. . .
That the final track on Innervisions — the utterly sublime “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” — was an anti-Richard Nixon song is something that I’ve known for awhile, but what I didn’t know was the genesis of the song. Apparently associate producer Malcolm Cecil had been giving Stevie shit for some time about all of the love songs he’d been writing, and challenged him to write some more topical songs. Thus, songs like “Too High,” “Living For The City” and, of course “He’s Misstra Know-It-All.”
He’s a man with a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra Know-It-All
Playin’ hard, talkin’ fast
Makin’ sure that he won’t be last
He’s Misstra Know-It-All
But what I didn’t know until I read Mark Ribowsky’s Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder, was that the final inspiration/last straw was Nixon taking the U.S. Dollar off of the gold standard (look it up, if you don’t know what I’m talking about) which apparently set Stevie off. The result was this utterly gorgeous piano-driven shuffle, with Stevie’s honey-flecked vocal not quite masking the anger he’s expressing, especially on the bridge.
When you say that he’s livin’ wrong
He’ll tell you he knows he’s livin’ right
And you’d be a stronger man
If you took Misstra Know-It-All’s advice, ooh, ooh
After that bridge, Stevie angrys up his vocal a bit, adds some handclaps and acres of backing vocals, but always lets the song circle back to the ever-calm mantra of a gospel choir of Stevie Wonders chanting “he’s Misstra-Know-It-All” which takes the song to the fade.
Apparently, releasing an anti-Nixon song — even one that didn’t name Tricky Dick by name — as a U.S. single was a little bit too much for for Motown in early 1974, but there were no such qualms in the U.K., where it reached #10 on the pop charts, the best any of his Innervisions songs did there.
As far as Innervisions itself, it followed Talking Book into the highest reaches of the charts, stalling out at #4 on the Billboard 200, and won an engineering Grammy, as well as the Album of The Year Grammy.
“He’s Misstra Know-It-All”
“He’s Misstra Know-It-All” Live in Germany, 1974
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