The greatest songs will always attract cover versions; artists just can’t resist singing them, you see. I Put a Spell on You is an absolute classic of a song, which is why there are so many versions available to buy, download or view on YouTube. If you love this song as much as I do then I really cannot recommend enough spending a few hours trawling through them all and picking out your personal favourites.
Now in Mostly Covers I listen to many, many versions of a song to pick out the weirdest and most wonderful for you to enjoy. This is no exception, except for the fact that perhaps the weirdest and most wonderful is the original.
The original spell – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Usually it’s the cover versions that prove weird and wonderful, but not so with I Put A Spell On You. If your first brush with this song was the lyrics you might well expect it to be a soft, beautiful, bluesy jazz tune. But that’s not Screamin’ Jay’s style. Remember Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die? That’s more Screamin’ Jay. His world is weird, wonderful and just a little unsettling – the witch doctor of early rock’n’roll. He wrote I Put a Spell on You in 1956, it charted but not particularly high. So here it is, Screamin’ Jay’s bewitching, unsettling spell:
Silken spell – Nina Simone
Of course I’m not alone in thinking this song deserves something more silken. Nina agreed and managed a better chart position with her cover, which is perhaps the most famous out there (although you may have heard the Animals or Arthur Brown’s versions), making it to number 23 in the US in 1956 (according to Wikipedia). If the Bond franchise ever decides to release a film with spell in the title there’s no need for a composer, Simone has already nailed it. Everyone has their favourite Nina Simone moment and this is mine. I don’t think she ever sounded better than she does singing this.
60’s spell – The Alan Price Set
I’ve included this oddity because it was a big hit in the UK in 1966. Bigger than Nina or Screamin’ Jay ever managed. Well there’s no rationalising chart success; if there was, would we have the Blobby song? Please listen to this and picture a long haired, pipe smoking hippy gyrating madly. I promise you it makes the experience more fun.
Metal spell – Marilyn Manson
Manson is a pretty good cover artist and his version of I Put a Spell on You is no exception. His pop-friendly metal take on this is more Screamin’ Jay than Nina and all the better for it. Perhaps it was inevitable that he’d cover it, the perfect marriage of image and lyrics – maybe that’s why he doesn’t bother turning up on the video, far too obvious. Instead we have some old spooky silent film footage married to the song, but it’s still a great cover and well worth downloading if like me you’re a cover fan.
Charity spell – Shane McGowan and friends
Or more accurately Johnny Depp and friends? If you missed this little charity number in 2010 you’re not alone, I did too. Which is a shame because as charity songs go this is actually really rather good. Shane’s now barely comprehensible alcoholic drawl is well complemented by his star friends, including Paloma Faith, Chrissie Hynde and Nick Cave. There are a lot of middle aged music men growling on this version and believe it or not that’s a good thing. If you also like it why not download it from iTunes? The money will at least go to a good cause.
Grammy spell – Jeff Beck and Joss Stone
Where there are great songs there are Grammys, and in this instance Jeff Beck and Joss Stone’s collaboration won the prize. I’ve always felt Joss Stone is a singer blessed with a wonderful voice and absolutely no ability to connect with the song lyrics – she can sing but she can’t sing a song so to speak. There are two exceptions to my personal ruling of Joss; the first is her fantastic cover of the White Stripe’s Fell In Love With A Girl (Boy) and the second is this. Perfectly blending the spirits of both Screamin’ Jay and Nina, Joss’ distinct gravelly tones will nibble and seduce your ear lobes. Jeff Beck’s guitar strummin’ ain’t bad either (although someone ought to have a word with him about that waistcoat – bad Jeff, just plain bad).
Dance spell – Sonique
I know what you’re wondering. You’re wondering, how can a song this great have escaped some sort of dance remix? A leather clad Sonique clearly wondered the same thing and decided to record a version just for you. Here she is breaking very slowly into some form of bank vault, avoiding lasers by singing and dancing at them with lots of somewhat incomprehensible hand movements which I presume relate to the idea of putting a spell on someone. There’s some decent violin on this too, which almost brings it to good status, but ultimately this is a pretty dull cover with a pretty dull dance track tacked on.
Belly dancing spell – Natacha Atlas
Lovers of real curios will enjoy this: a version by the lovely Natacha for you to sway your hips to in a somewhat more Arabic fashion, although Natacha is in fact from Belgium. Sadly I can only find a live version of this rather than a video, but I think you’ll agree that it’s great fun, albeit possibly not the greatest cover in the world – yet still better than Bryan Ferry’s version (not included here, look up if you dare).
Hollywood-indie spell – She & Him (aka Zooey Deschanel and M Ward)
Now if ever there was a cover that I really did want to like this would be it, there’s something rather likeable about cute little girl lost Zooey singing her little pipes out in her best bad girl style. Sadly, good as her pipes are, she just doesn’t quite fit the persona. But this is Mostly Film and there are a lot of Zooey fans, so it would be most remiss of me not to include this version for all of you.
Killer spell – the Kills
So you know that bloke Kate Moss married, the one who is always billed as being a rock star but you don’t really know much more about him than the fact that he’s Kate Moss’ bloke? Well, this is his band’s cover and you know what it’s a pretty good down and dirty rock’n’roll cover of a classic. If you were at a party and a dishevelled looking pair of middle-aged try-too-hards rocked up with a guitar and played this, well you’d be looking at them slightly more respectfully.
Performance art spell – Yuka Hondas Helenka
Mostly Covers aims to listen to everything available to select the strangest and the best versions for readers. Well there’s little, apart from the original, that is quite as strange or as much fun as seeing an old man in a large Russian hat and sunglasses emote his way through this song whilst accompanied by a truly eclectic band somewhere in New York. I believe Sean Lennon may have a hand in this, enjoy…
So we end this mostly cover journey. If you still want more, I can recommend checking out Van Morrison and Heart Attack Alley’s versions. You might be curious to check out Bryan Ferry and Creedence Clearwater revival’s versions – both of which charted better over here than Screamin’ Jay or Nina. There are also the Animal’s and Arthur Brown’s versions, both good in their own ways.