The Story of... 'As' by Stevie Wonder, covered by George Michael and Mary J Blige

25 April 2022, 15:25

George Michael covered Stevie Wonder's 'As'
George Michael covered Stevie Wonder's 'As'. Picture: Alamy/YouTube/Sony

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

Songs In The Key Of Life is widely regarded as one of the best albums of all time.

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And the celebrated double album is certainly up there with one of Stevie Wonder's most creative, and commercially successful releases.

Spawning a total of five singles (four in the US), the song 'As' has had a particularly long-lasting love affair with musicians through the ages.

An ode to life, love, and the beauty of the world we live in, it’s one of the most triumphantly optimistic songs that Stevie Wonder has ever written.

But what's the story behind the song and what inspired it? Has anyone else covered it?

Here's all you need to know about Stevie Wonder's epic track:

When did Stevie Wonder write ‘As’?

Stevie began penning lyrics and piecing together compositions for Songs In The Key Of Life whilst on tour throughout 1974 and 1975.

The album was eventually released in 1976, but major delays with production, personal issues, and contract disputes meant that it may have not even seen the light of day.

Stevie was in a car accident during studio sessions, and considered leaving the music industry altogether, even arranging a farewell concert.

'As' is widely considered as one of Stevie Wonder's greatest songwriting achievements.
'As' is widely considered as one of Stevie Wonder's greatest songwriting achievements. Picture: AJ Satterwhite

He briefly emigrated to Ghana to help underprivileged children and focus on humanitarian efforts, but made a U-turn on his musical career.

Stevie agreed to sign one of the most lucrative record contracts in the history of music at the time, which offered him complete creative control over his release.

With anticipation reaching fever pitch after the back-to-back Grammy Award-winning successes of Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, it culminated in his "classic period" of recording.

What inspired the song?

Stevie nearly quit music entirely after emigrating to Ghana.
Stevie nearly quit music entirely after emigrating to Ghana. Picture: AJ Satterwhite

During his time in Ghana, Stevie gained a new perspective on life, finding a new love for humanity and the world around us.

To Stevie, love and nature are synonymous. 'As' was written as his statement of faith that, like nature, his love will endure as it is the work of God.

Although the song's lyrics have often been interpreted as someone serenading their lover, saying that they'll love them "always" until grandiose acts of physical impossibility come true.

Some of these stated in the lyrics are rainbows burning the stars out in the sky, oceans covering the tops of every mountain, dreaming of life and life becoming a dream, day becoming night and vice versa.

Who helped Stevie record the track?

Stevie in the studio recording Songs In The Key Of Life.
Stevie in the studio recording Songs In The Key Of Life. Picture: AJ Satterwhite

There's a bucket load of musical talent behind the scenes of 'As', and it's not coming from just Stevie Wonder.

Wanting a layered, sleek groove on the keys, he recruited jazz-funk firebrand Herbie Hancock to record a separate track on the Fender Rhodes piano to slot in alongside Stevie's tinkering.

In fact, throughout the entire album Songs In The Key Of Life, over 130 recording artists would be involved including George Benson and Minnie Riperton.

The turnover of contributors was incredibly high as they often couldn’t keep up with Stevie’s work ethic.

He later said: "If my flow is goin', I keep on until I peak."

When was it released?

'As' for the last single released from Songs In The Key Of Life.
'As' for the last single released from Songs In The Key Of Life. Picture: Tamla

'As' was featured on Songs In The Key Of Life which was released 28th on September, 1976 via Tamla Records, a division of Berry Gordy's Motown Records.

It was released as a single over a year later in October 1977.

How did it perform in the charts?

Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder. Picture: Getty

'As' only reached No.36 in the Billboard Charts in its peak position, which was outdone by previous singles 'I Wish' and 'Sir Duke'.

Even though it didn't perform as well, the song is still considered to be one of Stevie's greatest accomplishments.

What is the song’s legacy?

Stevie with the first of his three consecutive album of the year trophies in 1975.
Stevie with the first of his three consecutive album of the year trophies in 1975. Picture: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection

Songs In The Key Of Life continued selling well over a year after its initial release, thanks to the success of 'As', the final single from the album.

It would go on to win Stevie's his third consecutive Grammy Award for Album Of The Year, and three other Grammy’s along with three other nominations.

The likes of Prince and Sir Elton John have referred to the album as one of their favourites and most influential.

Whilst inducting Stevie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Bob Dylan himself said: "If anybody can be called a genius, Stevie Wonder can."

Has anyone covered ‘As’?

Numerous artists have covered 'As' in the years since its release, including Sister Sledge, Becca Stevens with Jacob Collier, Michael Bolton, and even Herbie Hancock who appeared on the original recording.

Without doubt the most famous cover has to be George Michael's and Mary J Blige's 1999 version, which reached the No.4 in the UK charts after its release and was a hit across Europe.

It was the third time that George had covered Stevie in his career, given the huge impact the legend had on the former Wham! singer.