100 Songs: Music that Shaped My Life–“I Put a Spell on You” by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins

“I Put a Spell on You” is a 1956 song written and composed by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins, whose own recording was one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

It was also included in Robert Christgau’s “Basic Record Library” of 1950s and 1960s recordings—published in Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), and ranked No. 313 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

It became classic cult song covered by a variety of artists and was his greatest commercial success, surpassing a million copies in sales, even though it failed to make the Billboard pop or R&B charts.

Hawkins had originally intended to record “I Put a Spell on You” as “a refined love song, a blues ballad.” However, producer Arnold Maxin “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version … I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”

Hawkins first recorded “I Put a Spell on You” as ballad during his stint with Grand Records in late 1955. However, that version was not released at the time (it has since been reissued on Hawkins’ UK Rev-Ola CD The Whamee 1953–55).

The following year, Hawkins re-recorded the song for Columbia’s Okeh Records—the notorious screaming version, which was released in October 1956.

However, this version was banned from most radio programming for its outrageous “cannibalistic” style.

A truncated version was later released omitting the grunts and moans from the ending of the song, but the ban remained. Despite the restriction, the record still sold over a million copies.

The hit brought Hawkins together with Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who added him to his “Rock and Roll Revue.”

Up to this time, Hawkins had been a blues performer; emotional, but not wild. Freed suggested a gimmick to capitalize on the “demented” sound of “I Put a Spell on You”: Hawkins wore a long cape, and appeared onstage by rising out of a coffin in the midst of smoke and fog. The act was a sensation, bolstered by tusks worn in Hawkins’ nose, on-stage snakes and fireworks, a cigarette-smoking skull named “Henry” and Hawkins transforming himself into “the black Vincent Price.”

This theatrical act was one of the first shock rock performances.

The original version recurs in Jim Jarmusch’s film Stranger than Paradise.

Vocals – Jalacy Hawkins
Guitar – Mickey Baker
Piano – Ernie Hayes
Tenor saxophone – Sam “The Man” Taylor
Baritone saxophone – Bud Johnson
Bass – Al Lucas
Drums – David “Panama” Francis
Arrangement – Leroy Kirkland


“I Put a Spell on You” has been covered by artists extensively; there are hundred versions. Most treat the song seriously; few attempt to duplicate Hawkins’ bravura performance. Although Hawkins’ own version never charted, later cover versions have.

Nina Simone’s version from her album of the same name reached No. 120 Pop[16] and No. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in 1965; it also reached No. 49 on the UK singles chart that year, and No. 28 when it was reissued in 1969.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version reached No. 58 on the U.S. Hot 100 in 1968.

The band later performed it at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.