‘I Wish’ by Stevie Wonder, is a single featuring on the famous ‘Songs in the key of life’ album, released in November 1976. The seventies was a turbulent decade for America, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Junior, and also Robert F. Kennedy, still fresh in people’s minds.
R&B, Soul and Funk among other genres, became popular at this time, perhaps heralding a happier time, what with a more upbeat trend that had derived from the Blues. Yes, the American Civil Rights Movement had finished at the end of the 1960’s, but I think it is fair to say that some of the music that was popular in the 70’s represented the music from the movement. People desired motivational music to help them through Marches – a common form of non-violent protest, wherein participants would March a long distance whilst chanting and holding up signs to inform onlookers what they were protesting – and also to help them psychologically through the abuse they were receiving. African-Americans at the time were subject to a lot of prejudices, segregation and much more. As such, it is easy to see how music branched off from the previous melancholy tones of the Blues, and became Soul and Funk, more uplifting in nature, and conveying a sense of optimism, rather than focusing upon the negatives.
‘I Wish’s’ infectious danceable rhythm certainly reflects a happier time, and suggests a unity between people with its lyrical theme. Arguably, the lyrics desire to return to childhood, a ‘simpler’ time. This does not subsequently imply that life was easier for African-Americans in the past, but rather that they were young and thus blissfully unaware of the struggles they would later encounter, something, which again, cam be understood by all.
Wonder, at the time, was signed with Motown, an increasingly popular music label that represented Black musicians such as the Jacksons and Diana Ross. Despite receiving a lot of positive reviews regarding the company creating commercial music that still felt ‘authentic,’ many artists eventually left the label, due to feeling that they had limited creative control with the music they were helping to make. For example, a young Michael Jackson left the label, in part down to having all of his creative offerings rejected for his ‘Off the Wall’ album. Subsequently, he wrote most of the music on his next album ‘Thriller,’ which is still to this day, one of the best selling albums of all time.
‘I Wish’ has a wonderfully nostalgic feel to it, largely down to the lyrical theme, that I previously mentioned, of childhood. For example, the chorus states, ‘I wish those days, could come back once more, why did those days, ever have to go?’ The verses of the song detailed more specific events that occurred in Wonder’s own childhood, making the song much more personal and thus, undeniably more authentic; ‘Sneaking out the backyard, to hang out with those hoodlum friends of mine, greeted at the backyard, with, “boy I thought I told ya not to go outside.’