Funky Friday: Superstition

Last week, I was reading this post by me (yes in lowercase, but not myself) at this blog, where she shares how she is trying to give her oldest son his joy and freedom back in playing music. In the middle of the post, they have a discussion about a Stevie Wonder song. The son, having seen the movie Sing, heard “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” as done by Tori Kelly. Mama found Stevie Wonder’s version and showed it to her son. He was very impressed that Stevie could play the piano; at eight years of age, it’s very likely he hadn’t even heard of Stevie Wonder.

So in the comments of the post, I mentioned that if she really wanted to impress her son, she should know that Stevie can play the drums as well. She agreed, and set out to find something on YouTube to get proof of Wonder behind the drum kit. I remembered when I first saw him do it: it was in a video about Wonder’s classic album Songs In The Key Of Life. They showed him playing the drums on “I Wish,” one of the many classics found on that album.

So that got me to thinking: what funky song could I find that Stevie Wonder also played drums on? I could have used “I Wish,” but instead I preferred this one:

That’s right. “Superstition,” lead single from the classic Talking Book, is today’s Funky Friday jam.

Forty-five years later, it’s still one of the funkiest pieces in the Wonder catalog. The opening drum beat that sets it off. That badass clavinet riff that powers the song straight through. The synth bass that helps form the bottom. The horns of Steve Madaio (trumpet) and Trevor Lawrence (tenor sax) that punctuate throughout. Fact of it is, that is Stevie on all instruments, except the horns. And to think, it should have been guitarist Jeff Beck’s song.

One story goes that Beck agreed to work with Stevie on the Talking Book album in exchange for a song. Another says that while they were working on the album they came up with the basics for the song. Both versions say that Stevie gave “Superstition” to Beck. However, before Beck could record it and release it, Wonder did his own version of the song. Berry Gordy, the head of Motown Records, heard Wonder’s version and predicted it would be a huge hit. Stevie then released his version, which would be a #1 pop and R&B hit, a month before Beck’s version.

Apparently there was some bad blood between the two after that. But none here: for comparison’s sake, here is Beck’s version (recorded as part of a trio with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice):

Certainly the trio’s version is more rock-edged, but a badass riff is a badass riff. And that riff is pure funk.

Hope you enjoy “Superstition,” and here’s to a great Friday! As always, thanks for listening and reading.

18 Replies to “Funky Friday: Superstition”

    1. Same here, Chevvy! I never even tried to play anything in all the years I was in school. I often wanted to learn how to play piano, but never took the time to do so. Stevie, though is in a class by himself.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I will admit Beck is a premiere guitarist but Stevie wins this battle hands down! Superstition is one of my fav Wonder tunes partly because of the driving drums. I knew Stevie was a protege. Great blog, T.Wayne shining the light on Mr. Wonder’s many talents!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Susan! Yes, the drums are a key factor in this jam! I still am in awe that it’s him on the drums, or that he can even play them!

      No matter who cuts this song, it is great. That riff is an unstoppable force.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, this is definitely one of the funkiest numbers by far!!! Btw … my moko (grandson) was blowen away!!! And he’s been beating his drums like a beast ever since! ‘Mission Accomplished’!! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hope you had a Funky Friday too Michelle!

      Your mom still has vinyl! Whoa! I gave all mine away 😦 If I had known that vinyl would come back into vogue, I’d still have something to play them on. Oh well, guess I’ve taken the deep dive into the digital age. Thanks for visiting! I definitely need to repay the visit with a stop in your neck of the WordPress woods.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You got me on this one Twin! I had not heard this version. it’s actually pretty damn good. But you know Stevie’s version KILLS!
    And YAAASSSS! It is definitely just right for FUNKY FRIDAY!
    You may remember me saying in one of my posts that I was very young when this jam was released but I had sense enough to know that the music meant that something creepy was afoot!
    The music had to give it away because I had no clue, at the time, what the word “Superstition” meant. LOL!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I first heard Beck’s version many years ago, before I wrote this post it had been quite a long time since I heard it. It is pretty good; like I say a badass riff is a badass riff. They stay with that, they can’t help but make a good tune.

      But Stevie’s version…guess Berry Gordy’s quality control machine was running at full capacity when he said that this would be a big hit. Stevie was exercising that freedom he just got after he turned 21. People knew he was talented, but he was just beginning to come into the peak of his powers.

      Like

  4. Thanks for sharing this … I never knew the Jeff Beck story … I thought he just covered Superstition because … because, well, it’s awesome. I looked it up after reading your post, and found that Jeff Beck was in the studio when Stevie wrote it and it was Jeff Beck who came up with the drumbeat that Stevie later plays (which is crazy all the way round).

    Here’s Stevie, Prince, and Sheila E. from a 2010 concert in Paris doing Superstition. Wow. Just wow.

    Liked by 1 person

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