Although he had released 16 studio albums prior to 1974, when Stevie Wonder came out with Fulfillingness’ First Finale on July 22, 1974, it was declared a landmark in his “classic period.” It won Grammy awards for Best Male Pop Vocal, Best Male Rhythm and Blues Performance, and most importantly, Album of the Year. Although most of the music is done by just Wonder himself, he did invite promiment guest musicians, such as Paul Anka, Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, and the Jackson 5. What many people don’t know is that Wonder got into a crash and fell into a coma soon after releasing his 1973 album Innversions. Finale is his take on his experiences and what he learned.
The album starts with the optimistic “Smile Please,” which lyrics in the style of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” In fact, many critics say a reason he was so popular was his ever-present optimism. Paul Anka is one of the background singers on “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” which is obviously about Wonder and his faith/spirituality. Despite the sparseness of the arrangement (there are only three instruments involved), the music will still keep the listener interested for the full 5 minutes. Sneaky Pete Kleinow adds his excellent steel pedal guitar work in “Too Shy To Say,” another bare song that still seems to soar with Wonder’s voice. The words do an excellent job of showing how bashful Wonder seems to be of his love. Thankfully, Wonder’s trademark harmonica comes back in the hit “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” which has a great blend between the electronic bassline and acoustic piano.
Minnie Riperton is the background singer for “Creepin,'” a light-hearted, soft rock tune that shows Wonder dreaming of love. The lyrics are just as whimsical as any of his classic love songs. Side Two opens with the political “You Haven’t Done Nothin,'” aimed directly at President Nixon. The Jackson 5 sing background vocals during the chorus in this heavy clavinet funk tune. Wonder now sings about the end of love in “It Ain’t No Use,” with Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, and Lani Groves backing him up.
The only song not written solely by Wonder is “They Won’t Go When I Go” as it was co-written by Yvonne Wright, but performed entirely by Stevie. Sergio Mendes provided Portuguese lyrics in “Bird of Beauty,” a song that deserves to be more popular. The album ends with “Please Don’t Go,” and it’s obvious Wonder is singing from the heart in this touching love song about broken love.