From 1964 to 1967, the extraordinary Nina Simone released seven albums on Philips Records, further establishing her peerless artistic expression and singular voice. During this exceptional purple patch, she recorded some of her best and most important work of her career, much of it fuelled by the Civil Rights Movement and the turmoil of 1960s America. In conjunction with their 60th anniversary this year, Verve is celebrating the genius of Simone, the supernaturally gifted singer, pianist and prolific songwriter, and her incredible mid-'60s run with the release of her entire Philips catalog on vinyl.
Released earlier this summer as a box set titled The Philips Years, the seven LPs – Nina Simone In Concert ('64), Broadway-Blues-Ballads ('64), I Put A Spell On You ('65), Pastel Blues ('65), Let It All Out ('66), Wild Is The Wind ('66) and High Priestess Of Soul ('67) – are now available individually as of today, September 30, on heavyweight 180-gram vinyl in facsimiles of the original sleeve art. The vinyl masters for the long-out-of-print titles were cut at Abbey Road using high-resolution audio transfers direct from the analog master tapes and are all in stereo. This marks the first time that Broadway-Blues-Ballads and Let It All Out have been made available on vinyl since their original release. A celebration of Simone's remarkable talents, these albums contain many of the songs that Simone's legacy is built upon not only such well-known cuts as "I Put A Spell On You" and "Feeling Good," but also "Wild Is The Wind," a song that David Bowie would memorably cover, and Simone's version of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." In their recent review of the box set, Pitchfork proclaimed: "The Philips Years is a humble title for a collection that contains some of the most important moving documents of American history. Nina Simone's Philips records remain her most essential."
Nina Simone's classic Philips Records catalog is now available back on vinyl. The titles include: 'Nina Simone In Concert' ('64), 'Broadway-Blues-Ballads' ('64), 'I Put A Spell On You' ('65), 'Pastel Blues' ('65), 'Let It All Out' ('66), 'Wild Is The Wind' ('66) and 'High Priestess Of Soul' ('67).
Since her death in 2003, Simone's influence, significance and cultural relevance has only grown, especially most recently as issues of race, police brutality and civil rights are once again at the forefront of the cultural conversation. The Netflix feature documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? — which just won the 2016 Emmy for Outstanding Documentary this month — has helped shine a new light on Simone's immense talents and fearless activism, resulting in a new generation discovering her timeless music and indelible impact. Of her Philips years, NPR drew parallels to the present: "In a time when issues of race and gender are reverberating with a newfound volatility reminiscent of the 1960s — the decade in which Simone forged her reputation as a politically provocative entertainer — Nina's concerts and recordings feel like urgent bulletins from a brooding heart and a troubled land."
In 1964, Simone embarked on a new stage of her career. Her rejection by the Philadelphia-based Curtis Institute Of Music; time spent as a pianist in an Atlantic City nightclub; her jazz, gospel, pop and classical influences – all these had fused to make her one of the most complex, fascinating and talented artists of the decade. Simone released her debut album in 1958, but when she signed to Philips in 1964 at the age of 31, her creative output was about to dovetail with the Civil Rights movement — notably coinciding with the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, gender, religious affiliation or nationality. It's fitting, then, that the first album she released on Philips, 1964's Nina Simone In Concert, captured some of Simone's most committed Civil Rights-era material, including her explosive rendition of "Mississippi Goddam." But this three-year period also saw her satisfy her relentlessly questing muse, with collections that focused on Broadway showtunes (Broadway-Blues-Ballads), pop material (I Put A Spell On You) and more, showing the full range of Simone's talents.
Nina Simone in Concert was taken from three live shows recorded at New York's Carnegie Hall in March and April 1964 and it features her then-best known songs – a live version of her first hit "I Loves You, Porgy" taken from the opera Porgy & Bess by George and Ira Gershwin, and the mournful "Don't Smoke In Bed," as well as the hilariously risqué "Go Limp." This album also saw her embrace the theme of civil rights in song for the first time in her recording career. It features one of the greatest protest songs in the canon – "Mississippi Goddam," a deceptively jaunty musical number which was inspired by the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers by the Ku Klux Klan and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Released as a single, the song, an incendiary cri de coeur that she performed outside Montgomery during the landmark Selma To Montgomery marches, was banned in several Southern US states. "Old Jim Crow" and her reading of "Pirate Jenny" from "The Threepenny Opera" by Kurt Weill and Bertholdt Brecht are similarly powerful political statements of intent from this fearless artist.
