Stevie Wonder knew how to make a powerful political point and get it on the radio. When he sent out his scornful denunciation of the politicians of the day in 1974, “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”, went all the way to No.1 on both the American R&B and pop charts.
On August 3, 1974, Stevie entered the Billboard Hot 100 (the soul chart entry came a week later) with the brilliant and courageous single. It was new on the pop survey in the same week as Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe,” which you can read about here. By September, Stevie was replacing Barry at the top of the R&B listings for what was already his tenth No.1. By November, “Nothin’’’ was his fourth pop chart-topper.
Soul amid turmoil
Lyrically, the track was a withering criticism of the political status quo, issued at a time when Wonder had begun to state his opinions loudly and clearly. With America in the turmoil of the Watergate scandal, it was perfectly clear that Stevie’s contempt was aimed fairly and squarely at President Richard Nixon. Two weeks after “You Haven’t Done Nothin’’’ was released, Nixon was forced to resign the Presidency.
“Everybody promises you everything,” said Stevie furiously when the single was released, “but in the end, nothing comes out of it. I don’t vote for anybody until after they have really done something that I know about…you always hear the President or people say that they are doing all they can. And they feed you with hopes for years and years…I’m sick and tired of all their lies.”
Party in the studio
Powerful words indeed, but he was a master of making the message not only palatable but infectious and exciting. He wrapped it up inside a propulsive, horn and synth-laden funk workout with the extra attraction of backing vocals by none other than the Jackson 5. “There was a party-like atmosphere [in the studio],” said associate producer Bob Margouleff. “Everyone was so blown away with the harmonies they did.”
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” was the first single from another superb LP in Stevie’s growing body of achievements, Fulfillingness’ First Finale. The record went on to win three Grammys including Album of the Year.
Buy or stream “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” on Fulfillingness’ First Finale.