Superstar (Delaney and Bonnie song)
"Superstar" is a 1969 song written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell (with a songwriting credit also given to Delaney Bramlett) that has been a hit for many artists in different genres and interpretations in the years since; the best-known version is by the Carpenters in 1971.
- 1 Original Delaney and Bonnie version
- 2 Mad Dogs and Englishmen version
- 3 Bette Midler version
- 4 Other early versions
- 5 The Carpenters version
- 6 Chart performance
- 7 Back to Bonnie
- 8 Luther Vandross version
- 9 Ruben Studdard version
- 10 Other later versions
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 External links
Original Delaney and Bonnie version
Accounts of the song's origin vary somewhat, but it grew out of the late 1969/early 1970 nexus of English and American musicians known as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, that involved Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, and various others. The song's working title during portions of its development was "Groupie Song."
In its first recorded incarnation, the song was called "Groupie (Superstar)," and was recorded and released as a B-side to the Delaney & Bonnie single "Comin' Home" in December 1969. Released by Atlantic Records, the full credit on the single was to Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Featuring Eric Clapton.
As suggested in the title, the song was the story of a groupie who holds a strong love for a rock musician. After a brief involvement he has moved on to the next town. She is alone, waiting and yearning for a return that will never come. Despite his promises to see her again, the music on the radio is all she has left. Through the chorus she pleads:
- Don't you remember! You told me you loved me, baby
- You said you'd be coming back this way again, baby
- Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby
- I love you. I really do ...
Mad Dogs and Englishmen version
During the first half of 1970, Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen Revue toured in the United States. Ex-Delaney and Bonnie vocalist Rita Coolidge was a backup singer on this tour, and song co-writer Leon Russell was the bandleader. Some accounts have Coolidge suggesting or inspiring the song's creation in the first place, and working with Bonnie Bramlett on her portion of the writing. In any case, Coolidge was given a featured vocal on the song during the tour; she took the verses with an air of resignation but the choruses with more anguish. The arrangement was fueled by Russell's evocative piano line laced with dynamic fills, with understated horns, guitar, and choir behind it.
In August 1970, the live album Mad Dogs and Englishmen was released, using performances of the song under the title "Superstar," recorded in March and June of that year. The Mad Dogs album became a huge hit, reaching number 2 on the Billboard pop albums chart and number 23 on the Billboard Black Albums chart. The performance helped vault Coolidge to greater visibility, especially when it was also included in the 1971 film of the revue.
Bette Midler version
The then unknown but very lively singer Bette Midler, subsequently an actress as well, began making regular appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in August 1970. During one such appearance, she sang "Superstar" in an understated arrangement that featured only a piano for accompaniment.
Later, once the Carpenters' version had become a hit, she sang it again on The Tonight Show in October 1971. Her recording of it then appeared on her 1972 debut album, The Divine Miss M. Midler used the contrast between her personality and that of Karen Carpenter, and a supposed but non-existent personal rivalry between them, as comic material for the next couple of years.
Other early versions
Around September 1970, Cher recorded "Superstar" as her last single for Atco Records. Released in October or November 1970, and in the gap between Sonny and Cher's heyday and the start of Cher's solo successes, it did not chart. After the song became better known, a concert performance of it was included in the 1973 Sonny & Cher In Las Vegas, Volume 2. Cher's version did apparently feature a lyric change that would become more famous in the Carpenters version.
Vikki Carr used the song as the title track of a 1971 album. Also in 1971, ex-Smith singer Gayle McCormick recorded the song on her self-titled debut solo album on Dunhill Records. The following year, Peggy Lee included the tune on her album Norma Deloris Egstrom from Jamestown, North Dakota, her final disc for Capitol Records. In Australia, Colleen Hewett's recording of "Superstar" was released by May 1971 and became a moderate hit there.
