For this third Halloween-themed Music Monday, I’ve chosen something a little more sophisticated: Nina Simone singing “I Put A Spell On You” from 1965. I don’t have a lot of nostalgic memories to share about this song, as I didn’t discover Nina Simone until I was already in college. It’s just a beautiful rendition and I really like it, so I thought I’d share it. In fact, listening to this song, if it was the only version you’d ever heard, you might wonder – aside from the slightly-occultish subject matter, what makes this a Halloween song? Of course, to answer that, you’d need to go back to the original version, the infamous 1956 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins recording.
According to Wikipedia, Hawkins had originally intended to record “I Put A Spell On You” as a refined love ballad, similar to the way Nina Simone would eventually perform it. However, on the day the song was to be recorded, Hawkins and his entire band decided to get stinkin’ drunk and record the song that way instead. What emerged was a campy, aggressive tune full of snarls, grunts, and terrifying howls. The finished version of the song completely altered Hawkins career, although Hawkins himself blacked out and couldn’t even remember making the recording. To capitalize on the shock value created by the song, Hawkins loaded his stage act with spooky gimmicks, including emerging from a coffin, donning a cape and a pair of savage tusks in his nose, and sharing the spotlight with Henry, a cigarette-smoking skull. “Before, I was just a normal blues singer,” Hawkins later recalled. “I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”
“I Put A Spell On You” has been covered a lot, by everyone from Bryan Ferry to Creedence Clearwater Revival, but I think Nina Simone’s version is probably my favorite. Of course, being a child of the ’90s, I also have a HUGE soft spot in my heart for this version: