Please don’t let me be misunderstood

I just watched the movie Layer Cake, a gritty blood bath in which every other word is “motherfucker” and every character is a con artist who gets shot to shit. The movie ends with Joe Cocker’s rendition of “I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions Are Good” probably because the movie opens with the protagonist (Daniel Craig) telling us how he’s going to change his evil ways and get out of the drug trade. Poor guy just ends up getting in deeper and deeper until he becomes the frosting on the cake (a metaphor for killing your way to the top of a mob and not for getting some extra special reward).  

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One of the many dead bodies in Layer Cake

I don’t know what message viewers are supposed to take away from this movie other than drugs are bad and drug dealers are unreliable (really? whod’ve thunk?), but that song sent me running for a Google window. Does that ever happen to you? You hear a song and suddenly have to know everything about it. Who wrote it? Why? And then, of course, you have to blog about it because your followers have nothing better with their time than to read what you write about a song. I really do live a blogger’s fantasyland, don’t I? I need an intervention.

Anyway, if you’re still with me, over the years this song has hit the charts in a number of different genres – rap, soul, blues and, of course, rock and roll.  It’s also been featured in countless movies besides Layer Cake, most notably Kill Bill and The Birdman.

The story of the song’s inception is a sad but probably familiar one to anyone in the arts or entertainment world. A musician of only moderate repute named Horace Ott wrote the original chorus line and melody after a “falling out” with his girlfriend. She took his plea for leniency to her partners and from it they created a song, apparently with jazz singer Nina Simone in mind.That was back in the early sixties when record companies owned the artists and Ott, not being in the proper union, was not included on the original credits. That must have stung. Here’s Simone’s rendition:

Her spin on the song is how it was intended. A plea for leniency. Unfortunately the record did not “chart” as they say and the song went widely unknown until a certain British group virtually made it their own.  You know who, of course, unless you’re really, really young!

Eric Burden’s “soul with a bit of rock and roll” rendition hit Number 3 on the charts and the song was subsequently recorded by a gazillion others including: The Moody Blues, Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper, King Kong &D’Jungle Girls, Mike Batt, Trevor Rabin No Mercy, John Legend, Lou Rawls, New Buffalo and many more.  Don’t ask me who some of those folks are because I don’t know.  I did recognize this guy, who generally writes his own songs:

Cat Steven’s plea for leniency and understanding takes on a universal feeling, as if he’s asking the whole world not to be so quick to judge each other.  It’s a good message.