World’s Worst Songs: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder
We love us some Stevie Wonder around here. From his hits off the Motown production line in the 60s to his groundbreaking solo work in the 70s, writing and playing every last note, he deserves not just a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but a statue out front. But even an artist as accomplished as Stevie Wonder is not incapable of recording one of the World’s Worst Songs.
Consider “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” written for the soundtrack of The Woman in Red. It’s the perfect bit of inconsequential fluff for a movie that never ranked above #5 at the box office in any week of its release and grossed but $25 million. It should have disappeared without a trace along with the movie. But it didn’t. Stevie (who produced all of the music heard in the film) had been off the radio for two years in the fall of 1984 and the song became a smash, hitting #1 for three weeks in the States and six in the UK (Stevie’s only #1 single in the UK, astoundingly), and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
“I Just Called to Say I Love You” claimed all of these honors despite having a lyric with the depth of a greeting card, a melody like a nursery rhyme, and keyboards that sound like one of those Casio units people used to buy for their kids, the kind with a dozen keys and a couple of automatic rhythm tracks. There’s a particularly egregious extended version of it, which incorporates some modest mid-80s electronic effects that make it sound even more primitive than it already does.
One good thing about it: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” inspired a classic Jack Black scene in the movie High Fidelity, in which his character refuses to sell it to a customer because “it’s sentimental tacky crap, that’s why not.” Sounds about right, yeah.