Hotter than July
|Hotter than July|
|Studio album by Stevie Wonder|
|Released||September 29, 1980|
|Genre||Pop, funk, R&B|
|Stevie Wonder chronology|
|Singles from Hotter than July|
Hotter than July is the nineteenth album by American recording artist Stevie Wonder, originally released on Motown's Tamla label on September 29, 1980. It was certified platinum and reached number three on the US Billboard chart. This was his most successful album in the UK, peaking at number two and producing four top ten singles.
Hotter than July was nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B Album at the American Music Awards in 1982.
The commercial failure of his last album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants with only one single "Send One Your Love" making the top 5 of the Billboard chart left him struggling at the turn of the new decade. Personally he let the media know that he felt that Motown had not promoted the album very well. His talents kept him busy when he co-wrote the song "Let's Get Serious" with Lee Garrett for Jermaine Jackson's 1980 album of the same name and another with Eric Mercury called "You Are My Heaven" which became a success for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway on Atlantic Records. During this time of upheaval, he was also in demand as a guest artist on many other albums ranging from the likes of B.B. King, James Taylor, Quincy Jones and Smokey Robinson among others.
Wonder finally began work on a new album which was to be titled Hotter than July. Inspired by his love for reggae music from meeting Bob Marley, Wonder was encouraged to write the first track, "Master Blaster (Jammin')", after their performance at the Black Music Association in Philadelphia in 1979. The recording sessions were primarily done at Wonderland Studios in Los Angeles (which Wonder had recently acquired) where he became responsible for writing, producing and arranging his own material for the new album.
Inspired by the growing popularity of Bob Marley's music and its clear messages against war, "Master Blaster (Jammin')" (US #5; R&B #1) was Wonder's way of honoring Marley. The country-tinged "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" (U.S. #11; R&B #4), the ballad "Lately" (U.S. #64) and the upbeat "Happy Birthday" were other notable successes from the album. In the UK, all four singles reached the top 10, with the first and last releases peaking at #2 in the charts.
Track two, "All I Do", had originally been written by a teenaged Wonder and collaborators Clarence Paul and Morris Broadnax in 1966. Tammi Terrell recorded the original version of the song that year, but her version never saw release in her lifetime and remained in the Motown vaults until it was posthumously included on the compilation A Cellarful of Motown! in the UK in 2002, 32 years after her death. Brenda Holloway also recorded a version that was released on her Motown Anthology set in 2005. Michael Jackson, Eddie Levert and Walter Williams of the O'Jays, and Betty Wright provided backing vocals for the song on Wonder's album. Charlie and Ronnie Wilson of the GAP Band, handled backing vocals for "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It". Wonder's ex-wife Syreeta also shows up on "As If You Read My Mind".
Despite the wide critical acclaim for Wonder's previous works such as Songs in the Key of Life and Innervisions, Hotter than July was his first album eligible for platinum status, as Motown sales records before 1977 were not audited by the RIAA.
Sleeve liner design and Martin Luther King Day activism
Wonder wrote "Happy Birthday" in order to honor Martin Luther King and used the song to campaign for King's birthday, January 15, to become a national holiday in the US. The sleeve liner design (of the 1980 Motown LP issue) is entirely dedicated to these two purposes. Both sides are printed in a black-and-white semi-glossy photographic process. One side features a large square photograph portrait of King inset on a black background with white lettering above and below. Above the photo is printed "Martin Luther King, Jr." "January 15, 1929 -- April 4, 1968" (on two lines, centered), and below it appears a passage of text written by Wonder. The text below the photo reads:
It is believed that for a man to lay down his life for the love of others is the supreme sacrifice. Jesus Christ by his own example showed us that there is no greater love. For nearly two thousand years now we have been striving to have the strength to follow that example. Martin Luther King was a man who had that strength. He showed us, non-violently, a better way of life, a way of mutual respect, helping us to avoid much bitter confrontation and inevitable bloodshed. We still have a long road to travel until we reach the world that was his dream. We in the United States must not forget either his supreme sacrifice or that dream.
I and a growing number of people believe that it is time for our country to adopt legislation that will make January 15, Martin Luther King's birthday, a national holiday, both in recognition of what he achieved and as a reminder of the distance which still has to be traveled.
Join me in the observance of January 15, 1981 as a national holiday.
Stevland Morris a/k/a Stevie Wonder
To the right of this text is a thumbprint, presumably Stevie Wonder's (Stevland Morris's), serving as his signature.
