I love this time of year. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and the whole season between now and the end of the year seems magical to me. My original plan was to feature “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers in today’s column in celebration of the day. Then the news came down from Ferguson on Monday night and suddenly “Oh Happy Day,” although a mighty and uplifting song, didn’t seem quite right.
Let’s face it, it’s been a lousy year. War continues, the economy is said to be getting better, but you wouldn’t know it if you lived in Rhode Island as I do. The nation is more divided than at any time I can remember, and I lived through the ’60s. No matter which side you come down on regarding the grand jury’s failure to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown, you have to be disturbed by the acrimony that passes for public debate in this country.
As I sat there watching the scenes from Ferguson on Monday night I was frustrated. I wanted to do something, but I had no idea what I could do. A lot of other people probably felt the same frustration. Then it dawned on me that I’m a writer, and what I could do is write. Not only that, but as a music writer I could write about music, not just any music, but music that seeks to bring love into the world, and in doing so, change it. And if you don’t think that music can change the world, think again.
I thought long and hard about the appropriate song. For the last couple of months Stevie Wonder has been in the news a lot as a result of his current tour on which he is performing his classic album Songs in the Key of Life in its entirety. Everywhere you look there have been rave reviews of the show. If you’ve been fortunate enough to go, you’re probably still buzzed by what you saw and heard. If not, you’re probably kicking yourself for missing it, as I am.
Once I focused on Songs in the Key of Life it was a no-brainer. Although the album is filled with great songs, there is one that has always been my favorite, and its sentiments seem to be perfectly appropriate for the message that I want to convey on this Thanksgiving Day.
Songs in the Key of Life was released in September, 1976. It was Stevie’s 18th album, and it was the peak of his career, a natural progression from everything that had come before. The album was a huge hit, and beyond its appeal to music fans the Library of Congress added Songs in the Key of Life to its National Recording Registry, which recognizes work of cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance. It was, and is, all of those things.
The song that Stevie chose to open his masterwork, to serve as his introduction to what was to come, was “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” It was the start of the show as surely as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was, a declaration of intent. Stevie takes on the persona of a radio DJ, decrying the state that the world is in:
Good morn or evening friends
Here’s your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on to every-body
What I’m about to say
Could mean the world’s disaster
Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain
Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? But Stevie has a solution that he wants to share with his audience, and his message is simply this — love.
Love’s in need of love today
Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it’s gone too far
We’ve all heard it said so many times by now that it just goes unheard most of the time. But the reason that cliches become cliches is that they speak to a certain universal truth. In this case that truth is that love can save us. Love is all we need. Love, love, love. Many people think that a world in which we are all one, in which (as Marvin Gaye said) war is not the answer, and only love can conquer hate, is beyond our reach now. I consider myself a cynic, but I’m not ready to give up on love just yet because, as Bob Dylan once said in an interview, “love conquers all, I suppose.”
I wish you and those you love a very Happy Thanksgiving. Despite the too often dire news, we have much to be thankful for.