Thursday, April 27, 2017

"I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Oscar Alert!
Song#:  2024
Date:  08/18/1984
Debut:  58
Peak:  1 (3 weeks)
Weeks:  26
Genre:  Pop, R&B, Adult Contemporary, Soundtrack



Pop Bits:  It had been two years since Wonder had a significant hit (1982's "Do I Do", #2 R&B/#13 Pop) and four years since his last proper studio album (1980's Hotter Than July). Before he could return to the studio for a follow-up album, he was sidetracked into working on a movie project. The film, direct by and starring Gene Wilder, was titled The Woman in Red and Wonder ended up in charge of the songs for the soundtrack. It featured seven Wonder compositions plus an instrumental written by Wonder's guitarist at the time, Ben Bridges. Two of the songs would be duets between Wonder and Dionne Warwick while one song was a Warwick solo. To get things started this solo effort by Wonder was released. It quickly took off and before long it was sitting atop the Pop, R&B, and AC charts. It was also a smash hit worldwide hitting #1 in many countries including the UK, where it would be the second best-selling single of the year (behind Band Aid's charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas"). It would also win the Oscar for Best Original Song while grabbing three Grammy nominations including Song of the Year. The hit would push the soundtrack album to #4 Pop/#1 R&B and it would eventually be certified platinum. Although the movie was somewhat successful, it wasn't a major box office hit and most critics panned the film. However, this song certainly lived on and it still ranks as one of Wonder's biggest hits.

ReduxReview:  Let the hate mail begin! I cannot stand this song. Never could. From the very first listen, I developed a deep dislike for the song. I didn't like the lyrics, the simplistic melody and structure, and especially the production, which sounds like Wonder recorded it all on a little Casio in his living room. (BTW - Wonder does play/do everything on this track.) I was also filled with disappointment because I didn't expect something so dorky from an amazing writer like Wonder. Yes, most artists have their duds, but this one was an explosion of treacly crap. It really irritated me to no end. I couldn't fathom why Wonder would let this ditty out into the public and then why folks absolutely loved it. I kind of realize that second part now. It's one of those cross-generational, simple to sing, sentimental songs that pleases a wide audience. And as much as I absolutely hate the song, I have to give props to Wonder for coming up with it. Even though I think this song is so slight that Wonder could probably fart it in his sleep, it takes a kind of genius to come up with that perfect, simplistic tune that nearly enraptures everyone who hears it. Despite that, I still dislike the song and what makes it even worse is the album version of the song that is a dreadful 6+ minutes! Are there worse charting songs? Absolutely. Are there worse charting songs by huge artists like Wonder? Maybe. But I thought Wonder jumped the shark with this tune and I had a hard time listening to anything he did after this. Sorry folks - it's only my personal opinion. If you love the song, please continue to enjoy it. I'll just cover my ears until it is over.

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  Double Trouble!  1) Just like another movie hit from the same year, "Ghostbusters," this song got embroiled in a lawsuit. Lee Garrett, who had previously written songs with Wonder, and Lloyd Chiate filed suit against Wonder claiming they were the writers of the song, not Wonder. Apparently, they had written a song called "I Just Called to Say" back in 1976 and played it for Wonder in 1977.  Wonder said he got the idea for the song in 1976 and recorded an initial demo for it soon after, but didn't finish the song until 1984. At a jury trial in 1990, the verdict came out in Wonder's favor. The jury heard both versions of the song and besides the title line, they found no other similarities. Prior to the trial, Garrett drop his claim to the lawsuit and ended up testifying on behalf of Wonder.  2) Wonder's Oscar win was slightly controversial as well. The Academy rules at the time stated that in order to receive a nomination, the song had to have been written specifically for the film. As Wonder later stated, which was also a part of the above trial, the song had been written long before the film and was not inspired by or written expressly for the film. If that had been known early on, the song would most likely have been disqualified from Oscar contention. However, it skipped through and won. Despite the minor kerfuffle, the win was considered valid and Wonder retained his statue.

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