Perhaps the mark of a truly great musician is that their lesser works are still incredibly worthwhile. Enter Stevie Wonder, who put out his 17th studio album on this day in 1974 – Fullfillingness First Finale. Remarkably, the Detroit superstar was only 23 at the time!
While Wonder had aged and grown more mature and serious, political as he hit his 20s, for this one he largely looked inwards and made a less-political or rebellious album than the ones which bookended it : Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. As allmusic would later say it was “refreshing to hear more songs devoted to…romance, among them ‘It Ain’t No Use.’” Not that it was entirely missing social commentary: the first single “You Haven’t Done Nothing” was an angry rebuke of the government of Richard Nixon… who actually resigned two days after the single came out!
Much like Prince in the next decade, Wonder was a visionary and a multi-talented artist who liked to do things his own way, himself. Wonder co-produced the Motown album, and played an array of instruments for the songs which he wrote. For instance, on the second single, “Boogie on Reggae Woman”, he played everything except the congas! When he did ask for assistance, he aimed high. Among the session musicians he brought in were Paul Anka, Minnie Ripperton and even the Jackson 5 on backing vocals and Michael Sembello on guitars.
The public and critics alike loved the somewhat stripped-down funky sounds and more personal lyrics. It was his first #1 album both in the U.S. and Canada and hit #5 in the UK, the highest he’d been there to that point. The album was certified platinum in Canada, and while for some reason it wasn’t in the States (likely a deal of Motown not submitting the proper paperwork), it seemingly sold well beyond a million copies at home. “You Haven’t Done Nothing” was his third #1 single in the States, with “Boogie On Reggae Woman” making it up to #3.
At the time, critics rated it well. For example, the L.A. Times rated it a perfect 4-stars. Later, Rolling Stone would grade it 4-stars and in the review note he is “perhaps the most singular talent ever to grace the Motown roster.” The Grammys agreed, giving it three the next year including Album of the Year. It was the middle of three-straight albums he put out to do so. Which, we think you’d agree is indeed doing something!