'Hotter than July'

July 31, 2018

Title: “Hotter than July”

Artist: Stevie Wonder

Release date: September 1980

Favorite track: “Lately”

 

Who thinks August will be hotter than July? Show of hands.

If Stevie Wonder is involved, it will be. For the record (no pun intended), “Hotter than July” was released in September, which might also be hotter than July this year.

This album brings the heat. It has much of the same flair as in Wonder’s 1972 album, “Talking Book,” and 1973 album, “Innervisions” — necessary after his 1979 album, “Journey through the Secret Life of Plants,” was a bit of a dud, commercially speaking.

This is by no means my favorite Wonder record, but I enjoy it more every time I hear it. It’s funky and passionate, and looking at the album art makes me happy.

 

MUSIC

This album starts strong with “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me,” a funky, fast-paced romp that brings to mind the rhythm of Wonder’s early 1970s works.

I’m not inclined toward the anxious pace of “As if You Read My Mind,” but I love the timing of the chorus. The separation between two parts of a sentence such as “as if you read” and “my mind” is a guilty pleasure of mine musically. It gives any song a punchy, succinct sound.

Bob Marley heavily influenced “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” and you can hear it from the first notes. It’s slow, rhythmic reggae complemented with Wonder’s powerful, yet nasally vocals.

I’m not a big reggae music fan, but I don’t mind Wonder’s experimentation. He can do anything.

“Cash in Your Face” has a slower, groovier feel than the other tracks. It levels out the record.

“Lately” is a favorite Wonder song of mine. The lyrics imply Wonder suspects his significant other is cheating.

 

Well, I’m a man of many wishes

Hope my premonition misses

But what I really feel my eyes won’t let me hide

‘Cause they always start to cry

‘Cause this time could mean goodbye

— “Lately”

 

What I like most about this track is how the sensitivity (not the sadness) in the music matches the sensitivity of the lyrics. It doesn’t sound somber; it sounds vulnerable.

Leave it to Wonder to concoct a song more celebratory than “Happy Birthday” that’s not only perfect for honoring anyone’s birthday, but also specifically recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Wonder actually campaigned for King’s birthday to become a national holiday. Ironically, my birthday will fall on the same day in 2019. If my birthday rolls around and my friends decide to surprise me with a gospel choir singing this track, I won’t be mad.

 

DESIGN

Stevie stands out in a crowd, like this album cover sparkles amid my collection.

Wonder’s beads and sunglasses against the warm orange and yellow sunset backdrop create a stand-out cover. The glimmer on the corner of his sunglasses makes the art what it is.

The back of the album features a piano in flames, to show just how hot things are getting.

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