[Note: Originally posted on March 2, 2011. Updated with new context and footnotes.]
I love this song. I absolutely, positively, emphatically love this song. It’s easily one of my top 5 favorite songs EVER.
“Superwoman…” is a song in two parts. The first part is about “Mary”, who wants to leave and become a movie star; the second part (“Where Where You When I Needed You”) has Stevie wondering why his lady hasn’t returned yet1.
The truth behind the lyrics are such: The song is about Stevie’s relationship with Syreeta Wright (to whom he was married to for 18 months in the early 70s). Stevie produced much of Syreeta’s music, but she wanted to go off and do her own thing and Stevie wasn’t so into that (supposedly he can be a control freak in the studio). You hear this in the lyrics – “Mary wants to be a superwoman and try to boss the bull around.” Mary is really Rita (Syreeta’s early recording name) and Stevie is “The Bull” (Stevie is a Taurus; he named is production company Black Bull)2.
Here’s why it’s number #2 on my list.
- For a blind man, Steve sings in a way that you feel the hurt; his use of seasons as a metaphor is genius (“When the winter came…”; “Spring will fill the air…”)
- The instrumentation is world-class. The in first 15 seconds are wraithlike in the way that he plays the keyboard and Minimoog. And then there’s the transition between “Superwoman” and “Where Where You When I Needed You”: its like he decided to write a melody that perfectly describes floating on air or soaring through the sky.
- Outside of electric bass, Stevie plays EVERY INSTRUMENT on this track.
- His “la-da-da-da-da” scat that segues his feverish, begging, pleading “I need you baby, I need you baby”… Whew!!!!
- “Where Were You When I Needed You” sounds a lot like “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer”, another sad/break-up track – this one from 1971’s Where I’m Coming From, and notable for being in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice.
- in a funny twist, Syreeta also wrote a break-up song about her relationship with Stevie Wonder – the sad “Heavy Day“. In some ways, I consider it part 3 of “Superwoman”.