Wonder wrote this about the dangers of believing in superstitions. Some of the bad luck superstitions he alludes to include walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror (said to bring seven years of bad luck), and the number 13.
This was intended for Jeff Beck, who was brought in to play some guitar parts on the album in exchange for a song. At one of the sessions, Stevie came up with the riff and wrote some lyrics, and they recorded a rough version of the song that day for Beck. It took Beck a while to record the song, and by the time he released it, Wonder's version had been out for a month and was a huge hit. Beck felt shortchanged, and made some statements in the press that Wonder didn't appreciate. In 1975, Beck released an instrumental version of Wonder's "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" on his album Blow By Blow. The album was a hit and helped solidify Beck's reputation as an elite guitarist.
When Wonder turned 21, he was no longer obligated to Motown Records, and used his clout to sign a deal with the label giving him unprecedented control of his music. He got a large share of royalties and publishing rights, and Motown was not allowed to alter the albums once they were delivered. One thing Motown did control, however, were what songs they released as singles. Knowing Jeff Beck was about to record his version, Motown head Berry Gordy made sure this was the first single and released it before Beck could get his out.
Taking a cue from Marvin Gaye, who put musician credits on his album What's Going On, Wonder included credits on Talking Book. On this track, Stevie played Hohner clavinet, drums, and Moog bass. Two of his band members also contributed: Steve Madaio played trumpet and Trevor Lawrence played tenor saxophone.
Jeff Beck finally recorded his own version of this song in December 1972 with bass player Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice. They recorded as Beck, Bogert and Appice, and while their album did well, their version of this song was hardly noticed.
This was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which is where Jimi Hendrix recorded. The studios stayed active after Hendrix' death, with artists like Miles Davis and Deep Purple also recording there.
At the time, Wonder would keep the studio booked so he could record when inspiration hit. Stevie's bass player at the time, Scott Edwards
, told us that this was not always convenient for his band. "Because he does not have sight, he's not controlled by daylight," said Scott. "So he may begin his night at midnight. Which is bad, because if they want you to come do an overdub or something, he may call you at 4 a.m. and say, 'Come on in.'"
Several artists besides Jeff Beck have covered this. None made much of an impact until Stevie Ray Vaughan released a live version as a single in 1986 on his album Live Alive. His version is still played on Classic Rock radio, and has grown even more popular since Vaughan's death in 1990.
This song incorporates many elements of rock music, which helped Wonder extend his appeal to a white audience. Before Talking Book was released, Stevie went on tour with The Rolling Stones, which boosted his credibility in the world of rock. When "Superstition" was released, it was warmly welcomed on the same radio stations that played The Stones, earning Wonder many new fans. It also helped Wonder move past his image as a child star.
This was Wonder's second #1 hit in the US. His first was with "Fingertips (Part 2)
" in 1963, which he recorded as "Little" Stevie Wonder.
Wonder performed this song on Sesame Street
in 1973 during the show's fourth season. It was recorded at the show's New York studios at a time when Wonder and his band were playing lots of gigs, and they treated the Sesame Street
performance just like any other, extending it to nearly 7 minutes, complete with intricate musical shifts directed by Wonder. Video of the performance
shows kids and puppets having a blast on the set, but the band remained focused, since getting distracted by a monster would not be a valid excuse for missing a change.
Wonder was the biggest musical act to appear on the show to this point, and other top talent followed: Johnny Cash appeared the next year and Paul Simon showed up in Season 8. In later years, just about anyone who grew up watching the show was thrilled to appear, so they had no trouble attracting musical guests. Rather than straight performances, the songs were typically re-written to fit the theme of the show or teach a lesson: R.E.M. did "Shiny Happy People
" as "Furry Happy Monsters"; The Goo Goo Dolls turned "Slide
" into "Pride."
The album was called Talking Book because wonder considered the songs akin to chapters in a book that tell a whole story. On the cover is a rare photo of Wonder without his sunglasses on.
Raven-Symoné of The Cosby Show
and Disney Channel's That's So Raven
fame, recorded this for the 2003 Disney movie The Haunted Mansion
, starring Eddie Murphy.
Wonder appeared in Bud Light commercials that debuted during the Super Bowl in 2013. As part of the "It's only weird if it doesn't work" campaign, which showed superstitious fans acting compulsively in an effort to steer their teams to victory, Wonder appeared as some kind of witch doctor in New Orleans (where the game took place). Asking, "are you looking for a little mojo?," Wonder then transports our hero to the big game, where he has a voodoo doll to help his cause. The song "Superstition" plays throughout.