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Formed around 1963, The Animals were the first major Tyneside group to find success. With their gritty blues-meets-pop approach, the earthy vocals of Eric Burdon and heavy reliance on the organ and piano work of Alan Price, who soon left to form his own Alan Price Set and was replaced by Dave Rowberry, they were a kind of Northern answer to Manfred Mann. For two years they scored with hit after hit, while featuring strongly in the album charts with more bluesy fare. In 1966 the line-up began fragmenting. At the same time they were tired of being given songs from American 'hit factory' writers for their singles, severed their associations with original producer Mickie Most, and after personnel changes billed themselves as Eric Burdon and the Animals. However, after a few scattered hit singles, that was it. They had appealed to much the same audience as The Who and The Kinks, but Burdon's distinctive vocals could not compensate for the lack of a songwriter of the calibre of Pete Townshend or Ray Davies. Bassist Chas Chandler ceased performing and successively became the manager of Jimi Hendrix and then Slade.
This compilation focuses on the Most-produced material from 1964-65, with seven hit singles and nine album cuts.
The opening song and their second hit, 'The House Of The Rising Sun', has long been one of the decade's evergreen oldies. Originally an old traditional folk song about a brothel in New Orleans, it was adapted by Bob Dylan for his first album, the version which apparently inspired the Animals to arrange it and make it very much their own. The intro on guitar is one of those seminal passages that many a budding guitarist cut his teeth on (when I was at school, if you had a guitar but didn't know the chords, you couldn't even call yourself an amateur guitarist!). Toned down slightly for the susceptibilities of British record buyers, it was almost rejected as a single because the record company said that nobody would ever play 4½-minute tracks on the radio. Most and the group stuck to their guns, and the result was a No. 1 in Britain and the US (where admittedly it was shortened a little, and made them the first group after The Beatles to top the American chart). Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.
Their second most glorious moment was 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place' (No. 2, 1965). For some years we thought it was just a great tune, not realising till much later that it was a fierce, desperate song about longing to break out of 'a dirty old city where the sun refuses to shine', and where the narrator (or singer)'s father is dying slowly after a lifetime of manual labour. Later it was taken up as a protest anthem by soldiers in Vietnam, eager to get back home, and it is probably one of the most covered songs of the time, but this remains the definitive version. Subtle building up from the bass intro, with well-arranged guitar, organ and a crescendo on the chorus suit it really well.
'Roadrunner', an old Bo Diddley number and nothing to do with the Jr Walker & The All-Stars classic, is more or less a 12-bar blues powered by the organ. There are one or two little gaps which are filled by what sounds like guitarist Hilton Valentine running a piece of rough metal up and down the strings, and Burdon singing about calling his love on the phone, followed by a vocal impression of a phone.
'Let The Good Times Roll', a 1950s hit for Shirley and Lee, is a rousing number with a rollicking piano intro and a short lead break. The song is very short, slightly less than two minutes, and for me it could have done with being extended a little, but apart from that it's fine.
Burdon was equally suited to the slower bluesy gospel tunes, and he leads the group well on an impassioned version of Ray Charles' 'Hallelujah I Love Her So'. Then at last comes one of Burdon's own songs, 'I'm Going To Change The World', a halfway house between pop and blues.
'Bring It On Home To Me' (No. 7, 1965) was recorded as a tribute to soul singer Sam Cooke, who had been shot dead at the end of the previous year. This is a masterstroke, starting off with piano and vocals at their most moody, with shimmering organ, bass and drums kicking in on the second verse.
The slow soulful mood continues on the haunting 'Worried Life Blues'. Opening with a haunting organ intro, Burdon's vocal gradually rise from a whisper to a scream, with bass and guitar also getting a chance to stretch out over the ensuing four minutes or so.
By contrast, the first hit 'Baby Let Me Take You Home' (No. 21) was adapted from an old American folk tune, 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' which, like 'House Of The Rising Sun', appeared in a very different form on Bob Dylan's first album. The Animals' version is a fast-paced stomper with some colourful lead guitar and organ, a short spoken passage about halfway through, and a frantic speeding-up of tempo with Burdon working himself up into a frenzy towards the big finish.
