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Nina Simone – Top 10 songs

Nina Simone

Article by Bongoloid_Boy

Nina Simone – The High Priestess of Soul

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21st, 1933, Nina’s prodigious talent as a musician was evident early on when she started playing piano by ear at the age of three. Her mother was a Methodist minister, and her father a handyman and preacher himself.
She played piano – but didn’t sing – in her mother’s church. Able to play virtually anything by ear, she was soon studying classical music with an Englishwoman named Muriel Mazzanovich, who had moved to the small southern town.
In 1954, looking to supplement her income, Eunice auditioned to sing at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In order to hide the fact that she was singing in bars, Eunice’s mother would refer to the practice as “working in the fires of hell”, overnight Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone by taking the nickname “Nina” meaning “little one” in Spanish and “Simone” after the actress Simone Signoret.

In her own words;

Top 10 Songs (in chronological order):

Album – Label – Year

Little Girl Blue – Bethlehem – 1958

1. My Baby Just Cares For Me

At a mammoth 13 hour recording session in New York City in 1957, Nina recorded her first release “Porgy” and also cut “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” previously recorded by Nate King Cole, Count Basie, and Woody Herman. The song was used by Chanel in a perfume commercial in Europe in 1987 and it became a massive hit for Nina, a British chart #5.

Forbidden Fruit – Colpix – 1960

2. Work Song

Work Song, written by Oscar Brown, Jr and Nat Adderley tells the story about a chain gang. This song is also featured on Nina’s Choice (1963), Nina Simone with Strings (1966), and High Priestess of Soul (1967).

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was originally recorded by Nina before The Animals.
Composer and arranger Horace Ott, came up with the melody and chorus lyric line after a falling out with his girlfriend (and wife-to-be), Gloria Caldwell. He then brought it to writing partners Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus to complete. However, when it came time for songwriting credits, rules of the time prevented BMI writers (Ott) from officially collaborating with ASCAP members (the other two), so Ott instead listed Caldwell’s name on the credits.
Presented for Nina Simone’s 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads. There, it is taken at a very slow tempo and arranged around harp and other orchestral elements; a backing choir appears at several points. Simone sings it in her typically difficult-to-categorize style. Horace Ott’s involvement did not end with his initial songwriting; he was the arranger and orchestral conductor for the entire album. Backed with “A Monster”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was released as a single in 1964, but failed to chart.
Notable, but not in my top 10:
For The Animals it was a trans-Atlantic hit in early 1965 #3 on the UK Singles Chart, #15 on the U.S. pop singles chart, and #4 in Canada.

I Put a Spell on You – Philips – 1965

3. I Put a Spell on You

Nina Simone’s version reached No. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in 1965; it also reached No. 49 on the UK singles chart that year, and No. 28 when it was reissued in 1969. Originally written and performed by ‘Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

4. Feeling Good

Arranged and produced by Hal Mooney, recorded in New York in January 1965 and appeared on her album I Put a Spell on You. It was not released as a single at the time. In 1987, Simone’s recording was used in a British TV commercial for fabric conditioner, and became popular. Released as a single, it reached no.40 on the UK singles chart in September 1987.

Pastel Blues – Philips – 1966

5. Sinnerman

“Sinnerman” (spelled as one word) is one of Nina Simone’s most famous songs and she recorded her definitive 10-minute-plus version on her 1965 album Pastel Blues. Simone learned the lyrics of this English song in her childhood when it was used at revival meetings by her mother, a Methodist minister, to help people confess their sins. The lyrics describe a sinner attempting to hide from divine justice on Judgement Day.
In the early days of her career during the early sixties, when she was heavily involved in the Greenwich Village scene, Simone often used the long piece to end her live performances.

Nina Simone Sings the Blues – RCA – 1967

6. I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl

After she signed with RCA Records in 1967 (a deal her then husband/manager Andy Stroud had negotiated), her very first recordings for the label included the saucy “Do I Move You?” and the undeniably sexual “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl” which were from the concept album entitled Nina Sings The Blues.

Silk & Soul – RCA – 1967

7. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free

“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” is a gospel/jazz song written by Billy Taylor and “Dick Dallas”, best known for the recording by Nina Simone in 1967 on her Silk & Soul album. Billy Taylor’s original version (as “I Wish I Knew”) was recorded November 12, 1963 and released on his Right Here, Right Now album the following year. His 1967 instrumental take was later used as the theme music for the ‘Film’ series on BBC TV.

‘Nuff Said! – RCA – 1968

8. Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)

Three days after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Nina Simone and her band played at the Westbury Music Festival on Long Island, N.Y.
They performed “Why? (The King of Love is Dead),” a song they had just learned, written by their bass player Gene Taylor in reaction to King’s death.

Nina’s seven years with RCA produced some remarkable recordings, including a Simone-ified version of George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” which remained in Nina’s repertoire all the way through to her final performance in 2002, and songs penned by Bob Dylan (“Just Like A Woman”), the brothers Gibb (“To Love Somebody”), and Tina Turner (“Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter”) took pride of place alongside Nina’s own anthem of empowerment, the classic “To Be Young, Gifted, & Black,” a song written in memory of Nina’s good friend Lorraine Hansberry. The title of the song coming from a play Hansberry had been working on just prior to her death. Nina’s versions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” & “Sound of Silence” are very much in her own style and worth a listen too.

9. Ain’t Got No, I Got Life – Groovefinder Remix

The 2006 Groovefinder remix of the song charted at #30 in the UK and remained on the charts for 16 weeks.

It is a medley of two songs from the musical Hair, with lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot. Charted at #2 in the UK in 1968.

In Concert: Emergency Ward! – RCA – 1972

10. Isn’t it a Pity

“Isn’t It a Pity” is by George Harrison from his 1970 solo album All Things Must Pass.
Nina Simone’s intense eleven-minute reworking was released on her 1972 album Emergency Ward!, a statement on the Vietnam War which also includes a cover of “My Sweet Lord”.

Nina Simone died in her sleep, after battling breast cancer for several years, at her home in Carry-le-Rout, Bouches-du-Rhone, France on April 21, 2003.


2 thoughts on “Nina Simone – Top 10 songs

  1. Strange Fruit is probably my favourite Nina Simone song. Not sure if she wrote it. A song about the goings-on in the Deep South in the not-so “good old days”.
    UB40 did an excellent version of the song in their early days – when they still had some edge, some credibility.

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