Friday, January 14, 2022

Done: You Haven’t Done Nothin’

Stevie Wonder: You Haven’t Done Nothin’ [purchase

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this theme—“Done” would have made sense to me at the end of 2021, although the year-end here at SMM is filled with traditional themes, like our post-Thanksgiving “Leftovers,” some holiday-related theme(s) around Christmas, and the post-Christmas “In Memoriam.” So, if we had kicked off 2022 with “Beginning,” which we did in 2016, or “Fresh Starts” (2012), I’d get it. But maybe I protest too much, since our first theme of 2021 was “Over,” but I think that tied into the end of the Trump Error, and not the end of the also crappy 2020. 

Anyway, even though, so far, there’s no evidence that 2022 is going to improve on 2021 in any way, my choice of song for this theme is unrelated to the definition of “Done” as an adjective meaning “over,” but rather in its role as the past participle of the verb “do.” (Yes, we here at SMM are grammar nerds). And after the somewhat disappointing view totals of my In Memoriam piece about Larry Harlow, not exactly a household name outside of the Harlow household (and, of course, the salsa world, which doesn’t appear to overlap too much with our readership), I’m going to write about a big hit for a massively famous musician, Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” which was a No. 1 pop and soul hit for Wonder.

I’ve probably mentioned more than a few times here (and maybe at some of my other blogging homes) that one of the joys of writing these pieces is that I often learn things about the song or artist that I didn’t know, and that’s what happened here. “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” was released as a single in 1974, and I probably heard hundreds of times over the years. But what I did not know, until I began researching this piece, was that it was directed at Richard Nixon, who resigned two weeks after the album it was on, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, was released, and one day after the single was released. Thanks for making that happen, Stevie. (I still remember the joy that my 13-year-old self felt when I heard, while working as a junior day camp counselor, that Nixon had decided to step down, which is maybe why this is my second Watergate related post in recent weeks.) 

I also didn’t know that the background vocals on the album were sung by the Jackson 5—despite the fact that Wonder literally sings “Jackson 5 join along with me” during the song. Or that all of the instruments on the song (other than bass) were played by Wonder, including the horn parts on synthesizer. 

Wonder is, of course, amazing, which was brought home to me this summer when, during that brief period when we thought COVID was on the ropes, my wife and I went to an actual movie theater to see the brilliant documentary, Summer of Soul, about the mostly forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival that took place in 1969, featuring an incredible roster of talent. Questlove, the director, made the decision to open the film with 19-year-old Stevie Wonder playing an amazing drum solo (!). You can see a bit of it (and hear a little more of it) in this trailer for the film (it’s on Hulu, and you really should just see the whole film because it is mind-blowing)

I also found this interesting essay from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that discusses Wonder’s performance, including speculation as to why Wonder chose to include the drum solo in a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” which was considered to be a “kiss-off” to Motown Records, Wonder’s label, and it’s a worthwhile read.