Friday, January 23, 2009

Eric Burdon and the Animals



FOLLOWING Dave Van Ronk’s lead, Bob Dylan had given it his unique personal touch in the finest folk tradition. But The Animals, led by charismatic singer Eric Burdon, took the traditional song, House Of The Rising Sun, by the scruff of the neck and turned it into a rousing, electric folk-rock song which changed the face of popular music forever.

It is one of my strongest recollections. Playing tennis against the wall at the Beaconhurst Tennis Club some time in my primary school years – ie the mid- to late-1960s - and hearing this song on a portable radio carried or brought by one of the many kids who hung out there. How great to hear really gutsy, bluesy music at a time when there was so much schmultz around – especially on South African radio stations like Springbok.

The Animals, Wikipedia tells me, were a Geordie group, formed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1962-63 when Burdon teamed up with the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. Price, a brilliant organ and general keyboard player, to me was the smooth, sophisticated side of the band, while Burdon brought a bold, brash aggression through his powerful vocals which proved a highly successful combination. Also part of that original group was bassist Bryan “Chas” Chandler, who would later be the lucky man to “discover” a certain Jimi Hendrix. Hilton Valentine on guitar and John Steel (drums) completed the line-up.

The group moved to London in 1964, enabling them to become part of what was known as the British Invasion – as the UK, on the strength of the Beatles’ mega-success, set about recolonising the US, this time musically.

Working with rhythm and blues numbers, Columbia’s subsidiary EMI recorded their first single, Baby Let Me Take You Home, a rocking version of Baby Let Me Follow You Down, which Bob Dylan also covered in his early folk phase.

But it was in June 1964 that the band achieved huge international success with House Of The Rising Sun. As Wikipedia puts it: “Burdon’s howling vocals and the dramatic arrangement created arguably the first folk rock hit. The song had already been recorded by blues singer Josh White in 1944 and 1949, and be singer Nina Simone in 1962.” And, while all five Animals are credited with the arrangement, the website says it is highly likely to have been an Alan Price project.

The Animals had a two-year flirtation with fame, and guess who was behind their success? None other than producer Mickie Most, who would also help catapult Donovan Leitch to chart glory. The band’s list of singles from the era, most of which were subliminally part of my upbringing though not on the scale of the Beatles and Stones singles, included covers of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me and Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (though it was written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus). Interestingly, at a time when the electric guitar was the hallmark of the new sound, the Animals’s hits, and their more bluesy numbers on their albums, were characterised by Price’s powerful work on the organ, alongside Burdon’s deep, soulful vocals. But Price left the group in May 1965 to pursue a solo career. Dave Rowberry took over on the keyboards for such hits – working-class anthems according to Wikipedia – as We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (“if it’s the last thing we ever do”) and It’s My Life.

While I later caught up with all these songs, and more, on a tape of the Animals’ Greatest Hits, as a family, apart from House Of The Rising Sun, it was the Animals in their psychedelic incarnation a few years later that really caught our attention.

The group underwent changes in the mid-1960s, both of personnel and record label – they switched to Decca and MGM in the US, which released The Best of The Animals in 1966 – which is probably the early version of the tape I bought a dozen years ago and which is now mortally damaged. It was a big hit in the US. The band disbanded later that year, with Chandler going on to manage Hendrix. They had made very little money.

However, in October that year, Eric Burdon and the (New) Animals was formed, with John Weider (guitar, violin, bass), Vic Briggs (guitar, piano) and Danny McCulloch (bass) joining Burdon. And they moved from damp England to sunny California, where Burdon honed his psychedelia and, as Wikipedia puts it, “became a spokesman for the Love Generation”. This is really where we picked up on the band, from sunny, apartheid-racked South Africa.

Winds of Change

Indeed, San Franciscan Nights for me was the real anthem for the love generation, to which we as nascent hippies had attached ourselves, albeit only subconsciously. “Cop’s face is filled with hate. / Heaven’s above, he’s on a street called Love.” These lines are brilliant because of Burdon’s wonderful use of irony. Remember how the song, which opens side two of the album, Winds of Change, from 1967, begins? After those immortal first notes, dun-de-dun-dun, Burdon speaks in his wonderful British accent and implores people to “save up all your bread and fly TransLove Airway to San Francisco, USA. Then maybe you’ll understand this song. It will be worth it. If not for the sake of this city, then for the sake of your own peace of mind.” The mood changes, the tempo drops. Then Burdon launches into the lyrics: “Strobe lights beam creates a dream, / Walls move, minds do too, / On a warm San Franciscan Night. / Old child, young child, feel alright, / On a warm San Franciscan night.” As one who settled in the area, he reveals his complete infatuation with the place: “I wasn’t born there, but perhaps I’ll die there, / There’s no place left to go.”

Winds of Change is your classic blues rock album, an ideal showcase for Burdon’s powerful vocals. There is only one really jarring note: the bizarre Man – Woman. For the rest it is a lovely, low-key bluesy collection of well-crafted songs, and one or two gimmicks. Burdon’s penchant for commenting on the current music scene and the blues roots of modern rock seems to date from here. The opening track, Winds Of Change, is a kind of homage to the founding fathers of blues and rock. Against an interesting sitar and gushing wind, he intones the likes of “Robert Johnston sang the blues” and later mentions BB King, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles and Chuck Berry. With the arrival of the Beatles and the Stones, “a whole new thing was going on”. Further on he sings that “Frank Zappa zapped”, before eulogizing Ravi Shankar. Finally, the title’s allusion is confirmed when he says that “Bobby Dylan sang about the winds of change”.

