If it weren’t for Jeff Beck — the guitar god who died suddenly at 78 on Wednesday after contracting bacterial meningitis — then Stevie Wonder wouldn’t have had one of his biggest hits.
Indeed, “Superstition” — the lead single from Wonder’s classic 1972 album “Talking Book,” on which he famously sang that “when you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer” — was originally intended to be for Beck before it became the ultimate lucky charm for the 72-year-old R&B legend.
A fan of Wonder’s music, Beck was invited to play guitar on “Talking Book” by the Motown icon. An agreement was made between the two master musicians that, in return for Beck playing on the album — which became the first in a golden-era string of Stevie LPs that was followed by 1973’s “Innervisions,” 1974’s “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and 1976’s “Songs in the Key of Life” — Wonder would write him a song.
In fact, Beck even came up with the backing drum beat that opens “Superstition” and would go on to inspire Wonder to his highest of heights.
“One day I was sitting at the drum kit, which I love to play when nobody’s around, doing this beat,” said Beck in Annette Carson’s book “Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers.”
“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.’ ”
After finishing the song, Wonder decided that he would indeed let Beck record it first — with his newly formed power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice — in accordance with their agreement. But after the trio’s debut album was delayed, Wonder ended up releasing his version of “Superstition” first — and it went all the way to No. 1 50 years ago, in January 1973.
Beck’s rendition would later be released on the self-titled debut album by Beck, Bogert & Appice in March 1973. But by then, “Superstition” — which Rolling Stone ranked at No. 21 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2021 — would forever and always belong to Wonder.