Nina Simone


Band members                              Related acts

- Nina Simone (aka Eunice Waymon) (RIP 2003) - vocals,

  keyboards 

 

  backing musicians (1969)

- Don Alias -- drums

- Weldon Irvine Jr. -- keyboards

- Emile Latimer -- vocals, lead guitar

- Jumma Santos -- percussion

 

  backing musicians (1985)

- Arthurd Adams -- bass

- Allane Barnes -- sax

- George Bohannon -- trombone, clarinet

- Ray Brown -- trumpet

- Luke Metoyer -- percussion

- Hence Powell -- keyboards, synthesizes

- The Waters Family -- backing vocals

 

 

 

- none known

 

 

 


 

Genre: soul

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  I Put a Spell On You

Company: Philips

Catalog: PHS 600-172

Year: 1965

Country/State: Tryon, North Carolina

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: still in shrink; open and torn; minor lines on LP, but no skips or pops

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: 6038

Price: SOLD $15.00

 

Given her extensive and varied recording catalog, if you're looking for a place to explore the talents of the late Nina Simone, then 1965's "I Put a Spell On You" isn't a bad place to dip your toes - particular if you want to start with her more pop oriented sides.  Mind you this is the perfect Simone release.  As was the case with many mid-1960s releases, Simone's record label had a major say in the material she was allowed to record and it shows on this set which features a truly eclectic mixture including stabs at jazz (the instrumental 'Blues On Purpose'), R&B (the title track), French chanson (Ne Me Quitte Pas'') and unfortunately an unhealthy number of show tunes.  One of the funny things about this album, and obviously a reflection on Simone's talents, is that in spite of the hackneyed and frequently overdone arrangements and the MOR song selections, it remains a surprisingly listenable release.  That's further underscored by the fact this marked the third album she'd released in under a year - a recording schedule that would have killed most performers.

 

- Apparently intent on making Simone palatable to middle class white audiences, Philips management insisted on surrounding Simone's cover of Screaming Jay Hawkin's 'I Put a Spell On You' with an overwhelming string arrangement.  Most singers would have simply drown under the arrangement, but Simone's jazzy, take-no-sh*t vocal (complete with some scat moves) and a great un-credited sax solo (King Curtis ?) managed to salvage the song.   You certainly won't forget Hawkin's original, but given the circumstances, this version was pretty impressive.   rating: **** stars

- I'm not a big fan of chanson and her cover of Charles Aznavour's 'Tomorrow Is My Turn' is simply way too cocktail jazzy for my tastes.  To my ears this one sounded like background music for some throwaway James Bond knockoff.  Yech.   rating: * star

- I just don't get Jacques Brel ...  His material has always struck me as overly sentimental claptrap.  Gawd only know what Simone saw in 'Ne Me Quitte Pas', let alone why so many people think its a classic performance.  My French isn't great and I certainly couldn't sing it better, but Simone sounded like she was singing this one phonetically (and with considerable difficulty).  For a song that was under four minutes in length, this one sure seemed endless.   rating: * star

- So just when you didn't think it could get much worse out came a Broadway tune ...  I'll give her credit for trying to salvage 'Marriage Is for Old Folks', but it still sounded like a Broadway cover.   rating: * star

- When I heard the first couple of bars of 'July Tree' I thought this was going to be another forgettable slice of MOR pap.  It was MOR pap, but Simone's vocal was simply enchanting ...  I can't describe it, but there's something truly amazing in the way she handled this one.   rating: **** stars

- Penned by manager/husband Andy Stroud, 'Gimme Some' could have been a killer track, but the combination of the big band orchestration and bleating female backing vocals wrecked it.   rating: ** stars

- Okay, okay, 'Feeling Good' was another number from a musical and I have to admit Simone's dark, blues-tinged delivery salvaged the song.  It would have been truly amazing stripped of the big band arrangement and given a stripped down blues base.    rating: *** stars

- Penned by her longtime guitarist Rudy Stevenson 'One September Day' was a bland, '50s-styled ballad.  Forgettable except for the weird quiver in her voice which wasn't something to write home about, but sure did sound odd.   rating: * star 

- Also penned by guitarist Stevenson, the lone instrumental, 'Blues On Purpose' showcased Simone's competent keyboards (no, she won't knock your sox off on this one) and Stevenson's jazzy solo.  Can't say it was a great track, but the simplistic bass line was kind of amusing.

- Another musical number, 'Beautiful Land' did absolutely nothing for me.  rating: * star 

- Funny that Simone would be able to take a song written by a Frenchman and turn it into a statement of personal pride and empowerment ...   Hum, maybe I simply read too much into 'You've Got To Learn''.   rating: *** stars

- The second track penned by manager/husband Stroud, 'Take Care of Business' was another song that served to showcase the strength and power of Simone's voice.  She literally tore this one apart and had it been framed by a more blues, or soul edge it would have made her a massive star.  Probably my favorite song on the album.   rating: **** stars

 

The album was tapped for a single in the form of:

 

  

 

- 1965's 'I Put a Spell On You' b/w 'Gimme Some' (Philips catalog number 40286)

 

Song-for-song I can't exactly rave about this one, but it does have a couple of classics, an overall oddball appeal, and the fact remains the Simone had a unique voice and delivery that's well worth checking out.

