In the song "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder,

one of the line goes "you can tell right away at the letter A, when people start to move",

what does "at the letter A" mean? In the context of the lyrics,

Does it mean "from the get-go? from the jump?"

  • If you're looking for the meaning in context you should provide that context in your question. – PiedPiper Jun 17 '20 at 17:06
  • I see where lyrics sites and a very credible critique video list the lyrics as "at the letter A", and maybe that's even what's listed in some official lyrics resource to which I don't have access (liner notes?), but I gotta say: when listening to the recording, I really don't hear Stevie saying "at the letter". I can't tell what it is he might be saying instead. – mlibby Oct 7 '20 at 0:35
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    @mlibby The album actually came with a booklet containing lyrics and extensive information. That booklet has the lines as "But you can tell right away at letter A/When the people people start to move". So John has it slightly wrong in the question. Personally, I have always always heard it exactly as the book says, but I may have been influenced by studying the book too much when I listened to the album. – Lefty Feb 27 at 19:11

Personally, I've always assumed it to be as you say, "From the get-go".


This gets a little bit into music terminology and musical form. When talking about different sections of music they are typical referred to by letters as seen here and here.

You also need to take the previous line in to get the full context:

Just because a record has a groove

Don't make it it the groove

So Sir Duke is talking about from the top of the piece (the A section) you can tell if the piece is the groove.

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    +1. Nice theory. I'm not sure I buy it, but it is very plausible. By the way it's "in the groove" not "hit the groove". – Lefty Jun 19 '20 at 8:36
  • @Lefty the use of Letter A isn't really a theory. Musicans use that term all the time to talk about the start of a song. Also as this is a song written as tribute to other musicians and about a celebration of music it makes a lot of sense letter A is used this way. – Dom Jun 19 '20 at 13:56
  • Don't get me wrong, I fully understand about the structure of songs and and the use of A/B/C etc rather then "Verse"/"Chorus"/"Bridge" - but I still tend to think that he used "Letter A" to mean "The beginning of the alphabet" rather than "The 'A' section of the song". As corroborating evidence, I would offer that songs actually often DON'T start with Part A, as the Intro may well be unique in the song, or based upon the, say, the Middle-8. I could be wrong about this, but I thought they generally like to use A and B for the main parts (Verse/Chorus)...? – Lefty Jun 19 '20 at 16:37
  • @Lefty we're saying the same thing, just getting there a different way. I added a link to rehearsal letters also which while typically used more for in depth notation have the same pattern as I've described and what we're both saying this has a more musical indication which fits the song. Jazz songs in general have a very typical structure of AABA (as Take the A Train does) and while there are always songs that don't follow this pattern, why would the lyrics deviate from the use in music? As the song is a tribute to music legangs, why not acknowledge the musical terms that are being used. – Dom Jun 19 '20 at 17:20

The song is a tribute to Duke Ellington, and one of his most popular hits was called "Take the A Train." I believe that the lyric, "You can tell right away the letter A when the people start to move" is a reference to Take the A Train.

  • While the song is a tribute to Duke Ellington, it's not a reference to Take the A Train. Letter A is a musical term and about the general celebration of music. – Dom Jun 18 '20 at 21:12
  • Amongst the theories listed here, I don't see why this one is any less plausible than the others. +1. – mlibby Oct 7 '20 at 0:36

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