In the Wilderness: Nina Simone, 1967-1972

In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness is a feature in which a group of Strange Currencies contributors examine an overlooked or under-appreciated period of an artist’s career. In these “Slack chats,” we discuss highs, lows, and misconceptions, in order to shed new light on an era that we feel deserves a second look.

In this installment of In the Wilderness, I’m joined by my Strange Currencies Podcast co-host, Glenn Krake, and long-time friend/music expert Trevor Kvaran. We’ll be discussing Nina Simone’s career in the late-sixties and early-seventies, covering a total of eight albums, and crafting an introductory playlist to this often-overlooked period of her catalog.

From 1959-1967, Nina Simone established herself as one of the era’s most transcendent talents. A classically-trained pianist with an unmistakable, commanding voice, she transformed even the best-known entries from the Great American Songbook into something truly her own. Also an accomplished writer, Simone penned some of the decade’s most stirring protest songs – namely 1964’s “Mississippi Goddam,” and 1966’s harrowing “Four Women.”

In 1967, Nina left the Philips label, embarking on a new phase of her career with RCA Records. While the Philips-era albums represent the most common entry-point into her body of work, these later records are often every bit as vital. Trevor, Glenn, and I dove into them for this week’s Slack chat. Enjoy!


MR: Well, this is Trevor’s inaugural appearance.

TK: Yep. Not sure what to do.

MR: We usually just go through album-by-album, but we tend to start with why this period could be considered a “wilderness.” Can it?

TK: Maybe. I think she had a couple steps into the wilderness.

GK: This is more like “the RCA years.”

MR: Yeah. It follows the Philips years, which seem to be where most people start with Nina… at least I did.

GK: When you put Phillips vs. RCA, I suppose you can call it wilderness because those Philips era recordings are just essential.

TK: I think the last of these albums are basically when she left the U.S.

MR: Yeah, that syncs up with the timeline that I got from the documentary.

GK: Which documentary are you referring to here?

TK: What Happened, Miss Simone? [2015 Netflix documentary].

MR: For whatever reason, Nina seems to have become a far more common “talking point” in the last 10-15 years, but I see a lot more reference to the Philips albums than these ones.

TK: I listen to this stuff a lot. I like the live albums from this era in particular quite a bit.

MR: There seems to be a totally different approach between the studio/live albums. We can discuss that as we dive into the albums.

TK: The mix of where she’s at live versus on album is sort of crazy.

MR: Yeah. The studio records – while they’re mostly great – seem to be more commercially minded, while the live records feel more like the “real” Nina.

GK: You seem to get a real sense of Nina’s personality in those live recordings, for sure.

TK: When I dug into the albums over the last few weeks, the schmaltz is definitely there in the studio stuff, but there’s also some pretty “out there” stuff that was new to me. A lot of this period I mainly knew from compilations.

MR: Same here. I’ve had a compilation that covers these specific years for a while. However, it’s a really disjointed listen. I feel like I didn’t understand this era well until I really dug into it these past few weeks. The documentary helped to provide some important context.

GK: I think the studio albums of this RCA era are what may lean it towards “wilderness,” since they seem to draw largely from pop standards and covers rather than Nina establishing her voice. But that said, she certainly puts her stamp on those tracks too, as we’ll no doubt address.

Nina Simone Sings the Blues, LP (1967)

GK: Well, let’s dig into these albums. What’s first?

MR: Sings the Blues is the first. Her first album for RCA.

TK: I have listened to Sings the Blues the least.

MR: Oddly enough, that’s the only one that I knew really well before the past month or so.

GK: Hmmm. I’ve listened to this one the most. I think it’s probably the best of this era. Of the studio albums, this feels most like the Nina of the Philips era we know and love.

MR: It’s probably my favorite of the bunch. At least of the studio albums.

TK: Ha. It is one I sort of struggle to get into. The explicit attempt to do a blues album just isn’t what I want out of her for some reason.

MR: It feels a bit out of step with what comes before and after. It’s comparably very raw.

GK: Certainly, it isn’t quite as in your face politically, but stylistically it feels a bit like familiar Nina. I see her as a blues singer in many ways.

MR: I always like her higher energy tracks, and I feel like this album could use a jolt of that somewhere.

