This was written by the Motown songwriters Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, and was originally recorded in 1966 by a Jazz/Soul singer named Jean DuShon, who was signed to Chess records. Miller had DuShon record the song as a demo, but liked her version so much that he thought she should sing it. Record company politics ensued as Berry Gordy, the head of Motown, was not pleased with one of his songwriters' compositions going to other labels. He made sure to have his artists record the song, and the first to do so was Barbara McNair, who performed it later in 1966 on a TV special and released it on her album Here I Am that year. The next Motown act to record it was The Temptations, who released it in 1967 on their album In a Mellow Mood.
All versions of the song to this point were long, drawn-out ballads. Stevie Wonder was the first to pick up the tempo and use a joyful arrangement. Wonder's version, however, sat in the Motown vaults for nearly a year before Gordy finally released it in 1968. This became the hit record and definitive version of the song.
The song is about finding that special someone who gives you a feeling of boundless happiness. Wonder was just 17 when he first recorded it.
Ron Miller wrote a few more Motown favorites, including "Heaven Help Us All," "Yester-Me, Yester-You," "Yesterday" and "A Place In The Sun" for Stevie Wonder, and "Touch Me In The Morning" for Diana Ross. He also reworked "I've Never Been To Me
" into a hit for Charlene.
The Temptations version featured lead vocals by Paul Williams. It became the showcase song for Williams at their live shows.
Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett both recorded this song, with Bennett's version hitting the Hot 100 at #91 - one year before Stevie Wonder charted with it. Bennett often sang it in concert, and in 2006 he performed a slow version with Stevie Wonder for his album Duets: An American Classic. This version won a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. At the awards ceremony, Wonder dedicated the Grammy to his mother, who died in 2006. Bennett then thanked his sponsor - Target department stores.
British singer-songwriter Emeli Sande recorded this for the Hulu miniseries Four Weddings and a Funeral. Other versions have also been used in these TV shows:
Happy Endings ("Brothas and Sisters" - 2013)
Glee ("Wonder-ful" - 2013) by Kevin McHale
Fringe ("Brown Betty" - 2010; "6B" - 2011)
The West Wing ("Welcome To Wherever You Are" - 2006)
The King Of Queens ("Sold-Y Locks" - 2006)
Boston Legal ("Breast In Show" - 2006)
Entourage ("Exodus" - 2005)
The Nanny ("The Wedding" - 2008)
Good Times ("That's Entertainment, Evans Style" - 1978)
And in these movies:
Shrek Forever After (2010)
Valentine's Day (2010)
Down With Love (2003)
Meet The Parents (2000)
The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996)