Ignored Obscured Restored
Stevie Wonder has amassed a huge number of hits over his esteemed career, beginning with “Fingertips, Pt. 2” when he was just 13 years old. One of his biggest hits was “Superstition” from the superb Talking Book. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1973.
But did you know that Wonder stole “Superstition” from… himself? Well, “stole” may be the wrong word but perhaps “Indian giver” is the more appropriate term. You see, the song was meant to be a “gift” to guitarist Jeff Beck.
Here’s the story. In 1972, Wonder was working on the recording of Talking Book. By that time, Wonder was playing virtually all the instruments on his recordings but still preferred to use outside guitarists. Wonder received word that Beck would like to work with him and a recording session was arranged. The deal was that Wonder would write Beck a song in exchange for his guitar playing.
At one session Beck was playing drums. The Annette Carson book Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers, quotes Beck as saying:
One day I was sitting at the drum kit, which I love to play when nobody’s around, doing this beat. Stevie came kinda boogieing into the studio: ‘Don’t stop.’ ‘Ah, c’mon, Stevie,’ I can’t play the drums.’ Then the lick came out: ‘Superstition.’ That was my song, in return for Talking Book. I thought, ‘He’s given me the riff of the century.’
It is ironic that “Superstition” was conceived with Beck drumming when Wonder’s version has one of the most distinctive drum intros in all of popular music.
Back to the story… When Motown’s Berry Gordy heard the song, he knew it was a hit. Ever the businessman, he rushed out Wonder’s version before the one Beck had recorded with his latest group – Beck, Bogert & Appice – that was intended to be their single. The rest is history.
This caused some bad feelings between Beck and Wonder that lasted quite a few years, but they eventually mended their friendship.
Enjoy… until next week.
I find myself in the awkward position of having to apologize to my SotW readers. I would like to think that I’m generally a pretty sensitive and enlightened guy. But we all have our blind spots.
In this SotW post, I used the expression “Indian giver.”
One of my regular readers politely pointed out that my use of that expression was offensive. As soon as I read his complaint, I understood that he was right, and that I need to express my sincere apology.
In my professional career, I once had a boss say “Tom, you occasionally make mistakes, but you never make the same mistake twice.” I took that as a compliment. I won’t make this same mistake again.