On the other side of the sleeve is a collage of five historical photos. Two images, one above the other, form the background. The top image shows an aerial view of a low-lying urban area with a six-lane highway passing through it and thick smoke rising from many of the buildings on both sides of the highway—apparently a riot scene. The bottom image shows a confrontation, in an urban street four of five lanes wide, between a large group of African Americans standing in non-violent defiance and law enforcement officers with white helmets and weapons who are apparently advancing on them. The other three, smaller photos are laid out horizontally across the midline where the background images meet and are about 40% of the height of the sleeve. In the center is a wide rectangular photo of a large peaceful demonstration march, with both black and white participants, being led by Martin Luther King. To either side are two square photos of apparent police brutality: in the photo to the left, three officers in white helmets seize a male African-American youth by his arms and one leg; one officer holds as a club what appears to be a long nightstick turned around with the thicker handle end out. In the photo to the right, an African-American man lies in a pool of blood on the sidewalk in front of an urban store, while in the foreground an officer in a white helmet stands at a distance and looks toward him, and in the background another Africa-American man crouches with his back against the wall and looks away. (King directly mentioned police brutality in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.)
These images contrast with the general mood of the album, which is upbeat and positive, including "Happy Birthday". Exceptions are the few songs about romantic turmoil ("Rocket Love", "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It", "Lately") and the socially critical "Cash In Your Face", which protests racial housing discrimination.
|Christgau's Record Guide||A−|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, music critic Stephen Holden said Hotter than July proved Wonder was still "our most gifted pop muralist" because of his evocative, unique synthesis of pop and African elements. It was voted the eighth best album of 1980 in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked it eighteenth on his own year-end list and, in a retrospective review, wrote that while "Master Blaster" and perhaps "Happy Birthday" were the only "great Stevie here", the pleasure in which Wonder performed the songs was evident in "his free-floating melodicism and his rolling overdrive, his hope and his cynicism". In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), J. D. Considine found the record "buoyantly tuneful" and said fans viewed it as a return to form after the commercial disappointment of Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.
All songs written, produced and arranged by Stevie Wonder except where noted.
- Side one
- "Did I Hear You Say You Love Me" – 4:07
- "All I Do" (music: Wonder; lyrics: Wonder, Clarence Paul, Morris Broadnax) – 5:06
- "Rocket Love" – 4:39
- "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" – 4:39
- "As If You Read My Mind" – 3:37
- Side two
- "Master Blaster (Jammin')" – 5:07
- "Do Like You" – 4:25
- "Cash in Your Face" – 3:59
- "Lately" – 4:05
- "Happy Birthday" – 5:57
- Stevie Wonder - Vocals, Synthesizer, Drums, Fender Rhodes, Bass Synthesizer, Clavinet, Background Vocals, Arp, Vocoder, Piano, Harpsichord, Celeste, Keyboards, Bass Melodeon, Harmonica, Cabasa, Percussion, Bells, Handclaps, Flute Synthesizer
- Nathan Watts - Bass, Background Vocals
- Benjamin Bridges - Guitar, Background Vocals
- Dennis Davis - Drums on "Did I Hear You Say You Love Me," "As If You Read My Mind", and "Master Blaster (Jammin')"
- Earl DeRouen - Percussion, Background Vocals
- Isaiah Sanders - Fender Rhodes, Background Vocals, Pianet
- Hank Redd - Saxophone, Handclaps
- Robert Malach - Saxophone
- Larry Gittens - Trumpet
- Nolan A. Smith Jr. - Trumpet
- Paul Riser - String Arrangement
- Hank Devito - Steel Guitar
- Rick Zunigar - Guitar
- Background Vocals - Angela Winbush, Mary Lee Whitney Evans, Susaye Greene Brown, Alexandra Brown Evans, Shirley Brewer, Ed Brown, Charlie Collins, Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, Michael Jackson, Jamil Raheem, Betty Wright, Ronnie J. Wilson, Charles K. Wilson, Syreeta Wright, Marva Holcolm, Melody McCulley, Delores Barnes
- Handclaps - Stephanie Andrews, Bill Wolfer, Trevor Lawrence, Dennis Morrison, Kimberly Jackson
|1980||"Master Blaster (Jammin')"||Billboard Hot Soul Singles||1|
|Billboard Pop Singles||5|
|Billboard Club Play Singles||10|
|UK Singles Chart||2|
|1981||"I Ain't Gonna Stand for It"||Billboard Hot Soul Singles||4|
|Billboard Pop Singles||11|
|1980||UK Singles chart||10|
|1981||"Did I Hear You Say You Love Me"||Billboard Hot Soul Singles||74|
|"Lately"||Billboard Hot Soul Singles||29|
|Billboard Pop Singles||64|
|UK Singles Chart||3|
|"Happy Birthday"||UK Singles Chart||2|
|Canada (Music Canada)||2× Platinum||200,000^|
|Japan (Oricon Charts)||73,000|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||300,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
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- Davis, Sharon Stevie Wonder: Rhythms of Wonder p.132.
- Davis, Sharon Stevie Wonder: Rhythms of Wonder p.141.
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