Album: Talking Book
. . .
Poor Jeff Beck. He’d made a deal with Stevie Wonder that he would play guitar on Wonder’s next album and Wonder would write him a song. The problem is, that song was “Superstition,” which, once Stevie recorded it — without Beck, hilariously enough, because the clavinet riff that dominated the song rocked so hard it precluded the need for guitars — Motown knew it was going to be a big hit, the first return on their brand-new massive investment in the now-fully-adult Wonder. So, tough luck Jeff Beck, who was understandably pissed, as was his record label.
However, the rest of us totally won, because “Superstition” is an absolute banger from start to finish, opening with a funkily ramshackle beat by Wonder (at least one account of this song has the opening drum beat improvised by Beck, but c’mon!), and almost instantly going into the now-iconic clavinet riff, each of of the notes hitting harder than the previous one. Also hitting hard: Wonder’s lyrics.
Writing’s on the wall
Ladder’s about to fall
Thirteen month old baby
Broke the looking glass
Seven years of bad luck
The good things in your past
About halfway through the verse, a horn section comes in — Trevor Lawrence on tenor sax & Steve Maidao on trumpet — both echoing the clavinet riff and augmenting it, driving the song even harder, all of which comes to a head on the chorus.
When you believe in things
That you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way
As one final extra added touch, there’s a quick stop-time bit before he belts out “superstition ain’t the way,” with the grit and vigor of an ancient bluesman whose lived his whole life following one superstition after another before realizing that it well and truly wasn’t the way.
The last minute or so of “Superstition” is a panopoly of horn riffs and drum rolls bouncing against each other, all kept in check by that unearthly clavinet riff, which always felt on the verge of exploding out of your speakers while also keeping the song together. Just fantastic from start to finish.
But, of course, you already knew that. “Superstition” was Wonder’s second #1 single on the Hot 100 (as well as #1 R&B and #11 on the UK charts) and well and truly kickstarted his imperial period, which is a weird thing to say about a guy who’d already had a dozen top 10 singles in the first decade of his career. But it’s true: starting with “Superstition,” he had a run from 1972-1977 where eight out of nine singles in a row made the top 10. And given that this was the prime AM radio period of my life, you’ll be reading about most of those songs — plus others — in the next week or so.
“Superstition” Official Music Video
“Superstition” Live 1974
“Superstition” live with Jeff Beck at the Rock Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary
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