Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

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"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Single by Nina Simone
from the album Broadway-Blues-Ballads
B-side"A Monster"
RecordedNew York City
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Single by the Animals
B-side"Club a Go-Go"
  • 29 January 1965 (U.K.)
  • February 1965 (U.S.)
Recorded16 November 1964[1]
GenreBlues rock
Producer(s)Mickie Most
The Animals singles chronology
"Boom Boom"
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
"Bring It On Home to Me"
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Single by Santa Esmeralda
from the album Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
A-side"You're My Everything"
ReleasedDecember 1977
Length16:12 (original album version)
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Single by Elvis Costello
from the album King of America
ReleasedJanuary 1986 (1986-01)
RecordedOcean Way, Sunset Sound, & Sound Factory Studio, Los Angeles, 1985–86
LabelF-Beat (UK)
Columbia (US)
Producer(s)T Bone Burnett
Elvis Costello singles chronology
"Green Shirt"
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott and Sol Marcus for American singer-songwriter and pianist Nina Simone, who recorded the first version in 1964. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" has been covered by many artists. Two of the covers were transatlantic hits, the first in 1965 by the Animals, which was a blues rock version; and in 1977 by the disco group Santa Esmeralda, which was a four-on-the-floor rearrangement. A 1986 cover by new wave musician Elvis Costello found success in Britain and Ireland.

Nina Simone original[edit]

Nina Simone (portrait, 1965) recorded the first version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"

Composer and arranger Horace Ott came up with the melody and chorus lyrics after a temporary falling out with his girlfriend (and wife-to-be), Gloria Caldwell.[2] Ott 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 (Benjamin and Marcus), so Ott listed Caldwell's name instead of his own on the credits.[2][3]

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was one of five songs written by Benjamin and Marcus and presented for Nina Simone's 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads. There, the song was taken at a very slow tempo and arranged around the harp and other orchestral elements including a backing choir that appears at several points. Simone sings it in her typically difficult-to-categorize style.[4]

To some writers, this version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" carried the subtext of the Civil Rights Movement that concerned much of Simone's work of the time;[3] while to others this was more personal, and was the song, and phrase, that best exemplified Simone's career and life.[5]

The Animals version[edit]

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."[6]

The song was recorded in November 1964.[7] The band became a trans-Atlantic hit in early 1965 for their rendition of the song, rising to No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart, No. 15 on the U.S. pop singles chart, and No. 4 in Canada.[8]

Cash Box described it as "a striking combination of R&B and English-rock touches."[9] This single was ranked by Rolling Stone at No. 322 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[10]

During 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.[11]

At the South by Southwest festival in 2012, Bruce Springsteen credited the song as the inspiration and the riff for his song "Badlands".[12]

Santa Esmeralda version[edit]

A disco version of the song by the group Santa Esmeralda, which took the Animals' arrangement and transformed into a disco, flamenco, and other Latin rhythm and ornamentation elements to it, also became a hit in the late 1970s. Their version of the song was 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 which was picked up for greater worldwide distribution by their label at the time, Casablanca Records.[13] The 12-inch club remix was extremely popular, reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Club Play Singles chart and in some European countries as well. Though, the single peaked at No. 4 on the Hot Dance/Disco-Club Play chart.[14] Their 7-inch single version peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., which is coincidentally the same number at which The Animals version peaked.[15]

Instrumental sections of this version were used in the 2003 Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill: Volume I, during the final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii.[16]


Weekly charts[edit]

Weekly chart performance for "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Chart (1977–1978) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[17] 7

Year-end charts[edit]

Year-end chart performance for "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Chart (1978) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[18] 67


Region Certification Certified units/sales
France (SNEP)[19] Gold 500,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.

Elvis Costello version[edit]

British new wave musician Elvis Costello, under the label "The Costello Show", covered "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" for his 1986 album, King of America. The song was a late addition to the album; Costello had originally intended to record "I Hope You're Happy Now", but throat problems during the final sessions prevented him from doing so.[20] Costello recalled,

Rather than scrap the session we cut a slow, violent version of the Animals/Nina Simone song: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". The next day we borrowed Michael Blair from Tom Waits' band to add a marimba part, and the record was complete. This may seem ironic as I attacked the song with a vocal capacity that Tom might have rejected as being too hoarse.[20]

