Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"

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Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"
StevieWonder-JourneyThroughtheSecretLifeofPlants.jpg
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedOctober 30, 1979
RecordedDigitally February–April 1979
StudioI.A.M. Studios, Irvine, California (International Automated Media); Crystal Recording Studio, Hollywood, California; Lyon Recording Studio, Newport Beach, California; Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Motown Recording Studios, Hollywood; Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, Louisiana
Genre
Length89:32
LabelTamla
ProducerStevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder chronology
Looking Back – Anthology
(1977)
Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"
(1979)
Hotter than July
(1980)
Singles from Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"
  1. "Send One Your Love"
    Released: November 1979
  2. "Black Orchid"
    Released: February 1980
  3. "Outside My Window"
    Released: May 1980

Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants" is an album by Stevie Wonder, originally released on the Tamla Motown label on October 30, 1979. It is the soundtrack to the documentary The Secret Life of Plants, directed by Walon Green, which was based on the book of the same name by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. It contains two singles that reached the Billboard Hot 100 charts: "Send One Your Love" (No. 4) and the minor hit "Outside My Window" (No. 52). The single "Black Orchid" reached No. 63 in the UK.

Production[edit]

Wonder created the film score by having Michael Braun, the film's producer, describe each visual image in detail, while the sound engineer, Gary Olazabal, specified the length of a passage. This information was processed to a four-track tape (with the film's sound on one of the tracks), leaving Wonder space to add his own musical accompaniment.[3] Wonder attempted to translate the complex information of the book and film into song lyrics. "Same Old Story," for example, tries to convey the scientific findings of Jagadish Chandra Bose, who developed instruments to measure plants' response to stimuli, and the breakthroughs of African-American agriculturalist George Washington Carver. While written mostly by Stevie Wonder, some songs were collaborations with Syreeta Wright, Yvonne Wright, and Michael Sembello.

Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants" contained new synthesizer combinations, including the first use of a digital sampling synthesizer, the Computer Music Melodian,[4] used in most tracks of this album.[5] Journey is an early digital recording, released three months after Ry Cooder's Bop till You Drop, generally believed to be the first digitally recorded popular music album, with this album being the second. Stevie Wonder was an early adherent of the technology and used it for all his subsequent recordings.

Packaging[edit]

Tamla/Motown originally released the album as a double LP in a tri-fold sleeve.[6] The front cover was embossed, and following Wonder's recent trend of printing Braille messages on his albums, the cover illustration was captioned below in Braille for blind readers:

⠄⠁⠃⠧ ⠯ ⠔⠎⠊⠙⠑ ⠮ ⠑⠍⠃⠕⠎⠎⠫ ⠎⠟⠥⠜⠑ ⠊⠎ ⠮ ⠳⠞⠇⠔⠑ ⠷ ⠁ ⠋⠇⠪⠻ ⠾ ⠧⠑⠔⠫ ⠇⠂⠧⠑⠎⠲
⠠⠌⠑⠧⠊⠑ ⠠⠺⠕⠝⠙⠻⠄⠎ ⠄⠚⠳⠗⠝⠑⠽ ⠄⠐⠹ ⠠⠮ ⠠⠎⠑⠉⠗⠑⠞ ⠠⠇⠊⠋⠑ ⠷ ⠠⠰⠏⠇⠁⠝⠞⠎⠲
"Above and inside the embossed square is the outline of a flower with veined leaves. Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants."[7]

Initial pressings of the album were also scented with a floral perfume.[8]

Release[edit]

After Stevie Wonder's previous albums Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974), and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) all won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, his next project was highly anticipated, and Motown marketed it aggressively. Although the Secret Life of Plants documentary film never received a wide release, Wonder's soundtrack album went all the way up to number four in the Rock and R&B Billboard charts in 1979 and was also certified platinum by Productores de Música de España,[9] while the single "Send One Your Love" also reached number four. However, sales tapered off quickly, and label head Berry Gordy reportedly complained that the one million copies he pressed turned out to be 900,000 too many.[7]

Promotion[edit]

Wonder supported the album in late 1979 with a six-city tour, performing nearly the entire album live with his band Wonderlove and the National Afro-American Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by James Frazier Jr.).[10] Reflecting the orchestra's presence and the album's atmospheric tone, the tour venues included concert halls and opera houses.[11] The shows began with the Plants music (partially accompanied by film projections), followed by a second half spanning his career hits.[12]

