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Stevie Wonder — Living For The City
Album: Innervisions
Avg rating:
7.7

Your rating:
Total ratings: 1699









Released: 1973
Length: 7:24
Plays (last 30 days): 1
A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong, moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the city

His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floors for many
And you'd best believe she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city

Da da da...

His sister's black but she is sho'nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she's got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the city

Her brother's smart he's got more sense than many
His patience's long but soon he won't have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Cause where he lives they don't use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city

Da da da...

Living just enough, for the city, whoa
Living just enough, for the city, whoa

Da da da...

His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his life walking the streets of New York City
He's almost dead from breathing in air pollution
He tried to vote but to him there's no solution
Living just enough, just enough for the city
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don't change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, stop giving just enough for the city

Da da da...
Comments (197)add comment
 BlueHeronDruid wrote:

Bummer it's still entirely relevent today.



There's always been an underclass, throughout history. Nothing new about that. Colors, races & creeds may change, but there will always be many livin' for the city.....
Mr. Wonder @ his summit, wow.


WOW. Your Talking inner city Blues Dude. I guess you got that off your chest.
WOW. Just enough!

 damonlazer wrote:


I don't think the vignette is suggesting that he was literally arrested for being black, and I'm not sure where you get that idea (except for the racial slur the guard uses when he puts him in the cell).  Yes, people often use the term "arrested for the crime of being black" but that expression is just a sardonic nod to the systemic racial injustice in America's legal system.  For example, even though black Americans and white Americans smoke cannabis at nearly the same rate, black people in America are four times likely to be arrested for possession of weed.  Look into the history of crack criminalization and the reasons why it carries a much harsher sentence for possession than cocaine, even though they are essentially the same thing, just in a different form.

In jumping to "arrested for being black" you skipped over a lot of the nuance of that bit.  We don't know exactly why the guy was jailed, but it begins with him arriving in NYC, but he isn't just immediately arrested; when he gets off the bus it sounds like he starts going through a bad neighborhood, where he's offered drugs, harassed and threatened.  Only after that do we hear police arrest him, then it jumps to his trial, sentencing, and incarceration.  I would say he was arrested because either he quickly fell into a bad crowd and was involved in criminal activity such as using or selling drugs, or he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.   It's not contrived, it's just a scene in the middle of the song that accents the idea that living in the city can be tough, especially for a person of color.


 Hippostar wrote:

So basically, he arrives in New York City and is immediately arrested and put in jail for 10 years for (ostensibly) being Black?  Not saying something like that hasn't *ever* happened, seems a bit contrived, no?



I don't think the vignette is suggesting that he was literally arrested for being black, and I'm not sure where you get that idea (except for the racial slur the guard uses when he puts him in the cell).  Yes, people often use the term "arrested for the crime of being black" but that expression is just a sardonic nod to the systemic racial injustice in America's legal system.  For example, even though black Americans and white Americans smoke cannabis at nearly the same rate, black people in America are four times likely to be arrested for possession of weed.  Look into the history of crack criminalization and the reasons why it carries a much harsher sentence for possession than cocaine, even though they are essentially the same thing, just in a different form.

In jumping to "arrested for being black" you skipped over a lot of the nuance of that bit.  We don't know exactly why the guy was jailed, but it begins with him arriving in NYC, but he isn't just immediately arrested; when he gets off the bus it sounds like he starts going through a bad neighborhood, where he's offered drugs, harassed and threatened.  Only after that do we hear police arrest him, then it jumps to his trial, sentencing, and incarceration.  I would say he was arrested because either he quickly fell into a bad crowd and was involved in criminal activity such as using or selling drugs, or he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.   It's not contrived, it's just a scene in the middle of the song that accents the idea that living in the city can be tough, especially for a person of color.
 macadavy wrote:

Anyone know if L'il Stevie (Wonder) ever crossed paths with Brother Ray (Charles)?  Imagine that!  


