I Put A Spell On You
A song’s journey through musical history
The original version of this iconic song was written by Jay Hawkins and released on his At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkinsin 1956. At only 2:25 minutes in length, it transformed the way we listen to, and view, music, even making its way on to The Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs Of Our Time, and the song has been covered by every artist imaginable.
It’s hard to imagine what impact it would have had, if Hawkins had stuck to his first decision to record it as a regular blues ballad, but luckily things got crazy in the studio, and instead we were treated with the now ”Screamin” Jay Hawkins’ raw, primal howls. The original version didn’t really make an impact on the charts at the time (some thought it to be cannibalistic) but it sure did get all the attention it deserves, later in music history.
As written above, it has been covered a number of times, most famously by Nina Simone in 1965, where she turned the song into a slow, soulful blues ballad, and even though the song loses the great, sexy rhythm, her voice succeeds in high-lighting all the hurt and obsession of the song.
Other artists from the sixties including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Manfred Mann and The Animals (with a very different, but interestingly so, bass line) covered the song, and it was even translated for Italian singer Caterina Caselli to sing: Puoi Farmi Piangere makes an interesting listen, as she was something of Italy’s answer to Cilla Black, and the song can easily stand up to being sung in a different language: the feelings and sentiments of the song are so strong, you could pretty much do anything to it, and still not ruin it.
The song had a revival in the 90’s, when it was covered in 1993 by Bryan Ferry, and in 1998 by Sonique, the latter making a typical late 90s dance record out of it. Still the song shines through.
More recently the song has been sung by Katie Melua, She & Him (aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) and was chosen by Shane MacGowan for his Haiti charity single (do check out the video on youtube, as it features amazing talents: Nick Cave, Paloma Faith and a guitar playing Johnny Depp to name a few).
The song has also been used in various films; including the 2009 remake of the musical Fame, the Disney movie Hocus Pocus (sung by Bette Midler, with different lyrics) and 2010’s John Lennon drama Nowhere Boy.
After having listened to countless different covers, it is clear that two versions, or directions, seems to be the norm: Either you keep Hawkins’ rhythm and make for a sexy and raw track “CCR, Shane MacGowan, The Kills) or you opt for a more soulful approach (think She & Him, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles).
Finally, the song’s rhythm has been sampled by a few artists, for example Notorious B.I.G. (Kick In The Door) and The Heavy (Sixteen), and you can hear traces of it in James Brown’s It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and Frank Sinatra’s The World We Knew (Over And Over).
So where does that leave the song? Well, despite being covered by a wide range of artists, from Buddy Guy to Marilyn Manson, it is my belief that the best version is still the original, done by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and it will always continue to amaze people, with its rhythm, and heartfelt lyrics.
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