Date City Venue
November 28, 1979 Chicago, Illinois Auditorium Theatre
November 29, 1979 Detroit, Michigan Ford Auditorium
November 30, 1979 Detroit, Michigan Cobo Arena
December 2, 1979 New York, New York Metropolitan Opera House
December 3, 1979 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of Music
December 4, 1979 Washington, D.C. DAR Constitution Hall
December 9, 1979 New York, New York Madison Square Garden
December 18, 1979 Pasadena, California Civic Auditorium

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic[13]
Christgau's Record GuideB−[14]
Pitchfork7.7/10[1]
Rolling Stone(mixed)[15]
Rolling Stone[16]
Smash Hits6/10[17]
Yahoo! Music(mixed)[18]
Baltimore Sun(favorable)[19]
New York Times(favorable)[20]

Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants" has sometimes been considered a "vague" and "overambitious" album;[21] it has been called "goofy", "nerdy", "odd", "pointless" and "foolish",[22] and for listeners and critics it was seen as too much of a departure from his string of melodic albums.[22] However, some critics have also described it as "courageous", "achingly sweet", and "bafflingly beautiful".[22] Stephen Holden in a review for the Village Voice remarked that the album has "the painful awkwardness of a barely literate sidewalk sermon", though Wonder "manages to transform even the worst of this drivel into a spiritual jargon that's virtually a different language; his very in-articulateness clears the way for us to tune in to the ineffable, nonrational flow that's his obsession."[23]

Wonder remarked in 2004 that the album "was an experimental project with me scoring and doing other things I like: challenging myself with all the things that entered my mind from the Venus's Flytrap to Earth's creation to coming back as a flower."[24]

The cover of the album was selected by Rolling Stone in 1991 for their list of 100 Classic Album Covers as a memorable example of album art.[25]

Cash Box said "Outside My Window" was a "truly joyous, pastoral love song, utilizing the universal image of the flower to lyrically represent all that is fair and beautiful in nature."[26]

Solange Knowles named it as an influence on her 2019 album When I Get Home.[27]

KAINA covered the song "Come Back as a Flower" on her 2022 album It Was a Home.[28]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written, produced and arranged by Stevie Wonder.

Side one

  1. "Earth's Creation" – 4:05 (Instrumental)
  2. "The First Garden" – 2:33 (Instrumental)
  3. "Voyage to India" – 6:23 (Instrumental)
  4. "Same Old Story" – 3:45
  5. "Venus' Flytrap and the Bug" – 2:24
  6. "Ai No, Sono" – 2:05

Side two

  1. "Seasons" – 2:53 (Instrumental)
  2. "Power Flower" – 5:31
    • Lyrics by Michael Sembello.
  3. "Send One Your Love (Music)" – 3:05 (Instrumental)
  4. "Race Babbling" – 8:51

Side three

  1. "Send One Your Love" – 4:02
  2. "Outside My Window" – 5:29
  3. "Black Orchid" – 3:48
  4. "Ecclesiastes" – 3:44 (Instrumental)
  5. "Kesse Ye Lolo De Ye" – 3:00
  6. "Come Back as a Flower" – 3:23

Side four

  1. "A Seed's a Star/Tree Medley" – 5:41
    • Lyrics by Stevie Wonder and Stephanie Andrews.
  2. "The Secret Life of Plants" – 4:28
  3. "Tree" – 5:55 (Instrumental)
  4. "Finale" – 6:47 (Instrumental)

Personnel[edit]

  • Stevie Wonder – instruments, synthesizer, vocals
  • Syreeta Wright – vocals on "Come Back as a Flower"
  • Bill Wolfer,[29] Clark Spangler, Gordon Bahary – synthesizer, sequencer, programming
  • Ben Bridges, Michael Sembello, Rick Zunigar – guitar
  • Nathan Watts, Henry Franklin – bass
  • Ron Kersey – Fender Rhodes on "A Seed's a Star/Tree Medley"
  • Dennis Davis – electronic drums on "A Seed's a Star/Tree Medley"
  • Earl DeRouen – congas, bongos, backing vocals on "A Seed's a Star/Tree Medley"
  • Joe Johnson – bells on "A Seed's a Star/Tree Medley"
  • Ibrahim Camara – djembe, congas, bells, drums, vocals on "Kesse Ye Lolo De Ye"
  • Lamine Konté – kora, vocals on "Kesse Ye Lolo De Ye"
  • Josie James – vocals on "Race Babbling"
  • Táta Vega – vocals on "A Seed's a Star/Tree Medley"

