Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

First recorded by Nina Simone (1964).
Hit versions by The Animals (US #15/UK #3/CAN #4/AUS #29/SWE #7 1965), Santa Esmeralda (US #15/UK #41/AUS #7/NETH #5 1978).

From the wiki: “‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell, and Sol Marcus for Nina Simone, who first recorded it in 1964.

“The beginnings of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ originated with composer and arranger Horace Ott, who came up with the melody and chorus lyric line after a temporary falling out with his girlfriend (and wife-to-be), Gloria Caldwell. He then brought it to writing partners Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus to complete. However, when it came time for songwriting credits, rules of the time prevented BMI writers (Ott) from officially collaborating with ASCAP members (the other two), so Ott instead listed Caldwell’s name on the credits. Horace Ott’s involvement did not end with his initial songwriting; he was the arranger and orchestral conductor for Simone’s entire album, Broadway-Blues-Ballads, released in 1964.

“‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ was one of five songs involving the writing of Benjamin and Marcus, presented for Simone’s album. Simone sings in her typically difficult-to-categorize style. To some listeners, Simone’s version of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ carried the subtext of the American Civil Rights Movement, which did concern much of Simone’s work of the time; to others, this was a more personal statement, and was the song, and phrase, that best exemplified Simone’s career and life.

“The Animals’ lead singer Eric Burdon would later say of the song, ‘It was never considered pop material, but it somehow got passed on to us and we fell in love with it immediately.’ The group gained a trans-Atlantic hit in early 1965 from their rendition, rising to #3 on the UK Singles Chart, #15 on the U.S. pop singles chart, and #4 in Canada. The Animals’ version was ranked by Rolling Stone at #315 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“A extended dance version of the song by American-French-Spanish disco group Santa Esmeralda featuring Leroy Gomez took the Animals’ arrangement and added some disco, flamenco, salsa, and other Latin rhythm and ornamentation elements to it. First released in summer 1977 as a 16-minute epic (that took up an entire side of their Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood album), it was also released as a radio-friendly promotional single late in the year, eventually reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 by early 1978.

“NBC Sports would use the song frequently in the years following its release, especially during their coverage of the World Series. Santa Esmeralda’s disco mix was featured in a famous sword fight scene by Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film Kill Bill.”

Eric Burdon & The Animals, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (1965):

Santa Esmeralda, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Top of the Pops television performance (1977):

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