Our Top 10 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Songs list presents the best Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Songs like “I Put a Spell on You” and many more. “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins made a name for himself as a powerful, operatic vocalist that also known for his onstage theatrics. When it came to shock rock, Hawkins made this his personal brand as a performer long before rockers like Kiss ever hit the stage. Eighteen months after he was born on July 18, 1929, in Cleveland, Ohio, he was put up for adoption. While raised by a family belonging to the Blackfoot Indian tribe, Hawkins developed an early taste for music by learning classical piano as a child. While in his twenties, he also picked up and learned the guitar.
When Jay Hawkins was thirteen years old, he used a forged birth certificate so he could enlist in the United States Army. In 1944, he joined the army Aire Force before he was honorably discharged eight years later. While serving in the military, he also took up boxing. He was good enough to become the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska in 1949. While in the army, he also entertained his fellow troops.
The original intent for Hawkins at one time was to become an opera performer. When his career as an opera singer no longer seemed to be in the cards, he embarked on a career performing blues music instead. In 1951, he joined Tiny Grimes and his band. Some of the musical material that was recorded featured Hawkins as part of the lineup before he embarked on a solo career.
In 1956, Jay Hawkins made his wildly outlandish impression with “I Put a Spell on You.” Originally, the song was supposed to be a ballad but the antics of Hawkins and his bandmates at that time recorded the song while under the influence of alcohol. The result was Hawkins a raw, guttural track that would become the most successful song in his career as a performer. At the time, most music critics and social groups felt Hawkins and the song painted an improper reflection of the African American community. This meant their refusal to play the song on the radio stations prevented it from becoming a charted hit on any official music billboards.
However, the song’s popularity spiked not long after Hawkins agreed to jump out of a coffin on stage with a gold and leopard skin costume during a concert performance that included “I Put a Spell on You.” The suggestion of the coffin came from radio disc jockey Alan Freed, who offered Hawkins money to pull off such a stunt. Not only did Hawkins agree to do this, but he also did it with style with voodoo stage props. This included Henry, the smoking skull on the stick that became a big part of his act. This stunt was enough to label Hawkins as a black version of the infamous Vincent Price.
In addition to enjoying a career as a musical artist, Jay Hawkins also performed as an actor in a series of box office and television productions. This includes Alan freed’s American Hot Wax which was released in 1978. He also performed as a guest vocalist for recording artists such as Dread Zeppelin. When the group decided to put together their idea of a disco album in 1992, it was Hawkins who performed “Disco Inferno” and “Jungle Boogie” with them.
From 1962 until 1971, Jay Hawkins called Hawaii his home. He later returned to New York City before moving to France in 1993. In the meantime, he set up his own publishing company that was sustained by the royalties “I Put a Spell On You” received each time it was covered by another recording artist.
On a personal level, Hawkins married six times. One of his wives, Virginia Sabellona, was the love interest of Shoutin’ Pat Newborn. He was one of Hawkins’s singing partners before stabbing the artist in a jealous rage.
Aside from six wives, Hawkins engaged in several affairs that so far have thirty-three confirmed children that were a result of his sexual encounters. After Hawkins died on February 12, 2000, from an aneurysm, his friend, Maral Nigolian, set up a website in an effort to locate as many of the rumored seventy-five children as possible. Among those who were already traced, twelve of them met at a 2001 reunion.
Despite the fact Jay Hawkins became successful with his shocking stage performance, it was something he personally felt served as a nemesis to his musical career. He wanted to be taken seriously as a balladeer. In an interview he had in 1973, he admitted the “Screamin'” monicker was never his intention to become part of his trademark as a vocalist.
Although no other recorded and released content from Jay Hawkins matched the commercial success level of “I Put a Spell on You,” the solo artist enjoyed tremendous success throughout the 1960s and 1970s. This was especially the case among the European nations as the fans couldn’t seem to get enough of his onstage performances. There was an incident, however, that almost put the man’s entertainment career to a screeching halt. In February 1976, while performing in concert in Alexandria, Virginia, Hawkins received burns to the face when he was too close to one of the flaming props that went off.
In total, Jay Hawkins recorded and released fifteen studio albums. He also has six live albums to his credit. Even though Hawkins may not have been a big-name success as a recording artist, he made up for this with his over-the-top stage performances. His theatrics was enough to win over other highly influential artists that also made names for themselves as outlandish stage performers. Such artists include Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Zombie, just to name a few.
Top 10 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Songs
#10 – Constipation Blues
1969’s “Constipation Blues” was performed by Jay Hawkins as a song sharing what it’s like to feel physical pain instead of purely emotional. It was his form of artistic expression as the first blues singer to lyrically perform material that no other blues artist had done before him. At concerts, he held in Chicago, Illinois, and Paris, France, Hawkins propped a toilet onstage while performing this song before the audience.