TK: There’s just so little of her classical or jazz side on the album, which I guess I miss. I like torch singer Nina and that isn’t really too present on Sings the Blues.

MR: It seems less musically exploratory, if that makes sense. She isn’t quite able to put her own unique stamp on it, in the same way as some of the other stuff. The blues format tends to be pretty boxed in, so she’s not able to wander as much as elsewhere.

GK: That’s a fair point.

MR: It’s the cliché of all musical clichés, but she is definitely an artist who puts her own stamp on EVERY song she covers. That feels a little less so on Sings the Blues. However, the songs are still pretty great across the board.

TK: I do still like the album. I just find it forgettable among her recordings.

MR: What stands out to you guys from this album?

GK: “Do I Move You?” is a great opening track. I love how it opens the album almost as a rhetorical question.

MR: I would cite that one, “My Man’s Gone Now,” and “Backlash Blues” as my three favorites.

GK: Same.

TK: Yep. “My Man’s Gone Now” and “Backlash” are the keepers for me.

MR: I really like “Backlash” in particular. I use in in my classes when discussing the second phase of the Civil Rights movement. Plus, it’s cool that it was co-written with Langston Hughes.

GK: Thank you. I was waiting for a Langston Hughes shoutout.

MR: English teachers…

TK: I think “Backlash” is probably the best, but “My Man’s Gone Now” is the closest to what I like in studio Nina.

GK: “My Man’s Gone Now” reminds you Nina can play the piano. It’s so sultry and moving.

MR: True. There’s a space to that one that some of the other tracks lack.

TK: Yep. I wonder if it was even recorded at the same session. The band on the rest of the album isn’t present much on “My Man’s Gone Now.”

GK: I’m also a sucker for a good piano trio.

MR: One thing that I do appreciate about this album is the sense of cohesion. Even on her great records of the mid-sixties, there’s a kind of “all over the place” vibe. It keeps the records themselves from being statements, even if there are powerful individual statements within. Low points?

TK: I guess the only low point for me is it sure seems like Nina should absolutely destroy “House of the Rising Sun,” and it’s just okay.

MR: I can see that. It provides some energy toward the end of the record, but yeah, that’s one that she could have really killed.

GK: I wouldn’t call “House of the Rising Sun” a low point, but yeah, I can see heightened expectations.

MR: Any last thoughts on this album? I will say, this is probably my favorite album cover of the bunch. Glenn, I know you’re a font guy. Do you approve of the typeface?

GK: Ermmmm. The font is borderline, but the color palette saves it and gives is a Blue Note feel.

MR: Totally a Blue Note vibe.

TK: I’d probably take Black Gold over this as an album cover.

Silk & Soul, LP (1967)

MR: Alright. Let’s move on. Silk and Soul. Thoughts?

GK: Coming off the blues album this definitely brings some funkiness.

MR: Yep. Some of the up-tempo sound that she does so well. I like the opener on this one (“It Be’s That Way Sometime”). The horns are really good. So is the guitar. And the drums. All of it…

GK: It definitely brings some welcome energy that Nina just slays.

TK: “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” is a favorite for me.

GK: Definitely the standout of this album.

MR: Yep. That’s the highlight for me as well. I know you love that live clip of it too, which is great.

TK: Yeah, that clip is from the Historical Perspective documentary:

MR: I actually like this record a lot more than I did when I first got it a few years back. It took a while to grow on me.

GK: It has definitely grown on me with repeated listens. I rather like the closing track (“Consummation”), which I think is the only Nina composition on the album.

MR: Yeah, I was wondering what you guys thought of that one?

TK: I love it.

MR: It was definitely one of the “growers” for me. I like it a lot now. I want to really like “The Turning Point” – I appreciate the message and the harpsichord – but that comes off as a bit of a low point for me.

GK: Not sure it really deserves a “low point,” since I’m not sure the album has one, but if you had to come up with one, I suppose it doesn’t quite land as well as the rest of the album.

MR: There are some really commercial tracks here – thinking of “The Look of Love” and “Cherish” particularly – but they work. At least I think so.

