One Song/Three Versions – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Until I started researching this post, I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that the original version of this song was done by The Animals. It just had that gritty sound that we came to expect from them. As a matter of fact, it turns out it was first recorded by singer Nina Simone in 1964.

According to Wikipedia, the song came about because a composer named Horace Ott had a falling out with his girlfriend Gloria Caldwell. (I wish I had a few bucks for every song whose genesis was heartbreak.) He brought it to his songwriting partners to complete. But due to some publishing issue, he couldn’t put his name on it and so (irony of ironies) put Caldwell’s name on it.

Nina Simone’s popularity had been increasing in recent years. Her recordings had started to become somewhat more political in nature in alignment with the burgeoning civil rights struggle. However, her version of the song came from an album called Broadway-Blues-Ballads which was pretty much just that.

AllMusic: Simone was a singer, pianist, and songwriter who bent genres to her will rather than allowing herself to be confined by their boundaries; her work swung back and forth between jazz, blues, soul, classical, R&B, pop, gospel, and world music, with passion, emotional honesty, and a strong grasp of technique as the constants of her musical career.

Ladies and gentlemen, the woman also known as the High Priestess of Soul, Miss Nina Simone:

Spotify link

The late Joe Cocker did write some songs, but like Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra was better known as an interpreter of others.’ All three singers had the ability to take a song and make it their own. Cocker does a slow, soulful simmer here.

This song comes from Cocker’s debut album, With A Little Help From My Friends. Recorded in 1968, the album is a veritable Who’s Who of studio and other working musicians in London at the time: Tony Visconti, Jimmy Page, Albert Lee, Chris Stainton, Steve Winwood, Merry Clayton, B.J. Wilson and Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum. Henry McCullough, later of Wings, plays guitar on this track:

Spotify link

I tried to find an upbeat rock version of “Misunderstood” that would improve upon the Animals version. I found a version by the Killers. Not bad, but no. A pretty good version by Lana del Rey but again, while I liked it quite a bit, not really hard-edged enough.

Eric Burdon himself has revisited this over the years. I found an eight-minute version (!) but that just seemed like too much. And forget the reggae one he did.

So, let’s just go with The Animals original version, this one performed live from the Ed Sullivan show. Any band of any sort of distinction made it onto the Sullivan show. We don’t have a program like this anymore. In some ways, too bad:

Spotify link

Oh, and as to Gloria Caldwell and Horace Ott, there’s some evidence that they got married. But I don’t believe she was a performer and so her name is mostly lost to the sands of time. Don’t know if they stayed together but regardless, I imagine that getting her name on that song was the best financial windfall she ever had.

As to Horace Ott, as of this writing, he is 84 years old and still very much with us. In his interesting and varied career, he has worked with everyone from the Shirelles to Aretha Franklin to Gil Scott-Heron. Turns out he even arranged the Village People’s early records if that floats your boat.


19 thoughts on “One Song/Three Versions – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

        1. Yeah! EC was one of my “finalists.” But when I do my ‘Three Version’ thing, it’s not necessarily the best three but three really good ones (IMHO) that show the most variety in arrangement. So I thought that Joe’s was a little different. But Elvis’s is obviously heartfelt as a guy who has dealt (if you read his book) with being misunderstood in the past. But if I did four in the post. his would be one for sure.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, this is the 2nd time I’ve featured her. Funny thing is I can’t necessarily count myself as a fan. But what that’s done is opened my eyes to her and made me add her to my “listen list.”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great tune and 3 great versions. Never heard Nina’s take before, it’s good. When I first started reading the piece, Costello’s version came to mind. VC Neil beat me to the punch. I miss old Joe. You have CB all sentimental .


  2. Yeah, like I said in the post, I had no idea Nina did it. It sounded like something some Tin Pan Alley songwriter came up with it and the Animals did it. If her version was common knowledge back then, nobody mentioned it. EC is one of my favorites too but as I told “Vinyl,” I’m lookin’ for different arrangements. The more radical, the better, but not always easy to find. Joe’s is subtle. BTW, Lana Del Rey’s ain’t bad either.


    1. Like i’ve said before I like the 3 version idea you came up with. On the Kinks thing, yeah great walking music. Your “Indispensable” would be a good choice. Looking forward to The Kinks take. I think I told you they might be up next for CB also.


  3. Yeah, ‘Indispensable’ is great driving or walking music. Looking forward to your take on Kinks. Go for it.These series take a while. They take a lot out of me, like a fighter who comes back to the corner after a couple of rounds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to get a new phone before I can take the “Indispensable” for a walk. I took an oldies compilation out yesterday with a lot of your choices on it. It was perfect. No kidding on your “series takes” you know I appreciate the work that goes in. My Kinks thing is just an individual album. It’s been in the bag for awhile. Got you thinking?


  4. Great song. I also had no idea that Nina Simone recorded it first. I heard the tune for the first time in the late ’70s from Santa Esmeralda after my sister had gotten their record – a disco version with a Spanish touch!

    Of the three versions you presented I think my favorite is Cocker, who of course did many great covers. “With a Little Help From My Friends” is perhaps the best remake of all time, in my opinion.


    1. I’d never heard of the Santa Esmerelda version of the song. But interestingly, while researching this post, I read about it and then it started to autoplay on, I think, Spotify. I liked the guitar intro, the disco part not so much. As to Cocker’s “With a little help,” McCartney agreed wholeheartedly and thanked him for bringing so much soulful feeling to it.


  5. I confess I am not familiar with Sally Barker. Lovely voice. I looked her up in Wikipedia. Coincidentally, it says that she has worked in the past as support for Wishbone Ash.


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