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It was the last album produced under his first contract with Motown Records.
Motown's founder Berry Gordy had maintained tight control over his company's productions, but as the artists' careers progressed, they began to feel the need for the allowance of social consciousness and artistic freedom in their recordings. Stevie Wonder was one of the Motown artists, along with Marvin Gaye, who wanted to expand with new styles and musical techniques, some of which became more apparent in the earlier album For Once In My Life.
Although Wonder had begun producing his own recordings, Motown still retained control over the content of his albums. Tensions increased as Wonder approached his twenty-first birthday; his contract had a clause which allowed Wonder to void it upon becoming a legal adult. When the president of Motown approached Wonder about renegotiating his contract, Wonder refused and asked for his contract to be voided.
Anticipating this event, Wonder took advantage of the fact that Motown would be forced to accept whatever he gave to them, and was able to produce Where I'm Coming From without any outside interference from the company. In particular, the song "I Wanna Talk To You", which portrayed a racially-charged dialogbetween a black man and an old southern white man (Wonder portrayed both characters) is also a covert reference to his breakaway from Gordy and Motown (particularly apparent in the ad-libbed line "I'm gonna take my share...!")
Where I'm Coming From, which departed drastically from the Motown Sound employed in previous Stevie Wonder albums, yielded the U.S. number-eight hit single, "If You Really Love Me". The soft ballad "Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer" (a predecessor to the Wonder's later recording "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You?)") was also successful. Much of the rest of the album was social commentary and war-themed songs.
The album foreshadows Wonder's next four albums with its innovative production techniques, such as use of the Hohner clavinet. Where I'm Coming Fromhowever is distinguished from those subsequent "classic period" albums by its lack of synthesizers, which Wonder only started to experiment with on the follow-up Music of My Mind. Like Wonder's earlier albums, several tracks on Where I'm Coming From use Motown studio musicians the Funk Brothers, and also make use of string orchestras.
Released at around the same time as Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album, with similar ambitions and themes, they have been compared; in a contemporary review by Vince Aletti in Rolling Stone, Gaye's album was seen as successful, while Wonder's album was seen as failing due to "self-indulgent and cluttered" production, "undistinguished" and "pretentious" lyrics, and an overall lack of unity and flow.
- "Look Around" – 2:45
- "Do Yourself a Favor" – 6:10
- "Think of Me as Your Soldier" – 3:37
- "Something Out of the Blue" – 2:59
- "If You Really Love Me" – 3:00
- "I Wanna Talk to You" – 5:18
- "Take Up a Course in Happiness" – 3:11
- "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" – 2:53
- "Sunshine in Their Eyes" – 6:58