Yep.   Here they are playing this song together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W130l1uoTY0
 calypsus_1 wrote:
Updated link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W130l1uoTY0
Very cool.
Hopefully the same performance.  Calypsus's link is obsolete now.
 bitbanger wrote:

When this tune came out NYC was is seriously bad shape. The city went through a magnificent transformation starting in the mid 90s. New York experienced a true "golden age" becoming a paradigm of what urban life could be, cultured, safe, and with a vital economic base. With the pandemic, it took a big blow, sadly backsliding towards the old ways: corrupt and incompetent pols, increasing crime, rising homelessness, riots and looting, and a souring business climate. One can only hope Mayor Adams is successful with his campaign promises of halting the slide and turning the city around. The country is better off with a healthy NYC.




I  Agree! I hope so too!   NYC was really nasty in the '70s  !It got a lot better for a couple of decades.  It went into a deep decline again, during the last 5 or 6 years.
 MayBaby wrote:

I just now rated it an 8... then bumped it to a 9.


OK - It's a 10 for sure
 macadavy wrote:

Anyone know if L'il Stevie (Wonder) ever crossed paths with Brother Ray (Charles)?  Imagine that!  




IDK.  That would have been totally cool!
 bitbanger wrote:

When this tune came out NYC was is seriously bad shape. The city went through a magnificent transformation starting in the mid 90s. New York experienced a true "golden age" becoming a paradigm of what urban life could be, cultured, safe, and with a vital economic base. With the pandemic, it took a big blow, sadly backsliding towards the old ways: corrupt and incompetent pols, increasing crime, rising homelessness, riots and looting, and a souring business climate. One can only hope Mayor Adams is successful with his campaign promises of halting the slide and turning the city around. The country is better off with a healthy NYC.



Broken windows theory.
So basically, he arrives in New York City and is immediately arrested and put in jail for 10 years for (ostensibly) being Black?  Not saying something like that hasn't *ever* happened, seems a bit contrived, no?
When this tune came out NYC was is seriously bad shape. The city went through a magnificent transformation starting in the mid 90s. New York experienced a true "golden age" becoming a paradigm of what urban life could be, cultured, safe, and with a vital economic base. With the pandemic, it took a big blow, sadly backsliding towards the old ways: corrupt and incompetent pols, increasing crime, rising homelessness, riots and looting, and a souring business climate. One can only hope Mayor Adams is successful with his campaign promises of halting the slide and turning the city around. The country is better off with a healthy NYC.
Ten years in prison... gets out in 1983.  Just in time for the crack epidemic.
As brilliant as this song is, I wish its subject was an anachronism. Instead it is as timely today as it was almost 50 years ago.

Rock-solid 9.
c.
we're labelled homo sapiens.. how about homo myopia? we've such wonderful potential but sadly this song will be relevant in 500yrs as it was and is today

oh yeah, absolutely classic track! 10+
Innervisions is an amazing album...  I recommend a full listen all the way through - sitting on the couch, or laying down on your deep shag carpet with your eyes closed.
The terrible irony is his own people put him into prison

I've never heard this album version before! Wow. 
my goodness

when you actually read the lyrics, those are some bad ass words

maybe tougher...bleaker than Marvin Gaye's stuff
This guy is cooler than my floor when I go down. On the floor that is, after 2 many afternoon cocktails.
GODLIKE!!! ICONIC!!!
 MayBaby wrote:

I just now rated it an 8... then bumped it to a 9.



Oh MY !
 thewiseking wrote:


actually, the references to New York City are now terribly dated, unless you refer to a city occupied by laid off investment bankers as "mean streets".


And now in 2021, New York City is back to the 70's.
 TrevorWGoodchild wrote:

Such a great song full of that old school funk energy 



Hey ! you look hip man !   $5
Anyone know if L'il Stevie (Wonder) ever crossed paths with Brother Ray (Charles)?  Imagine that!  
 radiojunkie wrote:

Absolutely one of the all-time great cuts off one of the all-time great albums. (Embarrassed to admit it, but to this day whenever I go into the city I still say, "wow, New York, just like I pitchered it!" That line is etched in my head forever.) Another incredible cut from this album that's played far too little is "As."



with you all the way  RJ
I grew up hearing these early 70s songs and they're still amazingly breathtaking today. I didn't know back then that Stevie also played all the instruments on this song, as well as on most of the songs on this album. Astonishing!
Such a great song full of that old school funk energy 
some parts of this song are good, but i feel like its about 5 min too long.
Brilliantly gritty
 calypsus_1 wrote:
 
Good lordy, these two are going to sing together?  Has anyone heard the like!?
Duke Ellington followed by Stevie?!

