Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Weird & Then Some!

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins didn’t have the best of voices, really, and it’s tempting to think of him as mostly a novelty act. He did write a bona fide classic with “I Put a Spell on You,” then proceeded to record it dozens of times, or rewrote it into a marginally new song and then recorded that a dozen times. The bottom line is that Hawkins' legacy rests with “Spell,” which is fine. It’s a classic and that’s that. Hawkins was essentially a club R&B singer who stayed pretty close to the blues in his songs, no matter how far he reached to be spooky in his lyrics, but his real genius was in presentation. His stage set was theatrical, and the various coffins and other props that made up his act foreshadowed the later rock theater exploits of artists like Alice Cooper, Elton John, and Marilyn Manson, and “Spell” was always his centerpiece showstopper. This two-disc, 40-track (all of these tracks are in mono) set pretty much captures Hawkins at the start of his success. A version of “Spell” is here, along with thin rewrites of it like “She Put the Whamee on Me”; odd, skewed blues pieces like “Well I Tried”; and straight-out goofy novelty songs like “Little Demon.” There’s a lot of Hawkins here, and since he was very nearly a one-trick pony throughout his recording career, casual listeners might prefer a single-disc greatest-hits collection -- as long as it has a version of “I Put a Spell on You,” and truthfully, it doesn’t matter much which version, since a classic is a classic each time out in this case.

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