Deconstructing Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City #MusicMonday

In these difficult times, it’s nice, maybe, to find ways to think about the lives that are lived in our cities. Here’s a breakdown of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City that is as much technical deconstruction as it is heartfelt appreciation, from Ethan Hein:

Stevie sang all the parts and played all the instruments, including the sumptuous analog synth sounds designed with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Stevie’s brother Calvin Hardaway is the main character in the spoken interlude. Ira Tucker Jr of the Dixie Hummingbirds is the drug dealer, Stevie’s lawyer plays the judge, and a studio janitor is the corrections officer.

The main groove feels like a familiar funk/blues trope, though maybe that’s just because I’ve heard so many people quote it. It’s three chords: F#, G#m and A, all over a steady F-sharp pedal in the bass. The rhythm is not complicated, but it’s superbly hip. The bass taps out steady quarter notes, except for the small walkup in the last beat of the bar. The piano almost follows the bass pattern, but not quite. The second G#m and the first A are both anticipated by an eighth note. That’s just enough asymmetry to make a bottomlessly compelling groove.

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