TK: Outside of “I Wish” and “Consummation” there aren’t a ton of tracks I come back to on this one. “Go to Hell” is good too actually.

GK: “Go to Hell” is great.

MR: Yeah, “Go to Hell” is another highlight for me as well. I found the CD of this for like $5 a few years back, but never returned to it much. I’m glad that this exercise forced me to give it another shot. I actually like it quite a bit. Listening to it again right now, I’m finding even more to like about this record. It doesn’t have the high points of the Philips albums, but again, there’s a consistency here that those ones sometimes lacked. Every time I hear it, I like it more.

TK: Yeah, I think all these albums are really listenable for me. They mostly flow really well.

GK: Consistency is a good word for this one. Super listenable and maybe the beginning of Nina stepping out of specific genres and paving her own way. Feels like a very “Nina” album.

MR: There are a couple that I’m gonna be a little more critical of, but this one is solid.

‘Nuff Said!, LP (1968)

MR: Let’s talk about the first live one of the bunch, ‘Nuff Said! Trevor, in our pre-chat you called this the best of the lot. What makes it that for you?

TK: I’m not 100% sure I still believe that after more listens, but I do love it a lot and it is probably the one I’ve listened to the most.

GK: So, this live recording demands some context.

TK: Yeah. This was recorded less than a week after MLK being killed.

GK: Listening to this album really puts you right there.

MR: Totally. That gives this one a real sense of purpose. It’s extremely raw. Especially the monologue that she gives at the end of “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead).”

GK: There is a palpable sorrow here. Raw for sure.

TK: “Why?” through “Ain’t Got No…I Got Life” is just about perfect live music to me.

GK: Yep. Those are the two I have down.

MR: I really like this version of “Backlash Blues” as well. A lot funkier than the studio take. Again, delivered with a real sense of purpose.

TK: Yeah, in addition to stuff like “Why?” – which is just incredible to have been written so close to the moment – this just shows so much more of how powerful her music can be.

MR: Definitely. This is an extremely powerful recording.

TK: “Sunday in Savannah” is amazing. I really think the whole thing is just front to back special. It’s also really unique. I really don’t think there is a lot out there that sounds like what she was doing live.

MR: I would agree. This is a thoroughly compelling listen. The deluxe version on streaming services adds some other really great stuff too. The version of “Mississippi Goddam” is outstanding – not as good as the 1964 version, but close.

TK: Oh yeah, it’s good. “Peace of Mind” is another highlight. I love that song and this recording.

GK: She is just so compelling live, and this album is high on the list to choose from.

MR: She has so many great live albums. Even before this era, so much of her best material was only recorded in concert.

TK: I don’t know that much about her live band, but I think they were a pretty consistent group throughout her career.

MR: Yeah, there were at least a couple members who stayed with her for a long time. I’m actually surprised that this album doesn’t loom larger in her catalog. It seems to me that it should be discussed a little more, given the context. I had never heard it until a few weeks back.

TK: It certainly has for me. I knew of it because of “Why?” There’s some competition, but this is up there for “most listened” for me.

MR: I knew “Why” from the aforementioned compilation, but it doesn’t work anywhere near as well out of context. So much more vital within the whole package that is the album.

TK: Yeah. Speaking of out of context, “Do What You Gotta Do” doesn’t need to be included for me.

MR: It does seem a little tacked on at the end, but I do like that song quite a bit.

TK: Yep. It’s good, just… a studio single at the end of a pretty rough listen is jarring to me.

MR: Oh, so it is a studio track then? I was kind of wondering… Great album. Last thoughts?

GK: Powerful snapshot in time.

TK: It’s great. It’s important. One of my favorite live moments.

Nina Simone and Piano!, LP (1969)

MR: Okay, Nina Simone and Piano! What do you think of this one?

TK: I thought I hated this one going in, with the exception of “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” – which has been a favorite for a long time – but I’ve listened to it about 6 or 7 times in the last week, and it’s become a real favorite.

MR: Was wondering if you liked “Rain Today.” I know you’re a big Randy Newman fan.

TK: Yeah, I love the version here. Have you ever heard Judy Collins’ version of “Rain Today”? It’s a very similar arrangement, and just doesn’t have any of the magic of Nina’s version.

