Why #NeverInYourSun is an Underrated Solo
Stevie Wonder's “Never in Your Sun” features one of the most underrated solos ever. It’s from the 1985 album, “In Square Circle”. The solo’s played by Stevie Wonder on his signature chromatic harmonica. He’s essentially singing through it, as the solo is it’s own bonafide verse. It happens around two minutes in.
He starts off in G major, by repeating a chromatic run that starts on the 2nd interval and goes up to the 3rd (A to A# to B). He uses that intro phrase to move into F major, going up to its root note. He does a lot of these quick, little harmonica fill-ins, which are comparable to guitar hammer-ons and pull-offs.
The next segment is one of the several repeated themes that Stevie uses. He’s just playing a basic scale exercise, in particular, he’s starting on the root of D minor and going up to the 5th. You can look at it as going from DO to SO, if you’re using solfège. Then, he’s just being loose and playful, breaking things into groups of two and not sticking to a strict beat count. Stevie’s rhythm is one of his many recognized gifts. On the last group of two, Stevie threw some passing notes in between, just to be fancy and make the notes a little more special. Again, quick little fill-ins. He then goes up the F major scale, and then down a C major chord.
The next part is somewhat intriguing, because he’s just lingering on one note, a C, but soulfully and he’s using it as a bridge between two different keys. The C camouflages as the 5th of F major and then the 6th of Eb major. I might be looking too deep into this, but 6 comes after 5 and I wouldn’t put it past Stevie to create a music riddle like, ”how can one jump up a scale degree without changing notes?”. It’s a sort of musical illusion.
Remember earlier he broke things up into groups of two, he’s doing groups of three in the next phrase. It’s like Stevie was teaching elementary math with this solo. After that, he’s just freestyling a riff. Nothing too advanced. He’s using the 3rd, 5th and 6th of Eb major. It’s a smooth transition from the scale and chord approaches that he’s been using, so far. And he actually uses the same notes as Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water” (that’s the most famous example I could think of off the top of my head). It’s just three notes: G, Bb, and C.
He then hits a note that’s equivalent to Stevie belting on harmonica, like he would if he chose to sing the note, instead. It’s the highest note he reaches in the solo, a high D, specifically a D5. This D also signals a return back to G major, which you can’t tell without the underlying music, but the chord progression goes from the key of Eb major back to G major. This is just another instance of Stevie using a single note to connect two different keys.
The following part serves as the intermission of the solo, the first half, and he gets there by descending through a G major scale. You start to hear that Stevie consistently uses a B note to remind you that he’s in the key of G. If it means anything to you, B is the color purple to me (what’s up to the fellow synesthetes out there!). Next, Stevie does another pattern of “up the scale, down a chord”. Up or down a chord is just known as arpeggiating, where instead of playing notes of a chord at the same time, you play them separately, broken up in or out of order.
The leap he plays next is interesting, because it gets him to what feels like Ab major, very briefly and randomly. It’s real quick and the synth pad he plays in the background is pretty eerie/haunting there. The exact chord is a variation of a Bb dominant 7th over Ab, whose notes also happen to fall within Eb major. So you can call this random bar and a quarter “Ab major” or “Eb major". He moves to another example of a chromatic run, and yet another return back to G major. He then moves to another example of arpeggiating a chord, a G major triad in this case.
And he wraps up the solo by descending to a B. I’ll also point out that he likes to double up on notes at times, either to stress the sound’s color or literally give breathing room for what’s coming next. And notice that he revolved the start of the whole solo around a B and then resolved the solo on that same B. I guess that was his way of bringing things full circle. Remember this is on the album “In Square Circle” (probably another stretch by me).
So that was all a solid exercise in maneuvering through different scales, chords, rhythm, and solo strategies. The whole song itself is pretty much quintessential Stevie playing his modulation game, where he shifts the key of the song several times in succession. The song starts in F# major and ends higher up in A major (technically Bb major, since the song ends there on a fade out). And I think it’s a pretty classic song on a classic album. It was just ignored by mainstream for whatever reason. I can’t even find sheet music for it. And this is one of the rare songs that I can’t instantly pinpoint a genre. It’s like electro, dance, new jack swing, R&B, 80’s freestyle. I like the cover by the Dana Hawkins Trio, and India.Arie does a decent version of it, too, with Khari Cabral. I might make the next one, I’ll see.
Dana Hawkins Trio COVER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPbIvOeAfnA
India.Arie & Khari Cabral COVER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZO6r89eNQtE)