 

"I Put a Spell On You" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) I Put a Spell On You   (Screaming Jay Hawkins) - 2:33

2.) Tomorrow Is My Turn   (Charles Aznavour - Stellman - Stephane) - 2:43

3.) Ne Me Quitte Pas   (Jacques Brel) - 3:27

4.) Marriage Is for Old Folks (from the Musical "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty")   (L. Carr - E. Shuman) - 3:22

5.) July Tree   (J. Jurial - E. Merrian) - 2:40

6.) Gimme Some   (Andy Stroud) - 2:58

 

(side 2)
1.) Feeling Good (From the Musical "The Roar of Greasepaint")   (Anthony Newly - L. Bricuesse) - 2:52

2.) One September Day   (Rudy Stevenson) - 2:47

3.) Blues On Purpose (instrumental)   (R Stevenson - Rudy Stevenson) - 3:18

4.) Beautiful Land (From the Musical "The Roar of Greasepaint")   (Anthony Newly - L. Bricuesse) - 1:55

5.) You've Got To Learn   (Charles Aznavour) - 2:40

6.) Take Care of Business   (Andy Stroud) - 2:04

 

 

Already immensely popular in Europe and particularly France (where she would relocate), there's also a four track French EP - "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (Philips catalog 452.045).

 

 

"Ne Me Quitte Pas" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Ne Me Quitte Pas   (Jacques Brel) - 3:27

2.) Gimme Some   (Andy Stroud) - 2:58

 

(side 2),

1.) I Put a Spell On You   (Screaming Jay Hawkins) - 2:33

2.) You've Got To Learn   (Charles Aznavour) - 2:40

 

 



Genre: soul

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Black Gold

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: LSP-4248

Year: 1969

Country/State: Tryon, North Carolina

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: 19

Price: SOLD $20.00

 

I'll readily admit that I stayed away from Nina Simone albums under the belief that she was simply too jazzy for my tastes.  Produced by then-husband Andre Stroud (they divorced shortly afterwards), 1969s "Black Gold" caught my attention for the fact it included her original version of a song Aretha Franklin covered with great success ('To Be Young, Gifted and Black') and for the wild knit mesh outfit Simone was wearing on the back cover.  Even though you'd never know it from the packaging, this was a live collection recorded at an October 1969 concert at New York's Philharmonic Hall (don't look for that information on the scanty liner notes).  (Perhaps my ears are playing tricks on me, but parts of the set sound like they were done in the studio, or at least subjected to heavy post-production work). The album was also characterized by a very stark and unforgiving sound.  Simone's voice was a pretty amazing instrument, capable of sounding like an 80 year old blues singer (check out the first half of 'Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair' - guitarist Emile Latimer handled the vocals on the second half), an early world music advocate ('Westwind'), as well as a Judy Collins-styled folkie ('Who Knows Where the Time Goes'). There was also plenty of the angry Simone - check out her pre-'Young, Gifted and Black' monologue.  Anyone looking for a career spanning greatest hits selection was probably disappointed by the collection, but I have to admit it was eclectic enough to get me interested in tracking down some more of Simone's catalog.

 

"Black Gold" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Introduction - 2:30

2.) Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair   (traditional) - 7:30

3.) Ain't Got No: I Got Life    (Gerome Ragni, James Rado, Gal McDermot) - 5:30

4.) Westwind  (Salter Semenya) - 9:40

 

(side 2)
1.) Who Knows Where the Time Goes   (Sandy Denny) - 8:08

2.) The Assignment Sequence   (Tim Hendin) - 6:28

3.) To Be Young, Gifted and Black   (Nina Simone - Weldon Irvine) - 10:10

 

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Emergency Ward

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: LSP-4248

Year: 1973

Country/State: Tryon, North Carolina

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: sill in shrink wrap (opened)

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6336

Price: $15.00

 

As you can probably tell from earlier reviews, I'm a big Nina Simone fan.  There's something immensely appealing about this woman's sense of justice and her quirky and unique mixture of musical genres - folk, jazz, pop, R&B, and soul; sometimes all mixed together in one song.   That said, 1973's "Emergency Ward" was one strange release ...   Billed as a live album, the opening audience chanting certainly sounded like a concert performances, but with an elaborate arrangements, the two songs on side two had to be studio tracks.  The album itself only featured four performances, including two George Harrison covers ('My Sweet Lord' and 'Isn't It a Pity').  In spite of the fact there weren't many discrete songs, there was something quite mesmerizing about three of the four performances.  Yeah, some judicious editing and the addition of a couple more songs wouldn't have hurt the set, but I can understand why co-producers Waldon Irvine Jr. or Andrew Stroud weren't about to tell Simone what to do..

 

"Emergency Ward" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) My Sweet Lord    (George Harrison / David Nelson - Nina Simone) - 18:35   rating: **** stars

Backed by a slightly ragged choir (the Bethany Baptist Church Junior Choir of South Jamaica New York) and some frenetic drumming, Simone's cover of Harrison's 'My Sweet Love' had a distinctive Sunday morning Gospel feel.  Yeah, she vamped and twisted the song all over the place, occasionally sticking with he melody and occasionally taking a detour into other areas, but the results were frequently fascinating.   Her brother Sam Waymon was featured on the song. 