Way to wash away the Monday blues with two of the most talented artists in existence. Thank you RP! 
His best album, and perhaps its best cut.

(Yeah, yeah, yeah; I also own and cherish Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life, but they don't come close to Innervisions.)
and still resonates. timeless. 
 BlueHeronDruid wrote:
Bummer it's still entirely relevent today.
 

No kidding and I have The Who,e version only a couple of times
Bummer it's still entirely relevent today.
 MayBaby wrote:
I just now rated it an 8... then bumped it to a 9.
 

:) just put it on 7 after a few seconds to 8. Now i have 6min to think about a 9
I am too young to have heard this when it was new; but wow. Amazing.
Classic!
Holy cats I cannot believe I've never listened to this until today. Can only vaguely recollect hearing something like it long ago and far away, maybe. A 10... in the hopes we do change so the world doesn't soon end.
You now know where the word 'Wonderful" comes from  don't you.
I just now rated it an 8... then bumped it to a 9.
 Zep wrote:
 Sjaaks wrote:
First of all it's way too long.  

It is precisely as long as it needs to be, no longer and no shorter. 

 

And second of all...?

You and the rest of us should write a song so brilliantly right on.
 
 Sjaaks wrote:
First of all it's way too long.  

It is precisely as long as it needs to be, no longer and no shorter. 
Wow! Stevie Wonder! Just like I pictured him!

 spiritintosoul wrote:
how can this be anything less than an 8 or 9?{#Exclaim}
 
For me, it can!!

 spiritintosoul wrote:
how can this be anything less than an 8 or 9?{#Exclaim}
 

{#Yes}Yea, I'm with you.{#Yes}
Lubs!{#Meditate}
 unclehud wrote:

"The Most Dangerous City in America."
 

What, Detroit? ;-)

Glad to hear this get rotation again, been too long since I played my vinyl of this album... Time to bust out the new stylus and give it a spin this weekend I think.
who's not swaying like a muppet to this one?
Love this tune & glad the uncensored version gets airtime. {#Clap}
 spiritintosoul wrote:
how can this be anything less than an 8 or 9?{#Exclaim}
 
I second that...this was Stevie at his peak for sure.

Like so much music, I guess you had to be there, and out on the streets living it.  This was not music made for suburbia.
Overrated
...cookie monster voice; love it!..
And after everything that has gone before, he closes the song with that remarkable chorus of angels singing those final notes that are left hanging in your memory . . . and the needle comes off the record.
how can this be anything less than an 8 or 9?{#Exclaim}
Can't rate it any higher than a 2!

My god this song is so incredibly annoying!

First of all it's way too long.
Second, the ultimate crappy trumpet sample is truely the worst sound i've heard in a very, very long time...

{#Puke}
Note: Take the "is" word as my opinion, didn't know how to put it differently...

It just goes on and on, doesn't it?  That synth makes me think of Flash Gordon.  Surreal song.
 jagdriver wrote:

A single line that was permanently etched in my neural network years ago. Every once in awhile out it comes as a total non-sequiter. Of course, few in my present company ever understand the oblique cultural reference. Maybe that's what makes it so much fun to uncork every so often. The last time was a couple of months ago as we were about to take on Satan's Cesspool (The American River) in inflatible watercraft.

Also, this track sounded GREAT when blasted from stageside speakers at outdoor EMU concerts back when (Dave Mason, Santana, Peter Frampton....).

 

My office in NJ has a good view of the skyline.  About once a month, I say something like "just like I pictured it" and only the old fogies get it.
 apd wrote:
What? I love that bit! Whenever I visit NY, I can't help thinking "Skyscrapers! And eveythang..."
It's Stevie's Cookie Monster voice at the end that I find silly.
 
