Originally I planned to spotlight another holiday track with a soul twist. The mass shootings in Connecticut, however, have cast a shadow over what should be a joyous season. As the world tries to comprehend the loss of so many innocent children and dedicated educators, music can be a source of comfort. Comfort, joy, sorrow, and mystery comprise just some of the subjects Stevie Wonder covers on his landmark 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, a philosophical work clothed in soul, rock, and international sounds. One track that perfectly captures the grief we feel--and perhaps hope as well--is "Love's in Need of Love Today." The title says it all, but the gentle beat, gospel-like backing harmonies, and Wonder's transcendent voice further aid in delivering its pensive message.
At the onset, Wonder's vocals and soft piano directly address the listener: "Good morn or evening friends/ Here's your friendly announcer/ I have serious news to pass on to everybody." It is particularly interesting that Wonder assumes the persona of a radio or TV announcer; since we receive most of our news through broadcast media, he uses a metaphor most people can easily relate to. In the next few lines, he warns us that he will deliver a message that will upend our comfortable lives: "What I'm about to say/ Could mean the world's disaster/ Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain. As soft congo drums fade in, Wonder delivers the chorus, words that particularly resonate today:
It's that love's in need of love today
Don't delay, send yours in right away
Hate's goin' round, breaking many hearts
Stop it please before it's gone too far
As the gospel chorus continues to croon, Wonder becomes an actor, using inflection to emphasize certain words. Just listen to how he modulates his voice during the lyrics "We all must take/ Precautionary measures/ If love and please you treasure." For the rest of the song, Wonder and the backing singers repeat the chorus, with Wonder ad-libbing deliberately as if transforming into a preacher. "You know that hate's going around, hate's going 'round, hate's going 'round/ And it tried to break up many hearts/ You've got to I've got to they've got to we've got to stop it before it's gone too far." One can hear his passion and urgency, stressing how hate has destroyed too many lives.
In a striking coda, he commands the band to "Bring it down a little/ Love is very peaceful, so bring it down a little." The chorus accordingly drops the volume, as does Wonder. He softly scats as the singers subtly harmonize the two most important lines: "Love's in need of love today/ Don't delay, send yours in right away." But all singers unite at the very end, joining in the final words: "Just give the world love." Thus "Love's in Need of Love Today" follows an arc--quiet beginning, impassioned middle, and a subdued end. It resembles a sermon, a storyline consisting of shocking the listener, presenting the severity of the problems, and encouraging the audience to take action ("Just give the world love").
Weaving a narrative demanding listeners to waken from their ennui, face obstacles, and work to overcome them is a task fraught with difficulty. Yet Wonder's words are cushioned with gorgeous vocal blends as well as his soaring voice--in other words, he sweetens an otherwise unpalatable message, luring listeners to face their faults and strive for change. I've often turned to Songs in the Key of Life during good and difficult times, and I found myself reaching for this special song after the Sandy Brook School massacre. Wonder's call to action--conquering hate with love--has never been more significant than now, both in this time of crisis and the holiday season.
DeepSoul will be on vacation until after New Year's, but will return with more gems from the R&B world.