The Carpenters version
|Single by Carpenters|
|from the album Carpenters|
|B-side||"Bless the Beasts and Children"|
|Released||August 12, 1971|
|Writer(s)||Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett|
|Carpenters singles chronology|
|Single by Sonic Youth|
|from the album If I Were a Carpenter|
|Genre||Alternative rock, noise rock|
|Writer(s)||Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett|
|Sonic Youth singles chronology|
The song "Superstar" became most popular after its treatment by the Carpenters. Richard Carpenter became aware of the song after hearing it sung by Bette Midler on late night television. "I came home from the studio one night and heard a, then, relatively unknown Bette Midler perform it on the Tonight Show," he remembered. "I could barely wait to arrange and record it. It remains one of my favorites." Karen Carpenter had heard the early Coolidge rendition on a promotional copy of the Mad Dogs album, but at the time she did not think that much of it.
Richard's arrangement featured an oboe line at the start, followed by Karen's clear contralto voice set against a quiet bass line in the verses, which then built up to up-tempo choruses with a quasi-orchestral use of horns and strings. Karen Carpenter recorded her vocal in just one take, using lyrics scribbled by Richard on a paper napkin. This was in fact the "work lead" normally used only to guide the other musicians through the early takes. Produced by Richard with Jack Daugherty, it was recorded with members of the "The Wrecking Crew," a famed collection of Los Angeles area session musicians. As the song's storyline was more risqué than what was typical for the Carpenters, Richard changed a lyric in the second verse from:
- And I can hardly wait
- To sleep with you again
To the somewhat less suggestive:
- And I can hardly wait
- To be with you again.
The song's publisher was delighted with the lyric change, noting the previous wording had kept many other artists from recording it. (The timing of the Carpenters' first recording of the song is unclear; it is possible that Richard submitted the change to the publisher well in advance of their ultimate release of the recording, and that this influenced the other early versions.) Upon hearing the final recording, Karen Carpenter finally recognized the power of the song. She later noted: "For some reason that tune didn't hit me in the beginning. It's the only one. Richard looked at me like I had three heads. He said: 'Are you out of your mind?' When I heard his arrangement of it I fell over, and now it's one of my favorites too."
The Carpenters' treatment of the song underscored the deep loneliness and sense of loss intended in the lyric, and established the song as a standard for years to come. Karen's vocal was praised for its intensity and emotional nature. When asked in a 1972 interview how she could communicate the heart of the song while lacking the personal experience it depicted, Karen replied, "I've seen enough groupies hanging around to sense their loneliness, even though they usually don't show it. I can't really understand them, but I just tried to feel empathy and I guess that's what came across in the song." In truth, Karen struggled with loneliness herself, and the personal implications of the song made it one of the three she found most emotionally difficult to sing, the other two being the previous "Rainy Days and Mondays" and the subsequent "I Need to Be in Love."
The duo's rendition was included on the May 1971 album Carpenters, and then released as a single in August 1971, rising to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart (held out of the top spot by Rod Stewart's "Maggie May"), and spending two weeks at number one on the Easy Listening chart that autumn and earned gold record status. It also reached number 18 on the UK pop singles chart and did well in Australia and New Zealand as well.
Richard would be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for his efforts. "Superstar" would go on to appear on two mid-1970s Carpenters live albums as well as innumerable compilation albums. For instance, it appeared on the Carpenters' 2004 SACD compilation, The Singles: 1969–1981 (not to be confused with the regular CD, The Singles: 1969–1981), as a remix of the original 1973 mix on the similarly titled compilation The Singles: 1969–1973.
The song has been featured in several movies, and both as a tribute:
- In the 1995 comedy film Tommy Boy, David Spade's and Chris Farley's respective characters argue over what music to listen to on the radio (Farley's prefers heavy metal; Spade's prefers more modern rock) when they stumble upon this song. Both insist that the other should turn to another station if the song offends them; in the next scene, both of them are loudly (and emotionally) singing the song's chorus.
- The song was also used in the 2007 film Ghost Rider with Nicolas Cage. In the movie, Donal Logue tries to turn off "Superstar," when Cage defends the song and states that nobody messes with Karen Carpenter. (On the Ghost Rider official soundtrack, a song is titled "A Thing for Karen Carpenter.")
- Karen Carpenter – lead and backing vocals
- Richard Carpenter – backing vocals, piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, orchestration
- Joe Osborn – bass
- Hal Blaine – drums
- Earle Dumler – oboe
- Uncredited - tambourine, harp, trumpets
- Released as a double A-side with "For All We Know" in the UK
Back to Bonnie
The original Delaney and Bonnie version would finally surface on an album in 1972 when D&B Together was released, shortly before their marriage and collaboration ended. This version was also included as a bonus track on a 2006 reissue of the 1970 album Eric Clapton.
