Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"You Haven't Done Nothin'" - Stevie Wonder


Over the course of four classic albums in the early and mid-1970s (Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life), Stevie Wonder was simply the king of popular music -- to the point that Paul Simon, accepting his Grammy for album of the year in 1976, reserved his final thanks for Stevie, "for not releasing an album last year." We can refer to this broadly as Stevie's "Pre-I-Just-Called-to-Say-I-Love-You Period," and it's refreshing to remember the funk and snarl that he possessed in the prime of his fecund genius.

Political Stevie was never more vocal and engaged than on "You Haven't Done Nothin'", from Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974). Working with his crack band Wonderlove, and featuring the fabled Jackson 5 on backing vocals, Stevie launched a personal yet universal barrage against US President Richard Nixon for his manifest failure to arrest social decay in America, especially black America. (The song was issued just as Nixon was falling from power in the climax of the Watergate scandal.)

These are some of the great social-protest lyrics of the seventies, and virtually the whole song (minus or substituting the Jackson 5 shoutouts) merits singing as a progressive anthem. (Or cut it after the eminently kid-friendly interlude of "Do da walk - co co co - Do da walk - naw naw naw - Do da walk - bum bum bum.") Lacking the Nixon-specific language of CSN&Y's "Ohio", but sharing its sense of raw outrage, it seems an excellent choice for protests aimed at calling politicians to account for their broken promises and their disengagement from popular/progressive concerns. In other words, when we pressure leaders to not just talk the talk, but "Do da walk":

We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you'll do
Though much concerned but not involved
With decisions that are made by you.

But we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
You haven't done nothing!

It's not too cool to be ridiculed 
But you brought this upon yourself
The world is tired of pacifiers
We want the truth and nothing else.

And we are sick and tired of hearing your song
Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
You haven't done nothing!


Jackson 5 join along with me say
Do da walk - hey hey hey
Do da walk - wow wow wow 
Do da walk - co co co 
Do da walk - naw naw naw
Do da walk - bum bum bum 
Do da walk

We would not care to wake up to the nightmare
That's becoming real life
But when mislead who knows a person's mind
Can turn as cold as ice un hum

Why do you keep on making us hear your song
Telling us how you are changing right from wrong
'Cause if you really want to hear our views
You haven't done nothing!

Here's the original version of "You Haven't Done Nothin'," from Innervisions:


A fine live version from the Grammy Awards (1975), with lots of rich and well-dressed people clapping, which kind of undermines the point. And I wish that guy at the beginning would shut up. But once Stevie takes over ...


Other Resources

Song available on Stevie Wonder, Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974), track 6.


Wikipedia page for "You Haven't Done Nothin'."

1 comment:

  1. Nice place. Glad I stumbled onto it. I'm gonna somehow work on getting my students aware and 'thinking' on some of these Marvin's What's Going On?, Beautiful (Christina) and Mosh (M) should be added to the "IN THE WORKS" list.

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