MR: Haven’t heard it. This album fits a niche that a lot of her other work doesn’t. The low-key nature of the arrangements is matched by songs that aren’t all that heavy. This isn’t what would be called “easy listening,” but in the context of her whole catalog, this is pretty laid back.

GK: Sure, it’s laid back; it’s just Nina and a piano. But yeah, that’s the charm— getting to hear her up close.

TK: Definitely. I really like getting to hear her piano playing more front and center and all the little classical touches she brings.

MR: Yeah, there are some cool little flourishes that sometimes get lost with a full backing band there. This one sounds particularly great on vinyl too, if you’re so inclined.

GK: I love “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.”

MR: Yeah. Listening to that one right now. It’s great. I love the original by Blind Willie Johnson.

GK: Yeah, but this is totally different from Blind Willie; she certainly makes it her own.

MR: Yes. She makes everything her own, and it (almost) always works well. I will say that this record kind of dips after the first three tracks.

GK: Except that “The Desperate Ones” is breathtaking.

TK: “The Desperate Ones” is a high point for me. It’s so good. That’s the one that’s been on repeat for me this week.

MR: Yeah, I like the last two quite a bit. “Another Spring” also stands out from the pack too. It’s unique, but I like it.

TK: “Another Spring” is pretty wild to me. It’s like an entire musical condensed into a single song.

MR: Exactly. A bunch of different movements in a three-minute song.

TK: Math rock bands also wish they could change time as much as she does in that song. It’s really strange.

MR: Easier with no accompaniment, but yeah. Nina is better than math rock either way.

GK: That song feels live. Did she record much of this album one take, I wonder?

MR: Probably. Final thoughts on this one?

TK: I think it’s really worth listening to; “Rain Today” and “The Desperate Ones” really stand out for me. It’s a great late-night album.

To Love Somebody, LP (1969)

MR: Alright, To Love Somebody.

TK: I don’t know how I feel about this one. Part of me thinks it’s great to hear her doing an album of mostly cool cover songs and her own answer to The Beatles, but it isn’t my favorite.

MR: I’m not entirely sure either. This one has some covers whose originals are very familiar to me. It took me a while to adjust to some, and others I still don’t love.

GK: Same. “Suzanne” is… interesting.

MR: I’ve actually grown to appreciate “Suzanne” a bit. More than, say, “Turn Turn Turn.”

TK: “Suzanne” is one of the few from this set of albums I actively skip.

GK: “Turn Turn Turn” is a skipper.

TK: It’s hard for me not to pretend this album starts at “Revolution.”

MR: Leonard Cohen’s version (of “Suzanne”) is so personal and weirdly intense. I have to picture this one as an entirely different song. It’s okay, but not a favorite.

GK: That’s a good way to approach it. That’s how I feel about the Blind Willie Johnson track from the last album.

MR: “Revolution” is interesting. It’s claimed as an original, but that’s pretty much a cover, right? It even takes a George Harrison guitar part from a different Beatles song.

GK: Yeah. It’s a cover. Massively rearranged, but… a cover.

TK: Really?

MR: Mostly the same lyrics, progression, and riff.

TK: Are the lyrics that similar?

MR: I mean, it’s almost what could be called a “response song.” Either way, it feels like it kicks the album into a more interesting phase, following a hesitant start.

TK: That’s what I’d call it. It’s certainly a direct response, but it seems more like she’s reflecting on The Beatles than covering it.

MR: Fair enough. I actually really like this version of “I Shall Be Released.” Probably the highlight of this album, for me.

GK: I was curious what an avid Dylan fan would think of that.

MR: I like it, and “Tom Thumb” as well. Not as big a fan of her take on “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

GK: I did NOT like that one (“Times”) at all. Might have avoided that one more than “Turn Turn Turn.”

MR: For someone who had written such vital protest stuff (“Four Women,” “Mississippi Goddam”), “Times” and “Turn” fall a little flat for me.

TK: I don’t even think “Tom Thumb” is that great.

MR: I really disliked this version of “Tom Thumb” the first few times that I heard it. It’s such a lyrically rambling song that doesn’t seem to fit her style, but it’s another that has grown on me.

GK: I really like her “To Love Somebody.” I think the two Bee Gees songs are pretty cool.

