“Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” by Nina Simone

As noted in this article’s bottom section, Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” is actually a combination of two songs entitled “Ain’t Got No” and the other “I Got Life”. Although, in the hands of Nina Simone, they read as if they were written as one, in reality, as originally intended, they are unrelated (albeit being composed by the same individuals for the same project).

As combined by Nina, they become more of a compare-and-contrast kind of affair. 

“Ain’t Got No”

The first half of the track, i.e. “ain’t got no”, centers on things which the vocalist lacks. The first verse highlights that she is devoid of many of the creature comforts of life. For instance, she is lacking in a home, clothes and even a lover. She also interestingly states that she “ain’t got no class”, as in any type of notable social standing.

As originally conceived, “Ain’t Got No” was recited by a group of African-American characters in a play that deals with issues such as social inequality. And it is also from such a perspective which Nina is considered to be relaying the lyrics, in this particular passage also pointing to the material inequalities (i.e. poverty) which masses of her people face.

The second verse operates along a similar thematic basis, such as the singer asserting that she “ain’t got no culture”. That particular phrase is considered to allude to the historical fact that African-Americans – or at least their African ancestors – did have their culture systematically suppressed in the name of making them easier to subjugate.

But for the most part, this particular section points to what she is lacking from a personal, social standpoint. For instance, the singer notes that she doesn’t have a “mother”, “friends”, “love” or even a “name”. She concludes the verse by getting more general, so to speak, as in putting forth that she is also devoid of a “ticket”, “token” and even a “god”. 

All of those phrases seem to indicate that she has little faith or hope that her current, less-than-favorable situation is conquerable.

Song’s Bridge

That leads us into sort of the bridge of the song, where she is questioning the meaning of her existence in the first place. And in doing so, she decides to change her perspective and rather focus on the things she has rather than what she does not.

And the first attributes she gives shoutouts to are those which she possesses on a basic physical level, such as her “hair”, “brains”, “eyes”, “ears” and what have you. It can also be said that she gets a bit more personal in appreciating her body, such as giving a shoutout to her “smile”, “boobies” and even “sex”. Additionally she acknowledges the metaphysical, by expressing appreciation for her “soul”.

“I Got Life”

The next verse follows a similar standard, with Nina acknowledging her “arms”, “fingers”, “liver”, “blood” – so on and so forth. Of course these are things which by and large we all possess. And such an understanding is what the second half of this song is based on. 

That would be the singer appreciating the fact that she has life in general despite, as noted earlier, being economically and socially challenged.

Indeed as part of the conclusion of this piece, Nina also asserts that she has her “freedom”. This may read as a contradiction considering that the first two verses allude to various ways in which she is suppressed. But the implication is that life in and of itself affords her the opportunity to be free. Or stated alternatively, so long as she is alive, freedom will be one of her ideologies and aspirations.

In Conclusion

So at the end of the day, these songs, when they were first written, were never meant to be combined. The first half, “Ain’t Got No”, does in fact speak specifically to the African-American experience. 

The second half, I” Got Life”, wasn’t intended so per se, but Nina Simone was able to flip it in such a manner regardless. In other words, even though none of the lyrics specifically point to the concept of race, given the era in which this song was released and the singer’s reputation in general, “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” is still considered to be akin to a ‘black anthem’. 

And verily, the narrative therein does follow a traditional African-American spiritual-musical format. That is to say that the vocalist starts off by noting how she is oppressed but conclusively appreciates her life and being expectant of freedom in the days ahead.

Lyrics of Nina Simone's "Ain't Got No, I Got Life"

Writing Credits for “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”

This song was written by three individuals. They are as follows: Galt MacDermot (1928-2018), James Rado and Gerome Ragni (1935-1991). 

And actually as its title implies, it is a combination of two different songs entitled “Ain’t Got No” as well as “I Got Life”, which the authors composed for a show called “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” (1967). 

It was Nina Siimone herself who took the two songs, reworked them and combined them into one. She however, doesn’t get any official songwriting credit for “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”.

Success of “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”

This track reached number 2 on the UK Singles Chart and topped the Dutch Top 40. The tune also made an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100. 

And in terms of its pop media presence, according to a study conducted in 2010, it holds the distinction of being the second ‘Most Performed Song in Advertising’ in the UK.

The Iconic Nina Simone

Nina Simone (1933-2003) was a singer born in a part of North Carolina known as Tryon. Even from a young age, her spirit did not agree with the practice of racial inequality. Also from a young age she exhibited exceptional musical skills. 

The songstress was raised in a religious household – so much so that “Nina Simone” is actually a name she adopted so that her family would not catch on to the fact that she took up secular music as a profession. In addition to being a prolific musician, reportedly recording over 40 albums in less than 20 years, she was also recognized as a civil rights’ icon.

Later in life, i.e. post-1970s, she wasn’t as musically active. But by that time she had established an infallible legacy nonetheless, along the way being given shoutouts by the likes of the following:

  • Elton John
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Madonna
  • Alicia Keys
  • John Lennon
  • Kanye West
  • Bono
  • Lena Horne
  • Lauryn Hill

Honestly there are too many top-notch musicians to be listed here. In fact it can easily be ascertained that she is one of the most-respected singers in American musical history.

Nina Simone
Nina Simone in the late 1960s.

Miss Simone ultimately passed away at the age of 70, having suffered from breast cancer for a few years prior. Some of her most-famous songs besides this one include the following:

Things Nina doesn’t Possess

For the record, here are all of the things which the singer states she “ain’t got” in the song:

  • a home
  • shoes
  • money
  • class
  • skirts
  • sweater
  • perfume
  • bed
  • man
  • mother
  • culture
  • friends
  • schooling
  • love
  • name
  • ticket
  • token
  • god

Things Nina Possesses

And these are the things which she does possess:

  • hair
  • a head
  • brains
  • ears
  • eyes
  • nose
  • mouth
  • smile
  • tongue
  • chin
  • neck
  • boobies
  • heart
  • soul
  • back
  • sex
  • arms
  • hands
  • fingers
  • legs
  • feet
  • toes
  • liver
  • blood
  • freedom
  • life itself

1 Response

  1. Warner says:

    Beautiful song. There’s a live version in color from some outdoor music festival that was up on YouTube for years but unfortunately was taken down recently.

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