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Music

Nina Simone's five greatest isolated vocals

@josephtaysom

The late Nina Simone had a voice gilded by angels, and the emotions that the ‘Queen of Soul’ could dispatch with her vocals remain unprecedented. Simone was a true one-off in every sense of the word, and the feelings emitted from her work is only heightened when heard isolated.

The North Carolinian was born into abject poverty, but she felt rich when performing. Simone’s local church is the place in which the singer honed her talent, and unsurprisingly, the jazz icon was hailed as a prodigy from an early age. However, Simone had to fight throughout her life against racial prejudice, and the pain she felt was present in her powerful voice that she used to channel her energy. 

Additionally, the vocalist struggled with bipolar disorder, and the lack of knowledge around the subject made people misunderstand her. Still, when she had a microphone in her hand, it was the one place that made her feel at home. Simone once said about her mission as an artist: “What I was interested in was conveying an emotional message, which means using everything you’ve got inside you sometimes to barely make a note, or if you have to strain to sing, you sing.”

Listen to her five greatest isolated vocals below.

Nina Simone’s greatest isolated vocals:

‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’

This track was one of five efforts written by Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus for Simone’s 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads. Over the decades, it has been covered by an array of acclaimed artists like Elvis Costello and The Animals, but the original remains unmatched.

Although Simone didn’t write the song, you feel every word she sings, and her delivery came from the heart. As a misunderstood character, she was always fighting to be accepted. On the track, she powerfully sings: “If I seem edgy, I want you to know, That I never meant to take it out on you, Life has its problems and I’ve got my share, And that’s one thing I never meant to do.”

‘Sinnerman’

‘Sinnerman’ was a track that Simone covered in 1965. The number was originally recorded by the Les Baxter Orchestra almost a decade prior, although it was her who brought the track into popular consciousness with this triumphant cover. 

The song was widely known in Black culture circles for years before being first recorded. Simone first learned the lyrics when she was a child, and its poignancy stayed with her into adulthood. She began performing it when she lived in Greenwich Village during the early ’60s. Her version is the definitive one, and Kanye West has even sampled it on Talib Kweli’s ‘Get By’.

While the isolated cut of ‘Sinnerman’ isn’t her ten-minute original, it’s still wondrous.

‘Feeling Good’

The first song that springs to mind whenever one thinks of Simone is ‘Feeling Good‘. Undeniably one of the most masterful vocal performances ever recorded, the track sounds even more majestic when her voice is isolated.

Astonishingly, the song which appeared on her 1965 release, I Put A Spell On You, wasn’t originally elected to become a single, and it didn’t chart until almost 40 years later. Volkswagen gave her rendition a second lease of life when they used it in a commercial, and it was ultimately released as a single in response to popular demand. Since then, a plethora of artists have put their own spin on ‘Feeling Good’, but her isolated vocals prove why she’ll always reign supreme.

‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’

Simone was the master at taking a jazz standard and making you forget that it’s not her own because of the ample amounts of heart she poured into everything she put her name on, such as ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me,’ which she recorded for her debut album Little Girl Blue.

Similarly to ‘Feeling Good’, this was an effort that was slept on by the masses until it was used in an advert years later for perfume as her career went through a renaissance period. While the commercialism of the ’80s had many faults, bringing Nina Simone to the ears of a whole new generation wasn’t one of them.

‘Strange Fruit’

Billie Holiday is the artist that is most intrinsically linked with ‘Strange Fruit’ after she brought it popularised it with her stunning take on the track back in 1939, and it laments the lynching of Black people who are compared to fruit trees in the song.

During the ’60s, Simone paid tribute to Holiday by covering the classic. Sadly, the lyrics were still relevant as Black people fought for their rights to be recognised as equal citizens. She was a key player in the Civil Rights Movement, and the raw emotion in her voice throughout this isolated version of ‘Strange Fruit’ will touch your core.