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"Living for the City"
Single by Stevie Wonder
from the album Innervisions
B-side "Visions"
Released November 1973
Format 7" 45 RPM
Genre Soul
Length 7:21 (full-length version) 3:41 (single edit)
Label Tamla
Writer(s) Stevie Wonder
Producer Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder singles chronology
"Higher Ground"
(1973)
"Living for the City"
(1973)
"Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing"
(1973)
Innervisions track listing
Side One
  1. "Too High"
  2. "Visions"
  3. "Living for the City"
  4. "Golden Lady"
Side Two
  1. "Higher Ground"
  2. "Jesus Children of America"
  3. "All in Love Is Fair"
  4. "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing"
  5. "He's Misstra Know It All"

"Living for the City" is a 1973 hit single by Stevie Wonder for the Tamla (Motown) label, from his Innervisions album. Reaching #8 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and #1 on the R&B chart,[1] the record is driven by a slow bass synth groove (provided by the enormous TONTO modular synthesiser) that manages to exude a certain amount of tension, an appropriate soundscape for the angry social commentary of the song. Rolling Stone ranked the song #104 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Contents

The song

The song begins with Wonder describing the life of a boy born in "hard time Mississippi". His family is poor, but his parents work hard and encourage him, in spite of the dreadful conditions they live in, which include lack of food and money, and racism. As the track progresses, the tension and anger build in Wonder's voice, matching the growing frustrations of the subjects in the song.

A spoken interlude midway through the song has the young boy, now a young man, arriving in New York City for a new beginning. He is tricked into transporting drugs, arrested and sentenced to 10 years in jail. The tension in Wonder's voice boils over at this point into an angry growl, but then subsides again as he ends the song on a positive note. In commercial radio airplay, the spoken dialog is usually edited out, possibly because the word "nigger" is used as he is thrown into a jail cell. Also, the last two verses, following this scenario, are omitted as well. The song ends, during the wordless instrumental break, leaving the listener, hanging, on which note is the song going to end on.

The spoken interlude can be seen as an electro-acoustic experiment, exploring the composer's main sensory input. Stevie Wonder's growling voice reveals the inner rage that has been building throughout the song. "Living for the City" still holds a substantial edge in social commentary.

Chart performance

Chart Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Pop Singles 8
U.S. Billboard Black Singles 1
U.K. 15

Covers

References

  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 635. 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003, (Record Research Inc.), page 253.
Preceded by
"If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)" by The Staple Singers
Billboard's Hot Soul Singles number one single
December 29, 1973 - January 5, 1974
Succeeded by
"Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" by Aretha Franklin







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