Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Love's in Need of Love Today" - Stevie Wonder

The first words are "Good morn," but they might as well be "Good mourn." This is one of Stevie Wonder's most mournful, slow-building, and hypnotic tunes, beginning with dirgey a cappella choral riffs, and continuing through Stevie's lovelorn lament for a world possessed by hate.

The leadoff cut for Stevie's monumental musical feast, the double-album-plus Songs in the Key of Life (1976), "Love's in Need of Love Today" seems to last forever. It's actually only a little over seven minutes long. But while the opening bars, and the excursions in the latter half of the song, offer clues as to how vocal jams and improvisations might be crafted, the heart of the lyrics and melody is fairly compact:

Good morn or evening friends 
Here's your friendly announcer 
I have serious news to pass on to everybody 
What I'm about to say 
Could mean the world's disaster 
Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain 

It's that 
Love's in need of love today 
Don't delay 
Send yours in right away 
Hate's goin' round 
Breaking many hearts 
Stop it please 
Before it's gone too far 

The force of evil plans 
To make you its possession 
And it will if we let it 
Destroy everybody 
We all must take 
Precautionary measures 
If love and please you treasure 
Then you'll hear me when I say 

Oh that 
Love's in need of love today 
love's in need of love today 
Don't delay 
don't delay 
Send yours in right away ...

It's a great all-purpose anthem, uplifting but cautionary, urgent but reflective. Basically, it's made for any evening scene illuminated by candlelight. But it would also be a motivating first-thing-in-the-morning tune for sleepy activists: "Love's in need of love today / Don't delay ...", now brush your teeth and go out and fix things.

Here's Stevie's original version of "Love's in Need ..." from Songs in the Key of Life, released in September 1976 and entrenched ever since among my desert-island records:

Criticized by some as too rambling and diffuse when it first appeared -- a mere stepping-stone en route to buoyant Songs in the Key of Life classics like "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" -- "Love's in Need of Love Today" has aged exceedingly well. It was assisted, and its anthemic potential confirmed, by George Michael's decision to adopt the song as a concert showpiece -- perhaps most memorably at the 1987 Stand By Me AIDS benefit, later released as a B-side on the "Father Figure" 12-inch single:

The connection now forged with the cause of AIDS sufferers, through Michael's renditions of "Love's in Need ..." at this and subsequent benefits, would likely influence its deployment as a progressive anthem as well.

Other Resources

Song available on Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life (1976), Track 1.

Full lyrics here.

A live version by Stevie.

Stevie and George Michael duet on the tune!

Kudos to the great bassist Nathan Watts, who does sublime work here and elsewhere on Songs in the Key of Life.

"'Love's in Need of Love Today': A Song For the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11", by David Wild.

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