“Nina Simone” was a highly influential and revolutionary artist, known for her unique blend of jazz, blues, and classical music. With her rich, soulful voice and powerful political messages, she became a leading voice of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Her songs were often deeply personal and reflected her own experiences with racism and discrimination, as well as her struggles with mental health issues. Despite facing significant obstacles in her life and career, she continued to create music that inspired and moved audiences around the world.
This list of the top 10 best Nina Simone songs of all time includes some of her most iconic and beloved tracks, showcasing her versatility and artistry as a musician. From her haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit” to the empowering anthem “Feeling Good,” these songs represent some of the best examples of her incredible talent and enduring legacy.
Other notable tracks include “Mississippi Goddam,” a powerful protest song in response to the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, and “I Put a Spell on You,” a sultry and captivating blues classic. Whether performing her own original compositions or covering classic jazz standards, Nina Simone always brought a unique and unforgettable energy to her music. Her legacy continues to inspire generations of artists and fans, and these 10 songs serve as a testament to her lasting impact on the world of music.
1. “Feeling Good”
“Feeling Good” is a classic Nina Simone song that has been covered by many artists over the years. The song has a soulful and bluesy sound, with Simone’s powerful vocals and piano playing driving the track. The lyrics are uplifting and empowering, encouraging the listener to feel good no matter what challenges they may face.
The song’s melody is catchy and memorable, with a dramatic build-up in the chorus that captures the listener’s attention. Simone’s emotional delivery adds an extra layer of depth to the song, making it a standout in her discography. “Feeling Good” has become a beloved classic that continues to inspire and uplift listeners to this day.
2. “I Loves You Porgy”
“I Loves You Porgy” is a classic song by Nina Simone, released in 1958. It is a beautiful and soulful rendition of a song from the opera Porgy and Bess. The song features Nina Simone’s signature deep and soulful voice, accompanied by a melancholic piano and a gentle bass line. The lyrics of the song speak of a woman’s love for her man, despite his flaws and imperfections.
The emotional intensity of the song is heightened by Nina Simone’s expressive and heartfelt delivery. The song became one of Nina Simone’s most famous and beloved songs, and has been covered by many other artists over the years. Its enduring popularity is a testament to the power and beauty of Nina Simone’s music, and the impact she had on the world of music and beyond.
3. “Mississippi Goddam”
“Mississippi Goddam” is a protest song by Nina Simone, released in 1964 during the Civil Rights Movement. The song was written in response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young Black girls. The lyrics express Simone’s anger and frustration towards the systemic racism and violence that Black people faced in the United States, particularly in the South. The title itself is a direct reference to the state of Mississippi, which was notorious for its history of lynching, segregation, and voter suppression.
Simone’s powerful vocals and her use of the piano create a haunting and solemn tone that conveys the weight of the song’s message. The lyrics express Simone’s refusal to remain silent and her desire to speak out against injustice. “Mississippi Goddam” quickly became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, and its impact can still be felt today as it is considered one of the most significant protest songs of the 20th century.
4. “I Put A Spell on You”
“I Put A Spell on You” is a hauntingly beautiful song by Nina Simone that was originally written and performed by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Simone’s version adds a touch of her own unique soulful style, giving the song a new life. Her rich and powerful voice commands attention from the start, drawing listeners in with the opening piano chords.
The song’s eerie melody and lyrics convey a sense of both desperation and longing. Simone’s emotive vocals, with her signature vibrato, add an extra layer of depth and raw emotion to the already haunting song. The backing instrumentation is also noteworthy, with the piano and organ creating a moody and atmospheric backdrop that perfectly complements Simone’s vocals. Overall, “I Put A Spell on You” is a standout track in Nina Simone’s impressive catalog and remains a beloved classic to this day.
5. “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” is a powerful and uplifting anthem written by Nina Simone and Weldon Irvine. The song was inspired by the play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry, and it quickly became an anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Simone’s powerful vocals and the song’s empowering lyrics encourage listeners to embrace their talents, overcome obstacles, and celebrate their identity. T
he song has a gospel-inspired sound with a driving piano accompaniment and a powerful horn section. It has been covered by many artists over the years, but Nina Simone’s original recording remains a definitive version. “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” remains a timeless classic that continues to inspire generations of people to believe in themselves and strive for their dreams, no matter the challenges they may face.
“Sinnerman” is one of Nina Simone’s most powerful and haunting songs. It is a traditional African American spiritual that she reworked and made her own. The song begins with a simple, repetitive piano riff that sets the ominous tone. Simone’s vocals start soft and restrained but quickly build in intensity as she sings about a sinner running away from judgment.
The lyrics are a mix of biblical imagery and personal struggles, with Simone’s voice conveying both desperation and defiance. The song gradually builds to a frenzied climax with Simone’s voice soaring over the driving piano and drums. “Sinnerman” is a tour de force of both musicianship and emotion, showcasing Simone’s incredible vocal range and power. It is a timeless classic that continues to resonate with listeners today.
7. “Four Women”
“Four Women” is a powerful song by Nina Simone that tells the story of four black women with different backgrounds and experiences. Each verse focuses on one woman and their struggles, including racism, poverty, and domestic abuse. The song’s haunting melody and Nina Simone’s emotive vocals add to its impact, making it a deeply moving and thought-provoking piece of music.
The song has become a classic and continues to be a source of inspiration and empowerment for many women and people of color. Its message of resilience and resistance in the face of oppression is just as relevant today as it was when the song was first released in 1966.
8. “I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”
“I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” is a song by Nina Simone that was released in 1968. The song is an empowering anthem that celebrates the strength and resilience of the human spirit, particularly in the face of adversity. The lyrics describe a person who has lost everything but still finds hope and joy in the simple things in life. Simone’s powerful vocals and soulful delivery make the song an uplifting and inspirational masterpiece that has resonated with listeners for decades.
The song’s upbeat rhythm and lively instrumentation, including horns and percussion, make it a standout track in Simone’s discography. “I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” has been covered by several artists over the years, including David Bowie and Nina’s daughter, Lisa Simone. The song’s message of resilience and determination has made it a popular choice for motivational playlists and soundtracks. Overall, “I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” is a timeless classic that continues to inspire and uplift listeners of all ages and backgrounds.
9. “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” is a powerful and uplifting song by Nina Simone, released in 1967. It has since become a civil rights anthem and a symbol of the struggle for equality and freedom. The lyrics speak to the yearning for liberation and the desire to break free from oppression and injustice.
Nina Simone’s soulful vocals are accompanied by a driving piano melody, making the song both passionate and inspiring. It was originally written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, but Nina Simone’s rendition is widely regarded as the definitive version. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, including Levon Helm, The Roots, and John Legend. It remains a timeless classic and a testament to the power of music to inspire change and hope.
10. “My Baby Just Cares for Me”
“My Baby Just Cares for Me” is a jazz standard originally written by Walter Donaldson with lyrics by Gus Kahn in 1930. However, it was Nina Simone’s rendition in 1958 that made the song a hit and a classic. Simone’s version of the song features her signature soulful vocals, accompanied by a playful and upbeat jazz arrangement that showcases her piano skills.
The song tells the story of a woman whose lover doesn’t need wealth or fame, but simply cares for her. Simone’s unique interpretation of the song and her undeniable talent made “My Baby Just Cares for Me” one of her most recognizable and beloved songs. The song has been covered by many other artists, but it’s Simone’s version that stands out as a timeless classic. It has been featured in numerous films, TV shows, and commercials over the years, cementing its place as one of the most iconic songs of the 20th century.