Dylan Covers Week No 9: Blowin' in the Wind - Stevie Wonder
9 Questions. 4 rhetorical, the other 5 tough questions about the injustices of the world and war. And none of them have been successfully answered in the 56 years since the song's release way back in 1962.
Another question: who recorded the version of "Blowin' in the Wind" that reached number 9 in the US charts in 1966 (and number 36 in the UK)? The answer of course is Stevie Wonder.
In the early years just about every folk evening you ever attended featured someone singing a Peter, Paul and Mary copy of this, usually with the audience dutifully and sanctimoniously singing along. Which is why Stevie Wonder's version is a breath of fresh air.
The song was sung so much it almost had the iconic status of a nursery rhyme or a school hymn. So it's no surprise that instead of following the folk route, Stevie reaches back into his childhood, when he was a member of his local church choir. In its gospel call and response format, Stevie's version is also heavily influenced by the Sam Cooke tracks "Bring it on Home to me" and "Having a Party by Sam Cooke with Motown staffer producer and songwriter Clarence Paul taking the Lou Rawls style second vocal.
"How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?....
...how many years can a mountain exist before it's washed to the sea?....
....how many years can a man exist before he's allowed to be free?"
Their spiritual version still gives new freshness to the metaphors in the song, the white dove of peace searching for rest on the strand and the permanence of the immovable mountain of the establishment, while the yearning for freedom for once in the mouth of a black man emphasises the rising emancipation movement. What is so surprising is that this is Motown, which in 1966 avoided political messages like the plague in order to maintain its niche in the white pop market. And as such must be the first Tamla Motown social issues release.
Stevie's vocal is slow and soulful, he delivers it like a sermon, and the song finishes resignedly, tragically, with Wonder and Paul bouncing the word "blowin'" off one another like a lament at a funeral.