Stevie Wonder was a welcome chart presence throughout the ’60s and ’70s, releasing singles that tempered the balance between pop and soul without forsaking either. His best songs became instant classics, but even the minor singles display his able musicianship and joie de vivre. But if the first Stevie Wonder record you heard was “Fingertips Pt. 2,” I’m not sure you could foresee his role as one of the great American songwriters.
“Fingertips” (the first part) was composed to show off the 12-year-old prodigy’s skills on harmonica and bongos. The instrumental isn’t particularly catchy (at least in terms of the Hot 100), but Wonder’s already an electric showman. The audience loves him and he’s soaking it up, exhorting them to “stomp your feet, jump up and down, do anything you want to do!” Wonder spends the next few minutes applying his musical talents to the song at hand. By the halfway mark, though, Wonder’s abandoned the already-loose structure of the song in favor of a freeform jam and lots more shouting. “Everybody say yeah!” he cries. “Clap your hands just a little bit louder!” Surely this interplay with the audience was thrilling live. But on cold vinyl (or mp3), all that stands out are two minutes of goodbyes and a couple measures of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” played on harmonica. And yet, it was this second part of the recording that hit number one. That the “personality half” of the record triumphed over the “musical half” suggests that “Fingertips Pt. 2” succeeded strictly because of the nation’s fascination with Wonder, whether as a novelty or as a genuine new talent. But much like a live bootleg, “Fingertips Pt. 2” plays more like a tour souvenir – or an attempt to touch the hem of nascent pop nobility – than a record that demands repeat listens. 5
- I acknowledge in advance that my judgment is far from popular. Rest assured this is likely the lowest grade Wonder will see from me till, oh, the ’80s.
Hit #1 on August 10, 1963; total of 3 weeks at #1
96 of 977 #1’s reviewed; 9.83% through the Hot 100