Innervisions

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Innervisions Music Poster Image
Wonder's passionate portrait of the '70s still fresh today.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

Not all the songs are happy and upbeat; some, like "Living for the City," border on no-good-deed-goes-unpunished. But their outrage at the injustice they're describing is all the stronger because of Wonder's obvious conviction that things can and should be different, evident in his determination to stick to the good path in "Higher Ground" and wishful "Visions" of the world that could be. While it seems to be directed at a love interest out having a few adventures, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" is also right on target for parents whose kids are experimenting with their new freedom: "Everybody needs a change/ A chance to check out the new/ But you're the only one to see/ The changes you take yourself through/ Don't you worry 'bout a thing/... Cause I'll be standing in the wings/When you check it out."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Not every character seen in these songs is positive, and virtue isn't always rewarded. The narrator in "Too High" appears to be struggling with drug issues, and the bright young hero of "Living for the City," despite his own best efforts and those of his loving family, falls prey to predators, criminal and otherwise, in the big city. Tricksters and shysters -- politicians, religious fakers, drug dealers -- wait to ensnare the innocent.  But others keep on loving, keep on working, keep on trying, and Wonder insists that this is possible. And necessary.

Violence

In "Living for the City," the innocent young man arrives in New York, is apparently handed some contraband by an enterprising street criminal and immediately thrown in jail, with racial slurs, by the police.

Sex
Language

"Living for the City" has a guard throwing the young man into a cell and calling him the "N" word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug use is discussed, but not in a positive light. "Too High" finds its subject apparently trapped in an uncomfortable state of mind; "Jesus Children of America" says, "Tell me junkie/ If you're able /... Are you happy when you stick a needle in your vein?"

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this album was not only very popular in its own time (the early '70s) but also has been an ongoing influence on other artists and remains timely today. Wonder's concept album about his life and times isn't afraid to look at things that aren't pretty, from social injustice, hopelessness, and drug addiction to sleazy leaders, self-serving hucksters, and pitfalls for the naive. But his determinedly positive outlook sweetens the tender moments and makes the satirical commentary more telling.

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What's the story?

It's the early '70s, Nixon is president, the Vietnam War is still on, life at home is contentious and turbulent. Stevie Wonder's life-and-times album, INNERVISIONS, captures moods and perspectives from gentle romance to spiritual exploration to biting social commentary. While the artist looks into some dark corners of the human soul, his outlook remains insistently positive -- as he says in the reincarnation-themed \"Higher Ground,\" \"Gonna keep on trying till I reach my highest ground.\" Besides \"Higher Ground,\" some of the album's best-known tracks are the searing \"Living for the City,\" the tender ballad \"Golden Lady,\" and the upbeat \"Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing.\"

Is it any good?

Innervisions finds Wonder at the height of his powers. It won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1973, topped the R&B charts, and reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200; "Living for the City" went on to win the Grammy for R&B Single of the Year in 1974. Both "Higher Ground" and "Living for the City" topped the R&B and pop singles charts in their day. Not only that, the album's songs have been widely covered by other artists -- perhaps most famously, "Higher Ground" was the breakthrough single for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1989. (Later, Lindsay Lohan did a version of "Living for the City.")

Commercial success aside, this album continues to deserve attention, for the excellence of Wonder's music, lyrics, and imagination. And also because, decades later, it seems timely as ever.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the social issues that were so pressing when Stevie Wonder made this album -- poverty, racism, war, people taking advantage of these situations -- still seem to be with us. How do they crop up in daily life today?

  • Why do you think the songs on this album have been so popular with artists of so many different styles and generations, right up to today?

  • Do you know any people like the fast-talking guy at the beginning of "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," who seem to think it's really important to make people think they're really important?

Music details

  • Artist: Stevie Wonder
  • Release date: August 3, 1973
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Motown
  • Genre: R&B
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No

For kids who love music for teens

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