Elton John and Stevie Wonder discuss their first real duo

Wonder, 71, heard John, 74, on the latter’s groundbreaking song, “Your Song” from the 1970s. Likewise, he was instantly a fan. “When I hear [‘Your Song’] it reminded me so much of an expression of love, ”says Wonder. “I said ‘he has a beautiful voice’ and I wanted to hear more of it. I liked playing the piano, I liked the arrangements. It was just awesome.

Although neither performer can remember the exact date of their meeting (John thinks that was when Wonder surprised him by singing “Happy Birthday” to him on Starship, the famous private jet. ‘he chartered with actors such as Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s), the duo have worked together many times over the years: That’s Wonder playing the harmonica on John’s 1983 hit, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues ”(“ That was the common thread, by the way, ”says John) and on“ Dark Diamant ”by John’s 2001 West Coast Songs. They joined Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight on “That’s What Friends Are For,” the massive 1985 charity single that raised over $ 3 million for the American Foundation for AIDS Research at a time when Charitable singles were still rare. But “Finish Line” marks Wonder’s first time playing keyboard and harmonica and singing along to a piece by John.

“At first we wanted Stevie to just play the harmonica, then it grew. Then he put an acoustic piano on it so that he and I would play the piano on the same record, which is so awesome, ”says John. “He wasn’t going to sing to it, I think he thought he had done enough. I really wanted him to sing on it because, to me, it was like an old-fashioned soul song and this is the music that I grew up loving … Andrew [Watt, producer] and I ended up twisting his arm and he sang over it. … To be honest, this is one of the best things I have ever recorded. … I just think, “I sing with Stevie Wonder and I play with Stevie Wonder and I really love that!”

John wrote the music, then Watt, Ali Tamposi and Roman Campolo wrote the lyrics, which tackles the hard times to survive only to get up even stronger: everything had been, oh, for nothing / Until I got you way to the finish line. The theme of redemption appealed to the two men.

“I have gone through so many slack periods in my life. I have struggled with alcoholism and drugs and have been sober for 31 years now, ”says John, who is run by her husband, David Furnish. “I have had so many bad relationships. I am now in a 28 year relationship. I have two beautiful children. Of course, I’m going to feel good listening to this song because I had redemption and now I have a wonderful life and I am leading a good life. … This song makes me really, really proud of who I’ve become, proud to work with someone like Stevie. Just for me, that’s all I love about this kind of music. … It’s just the fact that I’m playing on this record. … How could you not be happy about it? “

For Wonder, the song’s theme that rises above the ratings is reminiscent of his youth when others had already counted him. “Going back to my childhood… I remember a teacher saying to me, ‘You know, Stevie, you have three hits on you… you are blind, you are black and you are poor.’ I said, ‘You forgot one. I have arched legs! She was like, ‘You should just stop doing that music thing… because you’ll end up making pot holders.’ I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I went to the bathroom and cried and [said], ‘My God, this is what I’m supposed to do’ … I told the story to my mom when I got home and she said, ‘Baby, baby, you’ll never do potholders ‘and I said,’ I know, mom.

Wonder, who also remembers surviving a 1973 car crash that left him in a coma for several days as well as his kidney transplant in 2019, sees the song as a balm in these troubling times. “We’re talking about redemption and all that. The thing about it is this: we were down and there are a lot of people that are down. I mean, listen, the [COVID-19] pandemic we’ve been in we’ve been, all the fight people are waging: “Should I wear a mask?” Not a mask. Pull, don’t pull. I mean, come on. On a personal note, I took a photo and took both. … But at this point, I want to live as long as possible to do God’s blessing.

Although the pandemic and conflicting schedules prevented them from recording the song together, other than a brief visit to the studio in Los Angeles by John, they were in contact by phone. “And the [connection] that we had, it was so close, ”says Wonder.

Over the decades, the two legends, who were the first two artists to debut albums at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, have often found themselves continuing on the charts: in 1973, “Crocodile Rock” by John kicked Wonder’s “Superstition”. from first place to becoming John’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Oh, for god’s sake,” laughed John, when reminded that he had released one of the hottest songs. appreciated by Wonder from pole position.

But even when they were vying for positions on the charts, they never saw each other as rivals, even though others might have had them. “It’s really funny because I was thinking back then when it was like ‘Elton vs. Stevie Wonder. Elton John vs. Stevie Wonder.’ To me it’s always funny when people do that, “Wonder says.” I was thinking about that time, you know, Michael [Jackson] was successful, then Prince came out with “When Doves Cry”. “We have the King of Pop and we have the Prince and who will be the winner?” ” It’s crazy. Guess that’s all PR stuff or whatever. It didn’t bother us. I love ‘Crocodile Rock’ and I’m sure Elton – he would have done better – loved ‘Superstition’.

“I’d rather sing ‘Superstition’ than ‘Crocodile Rock’, to be honest with you,” John admits. Wonder responds by breaking into an impromptu version of John’s 1973 hit “Daniel”, which he calls his “favorite song.”

Much like their fans, it turns out that John and Wonder’s songs also provided the soundtrack of everyone’s lives. “I thought of my brother, my late brother Timothy, he loved the song ‘Bennie and the Jets’. It’s moving when I think of different songs, “Wonder says, her voice cracking,” because I can remember the moments and I can remember my brother’s smile and him singing the song… I remember them all. these different things and they bring back good memories. “

John and Furnish have a ritual every time they visit their apartment in Venice, Italy. “The first thing we do before we even unpack Songs in the Key of Life because it’s one of the greatest records ever made and it’s part of my life and David’s life, ”John said of Wonder’s Grammy-winning 45-year-old album. years this week. “It’s a masterpiece for me. Stevie is an amazing songwriter, an amazing musician and they don’t come around very often like that. … The musicality of his records, the way he plays, the chord changes. As a songwriter and musician, I’m so in awe of that, so when you hear a song like “Love Is in Need of Love Today” or “Sir Duke”, “Living for the City”, wow. Every song is a gem and it still sounds just as good today as when it was released. He is without a doubt an American national treasure.

Adds Wonder, “I have a lot of respect for [Elton]. It is therefore an honor for me to be able to come and be part of his musical celebration.

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