Could Stevie Wonder Be Set to Release 200 ‘Key of Life’ Songs?
It’s been long understood that Stevie Wonder recorded many more songs for his 1976 double album Songs in the Key of Life than were released. While 17 tracks appeared on the LP, in addition to a song EP, it’s been said that as many as 200 other songs were under production though maybe not completed.
“If my flow is going, I keep on until I peak,” Wonder told Rolling Stone in 2016 of his creative spree. Engineer John Fischbach recalled, “It went on for two years almost every day, many hours and huge amounts of material. I guess it was really his most prolific time. He did more songs in those two years I think than he had done before.”
Some of those ideas may have been used on later records, but there remains the possibility that a treasure trove of unknown Wonder songs could be hidden in a vault somewhere. The tracks could be comparable to the outtake “So Much in Love,” which is the only song to have surfaced as a bootleg.
You can hear it below.
A recent post on Boing Boing raised the prospect of dozens of unheard songs being released but perhaps only briefly. As the post explained, the European Union instituted a law known as “Use It or Lose It,” meaning that the usual 50-year copyright protection for all artwork is automatically extended by 20 years if it's for sale during the first five-decade period.
“Before unreleased songs lapse into the public domain in the EU, they are offered for sale to get 20 more years of protection,” the article explained, offering a handful of examples. “In 2013, Bob Dylan released only 100 copies of a CD box set of unreleased recordings, 50th Anniversary Collection, in order to extend their EU copyright. That same year the albums The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963, The Big Beat 1963 by the Beach Boys and Motown: Unreleased 1963 were offered for sale on digital music stores.”
Because copyright protection starts when a song is “fixed” – meaning it has a recognizable form as a piece of work – “EU copyright protection for the songs Wonder recorded during the 1974-76 Songs in the Key of Life sessions is about to begin expiring. Is it possible Wonder will want to extend that protection for 20 years by giving the world the incredible gift of these songs?”
While a box set is one option, another is available: Some artists have quietly released material on digital platforms for a short time, ticking the legal box for protection without committing to an official product launch. In 2018, for instance, Van Morrison released a semimythical live recording from 1968 on iTunes, then deleted it before the end of the day.
If Wonder should choose that direction, it means fans will have to keep an eye out for low-key streams that could disappear within hours.