In the spring of 1972, Stevie Wonder released Music of My Mind and the Rolling Stones put out Exile on Main Street. Both albums were instant hits, with the former’s reaching Number 21 on the Billboard 200 and Exile reaching Number One. So when the Stones recruited Wonder, then just 22, to open up their summer tour that year, it was an unstoppable combo that became even more exciting when Wonder joined the Stones at four dates for a medley of his 1966 hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and the Stones’ hit from the previous year, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” as the encore.
On July 26th, the second of two nights at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Mick Jagger helped Wonder to his piano and the horn section got loose. Eventually they kicked into “Uptight” with its trumpet flourishes and Wonder sang the song with his own band backing him up. Jagger snuck up behind Wonder and clapped his hands, and eventually helped him to center stage when the song transitioned into “Satisfaction,” which Jagger took the lead on. Wonder joined in on the “and I try” parts, and the two singers started dancing in one of the most jubilant onstage rave-ups of their respective careers, jumping and holding hands and throwing things around the stage.
Filmmakers Robert Frank and Daniel Seymour captured footage of the performance for their cinéma vérité documentary Cocksucker Blues, but the film never got an official release, due to the Stones suing to keep it away from the public eye because of their misbehavior in it. The full thing is now available unofficially on YouTube.
A 1976 Rolling Stone report on the film declared the Wonder collaboration to be the highlight of the movie. “Only the brief concert scenes stick with the viewer — particularly one of Jagger and Stevie Wonder dancing during a performance of ‘Satisfaction,'” the magazine wrote. “For the most part, the film is distant and cold as death; the Stones’ distance — from members of the tour, from each other, from hangers-on like Andy Warhol and Lee Radziwill — is monolithic (‘Bloody bunch of voyeurs,’ Jagger snaps at a photographer). In the end, all that remains is the music, and even that is as unreal as the quadraphonic sterility of the film ultimately released to chronicle the 1972 tour — Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones.”
In a New York Times interview at the time, Wonder said he mostly enjoyed the tour, aside from some venues leaving his name off the marquees and the amount of time he had to play. “No matter how many hassles we’ve had, the good vibes have more than offset the bad ones,” he said. “Music is like a religion to me, you know, and the more sharing that takes place between the musicians and the audience the more spiritual the music becomes. I like to have a lot of time to stretch out — to get that spirit moving — and we only get to play for 30 or 40 minutes, but we’ve still managed to make a lot of people have soulful experiences.”
On the Stones’ current tour, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is still their closing number, and it remains their most-performed song live. “Uptight” also remains one of Wonder’s most-performed songs, though it was usurped by another song that came out in 1972, well after the Stones tour wrapped: “Superstition.”
At the time, all that mattered to Wonder, at least, was experiencing a moment of transcendence with the people listening to him. “I like to feel it happen when I’m up there; I like to feel free with my audience,” he said. “And if things are cooled down, I just start clapping my hands and getting funky. And pretty soon that feeling of togetherness is right there. That’s the kind of response I like.”