There aren’t many parallels one might draw between Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin. While both sets of musicians found fame in the sixties and dominated their respective fields in the seventies, musically, they are worlds apart. Wonder’s brand of Motown-adjacent funk and disco has seen him become a stalwart for any DJ worth his salt while Led Zeppelin’s heavy rock sound would go on to define a generation, but they share little kinship outside of their success stories, or so you would think.
The truth is, Stevie Wonder, shocked the rock and roll world when he became a major player in the pop music scene. It would see him take on a support role for The Rolling Stones tour and become one of the few acts of the moment that crossed any pre-determined genre barriers. The mercurial minds of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones would be equally enamoured by the performer and find inspiration in one of his most cherished songs, ‘Superstition’.
The track has become an anthemic moment for any party you’re lucky enough to attend. No matter your age group or social standing, putting Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ on the decks will always garner a foot-shuffling, hip-swaying and voice-breaking response from the audience. It was also enough to inspire Led Zeppelin song ‘Trampled Under Foot’.
As much as we would like it to be, it wasn’t the rhythm of Wonder’s song that would inspire ‘Trampled Under Foot’, written by John Paul Jones, but the instruments he was using to create the sound. As Jimmy Page once explained to Rolling Stone while speaking about the Zeppelin album that never came to fruition following the death of John Bonham: “Well, yeah, we were already doing stuff in 1980. We did a tour of Europe.
“I think the way to put it is like this: [1976’s] Presence was a guitar album. After that record, John Paul Jones had acquired a ‘Dream Machine,’ a Yamaha [synthesizer]. Stevie Wonder also had one. So it had given him a lot of inspiration. He suddenly actually wrote whole numbers, which he hadn’t done before, and I thought the way to go with this is to feature John Paul Jones on the keyboard.”
In fact, John Paul Jones had been tinkering with the machine as early as 1975 and ‘Trampled Under Foot’ is seen as the moment it all began. Featuring on Physical Graffiti, Jones has often cited Wonder as the inspiration behind the song and the reason he turned to his clavinet to give the track its distinctive beat.
Jones explained further about the song’s origination: “I just started playing ‘Trampled Under Foot’ on the clavinet, and [Bonham] came in with this glorious stomp that had this great feel. He could play in front of the beat, and he could play behind it, depending on what was needed. ‘Trampled Under Foot’ had this swagger.”
So while it may be true that there few occasions that Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin would crossover styles musically, it’s clear that when they did, they delivered one of Zeppelin’s finest ever efforts.