'For Miss Caulker', written by Burdon and dedicated to his fiancée, is in part a slow, jazzy piano blues, giving Valentine and Price a chance to solo on their respective instruments. Two more slow blues numbers follow, Ray Charles' 'I Believe To My Soul' and Chuck Berry's 'How You've Changed' (yes, I know you don't often think of Chuck's songs being performed slowly).
'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' (No. 3) was another of the major hits. Originally written for and recorded by Nina Simone the previous year, and covered by many others since, this is probably the best-known version, another song which manages to combine commercial pop and an underlying grittiness.
Although written by New York songwriters Atkins and D'Errico (probably their sole claim to fame), 'It's My Life' (No. 7) could almost have been written by the group. Like ''Gotta Get Out Of This Place', it's an angry, passionate song about somebody from humble origins determined to better himself; 'It's a hard world to get a break in, All the good things have been taken... Though I'm dressed in these rags, I'll wear sable some day.' Musically it's quite inventive, opening with a bass riff which is then echoed on a twelve-string guitar before vocals and rhythm section come in.
Two compositions by Burdon and Price finish off the collection. 'Club A Go Go' is an upbeat number in which they namecheck some of their heroes, a kind of English cross between Bob Earl's 'Harlem Shuffle' and Arthur Conley's 'Sweet Soul Music'. Finally we have their third hit, 'I'm Crying' (No. 7), which is more or less a slightly disguised 12-bar blues in structure. As it was nowhere near as successful as 'Rising Sun' (which was one hell of a record to live up to), Most decided that from then on their own compositions would have to be restricted to the B-sides of singles.
My version is the EMI Music For Pleasure release from 1992, with a three-way foldout and rather superficial biographical note, more like a press release than an informed mini-biog for the true fan, alongside the full track listing. It was reissued with a different cover but identical title and track listing by EMI in 2002.
The compilation title is perhaps a misnomer. With only 49 minutes playing time, the CD would have allowed for several more tracks from their early albums. Nevertheless, the inclusion of hit singles alongside album fare strikes a good balance between the commercial fare they had to record, alongside the more bluesy stuff as well. As a reminder of one of the best groups of their time, admittedly one who sadly lost their way when key members departed and the front man's intake of mind-expanding substances, coupled with his obsession with San Francisco and beautiful people which replaced the Tyneside earthiness, took over, it's as near essential as you get. Five stars definitely for the music, whatever the shortcomings of the package itself.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
One of the benefits of experiencing my teenage years in the north of the country in the Sixties was the opportunity to enjoy lots of live gigs from bands now considered icons of the age. Although the Beatles and Stones dominated, there were lots of other talented bands doing the circuit of local music venues and one of the best bands around was the Animals; even then regarded as one of the foremost rhythm and blues/rock bands in the country and a band which went on to enjoy considerable success in the States, too.
The band began life in the north east in the early Sixties as the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo and were then joined by Eric Burdon as vocalist after which they became known as the Animals reputedly because of their wild on-stage behaviour. Unlike most of the bands around at that time which were usually made up of lead, rhythm and bass guitar plus drums, the Animals had the added benefit of Alan Price on organ/keyboard and Eric Burdon as their dedicated vocalist/harmonica player. In the mid-Sixties Alan Price went solo and there followed a few band changes but despite those line-up changes, during the remainder of the decade the band had a string of hits before disbanding in 1968. Although they briefly reformed in the Seventies and again in the Eighties, they never quite managed to recapture the excitement of earlier times.
'The Most of the Animals' is a compilation album featuring many of the band's hit songs from the most successful times of their career. It's currently available new on CD for around £5 or slightly less for MP3 download, with used copies going for less than £2.
The album kicks off with the band's biggest hit which made number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, 'House of the Rising Sun'. This is an American folk ballad and though its origins are uncertain, the first recording was made by a country singer in 1937 with later cover versions by such luminaries as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez but it was the Animals' version which reigned supreme and sealed the band's success.
The twanging guitar intro is distinctive enough that most people could recognise the song from the first few notes. Truth to tell it's a pretty repetitive song but is set apart by the deep, gritty vocals of Eric Burdon and Alan Price's organ solo in the middle.
The tempo increases slightly for 'We Gotta Get Outta This Place' which has a much more bluesy rock sound. The song begins unusually with just the bass guitar punctuated by cymbals before being joined by rest of the band as well as the distinctive and rather raucous vocals of Eric Burdon. This is another heavily American-influenced song demonstrating the direction in which the band looked for inspiration. There is a wonderfully raw and unfinished quality to this song, something prevalent in Sixties bands which gave a far less polished sound but an authenticity which is often sadly missing in these days of manufactured pop bands.
