TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Topped the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart for the week ending Saturday, January 15, 1977.
SONGWRITER: Stevie Wonder.
PRODUCER: Stevie Wonder.
BACKSTORY: This was the first 45 from Stevie’s epic Songs In The Key of Life, but one of the last tracks to be recorded. The album appeared in early October 1976, and Wonder later recalled that the song was created only a few months earlier. “The day I wrote it was a Saturday, the day of a Motown picnic in the summer of ’76,” he told Musician magazine. “God, I remember that because I was having this really bad toothache, it was ridiculous.
“I had such a good time at the picnic that I went to Crystal Recording Studio right afterward and the vibe came right to my mind, running at the picnic, the contests, we all participated. It was a lot of fun, even though I couldn’t eat the hot dogs – that was around the time of the creation of those chicken hot dogs. And from that came the ‘I Wish’ vibe.”
Stevie’s original lyrics were more serious than the reminiscences heard in the final version. “The music was too much fun,” he said. “The [original] words didn’t have the fun of the track.” Crystal was one of four studios where Wonder recorded Songs In The Key of Life, and among the musicians playing with him on “I Wish” were Nathan Watts (bass), Raymond Pounds (drums) and Hank Redd (alto sax). The voice reprimanding the “young” Stevie in the song (“You nasty boy”) was his sister, Renee Hardaway.
Motown Records issued “I Wish” as a single (Tamla 54274) on November 24, 1976. It spent one week at the peak of the Billboard Hot 100 early in ’77, and five weeks at the top of the soul charts. That February, Songs In The Key of Life continued Stevie’s Grammy©-winning ways, honored as 1976’s album of the year; “I Wish” received the prize for best R&B vocal performance (male). Not so nasty, after all.
REMAKES: So many of Stevie’s songs have been covered over the years, in a variety of treatments. In the case of “I Wish,” the 21st century remakes have ranged from Canadian superstar Celine Dion to British bandleader Jools Holland (featuring former Spice Girl Mel C on vocals). Stevie’s been sampled many times, too, and “I Wish” was just such a building block for “Wild Wild West,” the No. 1 hit for Will Smith featuring Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee in the summer of 1999. Stevie even makes a guest appearance in Smith’s music video for the track.
FOOTNOTE: “I Wish” can be heard in the soundtrack of 2006 animated comedy Happy Feet, which used a version recorded by Patti LaBelle, Yolanda Adams and Fantasia Barrino. Another Stevie song is heard in the same movie: “Tell Me Something Good,” as coloured by Pink.