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Superstar (Carpenters song)

"Superstar" is a 1969 song written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell (with a songwriting credit also given to Delaney Bramlett[1]) 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.

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.

Sung by Bonnie, the arrangement featured slow guitar and bass parts building up to an almost gospel-style chorus using horns.

The song was about, as the title suggests, a groupie who holds a strong love for a rock star after a short sexual involvement. He has moved on to the next town, and despite his promises to see her again she can now only hear him on the radio. She is just left with the pure hopeless yearning of the chorus:

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 ...

Delaney & Bonnie were not yet well known at the time, and "Comin' Home" only reached number 84 on the U.S. pop singles chart, although it achieved a peak of sixteen on the UK Singles Chart.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen version

During the first half of 1970, Joe Cocker's legendary 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, using the name "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 unknown but very lively singer Bette Midler 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's, 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.[2]

Vikki Carr used the song as the title track of a 1971 album. 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", which was released by May 1971 and became a moderate hit in Australia.

Carpenters version

"Superstar"
B-side "Bless the Beasts and Children"
Released August 12, 1971
Format 7" single
Recorded Early 1971
Genre Pop
Length 3:46
Label A&M
1289
Writer(s) Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett
Producer Jack Daugherty
Carpenters singles chronology

"Rainy Days and Mondays"
(1971)
"Superstar"
(1971)
"Bless the Beasts and Children"
(1971)

Carpenters track listing
Side one
  1. "Rainy Days and Mondays"
  2. "Saturday"
  3. "Let Me Be the One"
  4. "(A Place to) Hideaway"
  5. "For All We Know"
Side two
  1. "Superstar"
  2. "Druscilla Penny"
  3. "One Love"
  4. "Bacharach/David Medley"
  5. "Sometimes"
"Superstar"
Single by Sonic Youth
from the album If I Were a Carpenter
Released 1994
Format 7" single
Recorded 1994
Genre Alternative rock, noise rock
Length 4:06
Label A&M
Writer(s) Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett
Sonic Youth singles chronology

"Bull in the Heather"
(1994)
"Superstar"
(1994)
"The Diamond Sea"
(1995)

"Superstar" became its biggest hit version for the Carpenters. Richard Carpenter was unaware of the Bramlett or Mad Dogs originals, but as he later wrote in a compilation album's liner notes: "I came home from the studio one night and heard a then relatively unknown Bette Midler performing this song on the Tonight Show. I could barely wait to arrange and record it. (It remains one of my favorites)." Somewhat ironically, Karen Carpenter had heard the Coolidge rendition on a promotional copy of the Mad Dogs album, but 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. Produced by Richard with Jack Daugherty, it was recorded with members of the famed Los Angeles session musicians The Wrecking Crew. Karen Carpenter recorded her vocal in just one take (which in fact was the "work lead" normally used to guide the other musicians), using lyrics scribbled by Richard on a paper napkin. Since the song's subject was more risqué than usual for the clean-cut image of the Carpenters, Richard changed a lyric in the second verse[3] 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.

Whether he knew of the similar previous lyric change or did it independently is unclear. The song's publisher was delighted with Richard's lyric change, saying 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.) In any case, upon hearing the final recording, Karen Carpenter finally recognized the power of the song.

The duo's rendition was included on the May 1971 album Carpenters, and then released as a single in September 1971. It rose to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart (held out of the top spot by Rod Stewart's "Maggie May") and spent two weeks at number one on the Easy Listening chart that autumn and earned gold record status.[4] 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.

Opinion is divided as to whether the Carpenters' treatment of the song lost the meaning of the original, or subversively kept that meaning under the cover of their image, or found a broader meaning that established the song as a standard for years to come, or some combination of all of these. At the time, Karen's vocal did receive some praise for its intensity and emotional nature. When asked how she could sing the song lacking any personal experience in the subject matter, Karen said in a 1972 interview, "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 1981, Karen spoke of the song: "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."[5] She added that "Superstar", along with "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "I Need to Be in Love", were the songs that were most emotionally upsetting to sing.[5] Richard later remembered that "Solitaire" was another song that Karen did not like at first.[6]

In the 1995 comedy film Tommy Boy, David Spade's character and Chris Farley's character argue over what music to listen to on the radio (Farley prefers heavy metal; Spade 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 movie, Ghost Rider, with Nicolas Cage as the Ghost Rider. 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 entitled "A Thing for Karen Carpenter".

Personnel

Charts

Chart (1971) Peak
position
Canadian Singles Chart 3
Oricon (Japanese) Singles Chart 7
UK Singles Chart 18
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 2
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 1

Note

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.

Bonnie Bramlett would later re-record the song on her 2002 solo album I'm Still the Same. Now using just the "Superstar" title, she did it as a very slow, piano-based torch song.

Luther Vandross version

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 now the original "groupie" association was far gone. Instead, the song was presented as a tale of universal longing.

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 would earn a 2004 Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Superstar", but lose out to his 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:

See also

References

Sources

  • 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

External links

  • Template:MetroLyrics song
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