Back in 1969, Delaney & Bonnie released the song ‘Comin’ Home‘. That single featured, as many did, a B-side. This B-side was called ‘Groupie (Superstar)‘, and wasn’t overlooked as many B-sides of the era were. Instead, the song was passed around between numerous musicians until it received a great deal of success thanks to a little duo called the Carpenters, who renamed it ‘Superstar‘.
The Carpenters’ version was a hit, with many stating that the Carpenters cover was far superior and emotional than the original. Gone was the soul-styled vocals of the original, and it’s sexual overtones, and instead, Karen Carpenter’s vocals were added into the mix, giving the song a deep feeling of loneliness and loss, as was originally intended by the song’s writers.
As year’s went by, numerous bands took inspiration from the works of the Carpenters, so much so that a compilation CD was issued in 1994 that saw bands who considered the group as influences, covering their songs. In addition to brilliant covers from artists such as Shonen Knife (who covered ‘Top Of The World‘), and The Cranberries (who covered ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You‘), was the record’s sole single; Sonic Youth’s version of ‘Superstar’.
Now, if one was to look at the Carpenters, often considered a staple of AM-radio easy listening, one would see almost no resemblance to that of Sonic Youth, the highly experimental alternative noise-rock group. However, Sonic Youth considered the Carpenters an influence, and dutifully recorded a cover of ‘Superstar’.
Maintaining the song’s feeling of loss and loneliness, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore used his vocals to create a dark and moody atmosphere. Likewise, the group’s infamously intricate guitar-tunings were used to create a vibe completely removed from the original. Gone were the light and easy instrumentation, and instead, we were given an excursion into that of the noisy New York alternative rock scene.
While Sonic Youth’s version has gone on to become one of the most lauded versions of the track, the Carpenters’ surviving member, Richard Carpenter, has famously said he doesn’t particularly care for Sonic Youth’s version of the song. His loss, I guess.