Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder’s transcendent double album, was released on this day in 1976. Generally regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, Songs in the Key of Life almost didn’t happen. In 1974, Wonder planned to retire from recording and emigrate to Ghana; plans were made for a farewell concert. But Wonder had a change of heart and re-signed with Motown in August 1975 (his contract was for seven albums, seven years and $37 million – a record at the time – and gave Wonder complete creative control). Anticipation was high for the album, and Wonder more than delivered; Songs in the Key of Life was a critical and commercial smash. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Album Chart, and stayed there for thirteen consecutive weeks (it was dethroned by Hotel California on January 15, 1977). It was the second best-selling album of 1977 behind Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. It earned Wonder his third Album of the Year Grammy in four years (Paul Simon, accepting the award for 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years, jokingly thanked Wonder for not releasing an album that year). Prince called it the best album ever made. It is, in short, a masterpiece.
The upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson movie has a brand new trailer. Licorice Pizza (which takes its name from a now-defunct L.A.-area record store chain) stars Cooper Hoffman (offspring of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) and musician Alana Haim, and returns PTA to the San Fernando Valley of his youth. The trailer, set to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”, is spectacular; I simply could not be more excited for the release of this film, which will apparently premiere only in theaters.
Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” was released on this day in 1981. It went on to become the top selling single of the DECADE. As a result of the cheesetastic video (it’s about exercise, wink wink), leg warmers and headbands became fashion staples.
Actor JT Walsh was born on this day in 1943. One of the greatest character actors of the 80s and 90s, Walsh got his start in theater and appeared in the original Broadway cast of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross. Walsh didn’t appear in a feature film until 1983, the year he turned forty; he made more than fifty movies in less than fifteen years. Walsh, a heavy smoker, died of a heart attack on February 27, 1998; he was just fifty-four years old.
Legendary R&B singer-songwriter Ben E. King was born on this day in 1938. King, a member of the vocal group The Drifters (“Save the Last Dance for Me”), is best known as the singer and co-writer of “Stand By Me”. The song, inspired by an early 20th-century gospel hymn (which itself was inspired by the Book of Psalms), was a top ten hit in both 1961 and 1986, when it was featured in the film of the same name. King died in 2015 at the age of 76, following a brief illness.