TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Released as a single (Tamla 54119) on Monday, August 2, 1965.
SONGWRITER: Robert Higginbotham.
PRODUCER: Robert Gordy (live edit).
BACKSTORY: In March 1964, when Tommy Tucker’s self-penned original of “High Heel Sneakers” (known then as “Hi-Heel Sneakers”) claimed its highest position on the Billboard Hot 100, there were seven other singers on the same chart who would go on to record the song, including Stevie Wonder. And when Stevie’s 1965 remake reached its Hot 100 peak eighteen months later, there were also seven stars on the chart whose recorded legacy – by then, or later – was to include “High Heel Sneakers.” Among them: Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Ramsey Lewis and Jimmy Smith. In other words, this has proved to be one popular piece of work.
Wonder’s enthusiasm for the song – which was published under Tommy’s real name, Robert Higginbotham – was first evident on 1965’s Tamla Motown package tour of the U.K. He performed it enthusiastically during his short set on that cross-country trek, when he was the second act: performing after Martha & the Vandellas, but before the Supremes and bill-toppers the Miracles. Stevie had previously visited Britain and appeared on television, although he had no hits there by that point.
When the Tamla Motown revue crossed the English Channel for its only Continental European show at the Paris Olympia on April 13, 1965, “High Heel Sneakers” continued to be part of Stevie’s set. So were “Funny How Time Slips Away,” his on-stage duet with mentor/producer Clarence Paul, and, of course, his U.S. breakthrough hit, “Fingertips,” which he had performed in the French capital during a two-week run (with other American, British and French artists) at the same venue in December 1963.
The Paris show of ’65 was recorded by Motown in its entirety, and made available in abbreviated form as an album, Recorded Live/Motortown Revue In Paris, that November; the editing was done by Berry Gordy’s brother, Robert. The single release of Stevie’s “High Heel Sneakers” preceded the LP by several months, and proved to be a modest success on the pop and R&B charts. It was also the musician’s first hit featuring a song from outside Motown. The same applied to the flipside, Willie Nelson’s “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” which was taken, too, from the Olympia concert – although a second pressing of the single had a different coupling.
REMAKES: “High Heel Sneakers” has attracted many an artist over the years, whether it’s the afore-mentioned Elvis, Tom, Ramsey and Jimmy, or other rock & roll gods such as Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley and Janis Joplin. A clutch of ’60s pop stars were equally drawn to Tommy’s tune, including the Everly Brothers, Freddy Cannon, the McCoys and Johnny Rivers, while even Sammy Davis Jr. put on the “Sneakers” for his one and only album for the Motown-affiliated Ecology label. As with so much American rhythm & blues, British musicians also weighed in: there have been recordings of the song by the Searchers, Adam Faith, Paul McCartney and Georgie Fame. The last of these, coincidentally, would have heard Stevie Wonder singing “High Heel Sneakers” almost every night from March to April 1965: Fame was the guest star on that year’s Tamla Motown tour of England, Scotland and Wales.
FOOTNOTE: As mentioned above, the first single release of Wonder’s “High Heel Sneakers” carried “Funny How Time Slips Away” as the B side. That was in early August ’65; later that month, Motown pressed a second edition with a different, studio-made flip, “Music Talk.” Stevie co-wrote the latter with producer Clarence Paul and with Ted Hull, his private tutor. It was “the first tune I shared songwriting credit on,” the latter recalled in his autobiography, The Wonder Years: My Life and Times With Stevie Wonder. On both of Stevie’s European trips in 1963 and 1965, Hull accompanied his young pupil, and so “Music Talk” was a natural conversation for the pair to have.