“Fulfilliness’ First Finale”, is a piece of art.
Featuring only 10 songs, with six of them ranking amongst Stevie Wonder’s absolute best, it’s my favorite album from what people call his, “genius,” period, and it features perhaps the first song to move me to tears in my adult life.
The album came into my life partially by chance. I bought it in a second-hand record store, owned by the father of a woman who I worked on my high school newspaper with.
Shortly before I was set to head back to college for my senior year, I’d decided that I was going to make the deep dive into Stevie’s music. FFF (as it will be referred to, from here on out) was one of maybe five or six albums they had in the store. I had a little bit of cash on me in the moment, but not a lot. I wasn’t ready to put down 30 bucks on, “Songs in the Key of Life”, and, “Hotter than July”, marked the start of Stevie’s, “commercial period”, in the mind of music snobs, so I picked up FFF.
I can’t remember the first time I listened to it, but I can remember the first time I fell in love with it.
It was sometime during the fall of that year— a particularly rough patch of my college experience.
Up until the previous spring, I thought of myself as someone who had a strong-ish relationship with God. I prayed every night, and tried to abide by the more basic tenements of Christianity, (love thy neighbor, do unto others… etc.)
To be clear, I thought the idea of church was very silly, (8 years of Catholic school song practice on Friday morning will do that to you) but yes… I thought God was a solid part of my life.
Due to a really rough winter and spring, my faith in all of that kind of evaporated. I came to scoff at the idea of a larger power.
In any case, I was in my apartment one night, trying to draw.
Unfortunately, I’d very much fallen out of love with that part of my artistic expression. Focusing almost exclusively on graphic design that semester, I felt starved, and I yearned to find joy in even just doodling again.
The night had not been going well, and then, “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” came on.
I began to cry.
On top of being a beautiful piece of music, and perhaps, the standout song on that album, it spoke to something that just really overwhelmed me. It’s a sorrowful piece of music in places, speaking of racism’s evils, but it also speaks to Stevie Wonder’s faith.
In that moment, it allowed me both grace, and confidence.
Also, it took 10 years, but I’m thankful to say that prayer made its way back into my life, late last year. While 2020 has certainly challenged anyone whose life includes prayer, I do believe in a higher power– something beyond human comprehension.
Likely, that higher power is something intangible, not necessarily a, “being”, as we understand the word, but I do believe in a greater energy and trajectory than we’re able to perceive as humans.
In any case, I got stuck on that song for a very long time, but I came to realize that the rest of the album is just as great, with a few particular standouts.
The first would be the album’s opener, “Smile Please.”
It’s an inviting piece of music, one that excludes warmth, and is likely, the sonic equivalent of the world’s most genuine smile— fitting considering the song’s title.
It’s a wonderful way to start things off.
“Too Shy to say”, comes up third, and it’s notable for a synthesizer melody that’s simultaneously both timid, and arresting.
While not exactly at the forefront of the mix, its ethereal and earnest. You WANT it to be higher up in the mix, but its beauty lies in its understatement. I don’t want to make it sound as though Stevie Wonder exclusively traffics in the literal, because he’s much more sophisticated than that, but the synthesizer is a perfect compliment to the song’s lyrics and theme. It’s too shy to get louder, so you have to pay attention in certain instances, to hear the love.
“Boogie on Reggae Woman”, follows, and kicks things into gear with one of the most raucous synth bass parts I’ve ever heard.
I’m sure any number of people have blown their speakers out playing it VERY loudly.
As an aside, I don’t think Stevie ever really got enough credit for this kind of thing, because he’s pulled at least a FEW of his basslines, straight out of the gutter.
In any case, “Boogie on Reggae Woman”, features a top-notch groove, and a playful harmonica solo that speaks very directly to Stevie’s joy. It’s probably the most well-known song on the album, and also, the most accessible.
The next show-stopper arrives with, “They Won’t go When I go.”
A song that Alicia Keys counts amongst her favorites, it’s a haunting, outrageously powerful piece of music. Stevie’s vocal performance here is of particular note, as he throws his voice around like a rag doll, popping octaves, and making his vocal chords quiver in a startling, humbling way.
It’s certainly, the most down-beat song on the album, but it’s also a sonic-masterclass that is rewarded by repeated listens.
The last showstopper on the album arrives in the form of the closer, “Please Don’t Go.”
A plea, and a profession of love, it’s a forceful performance that features some of Stevie’s most impassioned piano playing, closing out the album, just as strong as it began.
I’ve been listening to FFF for over 10 years now, and it only delights me more and more, as time goes on. Truly one for the ages, and just as enjoyable on a Sunday morning, as it is on Tuesday night, I can’t recommend it highly enough.