“Boogie On Reggae Woman” was released when Stevie Wonder was 24 years old. 24. At that point, he was already four albums deep into his imperial period and 12 years deep into his career. The only musician I can think of since who was in such an advanced spot in their legacy by that age is Prince. It’s crazy. When I was 24, I was renting a basement apartment from my aunt and sleeping on a rickety futon. And I thought I had my shit together!
Stevie is in boyish, flirtatious mode on “Boogie on Reggae Woman”. It’s hard to resist his playful vocal delivery and the song’s bouncy groove, which isn’t exactly reggae, song title notwithstanding. Also, if this woman is dancing to reggae too fast for him, what the hell kind of music is he (or are they) really listening to? Because even the most uptempo reggae songs at the time were fairly slow. Reggae didn’t speed up until dancehall took off in (White) America in the early 2000s and we were assaulted by max-tempo hits by Sean Paul and Elephant Man. I definitely can not dance to “Pon De River, Pon De Bank” without an oxygen mask.
It would take Stevie a few years and a friendship with Bob Marley to get the whole “reggae” thing going in a proper sense (you bet your ass “Master Blaster” is gonna be on this list.) Still, “Boogie On Reggae Woman” was the first (and I think the only) song with the word “reggae” in the title to make the top ten on the pop or R&B charts. And when you take into account that an actual reggae tune didn’t hit the pop top ten until 1988 (thanks UB40!!), it’s clear to see that Stevie was-as usual-way ahead of his time.
And now it’s time for another Soul Train clip. Stevie’s not performing, but these dance moves are worth checking out anyway.