Superstar (Delaney and Bonnie song)

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"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[edit]

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.

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 ...

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

Mad Dogs and Englishmen version[edit]

During the first half of 1970, Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen Revue toured in the United States. Former 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. Rita Coolidge has said that she came up with the idea of the song after seeing fans's reactions to Eric Clapton; 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.[citation needed]

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[edit]

The then unknown 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[edit]

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]

Australian rock-group McPhee was an early proponent of the song, recording it for their eponymous first album in 1970. 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[edit]

Superstar album cover.jpg
One of the picture sleeves for the U.S. vinyl single
Single by Carpenters
from the album Carpenters
B-side "Bless the Beasts and Children"
Released August 12, 1971
Format 7" single
Recorded Early 1971
Genre Soft rock[3]
Length 3:46
Label A&M 1289
Producer(s) Jack Daugherty
Carpenters singles chronology
"Rainy Days and Mondays"
"Bless the Beasts and Children"
"Rainy Days and Mondays"
"Bless the Beasts and Children"
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"
Single by Sonic Youth
from the album If I Were a Carpenter
Released 1994
Format 7" single
Recorded 1994
Length 4:06
Label A&M
Sonic Youth singles chronology
"Bull in the Heather"
"The Diamond Sea"
"Bull in the Heather"
"The Diamond Sea"

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. He remembered, "I came home from the studio one night and heard a then relatively unknown Bette Midler perform it on The Tonight Show. 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 scratch vocal 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 Wrecking Crew," a famed collection of Los Angeles area session musicians, as the song's storyline was originally 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.[4]

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's 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."[5]

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."[5]

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.[6] 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's 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, sometimes to pay 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.")


Chart performance[edit]


Back to Bonnie[edit]

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 rendered it this time as a very slow, piano-based torch song.

Luther Vandross version[edit]

"Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"
Single by Luther Vandross
from the album Busy Body
Released 1983
(US, Canada)
Format Vinyl 7" 45 RPM
Length 5:32 (single edit version)
Label Epic Records
  • Luther Vandross
  • Larkin Arnold (exec.)
Luther Vandross singles chronology
"I'll Let You Slide"
"Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"
"Til My Baby Comes Home"
"I'll Let You Slide"
"Superstar" (where the edited Yamaha DX7 patch "tub bells" was heard)/"Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"
'Til My Baby Comes Home"

In the early 1980s, American R&B singer Luther Vandross had "Superstar" in his stage act, sometimes in a rendition that stretched to 12 minutes, with vocal interpolations, an interpretive dancer.

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.[13] It did not have much pop crossover effect, however, only reaching number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100.


Chart (1984) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100 87
US Billboard Hot R&B Singles 5

Ruben Studdard version[edit]

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[edit]

In addition to those mentioned earlier, "Superstar" has been recorded by these artists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BMI Repertoire Search: Superstar (Legal Title)". BMI. Retrieved 2012-04-10. 
  2. ^ "Cher Superstar". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-01-15. 
  3. ^ "VH1's 40 Most Softsational Soft-Rock Songs". Stereogum. SpinMedia. May 31, 2007. Retrieved July 31, 2016. 
  4. ^ Black, Johnny (October 2002). "The Greatest Songs Ever! Superstar". Blender. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  5. ^ a b UK Radio, October 1981 - transcript
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 47. 
  7. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (17 July 2013). "Image : RPM Weekly". Retrieved 25 January 2018. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1971/Top 100 Songs of 1971". Retrieved 2016-10-03. 
  11. ^ Billboard, December 25, 1971.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2016-05-30. 
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 597. 
  14. ^ Luther Vandross - Singles Chart
  15. ^ "Sorpresa La Flauta – Fania". Retrieved 25 January 2018. 
  16. ^ Christopher Borrelli (2007-08-12). "Sonic Youth broke new ground with 'Daydream Nation'". The Blade. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  17. ^ "40/40 Celebrates the Carpenters' 1969 Debut". Fresh Air. NPR. November 25, 2009. 


External links[edit]