“For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder (1968)

Stevie Wonder could’ve retired before he got to his genius period of the Seventies and he still would be responsible for a handful of stone-cold classics. Although I wouldn’t want to live in a world in which Talking Book, Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life, or Fulfillingness’ First Finale didn’t exist. One of the early indications that Stevie knew his way around a great song was 1968’s “For Once In My Life”. Like many Motown hits, this composition was passed around the roster like a football before landing in Stevie’s capable hands. What separates his version from the ones that came before? Stevie’s version is uptempo, where previous recordings of it were dramatic ballads. Wonder’s youthful ebullience (he was still a teenager at the time of recording/release) is a major key here. What may have originally been conceived as a “My Way”-style showstopper worked best when sped up and given to a teenager who sounds like he’s absolutely giddy at the thought of having found someone to love him the way he loves them. “For Once In My Life” has evolved into a standard, and occasionally reverts back to ballad form (as evidenced by Tony Bennett’s 21st century rendition, on which he is accompanied by Wonder). However, Stevie (and the Motown house band, led by master bassist James Jamerson) got it right on the money when they decided to put a beat behind it.

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