January 1977: Stevie Wonder Hits #1 in America with "I Wish"

American new wave band Talking Heads (Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, David Byrne), Bologna, Italy, 1982. (Photo by Luciano Viti/Getty Images)
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(Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

Stevie Wonder remembers the inspiration for the song "I Wish," which appeared on his groundbreaking landmark release, Songs in the Key of Life, very well.

“The day I wrote it was a Saturday, the day of a Motown picnic in the summer of ’76,” he recalled to Musician magazine (via Classic Motown). “God, I remember that because I was having this really bad toothache, it was ridiculous. I had such a good time at the picnic that I went to Crystal Recording Studio right afterward and the vibe came right to my mind, running at the picnic, the contests, we all participated. It was a lot of fun, even though I couldn’t eat the hot dogs – that was around the time of the creation of those chicken hot dogs. And from that came the ‘I Wish’ vibe.”

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That vibe found Wonder reminiscing about the innocence and joy of youth over a high-energy and funky track driven by a powerful horn section and Nathan Watts' walking bass line. Released as the lead single from Songs in the Key of Life in November 1976, the song would impact the Billboard charts across genres. "I Wish" peaked at #1 on the Hot 100 for the week of January 22, 1977.

"I Wish" would also be a hit at the Grammys, where it scored Wonder the prize for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.

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