Certainly the most famous song involving witchcraft is Screamin' Jay Hawkins’ 1956 “I Put a Spell on You”. And it just so happens to be one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll. And Rolling Sone listed it at 313 on it’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
It just works perfectly as an unrequited love song or at the very least a love-gone-wrong kind of tune. But Jay originally wrote it as a ballad about a girlfriend who had dumped him. The studio liked the song but didn’t think the ballad would sell.
At some point in the process, the producer brought in ribs and chicken and alcohol for everybody and got the band drunk before recording the spookier classic. Hawkins has said he didn't even remember doing it.
Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed added Hawkins to his “Rock and Roll Review” and suggested a gimmick to go with the “demented” nature of the song. Hawkins wore a cape and went on stage by rising from a casket with smoke and fog all around, playing up the witch doctor angle. It was a hit and one of the first ever shock rock performances—a precursor to acts like Alice Cooper, Kiss, Screaming Lord Such, George Clinton, Warren Zevon, Black Sabbath and on up to acts as new as Lady Gaga.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins - I Put a Spell on You
Here is an alternate take from the Okeh session…
Creedence Clearwater Revival pretty faithfully cover it.
The Boys Next Door punk it up a bit.
Annie Lennox tries to make it bigger.
Jeff Beck & Joss Stone sauce it up.
Marilyn Manson glam slams it.
Joe Cocker takes it back to being the song of a broken-hearted lover.
Nina Simone jazzes it up.
Hell, including some of these, here’s a compilation of 12 versions of the song…
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on The Merv Griffin Show in 1966
(You can see him nearly burst out laughing, and out of character, after a gunpowder gimmick blows up.)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Live
This here is a documentary on the life of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins that was completed after his death in the year 2000. It’s called…
“I PUT A SPELL ON ME”
Ladies and Gents,
The Witchdoctor of Broken Hearts.
The Godfather of Shock Rock.