Charts[edit]

Chart performance for Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"
Chart (1979) Peak
position
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[30] 24
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[31] 12
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[32] 33
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[33] 16
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[34] 8
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[35] 13
UK Albums (OCC)[36] 8
US Billboard 200[37] 4
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[38] 4

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[39] Gold 50,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[40] Gold 50,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[9] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[41] Gold 100,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Beta, Andy (August 4, 2019). "Stevie Wonder: Stevie Wonder: Stevie Wonder's Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  2. ^ "Stevie Wonder's Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1979)". 25 June 2015.
  3. ^ Allen, Zita (May 1980), "Stevie Wonder," Stereo Review, p. 59.
  4. ^ Ryan, Jack (2012), "Recollections, the Detroit Years: The Motown Sound by the People who Made it", Glendower Media, p. 202.
  5. ^ Vail, Mark (January 2014), "The Synthesizer: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Programming, Playing, and Recording the Ultimate Electronic Music Instrument", Oxford University Press, p. 72.
  6. ^ "Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants (1979, Tri-Fold, Vinyl)". Discogs. Retrieved 2022-03-15.
  7. ^ a b Gulla, Bob (2008). Icons of R & B and Soul: An Encyclopedia of the Artists who Revolutionized Rhythm, Volume 1. Greenwood Press. p. 323.
  8. ^ Wilder, Asa (January 6, 2014). "Stevie Wonder's Psychedelic Botanical Masterpiece". UMKC Special Collections. Retrieved 2022-03-15.
  9. ^ a b Sólo Éxitos 1959–2002 Año A Año: Certificados 1979–1990 (in Spanish). Iberautor Promociones Culturales. 2005. ISBN 8480486392. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  10. ^ Glass, Roger (December 15, 1979). "A musical journey with 'Little' Stevie Wonder". The Afro American. p. 11. Retrieved 2022-03-15.
  11. ^ Rockwell, John (December 4, 1979). "Pop: Stevie Wonder". The New York Times. p. C8. Retrieved 2022-03-15.
  12. ^ Himes, Geoffrey (December 5, 1979). "Wonder . . . Live". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2022-03-15.
  13. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants". allmusic.com. Allmusic.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: W". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 9, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  15. ^ Rolling Stone review
  16. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Christian David Hoard (2004-11-02). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition. Simon & Schuster. p. 885. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8.
  17. ^ Starr, Red. "Albums". Smash Hits (November 15–28, 1979): 31.
  18. ^ Yahoo! Music review
  19. ^ Rhoden, Bill (December 8, 1979). "With 'Secrets', Wonder has forged ahead". newspapers.com. Baltimore Sun. p. 15.
  20. ^ E. Aaron, Richard (November 16, 1979). "The Pop Life". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Gorlinski, Gini (December 20, 2009). The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 325. ISBN 9781615300068.
  22. ^ a b c Royster, Francesca T. (December 26, 2012). Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-Soul Era. University of Michigan Press. p. 67. ISBN 9780472028917.
  23. ^ Holden, Stephen (December 3, 1979), "The Last Flower Child", Village Voice, p. 53.
  24. ^ "Billboard Century Award: Q & A", Billboard, December 11, 2004, pp. 15–16.
  25. ^ Perone, James E. (2006). The Sound of Stevie Wonder. Praeger. p. 166. ISBN 9780275987237.
  26. ^ "CashBox Singles Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. February 23, 1980. p. 13. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  27. ^ "Solange Talks New Album when I Get Home: Collaborations, Inspirations, Production, More". Pitchfork. 3 March 2019.
  28. ^ "Kaina Built Her Own Community". MTV. 7 March 2022. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  29. ^ "Bill Wolfer | Credits". AllMusic.
  30. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992: 23 years of hit singles & albums from the top 100 charts. St Ives, N.S.W, Australia: Australian Chart Book. p. 342–343. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  31. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  32. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  33. ^ "Charts.nz – Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants". Hung Medien. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  34. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants". Hung Medien. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  35. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants". Hung Medien. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  36. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  37. ^ "Stevie Wonder Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  38. ^ "Stevie Wonder Chart History (Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums)". Billboard. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  39. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Stevie Wonder – The Secret Life of Plants". Music Canada. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  40. ^ "Dutch album certifications – Stevie Wonder – Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved April 16, 2019. Enter Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants" in the "Artiest of titel" box.
  41. ^ "British album certifications – Stevie Wonder – Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants"". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 14, 2022.

External links[edit]