Just last week I finally found the album Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta by Syreeta (Wright). I say finally when in fact I could have ordered it at any stage really, I'd heard most of it online - but it's long been one of those albums on my list; that kind of list you have if you're a record store tragic - you hope to find the album when and where you're looking. It would be too easy (and boring) to just click the link and have it delivered - it's about the hunt. About being in the right place at the right time. And having some money on you at that time too.
Syreeta was married to Stevie Wonder for about 18 months - this record was something of a parting gift, the second side documents their break-up. My reason for wanting this album all these years is partly because I'm a Stevie Wonder fan. But mostly it was about finding the original version of the song Cause We've Ended As Lovers. (Here's Syreeta's version). Stevie Wonder wrote the song - he wrote it for her, about them. (So obviously that reason is still connected with being a Stevie Wonder fan).
I first heard it as a song on my favourite Jeff Beck album; one of my all-time favourite records. New to Jeff Beck outside of his work with The Yardbirds, the Blow By Blow album was a whole new world to me as a 13 year old cassette tape collector. I bought my copy of Blow By Blow during a summer holiday in Gisborne. The shop sold sporting goods, you pushed a ranch slider at the back of the shop to open up into a music store.
My only expectation was hearing some pretty good guitar playing. But that Jeff Beck tape quickly became a firm favourite - and it stood up alongside any of the guitar heroes of that time. I had friends boasting about the Joe Satrianis and Steve Vais of this world - and hey, at that time I loved those players too. I was hooked on a lot of that virtuoso guitar-wank stuff. Some of I can still dig too. But the Beck album was something else - here was a guy playing bebop lines across pop tunes; turning Beatles compositions into studies in instrumental colour, firing out a fusion that was driven by his desire to further the role of the guitar, to be not only the lead voice but a replacement for the role of the singer in the band.
And the most stirring moment of Blow By Blow was Jeff Beck's version of a song called Cause We've Ended As Lovers. This was all pre-internet, so I couldn't instantly find the original but there in the credits to the tape cover it announced S. Wonder as the composer. I was a big Stevie Wonder fan. My folks had a few of the key albums (and the 'Key' album). And I grew up with so much of his music. I'd never heard a Stevie Wonder song called Cause We've Ended As Lovers - or rather, I'd never heard a Stevie Wonder version of that song, all I knew was the Jeff Beck version. And yes, in a sense, that was enough. But also, it wasn't. If I hadn't known the name - if the composer had been listed as S. Williams, and that had meant nothing to me, I wouldn't have cared to hear the original. But knowing that Stevie Wonder had written it meant I had to know - had to find it.
There I am at 14, 15, 16, looking at Stevie Wonder albums whenever I'm in a store, trying to find that track - so sure it wasn't on any of the Wonder stuff I knew.
And then through reading music magazines, through gathering stories, through reading album liners and credits I find out that Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder have some history, there's a connection. And then I find out that Stevie wrote this song for his wife (actually ex-wife) Syreeta.
So it all starts falling into place.
But all of this is happening around the time that I'm buying CDs rather than records. For the most part anyway. So you can't find this Syreeta album anywhere.
It gets added to the list...
YouTube finds it for me one day. It's there in the sidebar and so I check it out. At first I'm a little disappointed in that original version. I guess I just know the Jeff Beck version so well. Hearing it as a song - with words - it just doesn't have any impact.
But hearing it now - as part of the album, knowing more about the story between Stevie and Syreeta - taking it in the context of the record, it means a whole lot more. It has its own story.
It's not that I always have to hear the original. But if I like a piece of music and find out it's a cover I tend to go on a quest to find the original - in this case it was all about hearing the Stevie Wonder version. The thrill pretty much in the chase. Isn't that always the way though?
Certainly that's a big part of what got me writing The Vinyl Countdown.
So what songs urged you to find the original? Have you had a hankering to track down the original version because of the strength of a cover, because you didn't - at first - know the song was a cover?
Postscript: Click here to hear the whole Syreeta album, Stevie Wonder presents Syreeta and click here to hear the whole Jeff Beck album, Blow By Blow.
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts