The interestingly reworked version of ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ by Rufus Wainwright, released in aid of the Art of Elysium charity, got us thinking about the history of Stevie Wonder‘s 1970 US R&B No. 1. It’s a Motown classic with a history that also embraces such artists as Michael McDonald, Stevie’s former wife Syreeta and Peter Frampton, whose rendition hit the US chart on 27 August 1977.
It was indeed Syreeta Wright who co-wrote the song with Wonder and his occasional collaborator Lee Garrett. The two men also wrote the Jermaine Jackson hit ‘Let’s Get Serious,’ on which Stevie appeared, and the Spinners’ hit ‘It’s A Shame.’ Garrett was also known in the UK for his own 1976 top 20 hit there, ‘You’re My Everything.’
Stevie and Syreeta would be married just weeks after the release of his original, which carries an additional co-writing credit for his mother, the late Lula Mae Hardaway. He would say later that she uttered the title phrase when she heard him working on the song’s melody. Released in June 1970 as Wonder began to strive for greater creative control of his Motown output, it was the first single on which he was listed as producer; it was also his first to win a Grammy nomination.
Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ spent an impressive six weeks atop the R&B chart in August and September 1970, becoming his sixth soul No. 1 and first since ‘Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day’ two years earlier. It also enjoyed two weeks at No. 3 on the Hot 100, and its international recognition included a No. 15 peak in the UK. Stevie returned to the chart with the song in 2003, guesting on a new version by boy band Blue, also featuring Angie Stone.
By then, ‘Signed, Sealed’ had made its presence felt in many other incarnations. Soulful jazz organist Jimmy McGriff gave it a run-through in 1971, as did saxophone maestro King Curtis on his revered Live At Fillmore West album. 1970s pop phenomenon the Osmonds included it in a Motown medley in 1975, then Peter Frampton included it on his I’m In You album, the follow-up to Frampton Comes Alive. His version became the second single from the set, after the title track; it reached No. 18 in America.
Soulful female voices such as Gwen McCrae, Chaka Khan and Ruby Turner all turned their hands to the song (Chaka’s with Stevie on harmonica), as did its co-writer Syreeta on her eponymouse 1980 album for Motown. In 2003, it became part of Michael McDonald’s affectionate and successful tribute album to the company that spawned it, Motown.
Wainwright’s 2017 version of ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,’ accompanied by pianist Thomas Bartlett, a.k.a Doveman, takes the song into new ballad territory and brings the story of a great Motown song bang up to date.
Peter Frampton’s version of ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ is on his I’m In You album, which can be bought here.
Follow the official Peter Frampton Best Of playlist.