Originally issued in 1980, Stevie Wonder's brilliant Hotter Than July witnessed the end of the legendary artist's historic "Classic Period." Excited after meeting Bob Marley, Wonder embraced reggae's sunnier feel and colorful look on the album, which yielded four Top Ten singles in the U.K. and three charting singles in the U.S. Hotter Than July remains the peerless composer's last true masterpiece.
Possessing a slightly faster and jam-oriented direction than Wonder's other trademark efforts, the record finds the singer doing what he does best: Crafting memorable arrangements and addictive grooves, all the while ignoring the musical trends that surrounded him at the time. Wonder flirts with a disco pulse on "All I Do," yet the main attractions relate to his irrepressible soulfulness. Rather than play everything himself, he switches up his prior methods by employing all-star backing choirs and sympathetic rhythm sections that grace the songs with insouciant tunefulness and buoyant hooks. More than a dozen backing vocalists (including Michael Jackson, Eddie Levert, and Angela Winbush) also appear.
Historically, Hotter Than July not only marked a return to form, but a launching pad for the now-observed Martin Luther King holiday. With the anthemic "Happy Birthday," Wonder issued a call to action and ultimately, got it. The song is in line with the mood of the majority of the album: celebratory, positive, and lively. Wonder, however, doesn't abandon his penchant for social critique, as "Cash In Your Face" stands as a protest against housing discrimination. Simply put, Hotter Than July has it all, and over 35 years after its original release, continues to burn brightly.