TK: Agreed. “I Can’t See Nobody” is great too.

MR: I do like the title track. This record is okay, but it’s my least favorite that we’ve covered so far by a pretty decent margin.

TK: Agree. This one isn’t a highlight for me. Most of the stuff here doesn’t feel like she put a very unique stamp on her versions, which is unusual for her.

MR: I agree with that, but I think a lot of it has to do with song choice. “Suzanne” and “Tom Thumb,” for instance, are so tied to their authors’ unique styles, and the big protest ones are perhaps too broad for her to do much with.

GK: Yeah, this album is pretty “wildernessy” (can we make that a word?).

MR: I’ll allow it.

TK: I think I like “Revolution” a lot more than you both. That’s the winner here for me, but I don’t think anything here is essential.

GK: Agreed. The other cover album of this era has some more memorable stuff than this.

Black Gold, LP (1970)

MR: Alright, Black Gold.

TK: Good one. This is not as essential as ‘Nuff Said – and I think the recording itself is really muddy and sounds like it was captured from outside the theater – but the performances are great.

MR: The “muddiness” that you speak of seems kind of performance related as well. I notice a pretty big contrast in the versions of “Ain’t Got No…” on here and on ‘Nuff Said. That one is authoritative. This one is not anywhere near as powerful. Of the three live albums – although the last is only partially live – this one seems to have the least “purpose.”

TK: Yeah. I think of the three live albums this is in third.

MR: ‘Nuff Said is “The MLK one.” Emergency Ward is “The Vietnam/Harrison one.” This is just “the other one.”

GK: Good assessment. That’s where it lacks: doesn’t really have a distinguishing feature like those others.

TK: It was the album with “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” which is pretty huge.

GK: English teacher here, gotta name drop the Lorraine Hansberry track. That’s her: “Young, Gifted and Black.”

TK: Yep. I think they were friends.

MR: Yeah, “Young, Gifted and Black” is definitely the showcase piece here, though I also really like this version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.”

GK: Those are the two I earmarked from this album as well.

TK: “Black is the Color” is a neat version. It’s just really strange.

MR: Especially at the start of the album. I like her earlier takes of it more, but it’s definitely worth a listen.

TK: This one ends strong. I like “Assignment Sequence” a lot too. It’s a good live album from someone who released at least a few great ones.

MR: That’s a fitting descriptor. She has so many great live albums that a merely good one feels kinda unnecessary.

TK: “Young, Gifted and Black” is pretty darn special though.

MR: It is. It justifies this album’s existence on its own.

GK: It’s certainly a good. album. It’s just that she has done several “great” ones so this one pales a bit.

Here Comes the Sun, LP (1971)

MR: Alright. Here Comes the Sun. This introduces what seems to be a real fondness for George Harrison, but I’ll be honest: her take of the title track does nothing for me.

GK: It’s pretty forgettable for me… especially when the second track is so shocking. I just can’t look away when Nina takes on “Just Like a Woman.”

MR: I like that one a little more, but not much, honestly.

TK: Yeah, I don’t care much for either.

MR: This record as a whole is pretty forgettable for me. There is one track that I actually like quite a bit.

TK: I have a real soft spot for “Mr. Bojangles.”

GK: I love “Bojangles.”

MR: That’s the one. I wasn’t sure if I’d be alone on that. It’s definitely my favorite version of the song. She does a great job with it.

TK: “My Way” is good too.

GK: Yeah. I love how she owns it.

MR: I don’t love “My Way.” Never really cared for the original either, for what it’s worth. That clicking sound – apparently just a really hyper bongo drum – made me think there was something wrong with my car.

TK: I don’t think it was on the original album, but the song “22nd Century” is included on some versions, and it’s way cool.

MR: “22nd Century” wasn’t on the original, but yeah, that’s an interesting one. I like it more than most of the stuff that made it onto the album. With that said, this is pretty safely my least favorite of the albums from this era.

GK: I like “O-O-H Child” just fine, but it’s not really groundbreaking or anything. Just a fine listen. I think “My Way,” “Bojangles,” and her strange “Just Like a Woman” give this album a little bite that To Love Somebody didn’t really have for me.