2.) Today Is a Killer    ( David Nelson - Nina Simone)   rating: *** stars 

Written by Last Poets member David Nelson, 'Today Is a Killer' found Simone reciting an extended song-poem.   I'm normally not a big poetry fan, but will admit there was something compelling in hearing Simone's stark (piano, bass, and voice) arrangement.  The segment where she holds a note for seemingly ever is simply breathtaking.     

 

(side 2)

1.) Poppies   (Lenny Bleecher - Jeremy Wind) 4:45  rating: ** stars 

The album's most commercial track, 'Poppies' started out as a ballad with an elaborate, somewhat MOR-arrangement.  Out of the blue the mid-section morphed into something that sounded like it was part of the Baretta television theme.   Probably the least interesting song on the LP.  

2.) Isn't It a Pity   (George Harrison) - 11:11    rating: **** stars

Initially just Simone accompanying herself on piano, her bluesy cover of 'Isn't It a Pity' was really special.  One of the best Beatles covers I've ever heard.  (Okay, okay I know it was a Harrison solo effort.)

 

Worth hearing, but probably not the place for a Simone neophyte to start ...

 

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Nina's Back!

Company: VPI

Catalog: VPI 100 7AA

Year: 1985

Country/State: Tryon, North Carolina

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: sill in shrink wrap (opened)

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2655

Price: $15.00

 

 

Hum, a 52 year old woman posing semi-clad on an album cover ...  I don't think anyone would deny Nina Simone was a woman who did things her way.  

 

Continuing her '80s comeback, 'Nina's Back!" (the title and cover photo always make me smile), found Simone working with producer Eddie Singleton.  Her icy, unique voice remained in prime form, but it you were a longtime fan of her dark, brooding stylings, then this one might be somewhat of an acquired taste.  Or you might just hate it.  Personally I'm on the fence.  Singleton's attempts to update Simone's sound had a couple of nice moments ('It's Cold Out Here' and 'Touching and Caring'), but more often the results were simply strange, or inept. Trying to turn her into a disco diva ('You Must Have Another Lover ') ...   I don't think so.   Surrounding Simone with synthesizers,  fuzz guitar, and highly dated '80s production touches may have been intended to introduce her to a new audience, but too often tracks like 'For a While' and 'Saratoga' simply served to obscure SImone's unique talents.

 

"Nina's Back!" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) It's Cold Out Here  (Arthur Adam - Eddie Singleton) -  5:33   rating; **** stars

Yeah, the '80s dance groove was a little unexpected, but I have to admit that it actually didn't sound half bad framed against Simone's unique voice.  The preaching tone was a bit of a bore, but I guess you couldn't fault her for laying it out as she saw it.   

2.) Porgy   (George Gershwin - Ira Gershwin - Dubose Heyward) -  rating: ** stars

'Porgy' was a long time staple in Simone's catalog (under it's original title 'I Loves You Porgy').  The autobiographical intro and vamp sections were kind of funny, but this was one update that was likely to send longtime fans running for the doors.  The revamped '80s version was quite different.  That wasn't meant as a compliment.

3.) I Sing Just To Know I'm Alive   (Nina SImone) - 3:26   rating: *** stars

And you didn't think the lady could party ...  Shake that moneymaker ....  Actually the Caribbean groove made for an unexpected and highly enjoyable change of pace.

4.) For a While    (Bob Gaudio - Jake Holmes) - 2:55   rating: ** stars

'For a While' was a song where the album went off the rails for me.  Simone seemed overwhelmed and uncomfortable surrounded by Hence Powell's heavy orchestration.  Compare it with a live version from a 1984 performance at Ronnie Scott's: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq12jRWlitQ    Her stark, live version captures the pain of loss better than virtually any song I've ever heard. The studio version, not so much.

 

(side 2)

1.) Fodder On Her Wings   (Nina SImone) - 5:09   rating: *** stars

The synthesizer opening (guess it was supposed to sound like a harpsichord) was kind of neat.  One of the problems is it took two minutes for Simone's vocal to kick in and then she was all but drown out by the synthesizers and fuzz guitar.   The version off her 1982 album was way better. The live Ronnie Scott version is also superior: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfo_PnIUhTs 

2.) Touching and Caring   ( Eddie Singleton) - 5:30   rating; **** stars

'Touching and Caring' was not entirely convincing, but Simone certainly seemed to give it her all making for one of the album's more impressive performances.  This one was actually quite radio friendly.

3.) Saratoga   (Sam Waymon) - 3:21  rating: ** stars

'Saratoga' another track where the lush arrangement served to sort of bury Simone.  

4.) You Must Have Another Lover   (Arthur Adams) - 4:29   rating: *** stars

Simone la disco diva ...   Another studio concept gone hideously wrong.

 

 

Issued by the Charley label, the English version of the album featured a hideous Andy Warhol designed cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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