Living for the City

Album: Innervisions (1973)
Charted: 15 8
Play Video


  • One of Wonder's social commentary songs, this tells of a young kid from Mississippi who moves to New York City. In Mississippi, he dealt with many hardships, but was surrounded by caring people. In New York City, he is quickly taken advantage of and is caught with drugs. His dreams are destroyed when he is sentenced to 10 years in jail.
  • Reflecting on the messages in his songs, Wonder said: "I think the deepest I really got into how I feel about the way things are was in 'Living For The City.' I was able to show the hurt and the anger. You still have that same mother that scrubs the floors for many, she's still doing it. Now what is that about? And that father who works some days for 14 hours. That's still happening."
  • This won a 1974 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Song. The album it came from Innervisions won the Grammy Award for the Album of the Year.
  • Wonder asked one of the janitors at the studio to say the "Get into that cell, ni--er" line. Public Enemy later sampled the line on "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" a track on their 1989 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back album.
  • Wonder played all the instruments on this song and also did all the vocals. The instrumentation is: Fender Rhodes electric piano, drums, Moog bass, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, handclaps.
  • Ray Charles covered the song as did Ike and Tina Turner. Taylor Hicks sang it on American Idol, and Michael McDonald also recorded the song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Sara - Silver Spring, MD

Comments: 13

  • Markia from KyLiving for the city reminded me of my mother's time in this space. I love and miss you, mom.
  • Scott Groesser from Flushing , MiOne of my favorite songs of all time really brings back lots of memories at the time you could here all genres of music on the same station. It gives me chills hearing the emotion in his voice at the end.
  • AnonymousI think we owe Mr. Wonder a 47 year long apology and thank you.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyFebruary 12th 1974 was the opening night of the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village in New York City...
    Featured artists were Stevie Wonder, Johnny Winter, and Dr. John...
    At the time Mr. Wonder's "Living For The City" was at #16 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; thirty seven days earlier on January 6th it peaked at #8 {for 2 weeks} and it spent 17 weeks on the chart...
    And on December 23rd, 1973 it had reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart, it was his 9th of twenty #1 records on the R&B Singles chart...
  • Circe801 from Rock Hill, ScOne interesting thing about the lyrics to this song is that in no place I have ever been able to find do they contain the lines in between the 'outro' "living for the city" lines. One can CLEARLY hear Stevie saying, in one, "for the f--king crowded city" - which is unedited in every version, and played on every station that plays this song.
  • Tony from San DiegoQuite simply a masterpiece.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 6th, 1974, "Living For The City" by Stevie Wonder peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 4th, 1973 and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on December 23rd, 1973 it reached #1 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Was track three of side one on his sixteenth studio album, 'Innervisions', the album peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Top R&B Albums chart...
    Two other tracks from the album also made the Top 100; "Higher Ground" (#4) and "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" (#16)...
    Mr. Wonder, born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, will celebrate his 64th birthday in four months on May 13th.
  • Joan from Columbia, ScThis is my favorite Stevie song due to the imagery. Stevie would have known of this happening to others, but never specifically to himself, yet he sings as though it's his autobiography. My mother had never heard the bridge with the judge and prison guard until I was playing my CD. I always thought it sounded like Stevie as the prison guard's voice.
  • Gerard from Ronkonkoma, NyGreat tune Great lyrics-the more things change the more they stay the same!
  • Brad from Barry, TxI recently heard this great song on Sirius Radio's 70s station. They actually bleeped out the "Get into that cell, n!##er" line! They have unedited, uncensored channels featured Howard Stern's show and comedy, but bleep out this? Pretty ridiculous!
  • Ron from Los Angeles, CaOne of the 10 best songs of not only the 70's but of just about any decade!
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaSuch a great commentary from Little Stevie! This really had an effect on a white boy in high school. Love the little drama in the middle. Was disappointed when th iTunes download was a short version that didn't include it. Recorded it off my old album instead.
  • Tanya from La Verne, CaHow can one not be moved by this song?
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Guy Clark

Guy ClarkSongwriter Interviews

Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the artists who have looked to Clark for insightful, intelligent songs.

Kristian Bush of Sugarland

Kristian Bush of SugarlandSongwriter Interviews

Kristian talks songwriting technique, like how the chorus should redefine the story, and how to write a song backwards.

Bob Daisley

Bob DaisleySongwriter Interviews

Bob was the bass player and lyricist for the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums. Here's how he wrote songs like "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley" with Ozzy and Randy Rhoads.

Little Big Town

Little Big TownSongwriter Interviews

"When seeds that you sow grow by the wicked moon/Be sure your sins will find you out/Your past will hunt you down and turn to tell on you."

Superman in Song

Superman in SongSong Writing

Not everyone can be a superhero, but that hasn't stopped generations of musicians from trying to be Superman.

Paul Stanley of Kiss, Soul Station

Paul Stanley of Kiss, Soul StationSongwriter Interviews

Paul Stanley on his soul music project, the Kiss songs with the biggest soul influence, and the non-make-up era of the band.