538. ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, Stevie Wonder

And so we reach the last of 1984’s colossal ballads. ‘Hello’, ‘Careless Whisper’, now this. Fifteen weeks at #1 shared between them. And can I admit, straight off the bat, that this is my favourite of the three…?

I Just Called to Say I Love You, by Stevie Wonder (his 2nd of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 2nd September – 14th October 1984

Yes, yes, yes. It is fashionable – and quite correct – to scoff at this silly little song for being THE Stevie Wonder’s only solo chart-topper. No ‘Superstition’ (a #11), no ‘Sir Duke’ or ‘Master Blaster’ (both #2s)… Only ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’. And while it’s not anywhere near Wonder’s best work, there’s a charm to it.

It’s a lullaby of a song. And I don’t mean that it’s dull, like ‘Hello’; I mean there’s something in its strangely reggae-ish rhythm that just chills you out. Plus, it’s an easy song to remember, and to sing. It’s a song a mother might sing to their baby, or that a dorky boy might sing down the phone to his crush. It’s cute. It’s not Valentine’s Day, or New Year’s, or the 1st of spring (??)… Stevie’s just calling to say he loves you. (In fairness, some cynics have argued that if a man unexpectedly ‘just calls to say he loves you’, then he must just have done something fairly shitty…)

That’s not to say there isn’t quite a lot wrong with this song, though. The production is cheap and tacky – the drum machine is pure karaoke backing track. Then there are the key changes, which start early, on the second chorus, and just keep coming (to be fair, they are so cheesy I can help enjoying them). And then there are the three rinky-dink notes that it ends on, possibly the laziest ever ending to a number one single.

But I do like the ‘second’ melody – the higher, synth line that compliments the chorus. And if it were a little faster, and the production better, this could be a great song. Seriously. As it is, I like it a lot more than ‘Hello’ and, while I admire ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘I Just Called…’ is a simple love song, simply told. And that’s nice. At least it slightly redeems Stevie Wonder’s UK chart-topping career, after ‘Ebony and Ivory’

I’ve lived abroad for a lot of my life, in non-English speaking places, and I can confirm that this song is universal. ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, this. And you can see why… Aside from the blatant sentimentality, which other cultures don’t seem to mind as much, the lyrics are slow and simple, and you can make them out clearly. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, that was a big bug-bear of my late Gran’s: pop singers you couldn’t make out. I never had time to ask, but I’ll bet she approved of this one.

Before we go, it’s worth noting how long songs are staying on top of the charts at the moment. In the last twelve months, we’ve had three 5-weekers, three 6-weekers, and a jumbo 9-weeker. There hasn’t been a one-week #1 for a year and a half. Not sure what this means, if anything, but it’s interesting. What’s also interesting (and slightly depressing) is that this is Motown’s biggest-selling record of all time in Britain. It’s a colossus and, yes, I do kind of love it…


16 thoughts on “538. ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, Stevie Wonder

  1. This song is pretty popular to pick on as shown in the High Fidelity movie where Jack Black makes fun of a dad wanting to buy “I Just Called To Say I Love You” for his daughter calling it “sentimental tacky crap.” Tom Breihan points out in his review that the main reason this song gets a lot of hate is mainly because of its massive success, “The song didn’t seem great, but it was fine — sweet and pretty, even. The problem, I think, is that this perfectly OK song, globally speaking, is the most popular thing that Stevie Wonder has ever done.” Another reason I imagine this song gets a lot of hate was for winning the Best Original Song Oscar for its inclusion in the forgettable and supposedly pretty bad Gene Wilder film The Lady in Red against four other #1 Hot 100 hits in 1984 including “Fooloose,” “Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” and “Ghostbusters,” the only time this situation has occurred. Personally, while it’s nowhere near Stevie Wonder’s best, it’s not the worst musically despite the cheap ‘80s production but lyrically it comes across as very clunky in describing all the things we associate with each of the 12 months into the message of just wanting to call someone to say you love them. (Breihan even hilariously points out if people actually call each other to say they love each other on Halloween.) For the longest time, I didn’t get what all of this was supposed to mean.

    • Yep the lyrics are even clunkier than the production… The ‘first of spring’ being my favourite (apologies if that’s a huge American public holiday that I’ve overlooked…!)

      • No worries. The first day of spring isn’t much of a celebration here. My favorite part that gets me laughing is when Wonder combines November and December together with “No giving thanks to all the Christmas joy you bring.”

      • It reminds me of Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl, which uses the months of the year to similarly cheesy, though I’d probably say better, effect…

  2. See…see…. what the 80s did to this great artist!
    No the song is ok…not near his best but yea…I would take it over most of the decade. Even his softer songs have some kind of edge…some kind of bite…this doesn’t. I do remember you couldn’t switch on a damn radio without hearing this. I can’t believe people bought it…because all you had to do was turn on a radio and it was either this, Phil Collins, or Chicago….and not the great Chicago.

    • Interesting point… radio plays songs that are #1 because they’re popular, but why do people want to hear songs they’ve already bought and listened to a hundred times…? I suppose its been the way for decades now, so it’s clearly a model that works…

      • Yes it has… I’m not exaggerating either…my buddies and I would be cruising around and joking about how many stations would play the song.
        I have good memories of it…because of that.

  3. Let me preface my comment by saying I love Stevie Wonder, especially his so-called classic period during the first half of the ’70s. While this song certainly is far from his best work, I’m happy Stevie finally got a solo no. 1 hit in the UK, Germany and a few other European countries, which had eluded him for such a long time.

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  8. I’m very disappointed in the UK right now. I like this song, but seriously, how was this his sole solo UK No.1? Why isn’t it “Superstition”, “Sir Duke”, “Higher Ground”, “I Was Made to Love Her”, “I Wish”, “Master Blaster”, “Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)”?

    Point to the Americans here. But UK, it’s just one loss. Generally speaking, your singles charts No.1s are better than the yanks.

  9. Rating: 4.5/5

    I can’t hate this song. It means too much for me and my mum for me to not enjoy it. Stevie Wonder is one of my all-time favourite artists (arguably the singular most talented man in popular music, God took away his sight and left music genius and ingenuity), and while other songs of his like “Sir Duke” (5/5), “Superstition” (5/5), “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (5/5) or “I Wish” (5/5) should’ve hit the top spot earlier in the UK, this is still a really great song. He sound so sincere and warm on this song, I can’t help it.

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