woman in red

World’s Worst Songs: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder

In 1984, fashion model Kelly LeBrock launched her film career in the Gene Wilder-directed “The Woman in Red,” with music 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.

  • http://twitter.com/GayAtheistLH GayAtheistLeftHanded

    No New Year’s Day?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kingofgrief Jeffrey Thames

    I don’t expect to convert anyone, but I still dig “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. It’s no “Creepin'” or [your favorite cut from Innervisions here], but it’s unmistakably Stevie: who else would work a reference to the “Libra sun” in a seasonal litany?

    I’m assuming you’re not that fond of “Calendar Girl”, either,

  • Charlie Honold

    Jim, I recall that back in the early 90s one of the consultants telling me that “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was one of the highest testing songs on the adult standards satellite format out of Valencia…so moms and dads and grandma and grandpa all thought it was swell and fit just great with Perry Como and the Carpenters! Hmmm…

  • spoinny

    that extended mix really kept ‘em all on the floor back in the day. NOT!

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/ Pico

    Stevie jumped the shark with this tune. He still had a few good songs left under his belt, but he was never the same after this mind-numbingly, insipid Casio moment. Good call as usual, J.A.

  • Laughing

    You offend me with your incompetence. “nursery rhyme, and keyboards that sound like one of those Casio unit” means absolutely nothing. If you can’t understand the beauty of this song don’t make it a subject of your article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=755680065 Phil Shoore

    I banned this song and “The Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh at my wedding. Terrible! I’m wondering my this list of worst songs is missing Party all the Time by Eddie Murphy and We Built This City by Starship?

  • prakash

    what bullshit have u written man? r u out of ur mind? are you high on something? its the ****ing best song ever, period.