Steveland Morris was signed to Motown Records in 1961 and released his first hit record, "Fingertips," two years later at age 12. In 1965 came Little Stevie Wonder's worldwide hit "Uptight (Everythings Alright)," the first in a years-long string of top 40 smashes. When his contract ended in 1971, he balked at immediately resigning with Motown. Instead, he recorded two albums on his own, largely solitary efforts in which he played every instrument. Upon rejoining Motown, he delivered a series of mostly brilliant albums, culminating with "Conversation Peace" in 1995. Since then, Wonder's global fan base has anxiously awaited the next studio album as he recorded scores of songs and successive Motown CEOs staked their careers in part on delivering the record. NEWSWEEK'S Johnnie L. Roberts talked to Wonder recently about the travails of producing his first studio album in a decade:
Stevie Wonder: The reason they haven't gotten it is, I'm not ready to give it to them. Certain [release] dates been set and changed. That's because I decided to do a couple extra songs that I wasn't going to do. If it were possible, I would have done a double CD. It's just a matter of me deciding what I'm saying and the statement I want to make with "A Time to Love." Obviously, things are a little different now than when I was working on "Songs in the Key of Life" [Wonder's 1976 double album], and I had one child about to be born. Now that I have seven children, there are different things that take the time. The good thing about having the family and more children is there's cause for even more to write about and sing about. However long it will take, I'm giving the very best I can. I have a vision, and I won't settle for less ... Probably the most important thing is if I've been working on songs for 10 years, what's a couple more months?
I can understand that. But as much as it may cause frustration, hopefully the consequences will be they are going to be happier with the album they will get than the one they might have got sooner. If I had given the album two years ago, I wouldn't have had my daughter singing on it. When it feels right is when I do it. I can only apologize in that I did say it was going to be out on this or that date. I'm not going to say anything [more about a release date.] But the moment it comes out I want them to make it No. 1.
I like Sylvia's heart. We have developed good communications. She's a little frustrated, and maybe there's pressure she's facing. I understand all that. Obviously, they would have liked to have had it yesterday. And I probably would liked to have had it day before yesterday. But I wouldn't give less than God wanted me to give. I've had a chance to talk with her, and explain to her where I'm coming from and sharing with her that I understand dates and time far more than anyone on this planet. I just say that we have an issue where things are happening on time or in time. I say that in time God will give me what I need to do the album on time. In a perfect world, it would have been great to have the album and single ["So What the Fuss"] out at the same time. I've said Sylvia that when I'm done, I will bring it to them, and they can have a press conference with me giving it to them.
Again, this is my craft, my art form. My feeling is that is my statement, my expression. Other artists--I have nothing to do with that. It's my life I'm giving.
There was a desire [by the record company] to put out the second single. From the very beginning, they wanted "From the Bottom of My Heart" as the first single. But I didn't want to do what one would typically expect. And I don't regret it. I'm excited that the response to "So What the Fuss" has been interesting. I would never limit what God has given me to one particular thing. For artists and songwriters, it's a challenge to do different things.