From The Desk Of Josh Kantor: Stevie Wonder

Fenway Park organist Josh Kantor is a utilityman of sorts, playing keyboards for a number of outfits in addition to entertaining the Red Sox faithful. His highest-profile gig is with the fantastic national pastime-themed band the Baseball Project; his hidden-track rendition of the group’s “Panda And The Freak” is a highlight of its aptly titled third album, 3rd (Yep Roc). Kantor is guest editing all week. Read our brand-new Q&A with him.

Kantor: If I somehow ever got to meet Stevie Wonder, I don’t know that I’d be able to keep my cool, and I don’t know if there’s anyone else about whom I can say that. I’m of the firm opinion that Stevie’s output from 1970 to 1976 is the best thing to happen to Western music in the last 60 years. (I use the hemisphere qualifier only because I don’t know a lot about Eastern music, and I use the temporal qualifier because I don’t want to get into an “apples and oranges” comparison with the pre-rock/R&B era.) Your love of prominent guitars may compel you to want to reserve that claim for a peak period of one of the other greats like the Beatles, the Who, the Stones, Zeppelin or even Creedence, and I believe in “to each his/her own,” but I do get a little sensitive when Stevie’s remarkable brilliance gets overlooked in the “all-time greatest” conversations.

If you’re not up to speed on Stevie’s golden era, then I strongly encourage you carve out some time to listen to the Signed, Sealed & Delivered, Where I’m Coming From, Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs In The Key Of Life LPs. His artistic growth during that period (from age 20 to 26), evolving from greatness to almost unfathomable genius, is even more staggering than that of the ’63-’69 run for the lads from Liverpool.

If you’re already well-versed in those releases, don’t let that stop you from the joys of re-visiting them. And while you’re at it, give a listen to the two vastly underrated albums (Syreeta and Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta) that he co-wrote and produced for his backing vocalist, co-lyricist and ex-wife Syreeta Wright during this same period.

How great was Stevie Wonder in the early-to-mid ’70s? Watch this video for “Fine Young Thing” (be sure to enjoy the guitar playing of 18-year-old Ray Parker Jr.), and ponder the fact that this gem was actually the worst of Stevie’s 100-plus songs from that era.