- Cover version (AKA cover song, or simply cover)
- – a new performance or recording of a contemporary or previously recorded, commercially released song or popular song.
Forty years ago, teens roiling in the caldron that was my high school were listening to a variety of tunes. The tumult of the 60s music scene continued its impact back then. Some artists born of this period carried over with similar success. The ones that stood the test of time, though, evolved their music going into and throughout the 70s. Stevie Wonder for one. The wunderkind began his career at a young age and had early pop/soul hits with the Motown Record label. Yet, it was his Music of the Mind album which really started to separate him from the pack. It wasn’t, as was the practice of the studio, a collection of singles, B-tracks and covers of other original song. This LP was presented by Stevie as a statement piece. As Wikipedia details what stood out about the work:
“Wonder’s lyrics dealt with social, political, and mystical themes as well as standard romantic ones, while musically Wonder began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself.”
One particular song showcased the changes and directions the artist began to explore very well: the almost jazzy and unexpected Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You). Reportedly, the song tells of Stevie’s then wife, Syreeta Wright, who sought a career and stardom on her own. At least, as told by an interested third-party in the song. The track is divided into two parts — the first recounts Mary’s striving for her dream of success, while the second part wonders why didn’t she come back when he thought she would. It remains one of the singer/songwriter’s notable tunes, and is hardly a forgotten song. But, that is not what I’m spotlighting here.
As I mentioned last year, a bit after this stretch in the mid-70s, I entered my jazz fusion period as a music listener. Along with the saxophone and keyboard artists I referred to, the most intriguing instrumental pairing of all with this jazz, funk, and R&B approach with music, in my mind, was the violin. Along with likes of Jean-Luc Ponty, it was another music prodigy, Noel Pointer, which drew and centered me on this fusing of rhythms and the amplification to the time-worn and honored, though now very much electrified, string instrument. At age 13, Pointer debuted with his solo of Vivaldi with the Symphony of the New World Orchestra and proceeded to make a name for himself:
“He began playing jazz on the violin while a student at New York City‘s High School of Music and Art. While attending college at Manhattan School of Music, Pointer earned a reputation as a New York session musician. By age 19, his experience as a free-lance musician had included steady work in The Apollo Theatre Orchestra, The Unlimited Orchestra, The Westbury Music Fair Orchestra, The Radio City Music Hall Symphony, The Love Unlimited Orchestra (US Tour), The Dance Theater of Harlem Orchestra, The Symphony of the New World Orchaestra, and the pit orchestras of several Broadway shows, including Guys and Dolls and Dreamgirls.”
Out of the seven albums in his too short career, it was his second, Hold On, that still warms my heart. I think it showcased the performer’s talent like no other. The title track was funky and fun, while “Stardust Lady” showed off Pointer’s surprising vocal skills and range. The violinist didn’t forget his classical roots by incorporating the cut, “Cappriccio Stravagante”, among the jazz fusion mix. Even Patti Austin, another frequently played vocalist from my time in this light jazz variant, showed up for a wonderful duet in “Staying With You”. Even so, among the album’s tracks it was his rendition of that pivotal Stevie Wonder song from that earlier LP that got the most play with me.
While it’s solely an instrumental, Superwoman under the jazz violinist’s interpretation remains a different piece entirely without obliterating Wonder’s infused feathery melody (and one that masked its lyrics’ serious tone). Even without words, the sound from Pointer’s bow elicited a voice-like quality to the number, still. It’s almost mournful in this rendering, yet his version of the song remains surprisingly upbeat and unusually hopeful. Given that 1978 was a most painful time for me, I found surprising solace listening to this cover song that year. Given its healing and collaborative nature, music has that tendency to unknowingly help the listener. I probably replayed his tune more than I ever did with the original song for this very fact.
Perhaps, because the classically trained violinist was born in 1954, like me, I connected with him. Noel Pointer, who would also succeed later as a record producer, played with the Blue Note, United Artists, Liberty, and finally the Shanachie record labels. His last CD, Never Lose Your Heart, came out in 1993. He died from a stroke on December 19, 1994 at the too young age of 39. Though Stevie Wonder’s song has been covered many times, by various artists and stylists down through the decades, I think this one was the most unusual and unique. At least for me. So, it is for this reason — plus the fact he kept me going with his music through a time I needed the uplift — I sincerely hope this artist and his version of the song are not forgotten.