The Animal's version of 'Roadrunner', more famously recorded by Junior Walker and the Allstars, is fast, brash and rocky but it definitely lacks the finesse of Junior Walker's slightly slower dance version which benefitted from a great saxophone accompaniment.
'Let the Good Times Roll' harks back to the early days of rock 'n' roll and the band play this straight with Eric Burdon losing some of the raucous quality and slightly sweetening his tone. An OK song but not really stand out. This is followed by 'Hallelujah, I Just Love Her So' with a rock/jazz syncopation overlaid by the Animals own rock style. 'I'm Going To Change the World' is not the band's finest song which has something of a Mersey sound going on and totally lacks the band's usual grittiness.
The Fats Domino inspired piano introduces one of the standout songs on the album. 'Bring It On It HomeTo Me' is vintage Animals with guitars, drums and the ever-present electric organ blending into the band's own distinctive sound. Eric Burdon's vocals are spot on making this mid-tempo blues/rock song one of the best versions out there.
'Worried Life Blues' begins with an organ intro which sounds almost churchlike before morphing into a more bluesy sound. Although this isn't one of my favourites on the album, the backing is great with some excellent guitar and organ playing. In fact, for me, it's Eric Burdon's voice which lets the song down as it sounds rather too thin for a true blues song. His voice is much more suited to 'Baby Let Me Take You Home', which actually sounds quite dated now.
The mood turns back to a real jazz/blues sound with 'For Miss Caulker' with some excellent jazz piano playing in the intro and Eric Burdon's voice seemingly dropping an octave and taking on a much fuller, deeper tone. The only little thing to spoil this track is the rather amateurish guitar solo in the middle.
Eric Burdon's vocals really take centre stage with 'I Believe to My Soul', a Ray Charles song and a slow blues/rock number which seems to draw its vocal influences not from Ray Charles but fro Elvis's Heartbreak Hotel coupled with touches of Gene Vincent. Again, there is some excellent piano accompaniment which raises the song from the mundane to a higher level. This is followed by another bluesy number, 'How You've Changed'.
Another of the Animals' songs which is immediately recognisable from the intro is 'Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'. As this CD is a compilation of the original recordings, I can't help but feel that this excellent song would really benefit from a little bit of present day recording magic which could perhaps take away some of the clunkiness and give it a bit more polish. It's a great song nevertheless.
'It's My Life' is one of those songs which has not stood the test of time very well. To modern ears it sounds very clunky and amateurish but, again, that raw quality especially from Eric Burdon's vocals is really what gave this band its distinction.
Despite its rather cheesy title, 'Club A Go Go' is a fun rock 'n' roll number, more up tempo than most on the album which benefits from the Jerry Lee Lewis style piano playing. The piano playing is great, as are Eric Burdon's vocals, the guitars not so much coming across as very pedestrian to say the least.
The album closes with 'I'm Crying' which bears the typical Animals sound garnered largely from the distinctive electric organ accompaniment. This is one of only a couple of fast tempo rock tracks on the album and again the quality is uneven because of the lack of musical talents of some members of the band.
Overall, this album is a great trip down memory lane for Babyboomers but it seems to have missed out some of their canon in favour of less well known songs. I would have liked to have seen their version of 'Paint It Black' included at the very least.
The album certainly highlights the disparity in musical talent between the likes of Eric Burdon, Chas Chandler, the bassist, Alan Price, and his replacements, pitted against the other various guitarists who frequently come across as decidedly amateurish.
The Animals were one of the big groups around in the early to mid-Sixties filling the gap between the melodic Beatles and the totally rock-oriented Rolling Stones but I feel this album would have benefited from some twenty-first century technological tweaking which, although taking away from the original, could have accentuated the positive and eliminated some of those clunky guitars.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The House Of The Rising Sun
2 We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place
4 Let The Good Times Roll
5 Hallelujah I Love Her So
6 I'm Going To Change The World
7 Bring It On Home To Me
8 Worried Life Blues
9 Baby Let Me Take You Home
10 For Miss Caulker
11 I Believe To My Soul
12 How You've Changed
13 Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
14 It's My Life
16 I'm Crying