{#Lol} Cookie Monster voice! Damn, you just ruined 36 years of Stevie for me, but at least I got a laugh out of it.


 DaveInVA wrote:

Yep and still....

 

actually, the references to New York City are now terribly dated, unless you refer to a city occupied by laid off investment bankers as "mean streets".
 Zep wrote:

and still.
 
Yep and still....

Trying way too hard.  (And w-a-a-a-y too long!)  1, for me.
Innervisions or Talking Book? Tough call. Godlike.
pretty hard hitting, back in its day.

a great track yet on this very, very fine album it's not even among the top 3.
 apd wrote:
What? I love that bit! Whenever I visit NY, I can't help thinking "Skyscrapers! And eveythang..."
 
"The Most Dangerous City in America."
 DaveInVA wrote:
This was one of my fav SW songs back in the day...
 
and still.


This was one of my fav SW songs back in the day...
9
Can't say anything bad about this song.

Great tune off one of the watershed albums in history. 
Godlike track, godlike album, inspired artist.
I'm thinking Prince could pull off a good interpretation of this track.................

Today, this song went from "Hmm... not my favorite, but I can handle a few minutes" to OMG MY EARS ARE STARTING TO BLEED!!! 

How much do I need to donate to get a track taken out of the rotation, or at least reduced in frequency of play by an order of magnitude? <grin>
 
-Timo
(Listening to Lush on SomaFM until I see the RP now playing ticker change to something else!) 

 philbertr wrote:


I think, actually, that it is "pitured".
 
A single line that was permanently etched in my neural network years ago. Every once in awhile out it comes as a total non-sequiter. Of course, few in my present company ever understand the oblique cultural reference. Maybe that's what makes it so much fun to uncork every so often. The last time was a couple of months ago as we were about to take on Satan's Cesspool (The American River) in inflatible watercraft.

Also, this track sounded GREAT when blasted from stageside speakers at outdoor EMU concerts back when (Dave Mason, Santana, Peter Frampton....).

 DoctorHooey wrote:
This song is so awesome but that bit in the middle is just plain silly.
  If anyone can pull it off, it's Stevie.
 splooge wrote:
His best album.
 
I love this album, but all of Stevie's 70's stuff is beyond belief. He's had more excellent songs than most artists can ever dream of. A true maestro! {#Yes}
A 10, as is the whole album.

 DoctorHooey wrote:
This song is so awesome but that bit in the middle is just plain silly.
 
What? I love that bit! Whenever I visit NY, I can't help thinking "Skyscrapers! And eveythang..."
It's Stevie's Cookie Monster voice at the end that I find silly.

