In 1965 the British group The Animals had a top 40 hit in the US with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell, and Sol Marcus. According to Animal guitarist Hilton Valentine, although Gloria Caldwell was credited her husband Horace Ott actually penned the song. After arguing with Caldwell a tune come to him “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord please don’t let me be misunderstood” and he later went to his writing partners Sol Marcus and Bennie Benjamin to flesh out the song. Since Ott was a member of BMI and his writing partners ASCAP, they couldn’t be credited as co-writers, so he added his then girlfriend’s instead.
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – The Animals
The song was originally recorded by Nina Simone for her 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads. When Ott first presented it to her Simone said “it sounds like the person who would sing this song is hurt,” but she proceeded with the recording. Ott also arranged her version which was slower than what The Animals later recorded. The riff at the beginning and throughout The Animals adaption, which in later versions became a more prominent part of the song, was only at played by the strings in the last 6 bars of the Simone version. Perhaps because of the faster tempo or because the drums and organ are heavier in The Animal’s rendition, their take doesn’t seem as hollow or sorrowful as the original recording. Simone’s version, like much of the music she recorded in then, became associated with the civil rights era.
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Nina Simone
Simone later recorded her 1968 performance at the 2nd Montreux Jazz Festival and later released it as The Great Show of Nina Simone Live in Paris. The live version is a bit more haunting and feels more free due to the with the chanting background vocals and less structured piano. The live performance was sampled by producer Devon Harris on Common’s 2007 Finding Forever album. In “Misunderstood” Common used the hook from the live Simone record to tell the tale of second chances of two characters. The first verse tells the story of a drug dealer and the second of a stripper, both ready for change.
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (live) – Nina Simone
Misunderstood – Common
One of my favorite adaptations is one of the more recent ones. Recorded for her 2012 album Outside the Box, Sabrina Starke put her own mark on the song. It’s cold and dark at times, and her voice is jarring, but in a good way. Her background vocals seem to have a sorrowful moan, that are somehow soothing at the same time.
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Sabrina Starke
Over the years there have been over 50 recordings of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by everyone from Cyndi Lauper to Lou Rawls, some of which have been used in movies and commercials. I’m only featuring the versions I wrote about here, but I’m adding a link to a playlist with other takes of the song that I like or found unique. Do you have a favorite recording of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” that I didn’t mention?
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