A friend of mine is fond of saying, “some is good, more is better.” In the world of Hollywood films, this is practically a mantra. Whenever a movie makes any semblance of profit, a sequel can’t be too far behind. But in the music world, is more of the same really a good thing? Thanks to the modest success of the Verve remix albums, each of which contains two Nina Simone tracks, RCA has allowed DJ’s and producers to manhandle Simone’s tracks from their own vaults. Yes, this is somewhat a sequel to the Verve mixes, but with Nina Simone, there is no such thing as `more of the same.’ If this collection of `reimaginations’ proves anything, it is that no matter how much you alter a Nina Simone song, it still breathes with the life and unbridled passion that she put into every vocal performance. After all, you can’t really `remix’ Nina, you can only change the background a little.
RCA was not Simone’s first record label, nor the label that featured her most beloved work (that would be Philips), but RCA’s Simone library, due to its leaning towards soul tinged pop, is the ripest for reassembly. One of the biggest highlights of that era, and now ours, is the medley from the musical Hair, “Ain’t Got No / I Got Life.” Groovefinder takes this already upbeat track, adds its own party flourishes and creates what is sure to be on the closing credits of the next Ocean’s movie. Coldcut nearly cross over a taboo line by putting the jagged cuts within Simone’s sung lines on “Save Me,” but one can almost forgive them for leaving most of the song intact. It’s one thing to mess with “Peter & the Wolf,” it’s quite another to mess with the powerhouse voice that is Simone’s.
“Turn Me On” turns almost silly with its goofy `house music’ repetitions and is only saved by Nina’s vocals. You can see where I’m getting at with most of these tracks. On the other hand, there’s Francois K’s take on Simone’s take of “Here Comes the Sun,” which finds the music and singer in a modern harmony not quite expected, but relaxingly pleasant. Mocean Worker’s “Go To Hell” is another upbeat scorcher much like “Ain’t Got No / I Got Life,” a successful blend of lounge, dance floor and jazzy riffs. The same can be said for DJ Wally’s version of “My Man’s Gone Now,” which keeps piano and bass intact nicely alongside the new drumbeats. “The Look of Love,” however, originally a sultry Bacharach tune, becomes something near hideous, with almost every cliché of dance music I find revolting.
“O-o-oh Child,” remixed by Nickodemus, is another of the highlights, finding the right balance of modern funk and the original’s innate flow. Of course, the song itself is a winner, originally by the Five Stairsteps, and later covered by the likes of Beth Orton and yes, Nice and Smooth. “To Love Somebody” has the same kind of pedigree, originally by the Bee Gees, but Chris Coco nearly uses those horrid dance clichés, even putting an echo on Simone’s glorious voice. “Obeah Woman,” one of the true Simone classics, is given great reverence from DJ Logic, thank goodness, even to the point of keeping the live intro and outro intact. All in all, this experiment with Nina Simone’s RCA tracks finds the good slightly outweighing the sacrilegious, but not by much. It’s almost as if you can tell which of these DJ’s and producers is hip to the magic of Nina Simone. The others just didn’t seem to get it.
Nina Simone’s legacy speaks for itself. Not only are we left with hundreds upon hundreds of spectacular vocal masterpieces, but we are blessed with her progeny, most notably Jeff Buckley who frequently covered Simone and found inspiration from her performances, and Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond, who recently executed an amazing cover of the magnificent “Feeling Good” while touring in support of Sufjan Stevens. I am reminded of a former coworker, a man who found strength in silence, as he very rarely spoke up, especially during meetings. But the day after Nina Simone passed away, you couldn’t have stopped him talking about Ms. Simone even if you wanted to, that’s the power of enthrallment that Nina had on him. Everyday, more and more listeners are introduced to the music of Nina Simone, usually thanks to a song’s inclusion on a soundtrack, and hopefully, that soundtrack will use the original.
Various Artists- Verve Remixed series
Curtis Mayfield- Mayfield Remixed
My Brightest Diamond- Bring Me the Workhorse