Fortune Teller

Album: The Roots of Northern Soul (1962)

Songfacts®:

  • "Fortune Teller" was written by Allen Toussaint under the pen name Naomi Neville. Benny Spellman was a bass singer who sang on the Ernie K-Doe #1 hit "Mother-In-Law," which Toussaint wrote and produced.

    Spellman's version had little impact, but the song lived on with an array of cover versions: The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Who, Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Merseybeats all recorded the song or did popular live versions. In 2007, it was included on the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss LP Raising Sand, which won a Grammy for Album Of The Year. The only charting version of the song came in 1967 when a group called The Hardtimes took it to #97 in the US.
  • Barry Spellman made his mark in the music biz, winning a spot in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and scoring a few regional hits including "Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)," which was also written by Toussaint. When he left the music business, he went to work in the beer industry.
  • This song is about a guy who sees a fortune teller, who predicts that he will fall in love. When the fortune doesn't come true, he goes back in a huff, only to discover that she is the one he will fall in love with.

    The lyric is a great example of Allen Toussaint's talent for writing songs with commercial appeal that tap into popular culture. Many Americans had seen a fortune teller, and many others were intrigued by them. His twist ending completed the narrative, making it a coherent story.

    Fortune telling is another one of the imported magic tropes to influence Blues music, by way of African American influence with roots in mojo and voodoo. But fortune tellers actually descend more through European influence, for all of your tea leaves and Tarot cards. Modern fortune teller clients are overwhelmingly female, but in 1962, guys were also likely to get a reading.

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