Stevie Wonder ended the calendar year of 1973 as he’d begun it: on top of the US R&B singles chart. In January, ‘Superstition’ spent three weeks at the top, then ‘Higher Ground’ served a week in September. On the final Billboard chart of the year, for December 29, he closed out 1973 in style, as ‘Living For The City’ reached No. 1.
Those two last-named Motown singles helped to make ‘Innervisions’ another landmark Stevie Wonder album. While ‘Higher Ground’ had a spiritual theme, ‘Living For The City’ was a gritty street tale that spoke of the urban reality for many downtrodden black people of the day, who saw Stevie as a spokesman for their generation just as they did his labelmate Marvin Gaye.
Every instrument you hear on the track was played by Stevie himself, brilliantly abetted by the studio wizardry of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. British jazz man Cecil — often undervalued in his own country for his key role in Wonder’s superb sequence of 1970s albums — joined forces with New Yorker Margouleff to work with Stevie, from 1972’s ‘Music Of My Mind’ album onwards. They proved to be the perfect foil for his inarguable genius, in the sequence of groundbreaking albums that also included ‘Talking Book,’ ‘Innervisions’ itself and ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale.’
The story of a poor black boy from “hardtime Mississippi” — who goes to New York and experiences racism, pollution, corruption and imprisonment — rang all too true. The song reached the top in its eighth week on the R&B chart, and it was a pop No. 8 and a top 20 single in both the UK and Germany.