#9 – Ashes
“Ashes” was a 1962 song Jay Hawkins released as a fast-paced number that illustrated the man’s ability to sing out a tune just as well as he could scream it. His brand of humor also shines through as he attempted to win over the female vocalist’s heart with his unorthodox style. While he may have had trouble winning her over, this wasn’t a problem with the fans.
#8 – Monkberry Moon Delight
Originally a Paul McCartney number from 1971, “Monkberry Moon Delight” was a song Jay Hawkins covered as a single in 1973. According to McCartney, his children referenced milk as a “monk” which served as an inspiration to create a song out of it. “Monkberry Moon Delight” was referenced as a fantasy milkshake to sip and enjoy. For Jay Hawkins, the string of obscurities served as the perfect material for him to cover this song that lived up to his onstage personality.
#7 – Alligator Wine
“Alligator Wine” was regarded as a humorous drinking song that was recorded and released by Jay Hawkins in 1958. Although the song didn’t nearly make as big of an impression as “I Put a Spell on You” it was enough to win over an appreciative audience. Apparently, taking blood out of the alligator, along with parts from a fish and frog, was the winning recipe for this silly, yet highly entertaining song.
#6 – Frenzy
Released in 1957, “Frenzy” was a Jay Hawkins single that would later be featured on the 1996 compilation album, Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files. It was one of the songs that appeared on the show’s second season episode, Humbug. In true Jay Hawkins style, the playfulness of his vocal talent turned “Frenzy” into a fast and furious number that earned its way as an offbeat beachy favorite.
#5 – Sirens Burnin’
“Sirens Burnin'” was a song that was featured in the 1990 horror film, Night Angel. Considered catchy and weird, this was a tune that not only served as a fitting number during the movie’s closing credits but as Jay Hawkins still demonstrated he was the screaming king of rock and roll for a reason.
#4 – Feast of the Mau Mau
“Feast of the Mau Mau” was a cannibalistic-style song performed by Jay Hawkins that put his “Screamin'” monicker to good use as a partially unintelligible number that would serve fans of gothic-style music proud. Long before shock rock was considered a subgenre, Hawkins made this an art form. While other recording artists were winning over the fans with pop-rock classics, Hawkins released a brand of music that was not so conventional. Released in 1963, “Feast of the Mau Mau” may not have won over the radio stations so much but it certainly drew an audience who couldn’t help but feed off the threatrics that dictated the vocalist’s career as a solo artist.
#3 – Orange Colored Sky
In 1950, Janet Brace sang “Orange Colored Sky” with Milton Delugg and his orchestra. It became a popular song that would also be covered by Jay Hawkins in 1958 for his album, At Home with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Aside from the ghoulish, shock rock stage performances, Hawkins was best known for, he strove to be taken seriously as a vocalist. While his version may not be as well known as the cover performed by Nat King Cole, it’s still served as an example of how talented Hawkins was as a jazzy vocalist who could sing a tune just as well as scream it.
#2 – Heartattack and Vine
“Heartattack and Vine” was a Tom Waits original that got its name from the infamous Los Angeles, California intersection, Hollywood and Vine. The song made references to the city, which served as a source of inspiration for Jay Hawkins to cover this song himself. In 1993, it was the version performed by Hawkins that was featured in a popular Levi’s commercial. This prompted a lawsuit from Tom Waits that forced Levi’s to compensate him when the European court made its final decision about the matter.
Aside from the legal complications that came from the matter, the cover version that was performed by Jay Hawkins was nothing short of spectacular. Although Tom Waits opposed Levi’s decision to use the song as a commercial without his permission, he has also admitted on a personal level his own music style was influenced by none other than Hawkins himself.
#1 – I Put a Spell on You
“I Put a Spell on You” became Jay Hawkins’ signature song after it was recorded and released as a single in 1956. Originally, the song was meant to be a ballad but when it was performed during a recording session, he and his bandmates were intoxicated at the time. Instead of singing like a refined opera singer, he screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way clean through the song. Despite the fact that “I Put a Spell on You” failed to make an impression on any official music charts, it still became his best hit of all time.
When Hawkins relearned the song after listening to the recorded version, he performed it again. Considerably less dramatic than the original, the second recording was his way of responding to the criticism he received about the song’s cannibalistic content. Regardless, the song was mostly banned from the radio stations as there were social groups that felt the material served as a bad reflection of African American culture. There was one radio disc jockey, in particular, Alan Freed, who offered Hawkins money to emerge from a coffin while performing onstage. At first, Hawkins declined before taking it upon himself to use this as an opportunity to make the gimmick as outlandish as possible.
The legacy of “I Put a Spell on You” had this song become one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was also covered by a long list of recording artists that came up with their own versions. This song was also considered by Rolling Stones magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. “I Put a Spell on You” became a cult classic that immortalized Jay Hawkins in the eyes of fans who saw more than just some song that sounded like it was screamed to death.
Feature Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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