One of the greatest writers and performers that American music ever produced, Stevie Wonder has had a stunningly vital career. Beating the Beatles to the punch, he first topped the U.S. pop charts in 1963 with the live instrumental “Fingertips Pt. 1 & 2,” recorded when he was 12. He was a giant of the Motown era until his vision and ambition outgrew it, expanding the borders of r&b, soul, funk, rock, and pop while steadily producing hits. And he just recently turned up in a spotlit cameo on one of 2018’s best LPs, Dirty Computer, by Janelle Monáe, one of his many acolytes.
Wonder’s output over a half-century has been copious and, in the decades since his ridiculously brilliant 1970s run, uneven. So here’s our cheat sheet to the man’s best, near-best, and otherwise notable. It’s a yardstick few artists can hope to measure up to. But we all need something to aspire to.