Tuesday, April 17, 2007

“I Put A Spell on You” / The Alan Price Set


In the late sixties, if I’d been PAYING ATTENTION, I might have learned Alan Price’s name. The next band he formed -- after an extended drunken sulk, bits of it forever captured in the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back -- was called The Alan Price Set, as if to set the record straight (remember, the Animals were originally named the Alan Price Combo). This new band had a horn section and was deliberately different from the blues-oriented Animals. They got a bit of US airplay; I remember hearing the bouncy Randy Newman tune “Simon Smith and His Amazing Talking Bear”, but I never registered who sang it.

I KNOW I heard “I Put A Spell On You,” but was it the Alan Price Set’s version? After all, it had been an R&B standard since Screamin’ Jay Hawkins first tore into it in 1956. Alan released this in 1966, soon after Nina Simone’s jazz-oriented 1965 cover (her “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was an early Animals high point); Manfred Mann covered it too, on a 1965 LP, so it probably was the song of the moment. But I’d guess the version I heard on American radio was by Creedence Clearwater Revival, who featured it on their 1968 debut album. They had the home-field advantage.

If I did hear Alan’s version, I doubt I associated it with the band that did “Simon Smith” – because on “I Put A Spell On You,” Alan headed right back into Animals territory. Yes, the horn section is there, with a tight staccato accompaniment that pitches up the heart-breaking tension of this song. But otherwise, this song sounds to me like Alan was determined to prove that “House of the Rising Sun” was no fluke. He’s center stage from the first note, weaving a sinuous minor-key organ counterpoint, and for the bridge, he totally rips loose, fingers flying all over the keyboard, much more powerful than the boozy sax solo on Hawkins’ original. The “House of the Rising Sun” solo is hard enough to duplicate; just try imitating what he plays on this track.

Yes, with “I Put A Spell On You,” Alan gets his revenge. You see, once Eric Burdon joined the Animals, Alan Price was consigned to back-up vocals – stuck behind a keyboard, he couldn’t dominate the stage the way Burdon could. I can only imagine how that rankled. Now, with the Alan Price Set, Alan could show the world that he too had a powerful smoky blues voice. He starts out low and gruff, half pleading, half threatening, but he soon builds to glowering anger, the same stuff that worked on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” He’s accusing his girl of running around; he SHOULD sound mad. I love the way he flings his voice recklessly on “I just can’t stand it,” over and over, sounding truly tortured; the way it shivers helplessly on “You’re always running round,” or the hoarse wail on “Because you’re mine!” He doesn’t believe she’s his, and it hurts. All this talk about spells is just desperation.

Listen to how Alan’s voice cracks as he sings, “I don’t care if you don’t want me / I said I’m yours, I’m yours right now.” This track was recorded in January 1966, the day after Alan returned from Newcastle, shattered, from his mother’s death. You can just hear the howling orphan misery in that ravaged voice – that alone makes this the definitive version of this song, in my opinion. Okay, so I didn’t discover it until 1973, when I dug his 1968 US release LP This Price Is Right out of a record store bin. But the moment it landed on my turntable, it was there for life.

But wait . . . what made me start rooting around in the P bins of record stores in 1973? Well, I'm getting there. Tomorrow, I promise.

I Put A Spell On You Sample


Julie said...

This is a great version of this song. Thanks for bringing it into the light.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, it's not exactly obscure -- the song did actually climb to #9 on the UK charts in March 1966.