Living For The City – Unraveling Urban Struggle and Aspirations


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Stevie Wonder's Living For The City at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. An Anthem for the Grit of the City
  5. A Hard-Hitting Groove That Demands Attention
  6. Decoding the Hidden Message of Resilience
  7. Lines That Carry the Weight of Injustice
  8. The City’s Beat Goes On: A Legacy of Conscious Music

Lyrics

A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain’t so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the city

His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floors for many
And you’d best believe she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city, yeah

His sister’s black but she is sho’ ’nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she’s got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the city

Mm, her brother’s smart he’s got more sense than many
His patience’s long but soon he won’t have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
‘Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city, yeah

Living just enough for the city
Living for the city, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
Ain’t nothin’ for the city
Oh, living just enough for the city
Living for the city, yeah, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
The lessons of the city
Oh, living just enough for the city
Living for the city, yeah, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
The funky, cruddy city
Oh, living just enough for the city
I’m living for the city, yeah, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
For a nothing, nothing, city
Oh, living just enough for the city
Every body clap your hand, it’s going down

Oh, living just enough for the city
Mm-hmm, for the city, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
Hmm, for the city, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
For the city, yeah
Oh, living just enough for the city
For the city

“Bus going to New York City”
“Hey, bus driver I’m getting on there, hold it”

“Thanks a lot”

“Wow
New York, just like I pictured it
God straightened everything”

“Psst, hey, hey, brother
Hey, come here flick
Yeah, you look, you look hip man
Hey you wanna make your self five bucks man?”
“Yeah brother I just came into town”
“Look here, run this across the street for me right quick, okay?
Run it across the street for me”

“Hey, what?
Huh? I didn’t know
What? I’m just going across the street
“Shut your mouth”
“Oh no, what I do?”
“Okay turn around, turn around
Put your hands behind your back lets go, lets go”

“A jury of your peers having found you guilty ten years”
“What?”
“Come on, come on, get in that cell nigger”
“My God, no”

His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his life walking the streets of New York City
He’s almost dead from breathing in air pollution
He tried to vote but to him there’s no solution

Living just enough, just enough for the city yeah, yeah, yeah

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don’t change the world will soon be over

Living just enough, stop giving just enough for the city

Full Lyrics

Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’ is more than just a soulful melody; it’s a piercing portrait of urban life and the unyielding spirit of those who navigate it. The song emerges from Wonder’s 1973 opus, ‘Innervisions’, offering a compelling narrative that blends funk with social commentary. It delineates the struggles inherent to the black experience in America’s bustling concrete jungles, bridging the personal and the political.

Though decades have passed since its release, the track’s poignancy hasn’t waned—its themes of inequality, discrimination, and resilience remain relevant. Wonder masterfully crafts a story that champions perseverance in the face of systemic oppression, inviting listeners to reflect on the harsh realities for many city dwellers striving for a better life. What lies beneath its captivating groove is a call to conscience that still echoes loudly today.

An Anthem for the Grit of the City

The urban landscape, with its stark contrasts and towering challenges, serves as the battleground for Wonder’s protagonist. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of life within the city’s unforgiving confines, a place where dreams are as easily born as they are crushed. The opening verse sets the scene in hard time Mississippi, only to unfold into the broader, harrowing realities faced by inner-city families.

Spanning generations, Wonder’s storytelling captures the cycle of toil and resilience. The father working fourteen-hour days, the mother cleaning floors for pennies, the sister’s brave face on the way to school—all are pieces in the mosaic of survival. This portrait affirms the city as a character in itself: a catalyst for character, compelling its residents to forge strength out of scarcity.

A Hard-Hitting Groove That Demands Attention

While the narrative is central, ‘Living For The City’ equally asserts itself with a commanding musical arrangement. The groove is unrelenting—a potent mix of funk and soul that mirrors the steadfastness of the characters within. It’s a platform built for Wonder’s evocative lyrics, creating not just a storytelling device but an immersive experience.

Wonder’s synthesizer work overlays a gritty texture to the piece, paying homage to the city’s tactile essence. The song’s pacing, with its rising intensity, emulates the mounting pressure of urban life, transporting listeners to the very sidewalks that bear witness to the characters’ struggles. This sonic landscape insists on awareness, leaving no room for passive listening.

Decoding the Hidden Message of Resilience

Though the hardship is palpable, ‘Living For The City’ is imbued with an undercurrent of hope and determination. It’s not just a lament; it’s a rallying cry. Echoed in the refrain, ‘Living just enough, just enough for the city’, there is an unspoken defiance—a refusal to be defeated by the city’s cruelties.

This repeated assertion becomes the heartbeat of the song, a stark mantra that champions survival against the odds. Yet, the repetition also speaks to the grinding routine of poverty and racial injustice. In his understated genius, Wonder communicates a complex duality: while the inhabitants live ‘just enough’, there resonates an aspiration for ‘more than enough’.

Lines That Carry the Weight of Injustice

Each verse of ‘Living For The City’ is heavy with narrative significance, but some lines cut deeper with their inherent truths. The stark admission, ‘To find a job is like a haystack needle / ‘Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people’, lays bare the enduring blight of systemic racism.

The imagery is stark and intentional; it transforms personal pain into a collective understanding, asking listeners to grapple with the realities faced by many. It’s the succinctness of such lines that imbues them with power, making them memorable long after the song ends and prompting continued conversation about the realities it reflects.

The City’s Beat Goes On: A Legacy of Conscious Music

Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’ is a masterclass in social consciousness wrapped in melody. Its pertinence resonates years on, as it continues to underscore the importance of socially aware art. The song’s honest portrayal of urban life, and the systemic rot within, offers an aural history lesson that still rings true.

Wonder’s work stands as a pillar among protest songs, a guiding light for musicians and activists alike. ‘Living For The City’ does not merely exist as an artifact of its time but thrives as a living legacy, urging new generations to consider and combat the issues woven into its verses. Its message is clear: Change is vital, and music is one of the most profound vehicles to carry that call to action.

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