Luther Vandross version
|"Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"|
|Single by Luther Vandross|
|from the album Busy Body|
|Format||Vinyl 7" 45 RPM|
|Length||5:32 (single edit version)|
Larkin Arnold (Exec. Producer)
|Luther Vandross singles chronology|
In the early 1980s, American R&B singer Luther Vandross had "Superstar" in his stage act, sometimes in a rendition that stretched out at nearly six minutes, with vocal interpolations, an interpretive dancer, and plenty of swaying and swooning females in the audience.
Vandross then recorded "Superstar" in 1983 in a slower, more soulful fashion, as part of a medley with Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" on his album Busy Body. Released as a single the following year, it became an R&B hit, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Top R&B Singles chart. It did not have much pop crossover effect, however, only reaching number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This was the first prominent version by a male singer, and by that time, the original "groupie" association was far gone. Instead, the song was presented as a tale of universal longing.
|US Billboard Hot 100||87|
|US Billboard Hot R&B Singles||5|
Ruben Studdard version
Second-season American Idol contestant Ruben Studdard found his melismatic, R&B groove early in the Final 12 rounds when he performed a Vandross-influenced "Superstar." It got rave reviews from the judges and established Studdard as one of the early leaders in the competition, a position he held through his narrow May 2003 win over second-place finisher Clay Aiken.
By now his signature song, Studdard recorded "Superstar" as the B-side of his June 2003 first single and number two hit, "Flying Without Wings." Studdard earned a 2004 Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Superstar," but he lost to his own idol, Vandross, who won for "Dance with My Father." Studdard's treatment was also included on his December 2003 debut album, Soulful.
Other later versions
In addition to those mentioned earlier, "Superstar" has been recorded by these artists:
- On the 1993 soundtrack of the movie Wayne's World 2, a band called "Superfan" is performing "Superstar." Superfan is a collective including Chrissie Hynde (from the Pretenders) on vocals and the musicians from Urge Overkill.
- The musical team Sonic Youth, which had always found unlikely inspiration from the Carpenters, recorded a version of the selection for the 1994 tribute album If I Were a Carpenter. This version was later included on the soundtrack for the 2007 film Juno. It was also featured in the film The Frighteners and in the theatrical trailer for High Tension. It likewise appeared in professional skateboarder Jerry Hsu's part in "Bag of Suck." Richard Carpenter expressed his distaste for this version on the November 25, 2009 edition of Fresh Air, in "40/40 Celebrates The Carpenters's 1969 Debut," for National Public Radio.
- Usher Raymond IV's performed the selection, in homage to the now-late Vandross's version, on the 2005 album So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross; for his version, he received a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
- The selection was performed by Chrissie Hynde, with James Walbourne of the Pretenders, for a 2009 UK TV special titled Remembering the Carpenters.
- The selection's refrain is featured in the song "It's Alright," on American rapper Saigon's debut album The Greatest Story Never Told, released in 2011.
- In 2016, Dami Im recorded a version for her album Classic Carpenters.
- "BMI Repertoire Search: Superstar (Legal Title)". BMI. Retrieved 2012-04-10.
- "Cher Superstar". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
- Black, Johnny (October 2002). "The Greatest Songs Ever! Superstar". Blender. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
- UK Radio, October 1981 - transcript
- Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 47.
- Billboard, December 25, 1971.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 597.
- Luther Vandross - Singles Chart history.Billboard.com
- Christopher Borrelli (2007-08-12). "Sonic Youth broke new ground with ‘Daydream Nation’". The Blade. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- "40/40 Celebrates the Carpenters' 1969 Debut". Fresh Air (NPR). November 25, 2009.
- November 18, 2009. on YouTube
- October 2002 Blender magazine article by Johnny Black
- Allmusic discussion of song's origins
- Randy L. Schmidt, Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter, Chicago Review Press, 2010, ISBN 1-55652-976-7, pp. 77–78.
- IMDB listing of Bette Midler television appearances
- Australian PopArchives entry
- Australian Countdown entry