Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” Lyrics Meaning

There has been some minor debate concerning the meaning of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”. The issue is not its overall message, which is pretty clear. And that is the addressee(s) of the song should focus more on the problems which need to be resolved in the present as opposed to harping on some idyllic era. The titular “pastime paradise” is symbolic of an ideological existence in the mind of the addressee where ‘sorrow’ does not exist.

And as Stevie points out, said fantasies are often based in the past, as in say an individual’s view of a society or culture which once existed but is no more. But as he also notes, these imaginings can likewise be future-based. So simply put, the singer is telling the addressee to focus on bringing his or her ideology for the world into fruition in the here and now as opposed to harping on the past when it did perhaps exist or expecting it to magically transpire in the future. So overall this reads as a case of the addressee’s mind being stuck in the perceived glory days of old, so to speak.

Who is the Addressee?

And again, that thesis of the song is discernible. Rather the issue of debate is who exactly are the addressees.

Wonder lists a wide range of issues plaguing mankind. Indeed he ends the first verse by recognizing the “evils of the world”. But he also seems to take a special interest in “race relations” and the such. And people who are familiar with the artist’s history know that he was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, i.e. a particular part of the latter half of the 20th century whereas many African-Americans (aided by others), including celebrities and prominent public figures, made a concerted effort to achieve equal rights.  And also considering how many times he references this struggle, one can’t help but to think that the main group he is speaking to is a segment of African-American activists. For the sake of simplicity we will classify them as Afrocentrists.

Addressee spends much time idealizing the past

In fighting against the oppressive system they find themselves in the present, these individuals have a tendency to idealize the past. For instance, they may reference traditional African societies as being preferable to the types of societies we live in today. And again such-minded people had a notable influence on Civil Rights movement. And that is why for instance during that time you may find those who support equal rights for Blacks wearing traditional African garb. Indeed Stevie himself wore a kaftan, which some may classify as a traditional African dress, on the cover of his 1972 album “Talking Book”.

So all things considered, such individuals seem to be the ones he is addressing primarily. And if so what he would be telling them, succinctly put, is to stop harping on Africa’s glory days. Instead of that, they should focus on bringing a fresh era of prosperity for their people starting from the present.

Spirituality and a Future Paradise

But again considering that this is indeed Stevie Wonder, a deep song like this would also have some type of spiritual connotation. Indeed in the lyrics he even references “the Savior”, whom religious adherents would recognize a moniker the Messiah. The Messiah is the individual whom many believe will one day bring forth paradise on earth. And this is where the song also becomes future-oriented. For just as Stevie is telling some aforementioned addressees to stop concentrating on past images of societal perfection, he is likewise telling others not to become preoccupied with the “future paradise” that has yet to come. And in the latter case, he would be speaking to those types of people who may feel for instance that they do not have to vest much in improving the present since God is supposed to eventually come around and fix all the problems of the world anyway.

Conclusion

So the title of this track does not encapsulate the entire meaning of the song.  Whom Stevie is speaking to are dreamers if you will, i.e. those who believe that the solution to societal and even personal problems lies in the past or future. Now Mr. Wonder himself is not a blind idealist. No pun intended! He is not one who believes that all of the world’s issues can be solved in the here and now. But rather what he is saying is that instead of fantasizing about the past or future, individuals should be more focused on making the world better today. 

Lyrics of

Release Date of “Pastime Paradise”

This song was released by Motown Records on 28 September 1976. The classic was released as part of Stevie’s unparalleled album “Songs in the Keys of Life”.

Writing Credits

“Pastime Paradise” was written and produced by Stevie Wonder. The song features background vocals from the West (Los) Angeles Church Choir. It also features backing vocals from adherents of the Hare Krishna religion who were also from Los Angeles.

Covers of “Pastime Paradise”

This song has been covered and especially sampled by many artists throughout the years. Some of the more-notable names who are known to have used this song are as follows:

  • Erykah Badu (1997)
  • Mary J. Blige (1999)
  • Scarface (2007)

However, the most-famous instance of this track being utilized by another musician is on Coolio’s international smash hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” (1995). “Gangsta’s Paradise” relied very heavily on “Pastime Paradise”.

Meanwhile Wonder himself sampled, if you will, a piece of music by prominent 18th century composer John Sebastian Bach in “Pastime Paradise”. The piece of music in question is entitled “Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847″.

Did Stevie Wonder release “Pastime Paradise” as a single?

No, he didn’t. Wonder’s Grammy winning “Songs in the Key of Life” album produced 5 singles. “Pastime Paradise” wasn’t one of them.

2 Responses

  1. Jenn says:

    To me, this song is an indictment of the Church by someone who is friendly to the church. Even the Bach is telling since most of his songs were written for the Church. In Christianity, there are two paradises, the pastime paradise of the Garden of Eden where ignorance (of evil) was bliss. (Ignorance’s oldest praise). But Adam and that apple loosed evil on the world. The term ‘dispensation’ is telling. It is the Divine ordering of the world, as well as a theological way to excuse sin. The second paradise is the new Heaven and Earth which will come after the Second Coming of the Savior, or Messiah. In that time, there will be no more war, no tears, no suffering and people will live in complete harmony with each other and God in a sinless world. It seems to me Stevie Wonder is saying, Hey Church, wake up. The old paradise led to sin, and suffering and religious legalism. The new paradise isn’t here yet. In the meantime, there’s a whole lot of things wrong in the world that the Church should be focused on relieving, so let’s get to it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a song into teenage key of life but was surprised to learn Patti Smith wrote the song

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