TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Number One on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart for the week ending Saturday, November 23, 1985.
SONGWRITER: Stevie Wonder.
PRODUCER: Stevie Wonder.
BACKSTORY: Stevie Wonder was not short of impressive chart statistics during the first 20 years of his career. In 1963, his “Fingertips – Pt. 2” was the first live single to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and this also marked the first time that a single and the album it came from were simultaneously at Number One. Yet “Part-Time Lover” was to give him even greater kudos, because it became the first-ever single to hit Number One on four – count them, four – Billboard charts: pop, black, dance and adult contemporary.
It was enough, perhaps, that “Part-Time Lover” was only the fourth Motown single to reach the summit of the pop, black and dance charts, following Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” and Diana Ross’ “Upside Down.” Yet Stevie went one better, with the adult contemporary achievement. Nor was his success confined to the U.S. The single was a huge hit in Australia, Canada (where it climbed to Number One), France, Ireland, Spain and the U.K., while also reaching the Top 20 in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.
“Part-Time Lover” was released on the Tamla label in August 1985, a few weeks before Stevie’s first studio album in five years, In Square Circle. The single also featured the superstar on drums and synthesizers, with Luther Vandross adding to the lead vocal, while the background singers included Wonder’s first wife, Syreeta Wright; Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire; and Keith John, son of revered R&B singer Little Willie John. The ’60s vibe of the song was acknowledged by Stevie at the time: “When I first heard ‘Part-Time Lover,’” he said, “I thought of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love.’ Uh-huh. It’s a combination of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ and ‘My World Is Empty Without You.’”
Wonder also reiterated that much of the material reflected his life at first-hand. “Sure, a lot of the songs I write are from my own direct experiences,” he told British journalist David Nathan. “I remember when I was breaking up with this girl and I was, like, seeing this other girl. I came home and some guy called up and disguised his voice, tried to sound like one of her girlfriends to see if she was around.” When Nathan asked whether he describing “Part-Time Lover,” came the response: “Well, let’s just say that after I wrote that, I thought about how many people might get into trouble behind that song.”
REMAKES: Stevie’s 1980s work tends to attract fewer remakes than his earlier material, but “Part-Time Lover” evidently appealed to a variety of musicians in different genres, including reggae (Jamaica’s Tanya Stephens), bossa nova (Brazil’s Romulo Gomes), middle-of-the-road (France’s Paul Mauriat) and jazz (American saxman Brandon Fields, who cut a whole album of Wonder tunes). German vocal choir Young Voices Brandenburg also gave “Part-Time Lover” their unusual treatment on their 2011 album, Echoes of Motown.
FOOTNOTE: These days, Stevie’s music reaches his fans through digital delivery, but there was a time when Motown depended upon physical retail stores to help satisfy customers’ demand for Wonder. Which was why, in the spring of 1985, the record company arranged for U.S. retail trade group the National Association of Recording Merchandisers to showcase the musician’s new work at their annual business convention in Hollywood, FL. At the city’s Diplomat Hotel, Stevie performed tracks from In Square Circle, including “Part-Time Lover,” and was honored later that night with the association’s “Artist of the Decades” award. Its inscription read: “Humanitarian, composer, performer and man of conscience, his messages reach every corner of the world, every race, every creed.” No argument there.