Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So Sweet and Clear

I recently had the good fortune to be asked by the winsome editor of Oklahoma Today, Louisa McCune, to write an article on Leon Russell, the Master of Space and Time (and isn't that ever one of the great lost rock & roll nicknames), for that magazine's upcoming special Rock and Roll issue. One thing I discovered, but did not have room for in the story, was that Leon wrote the song "Superstar," which the Carpenters took to Number Two back in the fall of 1971.

(Karen and Richard, by the way, had four songs stall out at Number Two, plus two more that peaked at Number Three. But they also had three Number One hits, so no one should cry for them, unlike Creedence Clearwater Revival, who had five Number Two hits and no Number Ones. But I digress).

Leon actually co-wrote "Superstar" with Bonnie Bramlett, when they were on tour with, among others, Rita Coolidge, who originally had the idea for a song about a deranged groupie. Rita also gave it the title "Superstar," for reasons that elude me. From there it was picked up by Bette Midler, who sang it on The Tonight Show - which I guess could be true, and has been printed in a major magazine, but would mean that Bette was on Johnny long before she ever released an album, which makes me skeptical - where Richard Carpenter heard it and brought it to Karen.

The Carpenters altered the words slightly to make the song more palatable to their audience: “At that time, Top 40 radio in America would not have played something that said 'can hardly wait to sleep with you again,’" Richard told Blender magazine. "So I changed it to 'be with you again.’ ”

Once again, I'm skeptical; I think he was deferring more to Karen's sensibilities than to those of radio programmers. One song that kept "Superstar" out of the top spot had Rod Stewart asking Maggie to wake up, so sleep was not unheard of at the top of the charts back then. It was the Seventies!