So I guess today is the first day of Black History Month, and I only realized that after deciding to make today’s writeup about an album that black people may very well want to strike from their history: the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and one of his “revival” albums, Black Music For White People.
Now, the one thing that ANYONE knows about Screamin’ Jay (besides my loyal readers that know Jeff Buckley covered one of his songs) is that he wrote the “horror” R&B hit “I Put A Spell On You“, and the more adventurous of you may even know that his live performances were known to be a bit… eccentric. He was known for his wild and crazy original compositions, as well as his butchering of the classics, and indeed the 1991 album Black Music For White People is at least one of those! Good luck finding a Youtube video of any of this, at least you can listen along in glorious Rhapsody.
The album starts off, innocently enough, with a decent cover of “Is You Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (I consider the best cover of that song to be Tom’s), which introduces the super-cheesy plastic-sounding guitar that is present throughout the album. One thing NOT present on this track is Screamin’ Jay’s actual screamin’. What gives?
The next song is a fast-paced boogie woogie called “I Feel Allright”, which is indeed all right, but again fairly lackluster. There is one scream right at the end, but you have to get through the extended plastic guitar and saxophone solos to get to it. I’m quite fond of the lyrics, at least. The end of the track has a very erotic and short blues number, I think it’s called “Shell and Fin”? Oh well.
Then we have…
I… just can’t believe this.
Ok, ok, are you ready for this?
Right, well I’m not going to tell you until you’re ready.
Ok, I assume no liability for any injuries you may receive from the misuse of this information I am about to bestow upon you, but the third track of this album is the “Dance Version” of “I Put A Spell On You”. The 80′s style rap beat kicks in, and then the funk bassline, and then the samples of Jay singing his signature song, only without ANYTHING present that ever made this song good. You think “ok this is just a really terrible remix of the song”, but hold on there, honey cakes, it gets worse.
Yep, there are rap segments in this song.
Rap segments ala early 90′s rap, the very worst kind! It happens at least twice, I kind of lost count, this song is quite long compared to the minute and a half up to 2 minutes of the original. It’s really quite the highlight of the album in a way, as you will probably be pushed to react to it, somehow. My particular reaction was violent laughter followed by depression. The man just had to be put up to this… really thoug, it happens way more than it should in music, best to just keep moving on, if we can force ourselves…
The next song is a song that I shouldn’t have to look up to see who wrote it, “I Hear You Knockin’”. This is an all right cover of a very dull song, and features pretty much the same stuff you already heard, only a bit more shouty, which bodes well for the future.
The future is, strangely enough though staggeringly fitting, a cover of a Tom Waits song, “Heartattack And Vine”, which contains Jay trying to sound like he’s completely drunk, but really he just sounds like he just had some dental work done and his mouth is still numb. He clearly doesn’t care about singing the words clearly, or even at all, but he does replace the line “no devils here, just God when he’s drunk” with “no devils here, just Screamin’ Jay when he’s drunk”. That’s right, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins believes he’s God. Ok, not really.
The next song, if you want to call it a song, is entertaining but bizarre. It’s called “Ignant And Sh*t”, and it’s basically some really articulate verbal abuse he is shouting to some woman. He utilizes a lot of black stereotypes in this rant, so it’s up to you to interpret whether he’s just talking to a black girl, talking about black people in general, or if he’s just trying to appeal to white people in entirely the wrong way. I couldn’t find any information on the song, so your guess is as good as mine. It’s 6 minutes of this, by the way, and I hate to admit that it’s pretty awesome, but it is.
We then get into a jungle swing beat as the song “Swamp Gas” brings us to the second half of the album. It’s not too bad a song, and fits right into Screamin’ Jay’s voodoo persona. I really wish the guitars weren’t all straight from the 80′s, because with proper instrumentation and the total exclusion of that dance remix of “I Put A Spell On You”, this might be a fairly decent album.
The next song, “Voodoo Priestess”, doesn’t really matter in the sense that it’s an actual song, but does matter because it starts with Screamin’ Jay explaining the concept of ghosts to a confused Japanese woman, possibly during an interview. It’s wonderful. The song itself is actually quite nice, but more of a tame version of the previous track. We then move on to “Ice Cream Man”, which is a song containing sexual innuendo if I ever heard one. It was also written by Tom Waits, on one of the few albums by Waits that I’ve actually heard, Closing Time. Perhaps less “innuendo” and more straight-up “sexual” is the antepenultimate “I Want Your Body”, about which the less said, the better.
Second to last on the album is “Ol’ Man River”, which starts with a jazzy piano intro, and then cools down to a slow jazz ballad. Prepare yourself, however, because it’s a trap. The song basically explodes shortly after the 1 minute mark and then calms right back down for a bit before exploding again and the whole thing becomes a tug-of-war between Screamin’s unusual style of crooning and his quite usual way of shouting. It can be quite the stressful thing if you’re trying to sleep while listening to this album and trying to do a write-up and keep falling asleep at your desk. Blah.
The final song on the album is called “Strokin’”. It’s an upbeat funky blues number, and before you go thinking dirty thoughts about this album’s title, let me put those vicious rumors to bed right now… it’s a song about masturbation.
Good night, everyone!
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