16 September 2020

"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder (1972)

If you "believe in things that you don’t understand" the consequences, in two simple words, is that "you suffer".  That is how Stevie Wonder sums up the main sentiment behind Superstition (1972).  And while I’ve heard this song frequently over a span of time, I realized that I never really took a close look at the lyrics and what the implications of them were, until now.


The cover art to Stevie Wonder's Superstition (1972).
Notice the broken-glass effect.

The track starts out with three distinct drum kicks.  Then enters the electric keyboard grooving along with the percussion.  Stevie opens his narrative as if he is observing someone, a person who is superstitious, right in his line of sight.  And this individual is not just superstitious, but very superstitious.  And afterwards is where it gets interesting, as Stevie says:

Then the rest of the song is a variation on these same types of lyrics, so I want to just focus on these few major superstitions Stevie is very-concerned about people believing in that are mentioned in the first verse.  Let’s try and break it down.


The number 13, to those who subscribe to the sort of superstition Stevie is referring to, is a very serious thing.  The superstitious are those who would refuse to live on the 13th floor, and some people would even refuse to set foot on a so-called 13th floor.  The seriousness with which this 13th floor is taken has had a profound effect on not just individuals but also the construction industry.  For instance a recent study by The Atlantic, based on New York City Housing data, found that out of 629 buildings in NYC with 13 floors or more, only 55 of these structures actually labelled the 13th floor as what it is - the 13th floor.  Rather what you would typically see is an 11-12-14 sequence on elevator buttons (as pictured above).  But 13?  Oh no.  

Further research on the number-13 superstition would suggest and most commonly points to a New Testament biblical reference.  For those who are superstitious, it is thought that the number 13 is 'bad luck' because it is a reminder of Judas Iscariot, who many consider the 13th apostle and the same indivdual who betrayed Jesus, leading to the latter's crucifixion.   That being said, it is my opinion that this is probably not the entire reason structural engineers build 13th-floorless skyscrapers in New York City.  But who’s really to say?

Next, Stevie states that the "13 month old baby broke the looking glass".  Ok, let’s stop and think.  How many times have we heard that breaking mirrors is 'bad luck'?  Mr. Wonder seems to make a passionate plea against believing these sort of things throughout the track.


Looking glasses, otherwise known as mirrors, are believed to be bad luck if broken or shattered.  This idea stems from belief systems dating back to at least Ancient Rome/Greece It was believed among those who have long spread what we now come to know as superstitions that mirrors were a reflection of the soul, and breaking a mirror somehow damages the spirit or whatever.  Basically, that is the most common explanation about that portion of Stevie Wonder's lyrics. 

The "seven years of bad luck" is a very-interesting part of the song to explore mainly because seven, as I came to learn, has a lot of different meanings and interpretations to a lot of different people, and not all of them are based on superstitions.  In fact a brief search on the number seven will render a wide variety of results.  The most common explanations regarding it once again point back to Ancient Rome, as it was commonly believed that it took seven years for one's soul to renew itself (after breaking a mirror).  There is also a lot of other information regarding the number seven having significance related to belief systems dating back to antiquity and beyond.  Seven is also notably a prime number, which basically means that it can only be divided by itself or the number one.


Stevie Wonder (center right) alongside his mom, Lula, Little Richard (far left),
Chuck Berry (second to right) and others after winning a 1974 Grammy Award
in the category of Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for Superstition.  This was
actually the first of many Grammys he won throughout his career.


Stevie Wonder, in his Grammy-award winning, chart topping hit single Superstition, attempted to touch upon some very serious issues with lyrics that are relevant even now, some 50 years later.  The song offers advice to those who believe strongly in things such as walking under a ladder or throwing salt as being a harbinger of things to come.

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