What does that song mean?

I Just Called To Say Stevie Wonder's Song Deserved a Better Movie

Posted Jan 29th 2023, 03:23 by Penguin Pete

1984 was a banner year in my #GenX childhood, that much I remember. For one thing, I insisted on obtaining the 1984 commemorative edition of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the one with the forward by Walter Cronkite and afterward by Eric Fromm. This was a break from my usual paperback diet at the time; I might have been plowing through any of the sci-fi authors on my usual beat, but interrupted that just for the surreal thrill of reading a novel written about my current year. Whatever my pursuits happily tunneling through used book stores at that point, I missed seeing The Woman in Red (1984) when it first hit theaters.

It was just as well; the year 1984 was jam-crammed with blockbuster media events that demanded one's attention at the movie theater already. Star Trek III, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and more were on my must-see list, and the books on my must-read list outnumbered the movies ten to one.

"I Just Called To Say I Love You" - Stevie Wonder

But one thing I could not miss was the sound of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You" coming out of every sound-producing gizmo I encountered, from top-40 radio and TV trailers. The single dropped August 1st that year, and it made for a beautiful summer perfumed with blossoms and romance. The whole world stopped and took a deep whiff of Stevie, interrupting the hamster-wheel cycle of busy '80s life like an intermission. The lyrics are beautiful and poetic, the groove is funky enough to get anyone to sing along, and the studio production even gave Prince a run for his money.

Needless to say, the single topped a record 19 charts. It actually remains Wonder's biggest hit,

And then we heard the song won an Academy and Golden Globe award, and asked what film it was in. Oh, didn't you hear?


Gene Wilder Made a Movie…

Don't get me wrong! The Woman in Red deserves re-appraisal now. It's not a bad movie, just a misguided one. First off, movie critics over-analyzing this work usually don't mention that this was one of Wilder's few times writing and directing as well as playing the lead. Wilder had luck overseeing The World's Greatest Lover (1977), but otherwise fell flat with these efforts. Second off, everybody forgets that this was an adaptation of the French sex comedy film Pardon Mon Affaire (1976). Can you see where this is going already? Writer/actor/director auteurs like Wilder tend to go big or go home, which is how you get both brilliant timely masterpieces and misfires like TWIR.

As an aside, critics tended to be hard on Gilda Radner's blink-and-you'll-miss-it part in the film, saying she looked terrible and didn't do much when she should have been in the lead. That hits harsh when you look back on her now-known eating disorders and the fact that cancer ultimately took her life. The latter being a disease which she was just then trying to get diagnosed for in the mid-80s. Wilder clearly prefered Radner for the lead, and my God what sparks could have flown, but she was not up to working that many shoots. The few scenes she's in steal the show.

Still, you can file Wilder's misbegotten film in the "every true artist lays at least one foul egg" category. European-style sex-slapstick comedies are a tough taste to acquire, even for the French.

BUT! Now that you see it as an attempt to adapt a swingin'-70s French sex comedy and sell it to conservative 1984 American audiences, you can watch it for the light-hearted, cartoonish, slapstick affair that it is. Look over Wilder's career; he did have a hopeless romantic streak for old cinema, shared with Mel Brooks. He built a huge chunk of his career on this, and sometimes the stakes didn't pay off.

Meanwhile back in music land:

"I Just Called To Say I Loved You" Is Stevie's Wonder's Best-selling Single

In a career with no shortage of hits - a page and a half in the Billboard Top40 book - this was his widest-selling single worldwide.

The soundtrack to The Lady in Red was writing its own history. It's almost exclusively a collaboration between Wonder and Dionne Warwick. Warwick was actually the only one doing the soundtrack to start with, but Wonder was brought in at her request. "I Just Called To Say I Love You" was a world-wide chart-smashing hit. Wonder managed to bring the distinct Motown sound that was his hallmark into the mid-1980s and mix it with contemporary R&B flawlessly, even though his home turf genre was funk/R&B/soul. Wonder reported that he wrote the song with no one in particular in mind, intending it to be more of a world ballad. (Nailed it!)

There was also some discrepancies in accounts of the writing of this song. Wonder had previously penned part of IJCTSILY back in the 70s, then set it aside. Then when he developed the song for the film (honestly, artists do this stuff all the time, saving bits of ideas in scrapbooks) there was a dispute between himself and songwriting partners as to true authorship, but findings placed it in Wonder's own hands.

With that said, there's never a bad time to enjoy a blissful few minutes with Stevie Wonder and this simple humanitarian ballad. We miss those 80s peaceniks. You don't need a holiday to enjoy this song, and there's no special occasion for blogging it right now. In fact, it's just an ordinary day/



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