Stevie Wonder’s legendary songbook started when he was a young man. How a semi-improvised live recording became his first, and least likely, No. 1 hit.
Listen to Episode 22 of Slate’s Hit Parade:
When you think of Stevie Wonder’s legendary career, what chart-toppers come to mind? “Superstition,” right? Maybe “I Wish”? OK, but what about the start of his career, on the Motown of the 1960s? You may not know that Wonder had only one Hot 100 No. 1 in his first decade—as “Little” Stevie Wonder—and it was truly exceptional, as in bizarre: a semi-improvised live recording of a “12-Year-Old Genius” refusing to leave a Chicago stage and say goodnight. Here’s the story of “Fingertips, Part 2,” and the years that launched a true pop icon. Wonder’s imperial run of classic, chart-topping, Grammy-dominating ’70s albums had its seeds in the joyous virtuosity—and fierce independence—on display in his very first hit.