For just one week - the one ending Jan. 27, 1973, to be exact - Stevie Wonder enjoyed his second career No. 1 hit with "Superstition." The deeply funky track, built around a hypnotic drum track, layers of clavinets and a series of monstrous horn riffs, was the Motown superstar's first chart-topper since he rang the bell with the live, mostly-instrumental "Fingertips Pt. 2" in 1963 - all of 12 years old at the time. Thus - though he had plenty of hits in the ensuing decade, "Superstition" definitively established Stevie as an artistic, cultural and commercial force through the next several decades.
But that's not how it was intended. Had Wonder gotten his way, the track would've been popularized by guitar god Jeff Beck.
"Superstition" was birthed as a collaboration between the two in the studio. Beck was an avowed fan of Wonder's increasingly mature and complex music, and Stevie - who was adept at multiple instruments but liked to have guitarists contribute their own work - was happy to join forces.
"One day I was sitting at the drum kit, which I love to play when nobody's around, doing this beat," Beck later told a biographer of their time together. "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.'"
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And Beck was right. There was just one problem: the schedule of recording each of their albums - Beck, Bogert, Appice, a trio album with bassist Tim Bogert and former Vanilla Fudge/future Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice, and Wonder's own Talking Book - didn't turn out the way each other intended. So when Beck's project was delayed and Motown discovered that Wonder had an undeniable hit he was waiting for Beck to put out, label head Berry Gordy wasted no time. (Beck, Bogert, Appice wouldn't hit record stores until two months after "Superstition" peaked on the Hot 100.)
"My understanding was that Jeff would be releasing 'Superstition' long before I was going to finish my album," Wonder later told Rolling Stone, after Beck made his displeasure public. "Jeff recorded 'Superstition' in July, so I thought it would be out...I did promise him the song, and I'm sorry it happened and that he came out with some of the arrogant statements he came out with."
Nonetheless, the pair put aside their differences long enough to collaborate more. Beck played guitar on several tracks from Talking Book, and his hit album Blow by Blow (1975) would feature two originals written by Wonder.
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