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"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus for the singer/pianist Nina Simone, who first recorded it in 1964. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" has been recorded or performed by many artists, and is widely known by the 1965 blues rock hit recording from The Animals. A 1977 disco/flamenco/Latin version by Santa Esmeralda was also a hit.</p>
The beginnings of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" came 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.
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was one of five songs involving the writing of Benjamin and Marcus, presented for Nina Simone's 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads. There, it is taken at a very slow tempo and arranged around harp and other orchestral elements; a backing choir appears at several points. Simone sings it in her usual hard-to-categorize style. Horace Ott's involvement did not end with his initial songwriting; he was the arranger and orchestral conductor for the entire album. Backed with "A Monster", "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was released as a single in 1964, but failed to chart.
To some writers, this version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" carried the subtext of the American Civil Rights Movement, that concerned much of Simone's work of the time; while to others, this was more personal, and was the song, and phrase, that best exemplified Simone's career and life.
|"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"|
|Single by The Animals|
|from the album Animal Tracks|
|B-side||"Club A Go-Go"|
|Released||January 1965 (UK)
February 1965 (U.S.)
|Label||Columbia Graphophone (UK)
MGM Records (U.S.)
Gloria Caldwell Sol Marcus
|The Animals singles chronology|
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 Animals gave it one of their trademark R&B-into-rock workups, speeding up the tempo and starting off with a memorable electric guitar-and-organ doubled riff from Hilton Valentine and Alan Price, that was picked out and expanded from an element that originally appeared in the Simone recording's outro. This riff immediately led into Burdon's trademark deep, impassioned vocal line:
- Baby, do you understand me now?
- Sometimes I feel a little mad.
- But don't you know that no one alive can always be an angel?
- When things go wrong, I seem to be bad.
- (group unison) But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good:
- (just Burdon) Oh Lord! Please don't let me be misunderstood ...
In Animals concerts at the time, the group maintained the recorded arrangement, but Burdon sometimes slowed the vocal line down to an almost spoken part, recapturing a bit of the Simone flavor.
A disco version of the song by Santa Esmeralda featuring Leroy Gomez, which took The Animals' arrangement and added some disco, flamenco, salsa, and other Latin rhythm and ornamentation elements to it, also became a hit in the 1970s. 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 picked up for more worldwide distribution by the label of the time, Casablanca Records. A 12-inch club remix was extremely popular, hitting number one on the U.S. Billboard Club Play Singles chart and in some European countries as well. The single peaked at number four on the Hot Dance/Disco-Club Play chart. Released as a pop single late in the year, it did well as well, reaching number 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 "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was used as the opening theme of the 1980 pilot for the U.S. game show Bullseye, after which a sound-alike was used in regular episodes. Santa Esmeralda's rendition is featured in the 1992 film American Me and the English comedy Blow Dry. It became widely popular with a later generation after its inclusion in the 2003 Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill Vol. 1, where its instrumental passage plays over the duel between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii, and the accompanying Kill Bill Vol. 1 Original Soundtrack, where it is incorporated in a full vocal form, that runs over 10 minutes. A rendition appears in the trailer for the 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, as well as the 2008 Korean "western" film The Good, the Bad, the Weird, played in the chasing sequence in Manchurian desert. This version of the song was also used on German soccer television show ARD-Sportschau from the late '70s to the mid-'80s, in the introduction for the goal of the month segment.
The Animals' Eric Burdon has re-recorded the song throughout the years, notably an eight-minute version on his 1974 album Sun Secrets and a heavy metal performance in 1976 later released on his Live at the Roxy album. Burdon has performed it since the early 1980s in a reggae style. In a different version, it was performed during The Animals' 1983 reunion, as documented on the following year's Greatest Hits Live (Rip It to Shreds) release.
A version by Joe Cocker (from his 1969 debut album) played over the ending credits of the 2004 film Layer Cake. Other artists who have recorded the song include The Moody Blues, Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper, Arthur Brown, Uthanda, Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger, Mike Batt, Trevor Rabin, Dwight Adams, No Mercy, Alabina (retitled "Lolole"), John Legend, Lou Rawls, [Lil Wayne], Gary Moore, Robben Ford, OffBeat, Kellylee Evans, Julian Thome, Ray Darwin, Dolapdere Big Gang, New Buffalo, Farhad Mehrad, The Killers, Ulli Bögershausen, the Doug Anthony All Stars, Lyambiko, The Lucky Devils, Di'Anno, Meshell Ndegeocello, Strangefruit, Savage Circus, and Place of Skulls.
In their 1980s concerts, Dire Straits played the central theme of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" during an instrumental introduction to their "Tunnel of Love", as Mark Knopfler talked about The Animals' hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne, in whose Spanish City that song is set.
Cat Stevens was pleased as a young musician to be compared to the song's first performer, Nina Simone, by an interviewer from Melody Maker. After converting to Islam and changing his name to Yusuf Islam, several incidents where he has felt misunderstood — including a recitation from the Qur'an that he maintains was either a misquote or taken out of context, which was alleged to be supportive of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and allegations that he provided funds to terrorist organizations resulted in his deportation from both Israel and the U.S. — sparked his recording of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" with some lyrical alterations, featured on his 2006 album An Other Cup.
Rapper Common's "Misunderstood" sampled Nina Simone's original version for his 2007 album Finding Forever. The song was also sampled for the 2008 Lil Wayne album Tha Carter III, in the song "DontGetIt" and it was performed byLeona Lewis on the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards during a Lil Wayne performance. It has also been remixed by Granite & Sugarman for Nicola Fasano.