Where I’m Coming From is the big turning point in Stevie Wonder’s career. Released in 1971, shortly before his 21st birthday and around the time his original Motown contract expired, it was the first album under Wonder’s new deal in which Berry Gordy reluctantly gave the R&B superstar total artistic control of his work.
When the record stiffed Gordy, who did not like it, began to have second thoughts about allowing Wonder to go off totally on his own. However, beginning with 1972′s Music of My Mind through 1980′s Hotter Than July this magnificent musician proved Gordy wrong by becoming one of the most creative, relevant, and popular artists of the ’70s.
The nine-song album is as diverse as anything Wonder ever recorded even if doesn’t quite reach the heights of Innervisions, Talking Book, and one of the greatest albums in the history of pop music, his gigantic, 21-song Songs In The Key Of Life.
Where I’m Coming From’s dark opening track, “Look Around,” instantly shows that Wonder no longer intends to be part of the Detroit hit factory. He proves this with lines like “Look around and you’ll see ruins of the human history. Look around and you’ll see time is only floating in your mind.” Obviously, this wasn’t your big brother’s Motown.
Complete with clavinet, “Do Yourself A Favor” is one of Wonder’s typical funky tracks that carry a social message. It’s not quite as effective as some of the similar and higher powered classics he would record later, but it’s a good beginning. “Something Out Of The Blue” and “Think Of Me As Your Soldier” are typical Wonder ballads that prove he has always been one of the best writers of love songs of any era and any genre. “If You Really Love Me” went into the Top 10 on the singles charts.
Side two opens with “I Wanna Talk To You, a conversation between an old white man and a young black man who he sees walking down the street. Never one to be depressed despite his justified social concerns, Wonder tells us to “Take Up A Course In Happiness” with an upbeat arrangement that fits the message. Next is one of Wonder’s stunners, the emotional breakup song “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” later covered by Joan Baez and Three Dog Night.
The album, which was composed with Syreeta Wright (Wonder’s wife at the time), closes with a look into the future where the keyboard player envisions a better life for America’s children. He sings that he can’t wait to see the “Sunshine In Their Eyes.”
The young genius had almost a decade of recording under his belt when he released this album and, while a decent greatest hits package is all that is needed prior to this record, it’s the first of his essential works. The album cover featured a mobile you could make out of Wonder’s last name. All you had to do was punch out the letters and hang them on a string — something I never did, so thankfully my LP is still in pristine condition.