Superstar was written by Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney and Bonnie) and Leon Russell in 1969.
Originally accorded the less commercial – if rather more candid – title of Groupie, it first surfaced as a Delaney and Bonnie B-side and garnered more attention when Rita Coolidge sang it on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and, subsequently, on the album. Her recording is considerably rawrer then her later pop hits and well worth seeking out.
Bette Midler sang it on The Johnny Carson Show which is where Richard Carpenter heard it and things really took off. It was, reportedly, the Carpenters’ version that first changed the line ‘And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again’ to ‘… be with you again’, thus thrilling the publishers by rendering it more radio-friendly. Around about this time Cher and Peggy Lee also recorded memorable versions – Lee’s version being particularly poignant as rendered from the standpoint of an older woman still haunted by a long ago liaison.
Whizz forward three decades and the song’s co-writer recorded this perhaps definitive version for her I’m Still The Same album. Bramlett digs deep into the lyric, managing to find some of Karen Carpenter’s longing, Midler’s desperation and Lee’s ennui. It’s bloody good.
Sadly, it’s probably the late great Luther Vandross we have to thank for the song’s abuse by American Idol and X Factor contestants over the years. His version is fine but loses the original meaning, becoming a generalised account of loss and paving the way for its subsequent anthemising and abuse by mindless melisma.
We can only be grateful for the song’s restoration by the woman who understands it better than any other.