In contrast to her first Philips album, which was politically laden with civil rights motifs, Broadway-Blues-Ballads is more playful. It opens with one of the vocalist's signature songs, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," a tune which was written for her by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus, and was later taken to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic by The Animals. Other standout songs on the album include Cole Porter's "The Laziest Gal In Town" and "Something Wonderful" from the Broadway musical The King & I by Rogers & Hammerstein, and "See-Line Woman," a song based on a traditional children's folk ditty, which was to become a regular part of Simone's live repertoire, and a source of material, through sampling, for contemporary artists including Kanye West and Bruno Mars; Simone's version has also been covered by Feist.
I Put a Spell on You, Simone's third album for Philips, introduced the world to several more of her best-loved songs. The title track, a cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins novelty hit, was transformed by Simone's languid arrangement into a mesmerizing love song and became an instant classic; its impact was so great she used the title for her 1992 autobiography. The album also features perhaps her most well-known song to contemporary audiences, "Feeling Good," which was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the musical The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd; the track was brought back into currency via an advertising campaign and has since been covered and sampled by countless other artists including Kanye West, George Michael, Muse and Michael Bublé, but none match the power of Simone's definitive version. Other standout songs were sourced in Europe–a heartrending take on Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (tr."Don't Leave Me") sung in the original French, and two Charles Aznavour songs: "Tomorrow Is My Turn" and "You've Got To Learn."
Later the same year, Simone followed up with Pastel Blues, an album best known for its stunning 10-minute rendition of the traditional song "Sinnerman" that closes the record. President Obama called the powerful opus one of his favorite songs while Kanye West sampled it as well as Simone's haunting rendition of the Billie Holiday anti-lynching ballad, "Strange Fruit." Album opener "By My Husband" had a different kind of afterlife once Jeff Buckley recorded it for consideration for his 1993 EP Live At Sin-é (his version finally surfaced on the expanded 2003 edition of the release). Pastel Blues was one of Simone's best-performing records, entering the Top 10 on Billboard's R&B charts.
Simone's fifth release for Philips, Let It All Out, mixed studio performances with live recordings. It features beautifully intimate interpretations of songs by Duke Ellington ("Mood Indigo"), Irving Berlin ("This Year's Kisses") and Rogers & Hart ("Little Girl Blue") while Simone takes one of Bob Dylan's most hard-hitting songs, "The Ballad Of Hollis Brown," and makes it her own. One of the most striking performances on the record is a live a cappella performance of "Images" based on a poem about the beauty of blackness by Waring Cuney. The song was taken from the Carnegie Hall shows that made up Nina Simone In Concert.
Though compiled from recordings initially earmarked for previous Philips outings, Wild Is The Wind remains a cohesive artistic statement whose influence runs deep. Johnny Mathis originally recorded the title track for the 1957 film of the same name, but it was Simone's beautifully mournful version that inspired David Bowie to cover it for his groundbreaking '76 album, Station To Station. Her stunning version of James Shelton's "Lilac Wine," featured here, once again provided inspiration to Jeff Buckley who aped her arrangement on his debut album, Grace in '94. Again politically engaged, Simone's composition "Four Women" (an angry history of black women's experience) was controversially banned in certain quarters due to concern over the lyrics.
Once more presenting Simone's vast stylistic range, The High Priestess Of Soul, her seventh and final album released for Philips, also introduced Simone's enduring epithet to the wider world. From rock 'n' roll (Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man") to spirituals ("Come Ye," "Take Me To The Water"), jazz, pop and soul, the album saw Simone end her Philips tenure as confidently – and uncompromisingly – as she began it.
Nina Simone—born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina—was a musician as well as a civil rights activist. Simone took to music at an early age, learning to play piano at the age of three and singing in her church's choir. She went on to study classical piano at the Julliard School in New York City, but left early when she ran out of money. In order to make a living, Simone left classical music to play jazz and blues in Atlantic City. By the mid-'60s, Simone became known as a main voice of the Civil Rights Movement and advocated for violent revolution during that period. Simone passed away April 21, 2003, after struggling with breast cancer for years in her Carry-le-Rouet, France home.