There are songs that, from the moment the instruments begin playing, are instantly recognizable. “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder is a prime example of such a classic, with its funky beat supported by the clavinet, drums, guitars, trumpet, and saxophone. The song was one of many that introduced Wonder’s new sound in the early 70s to funk music. Released as the leadsingle for his album titled “Talking Book,” it soared to number one in the USA charts, and did well overseas as well, and is easily considered as just one of his many, most notable works. Later, in 2004, “Superstition” was ranked #74 on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s to little surprise that the song has made such feats, with Wonder’s distinctive voice, compositions, and riffs that are difficult not to appreciate.
“Superstition” was written, produced, and arranged by Stevie Wonder under Motown Records. Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, asserted that it be Wonder that would perform the song, after Wonder had written and offered it to Jeff Beck, who created the drum beat for the song. The new sound that “Superstition” and the album introduced was a style that was more personally fit to Wonder, for he had direct control and independence of his music after a contract deal with Motown. Wonder makes use of a melismatic singing style as heard on “Superstition,” meaning a syllable or word is sung over more than one note. He also utilizes keys in music which are often found in jazz music, also heard on the track. One of the most prevalent instruments on the track that defines the sound is the Hohner clavinet keyboard. It adds to the “groovy” sound that had also made it a hit with rock radio stations. Soon after the release of the album, Wonder went on tour with the Rolling Stones, which further contributed to the song’s success. This era of Wonder’s career is considered as the “classic period,” to which he had many hits along with his concept albums.
In the song, Wonder sings about popular superstitions that have been passed on through stories and fables, such as “seven years of bad luck” due to breaking a mirror, or “looking glass.” He tells that believing in such fables brings harm upon a person, singing, “When you believe in things you don’t understand / Then you suffer.” The phrase could be used beyond the topic of superstition, as there are many ideas in which people outside of them do not understand. “Superstition” may be interpreted as a song that attempts to send a message that myths in society are dangerous, for it is putting false beliefs onto vague ideas. Thus, it brings suffering upon the believer and the ones around them. “Superstition ain’t the way,” as Wonder sings, implying that one must be aware of the ideas to which he or she places such belief on. It’s a song with a message that transcends its time period, as it is still relevant today with ongoing issues such as prejudice and discrimination.
Stevie Wonder, a child prodigy, is considered as one of the greatest musicians in history. He has received twenty-two Grammy Awards, the most ever for a male solo artist. Billboard, under their Hot 100 All Time Top Artists, listed Wonder at #5, and was inducted into the Soul Music Hall of Fame through popular vote. “Superstition” is just one of the many songs that make Stevie Wonder a true legend in the music industry, a talent that the world may never forget.
Here’s Stevie Wonder performing “Superstition” live on Sesame Street in 1973: