9. Stevie Wonder, Innervisions (Motown, 1973)

Some deemed him a genius when he was 12, but Stevie Wonder really didn't earn that title until a decade later. Like Marvin Gaye, he rebelled against the Motown assembly production line and took control of his art, but he went much further. In addition to playing nearly every damn instrument himself, he made blisteringly personal music that was innovative (and a tad idiosyncratic) but always approachable. More so than the rightly praised if overstuffed Songs in the Key of Life, this is Wonder's sharpest, riskiest set. Although still chiefly an R&B album, you can tell he was soaking up everything from folk-rock and Abbey Road to post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis and Broadway. Yet, these influences come back filtered entirely through Wonder's innate sensibilities, veering between social activism ("Living For The City", “Higher Ground”) and individual contemplation ("All In Love Is Fair") until they blur and seem inseparable. He's thoughtful and abstract on the acoustic-guitar driven "Visions" and startingly direct on "Too High" (he frankly disses a girl because "she wasn't very nice"), but the Latin-jazz "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" really displays what made him a prodigy: compassion, melodic virtuosity to spare and a wonderfully weird sense of humor.