WHEN PAUL SIMON ACCEPTED HIS album of the year Grammy Award for Still Crazy After All These Years in February 1976, he thanked Stevie Wonder, “who didn’t make an album this year.” It was an admiring wink at the Saginaw, Mich.-born musical prodigy who had taken the prize in 1974 and 1975 – for, respectively, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale – and proved prescient when Wonder, then 26, won again in 1977 for Songs in the Key of Life.
The landmark double album’s lead single, “I Wish,” a funky, ebullient reminiscence of growing up – “Why did those days ever have to go/’Cause I love them so,” Wonder sings in the chorus – topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (then called Hot Soul Singles) for five weeks beginning Jan. 15, 1977, and, a week later (Jan. 22), hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “We were going to write some really crazy words for ‘I Wish,’ ” Wonder told Musician magazine in a subsequent interview, but they stuck to a more direct approach because, he said, “the music was too much fun.”
Songs in the Key of Life was only the third LP to debut atop the Billboard 200. It spent 14 weeks there and remains an influential contribution to the pop canon. In November 2014, Wonder performed the entire album live on a 43-date tour.
Although recent media coverage of the artist and father of nine has focused on his divorce from his second wife, Kai Millard Morris, Wonder’s musical legacy continues to make headlines: He is tied with Aretha Franklin for the most No. 1 titles on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (20) and has performed at the Grammy Awards more than any other artist: 13 times.
A version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of Billboard magazine.