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:
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:
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:
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.