effin brilliant...even today!
DoctorHooey wrote:
This song is so awesome but that bit in the middle is just plain silly.
Today it's called racial profiling.
His best album.
cc_rider wrote:
I saw Malford Milligan, then with Stick People, sing this at Fitzgerald's in Houston. With some of Stevie's best writing, and Malford's angelic voice, it was probably the best performance of this song EVER. Spare, simple, and stunning. Wish it'd been recorded. Outstanding.
Wow--wish I'd been there. Malford is amazing!
ManchesterUK wrote:
my most favorite Stevie track.
This is a good one - I think Sir Duke is may number one fave - I had the 45 when I was about 4 (I actually had a record collection then and knew every word to every song)
Funny, I like that part..It creates a visual that most songs can't do as well. skyscrapers and everythin..hey slik wanna make yoself 5 bucks ? He wa framed..Rickvee wrote:
Agreed. I wish that weren't in there.
philbertr wrote:
I think, actually, that it is "pitured".
Yup, you are right. Just heard it again, and wait for it, every time.
DoctorHooey wrote:
This song is so awesome but that bit in the middle is just plain silly.
It made sense 35 years ago.
DoctorHooey wrote:
This song is so awesome but that bit in the middle is just plain silly.
Agreed. I wish that weren't in there.
Sweet memories! My wife and I were given a cassette while in Venezuela back in the early seventies. Side A was Innervisions. Side B, you ask? Viva Terlingua by Jerry Jeff Walker! We wore that tape out quickly.
I saw Malford Milligan, then with Stick People, sing this at Fitzgerald's in Houston. With some of Stevie's best writing, and Malford's angelic voice, it was probably the best performance of this song EVER. Spare, simple, and stunning. Wish it'd been recorded. Outstanding.
This song is so awesome but that bit in the middle is just plain silly.
"Oh No! What I Do?"
ronniegirl wrote:
Me too! I thought it was "pictured it," that's what I say. My kids don't get it tho.
I think, actually, that it is "pitured".
Geecheeboy wrote:
Never fails: whenever we hit The City, we always say "New York! Just like I 'magined it! Skyscrapers and everything!"
Me too! I thought it was "pictured it," that's what I say. My kids don't get it tho.
Ian Gillan, from Deep Purple, does a cover of this on his Magic album from 1982. Just some geek trivia for you...
lmic wrote:
God I love this song, even though I weirdly associate it with Good Times Dynomite, Stevie
Good Times? No, no, that was Chic. Oh, THAT Good Times!
God I love this song, even though I weirdly associate it with Good Times Dynomite, Stevie
Jacksonstat wrote:
Ditto!
What? Not Ebony and Ivory?
Stevie Wonder as the Balladeer of the Inner City. Only Stevie could do it so well.
Saw a TV documentary earlier, had footage from the sessions recording this with TONTO... Can't believe it hasn't been played since last April!
I give this entire album a 10… classic!
Agree This is soooo bad sub-arctic wrote:
When will it EVER stop?!
sub-arctic wrote:
When will it EVER stop?!
. Now !
Never fails: whenever we hit The City, we always say "New York! Just like I 'magined it! Skyscrapers and everything!"
When will it EVER stop?!
ManchesterUK wrote:
my most favorite Stevie track.
Ditto!
my most favorite Stevie track.
Aud wrote:
What has always ruined it for me is during "the spoken drama" a young black male voice is suppose to be the "judge" giving the sentence. It really sounds so phony and breaks whatever spell there was over me.
I always thought it sounded "New York Jewish"!
What I do? What I do? Hard to go wrong with lyrics like that. Actually, this is great. Fond memories of FM radio when this first came out.
Bodhisattva wrote:
I always felt that the "country boy goes to prison" spoken mini-drama was gratuitous and spoiled what otherwise is a brilliant song. The lyrics paint an artist's transcedent vision of innercity life, whereas the spoken story seems phoned-in and gimmicky.
What has always ruined it for me is during "the spoken drama" a young black male voice is suppose to be the "judge" giving the sentence. It really sounds so phony and breaks whatever spell there was over me.
Only problem is you can't synchronise clap with the music.
Another classic from a classic. Stevie should be declared World Heritage by the UN. Crank it, then.
Never really cared for this too much in my youth. Now, hearing it over a good system, I must say I look forward to hearing it again!
Mari wrote:
... ...
You like the music here! Me too!
Bodhisattva wrote:
I always felt that the "country boy goes to prison" spoken mini-drama was gratuitous and spoiled what otherwise is a brilliant song. The lyrics paint an artist's transcedent vision of innercity life, whereas the spoken story seems phoned-in and gimmicky.
Yes, it's gimmicky, and probably the track's weakest part (if not that electric keyboard). But I still enjoy the "mini-drama" and don't think it sounds phoned-in at all. Pre-MTV audiences -- with more of an appreciation (or need) for radio drama, and the mental imagery that it requires -- might agree. At times, it's preferable over a plain-language storyline served up via video.
Bodhisattva wrote:
I always felt that the "country boy goes to prison" spoken mini-drama was gratuitous and spoiled what otherwise is a brilliant song. The lyrics paint an artist's transcedent vision of innercity life, whereas the spoken story seems phoned-in and gimmicky.
At the time this was released, it was pretty effective drama. It made a lot of people realise that this sort of thing really happened, And it works on the 'What if that were me?' level.
What a voice, what a guy! Brilliant.
I always felt that the "country boy goes to prison" spoken mini-drama was gratuitous and spoiled what otherwise is a brilliant song. The lyrics paint an artist's transcedent vision of innercity life, whereas the spoken story seems phoned-in and gimmicky.