Our top 10 Nina Simone songs introduce us to an American singer-songwriter whose influence in music has led her to receive multiple accolades. Nina Simone was born sixth in a poor family of eight children. Her music career was founded on her aspiration to become a reputable concert pianist. With Nina Simone hailing from a poor background, she would get some help from her hometown dwellers in enrolling in the Juilliard School of Music, where her professional music journey started. Later, Nina Simone would apply for a scholarship to study at the iconic Curtis Institute of Music. However, she was denied admission to the music institution despite her awe-inspiring audition. Her audition was attributed to racism, which shows us how much of an activist she has been since her young age.
Surprisingly, two days before her death, Curtis Institute of Music would award her an honorary degree for her sublime and influential music career that spanned from 1954 to 2002. Nina Simone launched her singing career after she was advised to sing to her accompaniment. Her musical style blended pop and gospel with classical music. With her singing career having her start as a jazz vocalist, her musical style also has some jazz vibes delivered alongside her blues and R&B sounds. Amazingly, Nina Simone released over forty albums between 1958 and 1974. At this time, she established herself as a black musical entertainer famed for breaking from the industry norms producing direct social commentary in most of her songs. Nina Simone inspired tons of musicians, including Elton John, Adele, Madonna, Boy George, John Legend, and David Bowie, among others. Our top 10 Nina Simone songs introduce us to the best releases from this eclectic and gifted vocalist from the twentieth century.
#10 – Why? (The King of Love is Dead)
Ushering us to the top 10 Nina Simone songs is the ballad “Why? (The King of Love is Dead.)” The song was penned down by Nina Simone’s bassist Gene Taylor for release in the album ‘Nuff Said! Its release came shortly after the world was briefed of Martin Luther King’s death. Nina Simone performed the song for the first time in New York three days after Martin Luther King’s assassination. It took bassist Gene only twenty-four hours to pen the lyrics to the awe-inspiring song.
#9 – Young, Gifted, and Black
Nina Simone collaborated with poet Weldon Irvine in a relaxed studio session to compose the lyrics of “Young, Gifted, and Black.” The song had Weldon struggle with creating the lyrics, with Nina Simone asking to have the lyrics offer a feel-good vibe to all black children. With the song, Nina Simone proved to be more than just a musician but now an activist against racism. “Young, Gifted, and Black” went on to peak at number seventy-six on the UK Singles Chart, becoming one of the best Nina Simone songs from the album Black Gold.
#8 – Four Women
“Four Women” is one of the best Nina Simone songs from Wild is the Wind album. The song is inspired by Nina Simone’s empathic gesture against the injustice of people of color, especially black people. Nina Simone revealed that the song came after conversations she held with black women, which depicted that they largely suffered from self-hatred, having them dislike their complexion, bodies, and hair. All these predispositions resulted from brainwashing into feeling that way by many white people and some black men.
#7 – Sinnerman
“Sinnerman” is a lengthy release that serves as Nina Simone’s version of the traditional spiritual song. The song has been described by many as an outpouring of intense emotion which are tied to her religious beliefs. “Sinnerman” was inspired by the bible book Exodus, which features the narrative of how Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
#6 – Ain’t Got No, I Got Life
Number six on our top 10 Nina Simone songs is the hit “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life.” The song is a medley between two hits, “Ain’t Got No” and “I Got Life,” featured on the band’s album ‘Nuff Said! Nina Simone went on to rewrite the songs to suit her purpose. The song helped her attract more attention to herself, peaking at number two on the UK Singles Chart.
#5 – I Put a Spell on You
Originally released in 1956, “I Put a Spell on You” is a song composed by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins. Nina Simone would do the cover of this song back in 1969, making it the title track of her album. It is quite amazing that Nina was able to duplicate Hawkins’ bravura performance on the cover. Multiple artists, including Annie Lennox, have also covered the song.
#4- I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” is one of the best Nina Simone songs from her album Silk & Soul. In the song, Nina Simone aspires and wishes to know what living in a world without segregation, and/or racism is like. The song’s intro features the most successful lyrics of the entire song. “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” was recorded and adopted an outstanding Civil rights anthem.
#3 – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Sol Marcus, Bennie Benjamin, and Gloria Caldwell collaborated in penning the song “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” for Nina Simone’s 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads. The song takes a slow tempo, with Nina Simone singing it in her signature difficult-to-categorize vocal style. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” has become one of her most reputable songs, having it covered by multiple artists/bands, including The Animals, Elvis Costello, and Santa Esmeralda. The song peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard Hot 100.
#2- My Baby Just Cares for Me
“My Baby Just Cares for Me” is a catchy song from Nina Simone’s album Little Girl Blue. The song is a jazz standard written by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the 1930 film Whoopee! Eddie Cantor was the first to perform the song making it his signature tune. While the song might have felt too minor for Nina Simone’s debut album, it later became one of the few ballads that helped revitalize her career. The song peaked at number five on the UK Singles Chart.
#1 – Feeling Good
Number one on the top 10 Nina Simone songs is the hit “Feeling Good” from her album I Put a Spell on You. “Feeling Good” is an exhilarating hit regarded by many as Nina Simone’s anthem of liberation. The song’s lyrics express some euphoria yielded by liberation from oppression. “Feeling Good” has been covered by multiple artists/bands, including Michael Bublé, The Pussycat Dolls, John Coltrane, and Muse.
Feature Photo: Roland Godefroy, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons