This week’s prompts for Song Lyric Sunday have been suggested by Di from Pensitivity. She has given us ‘Communication, Information, News and Telephone’ and we are to find a song title or lyrics including one or more of these prompts. I have selected I Just Called To Say I Love You, by Stevie Wonder. I hope you enjoy it.
“I Just Called To Say I Love You” is Stevie Wonder’s best-selling single worldwide, and also one of his most maligned. The song is about a guy who calls his special someone with a simple message of love. It’s very sweet, but to many, it crossed over to sickly.
Wonder had moved to a more middle-of-the-road, adult contemporary sound when he released the song. His early hits like “Superstition” and “Higher Ground” were often filled with funk, but in the ’80s, songs like this one and “Part-Time Lover” had a smoother sound, resulting in big hits, but disappointment for those hoping for a classic Wonder groove. Wonder though, stood by the song, often playing it at live shows throughout his career.
This was featured in the movie The Woman In Red, starring Kelly LeBrock as the woman and Gene Wilder as the married man mesmerized by her. Stevie wrote most of the soundtrack for the movie; he got the gig after Dionne Warwick, who was the “song coordinator” on the film, suggested him to the producers.
Wonder wrote seven songs that were used in the movie, including one called “Woman In Red.” He sang lead on three of the tracks, including “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” The soundtrack was issued by Wonder’s label, Motown Records,” which pegged the song as a hit and released it as a single. Two more songs from the soundtrack were also released: an instrumental called “Love Light in Flight,” which made #17 US and #44 UK, and “Don’t Drive Drunk,” which reached #62 UK.
This won the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating out “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” “Footloose,” “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” and “Ghostbusters.” All five nominees were #1 hits on the Hot 100, the only time that has happened.
Wonder did not have a specific person in mind for this song – it was more of a universal feeling. “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” is similar in sentiment.
On October 13, 1984, this song reached the top of three different charts: Hot 100, Adult Contemporary and R&B, and stayed at the top of each for three weeks. In the UK it got an even warmer reception, going to #1 on September 8 and staying for six weeks, that last being October 13.
In October 1985, the songwriters Lloyd Chiate and Lee Garrett sued wonder, claiming they wrote a song called “Hello It’s Me/I Just Called to Say” in September 1976 that they played for Wonder, who stole the title and chorus idea. In his testimony, Wonder claimed he wrote the chorus to “I Just Called to Say I Love You” on July 16, 1976 while returning home from a visit to his mother.
Garrett, who co-wrote “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” was a childhood friend of Wonder. He dropped out of the lawsuit on May 7, 1986, but Chiate kept going. In 1990, a jury ruled in favor of Wonder, and in 1992 Chiate lost an appeal.
The lawsuit created some problems with Wonder’s Oscar win, as only songs written specifically for the films were eligible. Since wonder wrote much of the song in 1976, this put that eligibility in doubt, but no action was taken and he kept the award.
Wonder claimed that while he wrote the music for this song in 1976, he “modernized” it when he added lyrics for the soundtrack. Wonder is an extremely prolific composer and was constantly coming up with songs that he would sometimes revisit much later.
In his testimony, Wonder added that he had John Lennon in mind when he worked on the song. Said Wonder: “I had the melody and the lyric that I had for the chorus, and I imagined in my mind when hearing the chords that The Beatles were singing with me. And that idea and feeling is what inspired me to use the vocoder, when I heard about the vocoder. And I always imagined myself and The Beatles singing that. It was in 1980 I believe, or ’81 when John Lennon was killed, that I knew that the dream would never be fulfilled.”
Wonder played every instrument on this track, produced it, and did all the vocals. The instruments were synthesizers, drums and vocoder.
This is one of the least political songs you’ll ever hear, but it gave Wonder a voice to help end apartheid in South Africa. When the song won the Academy Award, Wonder said in his speech, “I would like to accept this award in the name of Nelson Mandela.” The next day, the South African government banned his music, as Mandela was an enemy of the state, imprisoned since 1962. This drew a lot of attention to Mandela and his fight against apartheid in that country; later in 1985, a collective of musicians called Artists United Against Apartheid released the song “Sun City,” taking a stand against entertainers who performed at the popular resort in South Africa. Wonder, energized by the ban, spoke out in interviews and included the song “It’s Wrong (Apartheid)” on his next album, In Square Circle.
The movement culminated in the 1988 Free Nelson Mandela Concert at Wembley Stadium in London, where Sting, Peter Gabriel, Whitney Houston and a host of other stars performed on his behalf. Wonder opened his set with “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”
This is Motown’s biggest-selling single ever in the UK, where it was Wonder’s first #1. It was his eighth #1 in the US. >>
Wonder had been working on his In Square Circle album for about four years when he took on The Woman In Red soundtrack. Under terms of his Motown contract, Wonder had a lot of control and worked at his own pace, but for the soundtrack he was under time constraints. Wonder delivered the songs uncomfortably late in the project, but his music fared better than the film itself, which last we checked had a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Stevie sang some of this when he made an appearance on The Cosby Show in 1986. The episode was called “A Touch of Wonder,” and was later cited by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson as an inspiration to many young musicians who became interested in samplers and making music after seeing Wonder on the show.
On the soundtrack album, this song runs 6:16. The single was cut down to 4:21.
Jay Graydon and David Foster submitted some demos for The Woman In Red before Stevie Wonder took over the soundtrack. One of those songs became “Who’s Holding Donna Now,” which was a hit for El DeBarge.
In the 2000 movie High Fidelity, this is the subject of a rant by a character played by Jack Black. In the film, a man walks into the record store and asks for this song so he can give it to his daughter. Black’s character, who is working there, scolds him for wanting such and awful song and goes on to explain that his daughter probably hates it and it was clearly the low point of Wonder’s career.
When Wonder did Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, he called Corden’s wife to serenade her with a custom version of this song: “I Just Called To Say James Loves You.” The host was overjoyed.
No New Year's Day to celebrate No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away No first of spring, no song to sing In fact here's just another ordinary day No April rain No flowers bloom No wedding Saturday within the month of June But what it is, is something true Made up of these three words that I must say to you I just called to say I love you I just called to say how much I care I just called to say I love you And I mean it from the bottom of my heart No summer's high No warm July No harvest moon to light one tender August night No autumn breeze No falling leaves Not even time for birds to fly to southern skies No Libra sun No Halloween No giving thanks to all the Christmas joy you bring But what it is, though old so new To fill your heart like no three words could ever do I just called to say I love you I just called to say how much I care, I do I just called to say I love you And I mean it from the bottom of my heart I just called to say I love you I just called to say how much I care, I do I just called to say I love you And I mean it from the bottom of my heart, of my heart, of my heart