Against Costello's wishes, his American record company, Columbia, insisted on releasing the song as the first single from King of America. The single reached No. 33 in the UK and No. 22 in Ireland, but did not chart in the US. He explained, "My US record company, Columbia, showed their customary imagination in releasing the safe 'cover' song as a single ahead of any of the more unusual and heartfelt balladry I had composed. 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' made little impression, and my mounting debt to the company seemed to make them unwilling to risk any further effort on my behalf".[20]

Martin Chilton of The Telegraph ranked the song as Costello's 26th best song out of 40, stating that Costello "sings it really well".[21]

Chart history[edit]

Reviewed versions[edit]

Stereogum reviewed cover versions of the song in 2015, including renditions by Joe Cocker, Yusuf Islam, and Lana Del Rey.[41] A version by Cocker for his With a Little Help from My Friends album is "a thoroughly '60s rock reading, [...] even if it dispenses with the organ intro the Animals introduced into the equation, it does have a big organ solo section and that crying blues guitar intro".[41] Cat Stevens converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam; when he returned to popular music, he recorded an allusion to controversies in his life by way of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", as featured on his 2006 album An Other Cup.[41] Del Rey created a "burnt-out Pop Art take on Americana" version of the song for her album Honeymoon.[41]

Other versions[edit]


  1. ^ "Chrome Oxide - Music Collectors pages - Animals - 05/12/2018". Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Hilton Valentine, "Stories",, April 28, 2001. Retrieved 6 September 2007.
  3. ^ a b "Songwriter, Arranger Horace Ott", Jazzmen. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  4. ^ Collins, Jim (July 4, 2003). "Reviews: Two-disc retrospective celebrates late, great Nina Simone". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. p. 17.
  5. ^ Margaret Busby, "Books: Don't let her be misunderstood", The Independent, April 16, 2004.
  6. ^ Rolling Stone, "The Animals", Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  7. ^ "The Animals – The Complete Animals (Line notes scanned)". discogs. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "RPM – Library and Archives Canada". April 12, 1965. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  9. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. February 6, 1965. p. 20. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  10. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 7, 2011. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  11. ^ "The Animals ~ Live ~ Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood ~ 1965" – via YouTube.[dead YouTube link]
  12. ^ "Bruce Springsteen's SXSW 2012 Keynote Speech". NPR. March 18, 2012.
  13. ^ "Santa Esmeralda – Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". discogs. September 17, 1977. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974–2003. Record Research. p. 227.
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2007). Top Pop Singles Billboard: 1955–2006. Record Research. p. 739.
  16. ^ "Santa Esmeralda". IMDb. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  17. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 264. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  18. ^ "Kent Music Report No 236 – 1 January 1979 > National Top 100 Singles for 1978". Kent Music Report. Retrieved January 8, 2022 – via Imgur.
  19. ^ "French single certifications – Santa Esmeralda – Don't let me be misunderstood" (in French). InfoDisc. Select SANTA ESMERALDA and click OK. 
  20. ^ a b c King of America (Liner notes). Elvis Costello. 1986.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  21. ^ Chilton, Martin (August 26, 2015). "Elvis Costello's 40 best songs". The Telegraph. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  22. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. p. 105. ISBN 951-31-2503-3.
  23. ^ "Toutes les Chansons N° 1 des Années 70" (in French). InfoDisc. January 16, 1965. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  24. ^ a b "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  25. ^ "Official Charts Company". February 10, 1965. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  26. ^ a b Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  27. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, April 3, 1978[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ a b "RPM – Library and Archives Canada". December 20, 1969. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  29. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  30. ^ "RPM – Library and Archives Canada". March 4, 1978. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  31. ^ "Toutes les Chansons N° 1 des Années 70" (in French). InfoDisc. August 5, 1977. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  32. ^ Flavour of New Zealand, 5 March 1978. The Official NZ Music Charts.
  33. ^ "SA Charts 1965 – March 1989". Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  34. ^ "Official Charts Company". December 11, 1977. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  35. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, February 11, 1978
  36. ^ "Official Charts Company". February 1, 1986. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  37. ^ "Official Charts Company". October 12, 1996. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  38. ^ The 100 Best-Selling Singles of 1965
  39. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.
  40. ^ (Canada's) Top 200 Singles of 1978 RPM – Library and Archives Canada; Published: December 30, 1978; Retrieved: March 12, 2021
  41. ^ a b c d Leas, Ryan (September 23, 2015). "21 Covers Of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," Rated". Stereogum. Retrieved April 6, 2016.

External links[edit]