusiastically through word-crammed lines. As Stevie flash-forwards through their lives, he tosses off glancing details – “I was born in Little Rock,” “I wore hightop shoes and shirt tails / Susie was in pigtails,” and my favorite, “I was knee-high to a chicken / When that love bug bit me.” Mountains are crumbling, trees are blossoming, and Stevie’s got the fever – there isn’t a love song cliché he doesn’t trot out. He strings it all together exultantly, reiterating “My baby loves me / My baby needs me / That’s why we made it through the years” and “Don’t you know I was made to love her / Build a world all around her / Yah! Hey, hey, hey.” It’s completely uncritical, but who cares? Maybe that is the secret to staying happy.

Besides, it’s all just an excuse for Stevie to style away over one of the best rhythm grooves Motown ever crafted -- a confident funk-laden bass line, brash steady drums, topped at the end of every verse with a sassy flourish of vibraphones (or is it some kind of synth?). As the song goes on, they layer on back-up yeah-yeah-yeahs and syncopated strings, and like the icing on the cake, a joyous harmonica solo by Stevie -- man, I'd forgotten what a harmonica prodigy the boy was. It builds and builds, till it's practically bursting through the roof with joy.

Sure, these lovers are still happy together -- and what's more, I'm happy, just listening to him sing about it. If anybody else did this, it would sound simple-minded; but somehow Stevie Wonder can pull off this sort of magic, over and over again.

I Was Made To Love Her sample


Craft said...

Good choice, haven't listened to this in a while. Could argue that its a good bridge between early and middle Stevie.

28 days of Stevie Wonder love songs? Wouldn't be hard!

Cash Banister said...

I've always loved that bursting with emotion...a true pop classic. The Beach Boys made a passable attempt but no one will ever come close the Wonder's exhilarating performance.

wwolfe said...

Great choice. There ought to be statues of James Jamerson - what a bass player. A record like this one makes me impatient with the current vogue for ironic songs about love. I'm sure it's not always true, but I can't help suspecting that in too many cases, "irony" is just a way to cover up an unwillingness by the singer and/or writer to commit emotionally, and an inability to express that emotion in the playing, even if the spirit were willing.

On a different topic, I hope you had the chance to see Nick Lowe on "Austin City Limits" this past weekend. I only saw the last two songs, but I'm not complaining: "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding" and "The Beast in Me," both featuring Nick and his acoustic guitar, alone on the stage. It was great.