TK: I’m with Glenn. I like this over To Love Somebody.

MR: Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

TK: I find this album pretty listenable. It doesn’t have a lot of essential stuff on it, but I’m pretty happy to have this on.

GK: Listenable. Agreed. Say what you will about the commercial weight albums of covers tend to have, Nina just somehow makes it an enjoyable experience.

MR: Oh, it’s definitely listenable. I just felt that To Love Somebody was a little more consistent, but only slightly.

TK: Some of To Love Somebody is stuff I’d call truly worth avoiding. I don’t feel that way about anything here

MR: I think I have to fight against the first two tracks here more than the first two on To Love Somebody, but I can respect your position. Rate Your Music agrees with you guys. It has this at a 3.40 and To Love Somebody at a 3.39. Splitting hairs, but…

TK: Ha!

MR: I’ll at least agree that “Mr. Bojangles” is the best song on either.

Emergency Ward!, LP (1972)

MR: Let’s move on to Emergency Ward.

GK: I think Emergency Ward is my favorite live album of this era.

TK: I might agree.

MR: I’m inclined to give it a slight edge over ‘Nuff Said, but our discussion of that one really has me wanting to give it some more listens. Keep in mind that apparently only the A-side of this one is live.

TK: I know ‘Nuff Said a lot better, but this one is really, really good, and I was surprised that it might be my favorite of this entire series.

GK: I’d probably recommend others listen to ‘Nuff Said if they’re only going to listen to one, but I think I enjoy this more at the end of the day.

MR: That’s a good point. ‘Nuff Said is probably more accessible. This is more of a “deep dive” album.

TK: The medley is amazing.

GK: That medley is unbelievable. I’d never heard this album at all until we started researching for this series. And I think I was with you, Matt, when we were looking at Rate Your Music and I noticed that medley track has a 4.9 composite score. I’ve never seen anything that high on RYM before, so needless to say I was intrigued. I rushed home to listen to it and I was just floored. Did not disappoint. No doubt ‘5’.

MR: Yep. I just contributed to its rating today. Straight up ‘5’. It’s amazing. I love that there are three total tracks on this album, and that two of them are George Harrison songs. She just destroys both of them. I mean, his “My Sweet Lord” is a classic, but this is something else.

TK: Yeah, I don’t have a lot to add. It’s pretty perfect.

GK: I was leery of an 18-minute live track, but Oh. My. Goodness. It is devastating. And that last line when she weaves that “My Lord; you’re a killer.” Crushing.

TK: Brutal.

MR: Yeah. I had to do a double take on that. I like the connection to The Last Poets as well.

TK: Oh really?

MR: David Nelson – one of the original members of that group – wrote the “Today Is A Killer” poem that she weaves into the song, essentially connecting Nina to what could be considered the origin of hip-hop.

TK: That’s cool.

MR: The B-side ain’t bad either. Some of the backing vocals on “Poppies” are kind of goofy, but that’s a good track. “Isn’t It a Pity” is also great. This is like one of those great Miles Davis or John Coltrane albums where you see a three-song track list and think, “hmm, this seems a little slight.” Then it just blows you away.

GK: TOTALLY. I was trying to figure out “Poppies” and read that poppies were a symbol of fallen soldiers. I didn’t know that before, so it helps give context to the song as well.

TK: I don’t know if “Pity” transcends the original as much as “My Sweet Lord,” but it’s very good and really focuses you in on the lyrics, which I’m not sure I’d really paid attention to before.

MR: Agree. I never quite figured out if this was really a “wilderness,” but looking at Rate Your Music, I can’t help but see confirmation that this era is really overlooked. ‘Nuff Said has less than 250 ratings. This album has under 200. In comparison, Pastel Blues [1965] has almost 5,000.

TK: That’s crazy. I really thought ‘Nuff Said was one of her big albums.

MR: It seems that ‘Nuff Said and Emergency Ward should be. These are on par with some of the other great live albums of the era.

TK: For sure. And she leaves the U.S. not long after this, right?

MR: I’m sure we can all speculate as to why an album like Nuff Said didn’t get the attention of something like At Folsom Prison, but this stuff should be considered “canon.”

