B-sides: Talking Book

For my next B-side, I’m doing a Stevie classic, Talking Book. Not gonna lie, I chose this album in part because I was searching for something Jeff Beck-related after the news last week. Turns out we need more Jeff in our collection, but the search led me here, which I’m not mad about.

Album cover trivia: Some pressings have the artist and album name written in Braille on the cover, but our copy doesn’t. :(
  1. “Superstition” – 4:26
  2. “Big Brother” – 3:35
  3. “Blame It on the Sun” – 3:28
  4. “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love” – 4:45
  5. “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” – 4:48

Alright, everybody knows “Superstition”. If, in 1972, someone accidentally played the B-side of Talking Book first, I imagine they’d be forgiven for thinking they were hearing one of the dopest album openers in existence. (Also, there’s something very charming about the clavichord becoming an accessory to funk in the 1970s, in the form of the Clavinet.) As the story goes, this song was a collab with Jeff Beck, who released his own version a year later. I was looking up live versions and remembered that incidentally, Lauren and I saw Stevie Wonder and Jeff Beck perform this song live at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concert in NYC, which apparently I never documented on this blog??? Well, it happened, and I can’t believe I nearly forgot (in my defense, it was a very long night).

In a notable transition to “Big Brother”, the funk dissolves into a serene Clav-djembe(?)-harmonica groove. My initial listens of a song/album are always more focused on instrumentation and general mood, and not lyrics. So yes, I get this is social commentary (You’ve killed all our leaders / I don’t even have to do nothing to you / You’ll cause your own country to fall), but it’s also just such a chill vibe. I really dig it.

“Blame It on the Sun” is the first song on the flip side that doesn’t sound so…70s?…for lack of a better descriptor. Well, there’s some spooky cosmic synth floating around in the background for the second half of the song, but the melody and sentiment still seem timeless. This was co-written with Syreeta Wright, who was married to Stevie Wonder at the time and by the sound of things here, getting ready for a separation. 😬

Oh hai Jeff! Beware of sexy guitar in “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love”. How does one go about identifying the guitar somebody used in a recording? (If it’s not obvious, I am not a Guitar Person!) I read on the internet that Jeff was mostly a Strat guy, but some of these licks have a very Les Paul quality to my untrained ear, and I wish I could verify that. Anyway, I love Stevie’s hype in the solo – “do it Jeff!” Lyrically, this is a natural progression from “Blame It on the Sun”; I didn’t expect to be getting so many breakup songs in this half-album!

“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” has unmistakable End of Album Anthem energy, although it’s not as over-the-top as a lot of the rock and gospel songs it probably inspired. 4 minutes in, though, and it’s pretty great to be hearing layer upon layer of Stevie: vocals, keyboards, Moog, drums, everything else. And instead of giving us a big sweeping outro at the end, he injects a good dose of funk before the fadeout, which I appreciate very much.

Talking Book is an album I wasn’t too familiar with, so it was interesting to come in and listen to half of it without much context. But these 5 songs make up a lovely mini-album…each one with its own distinct but genuine mood.

What’s next? Who knows – I might take a trip to the record store later today though. 👀

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