Sunday, March 07, 2010

I Put A Spell On You

There’s no shortage of either charity records or versions of I Put a Spell On You.

The version released by Shane MacGowan and Friends is a fundraiser for Haiti and is a bit of belter. The friends include Nick Cave, Mick Jones, Glen Matlock, Chrissie Hynde, Bobby Gillespie, Paloma Faith, Eliza Doolittle , original Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan and Johnny Depp.

Screamin’ Jay was the original Pop horror ham, with a joke shop full of gimmicks. Skulls on sticks, climbing out of coffins…you can draw the line from Hawkins to Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Alice Cooper to Marilyn Manson.

The original Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version released in 1956 has clipped piano and sax and a really disconcerting and unexpected laugh that would have you changing seats on the bus. He’d originally recorded the song for Grand which had had flopped, but the version on Okeh had the full and maverick promotion of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era. The moans on the opening bars were supposedly deemed “Cannibalistic” by radio stations and so yet another version was recorded. This time Djs were told they would be compensated if they were fired for playing the record.

In Gerri Hirshey’s wonderful book Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music, she watches him play to a bemused audience supporting the Stones in the early 80’s. (He’d re-recorded a version with Keef in 1979.) He goes straight home after his set to watch the wrestling on tv, but when she gets to his house to interview him he shows her a letter from Tom Fogerty with a return address of “Creedence”.

“My brother John and I had our minds blown the first time we heard I Put A Spell On You”

The Creedence Clearwater Revival cover from 1968 is my favourite version. Fogherty’s wonderful wind tunnel bellow is a threat to double glazing but it’s the guitar that really makes the song. Half of the song is given over to stinging guitar lines. The best bit comes when he seems to have run out of notes and is just left bending the ghostly feedback. It’s physical and it sounds like you should actually be able to see the feedback, like a shaft of light across the studio.

There a couple of other references that tie the Creedence version into it’s own era rather than the 50’s. It’s got a swirl to it like the Animals cover of House Of The Rising Sun but more tellingly it’s got the spindly drum and ratata guitar building up at the end of the verses which sound like Love.

The Shane MacGowan and friends version owes more to Nick Cave’s sound, a man who can make a record wheeze and clang like the meat store scene in the Long Good Friday.

Shane Macgowan sings the opening lines and in many ways it’s just good to hear he’s still alive. Paloma Faith leaves her usual kookie cabaret act at the stage door and really throws herself into her lines. She probably comes with a lot of baggage and definitely a lot of hat boxes. Nick Cave has played this song before as there’s a version on an NME cassette Department of Enjoyment from 1984. I think Nick Cave has borrowed from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in his own vocal style, but strangely enough he’s not doing it in this song.

Chrissie Hynde sounds great and looks cool (and vice versa). Her voice is a source of wonder and is usually better than most of the records she’s made. You just know that she still totally and unironically believes in Rock ‘n’ Roll…which is quite touching really. As for Bobby Gillespie, I always think he talks a better record than he actually makes. I always seek out his interviews but rarely listen to his records. So he whoops a bit, bangs his knees together and is probably playing an imaginary tambourine.

Johnny Depp confounds all expectations by adding guitar wangery and making women interested in bearded men. Ok then, just the one bearded man.

You can see the song at and if you’re feeling ghoulish and are looking for a reason to stop drinking you can see Shane attempt to talk about the record at