GK: Especially when you talk about the context and the significance of these live recordings in relation to the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam.

TK: Definitely would make my list of important live albums.

MR: I just can’t believe that no one had told me that I needed to hear those two albums (‘Nuff Said, Emergency Ward) before. In all honesty, I think both of them are at least on the same level as Nina Simone in Concert [1964], which does seem to be considered among the canon.


MR: So, let’s do a quick recap before we get to the playlist. Favorite album?

TK: Probably ‘Nuff Said, maybe Emergency Ward. I’d probably pick Nina Simone and Piano among the studio albums.

GK: Live: Emergency Ward; Studio: Sings the Blues.

MR: I came in thinking that Sings the Blues was my favorite, but I think both of the great live ones – ‘Nuff Said and Emergency Ward – have passed it. Silk & Soul isn’t my favorite studio, but that one’s really been moving up the list for me.

TK: I was gonna say, that’s the other studio standout for me.

GK: Least Favorite: To Love Somebody.

MR: My least favorite is Here Comes the Sun.

TK: Least favorite is To Love Somebody, I think. One last thing is Baltimore – which comes later in the 70s – is quite a good album that is maybe even more in the “wilderness.”

MR: I can see doing a sequel at some point. I’ve never heard anything beyond this era.


GK: I’m ready for the playlist, except are we sure we can’t include the Emergency Ward medley? That’s my favorite track of this whole era.

MR: This is a little tricky. We aren’t tied to a specific time limit with Spotify/Apple Music, but I’d also like for us to do better than the existing comps. I want to make something that is easy to listen to, but that also hits the highest high points.

GK: I’m okay sticking with tracks that would make for a good compilation, as long as we let our readers know that they should drop what they’re doing and go listen to Emergency Ward.

MR: Yeah. I’ll leave that in there…because that medley is amazing. Let’s try to keep it (somewhat) compact, I guess. Trevor, in honor of this being your first go at this, you have first pick. We each get five.

TK: Okay. I’ll start with “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.”

GK: I need to give love to one of my favorite authors, Lorraine Hansberry, and go for “Young, Gifted and Black” from Black Gold. There’s a single version on there that I think would fit nicely on this compilation playlist.

MR: I’ll go with “It Be’s That Way Sometime.” Round 2:

TK: “The Desperate Ones”

MR: Nice. That will have to be the closer.

GK: Since Matt probably won’t pick it, I need to represent Nina taking ownership of a cover and go with “My Way.”

TK: Nice.

MR: “Backlash Blues.” Round 3:

TK: “22nd Century”

GK: Even though the album is my least favorite of this lot, we gotta at least represent To Love Somebody, so I’ll take the Bee Gees song that gave the album its name.

MR: “Ain’t Got No…I Got Life.” Round 4:

TK: “Peace of Mind”

GK: I must have “Do I Move You?” And for the record: Yes, Nina, you do.

MR: “Mr. Bojangles.” Last round. Make ’em count.

TK: “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”

GK: I wanted to be able to tell Matt “Go to Hell,” but I’m gonna chicken out. I suppose “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine.”

MR: Well, Glenn. “Go to Hell.”

GK: I figured you drill that softball I served up for you.

TK: Haha.

MR: Alright. I think that’ll make for a good listen. Thanks for doing this one. I really enjoyed diving into this era. So far, most of these articles have been more “re-visitation” than “discovery.” This one gave me a good excuse to dive deeper into her catalog, and I’m coming out with a much fuller understanding of what made Nina such a great artist.

TK: It was a lot of fun. It made me realize I leaned too heavily on compilations for Nina; there’s some cool stuff buried on the albums.

GK: I really appreciate listening to Nina, especially in this era where she sort of defied genres.

TK: Yeah, I think that’s what is so cool about these albums. I’m not sure what sort of music you’d even call most of this.

GK: She is such a transcendent artist.

TK: All-time great.

Authors

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

  • Glenn Krake is the associate editor of Strange Currencies Music and a co-host of the nearly flawless podcast of the same name. He counts among his proudest achievements taking his daughter to her first concert: Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds in its entirety on its 50th anniversary (as a way of making amends for his own pitiable first concert: The Osmonds at the county fair).

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