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The Hidden Meanings Behind Popular Stevie Wonder Songs

Adept at both writing his own material and covering other people's songs, Stevie Wonder's music tells a number of stories about his life and the causes dear to his heart. He wrote and sang about his childhood, his musical influences, his family and love - but also about poverty, drug use, racism, and several scathing rebukes of sitting presidents. But what inspired him and what is the real meaning behind these Stevie Wonder greatest hits?

Over the course of Wonder's career, he crafted a number of classic albums, pioneered innovative recording techniques, and sold a ton of records - landing over 30 top ten singles and selling over 100 million albums and singles. But many of his songs had many layers to them, and unique, telling backstories and meanings that might not be immediately perceived by those listening to the great Stevie Wonder discography. From "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" to "Superstition," the real meanings and origins of his hits will surprise you. 

Here are the hidden meanings of lyrics and backstories behind some of the most well-known Stevie Wonder songs. Read on to learn the real stories behind the top Stevie Wonder tracks, and the hidden meanings this great musician folded into his music.
  • Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours

    Video: YouTube

    A number one hit in 1970, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours” was the first single that the 20-year-old Wonder produced on his own. He credits the iconic chorus to his mother Lula (listed as a co-writer on the track), who exclaimed the words after listening to her son playing around with the melody.

    It earned Wonder his first Grammy nomination, and later became the theme for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
  • Video: YouTube

    One of Wonder’s most heartbreaking ballads, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” was originally a B-side to his 1971 cover of The Beatles song “We Can Work it Out.” The single flopped, but this album track became a staple of Wonder’s live show. He also performed it at Michael Jackson’s funeral, his voice breaking on the last line.

    Wonder rewrote the track as “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” the next year for his album Music of My Mind.
  • Video: YouTube

    Though it stalled as a single, “Higher Ground” was a major leap in Wonder’s use of studio experimentation, including innovative synthesizers, pedals and filters. The lyrics reflect Wonder’s interest in Eastern religion, specifically reincarnation and past lives.

    It also proved to be prescient about his own life, as just after recording “Higher Ground,” Wonder was involved in a car accident that left him in a coma for four days.
  • Video: YouTube

    A #1 hit on the R&B charts, “Living for the City” was one of Wonder’s great one-man band displays. He wrote and produced the track, playing every instrument including the drums.

    Using traffic sounds, voices, and sirens to go with socially conscious lyrics, the song tells the story of a young African American man who arrives in New York City from Mississippi, is tricked into acting as a drug mule, and is arrested. He’s then convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison – reflecting the brutal realities for inner city youths trying to survive what Wonder perceived as a racist and unfair justice system.