Sad songs no 1. For a While – Nina Simone

nina-simone-live-at-montreux-1976I went to see Nina Simone at Ronnie Scott’s in 1984, one of several times I saw her perform during the 80s. To say she was erratic would be an understatement: sometimes she tossed off a contemptously casual show, sometimes she didn’t even turn up. On this occasion, however, she gave what remains the greatest musical performance I’ve ever witnessed. She did a few of the songs she was famous for (including, with much grumbling, My Baby Just Cares For Me). But there were more interesting selections on the set list, including For a While, a song I’d never heard before but which burned itself on my memory. Fortunately for me, this short residency at Ronnie’s was recorded and filmed, so I can relive it whenever I want to. The song first appeared on Frank Sinatra’s concept album (yes) Watertown as a gentle ditty about lost love. Nina Simone turned it into something completely different. She wrings every drop of emotion out of the lyrics, which are about trying to get on with normal life after the departure of the loved one. There’s no point in me going on about it: just watch the video, all the way through, and marvel at what happens from 3.16 onwards. There are dozens of Nina Simone tracks that could have been in this list, but this is the best. Pass the tissues. (PS Beware the studio version that turned up on her dreadful album Nina’s Back. It’s rubbish.)

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