In Poem By The Sea, it is the sound of a fiddle, and later a fine electric guitar solo which creates the vibe against the crashing of the surf. “… and I saw how tall I was; realized how small I was”. Then, brilliantly, this seques into the Stones’ Paint It Black, with the band giving this song probably its best treatment ever, Burdon conveying the full angst of the forlorn lover whose loss has led to his depression.

The Black Plague starts with some medieval chanting and the tolling of a bell, setting the scene for the tale which Burdon talks-sings, about how a population is decimated by plague. Of course as impressionable youths, for us this evocation of death - “diseased eyes roll upwards, / As if knowing in which direction their souls must travel” - was a very powerful one. Not noted at the time, however, was the salutary message of how the rich, trapped behind the castle walls and seemingly safe, end up dying of hunger and thirst because of their fear of the peasants outside. This form of talking blues was no doubt pioneering for those days. It certainly was a hit among us teenagers.

Then, in answer to Jimi Hendrix’s question, Are You Experienced, Burdon replied with Yes I Am Experienced, which even includes the words, “you hear me Jimi?”.

After the brilliant San Franciscan Nights, Hotel Hell on Side Two is another Burdon blues classic, characterised by muted trumpet and sitar. I love how it starts: “The neon sign flashes, / Leaves its mark against the wall; / The TV is silent and will stay that way till dawn. / The sheets are so cold, the telephone is dumb, / And I’m so very far from my home.”

Good Times is another song which carried me through my high school years. Again, the songwriting and lyrics are superb. In typical philosophical mode, it starts: “When I think of all the good time that I’ve wasted … / Having good times.” There is a slowing of tempo as it branches into a Stones-like party scene: “Well, here we all are having a jolly good time and everything is working out fine”, said in a droll plummy voice, before returning to that wonderful melody which was an anthem of our youth.

Anything is a mild, mellow blues song, with strings adding the necessary impetus: “For you, my friend, I’ll do anything. / Shine your shoes, anything, / Lose your blues, make love with you, / Take you under my wing, anything”.

Finally, on It’s All Meat, he rounds off the earlier tribute to the blues roots of rock music, declaring “it’s all meat on the same bone”. Sounding a bit Cream-like, it is no surprise that among others he refers to in the song is one Eric Clapton.

The Twain Shall Meet

Their next album, The Twain Shall Meet (1968), was for me one of the great albums of all time. Not only was the title clever, refuting the idiomatic “never the twain shall meet”, it also had a sleeve cover design that set a new standard. Of course we only had the local pressing, so it is possible the cover was slightly different abroad, but for me this was a lovely anti-war statement and a fine piece of pop art by Fred Otnes. Comprising a series of different size squares, the images include, naturally, close-ups of Burdon’s face, snatches of acoustic guitars, a white dove of peace, soldiers marching, another combatant with his helmeted head in his hands, flowers, a painted egg in a nest, and a piece of rusty barbed wire over the word WAR!.

It was all about war and peace, with the first track, Monterey, paying tribute to the epochal 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix, as Burdon says in the song, “set the world on fire”. He set his guitar on fire, too, which was probably the point. This song encapsulates something of the spirit of the times and is worth looking at in more depth. It is my contention that music, in the 1960s, supplanted organised religion of the traditional Christian style among a large section of Western and westernised youth. We became, in a sense, a post-Christian society largely due to rock music, and this song is an expression of just how that happened, at Monterey, in 1967. Indeed, the lyrics have a biblical feel to them, as if they were handed down by a higher power. The song opens with some lovely sitar work (is it electrified?), over which Burdon intones, also biblically, as it turns out: “In the beginning …”, whereafter some of the greatest blues-rock music bursts forth, with the bass moving all over the fretboard. Then those inspired lyrics: “The people came and listened / Some of them came and played / Others gave flowers away, yes they did / Down in Monterey / Down in Monterey.”

Then, apropos of what I said above, consider the second verse: “Young Gods smiled upon the crowd / Their music being born of love / Children danced night and day / Religion was being born / Down in Monterey.”

The young gods were clearly the musicians, considered virtual gods by the crowds who flocked to see them. And yes, many would say that love was what motivated them. As the children (young people) danced, religion was indeed being born.

Then come the references to the people who played. In the version of the lyrics I found on the Net, they used lower case birds and airplane, but I think it should read: “The Byrds and the Airplane did fly / Oh, Ravi Shankar’s music made me cry / The Who exploded into fire and light / Hugh Masakela’s music was black as night / The Grateful Dead blew everybody’s mind / Jimi Hendrix, baby believe me, set the world on fire, yeah / His Majesty, Prince Jones, smiled as he moved among the crowd / Ten thousand electric guitars were grooving real loud, yeah.”

Here, then, were some of the big names, the new Gods of the baby-boomer generation. The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Hendrix, the Grateful Dead. Also Ravi Shankar, who brought sitar-based Indian music to western ears, and of course South Africa’s own exiled trumpet genius, Hugh Masakela. Strangely, it is only now, as I read the lyrics, that I discovered the line about Masakela, who with Miriam Makeba and other great artists and musicians, went into exile rather than live under the inhumane apartheid system. In my youth, I must confess, it sounded like he was singing, “You must think music was black as night”. And what of Prince Jones? Brian Jones of the Stones was indeed there, but the band did not play.

Burdon even concludes by proffering music as that elusive truth which all religions are supposed to provide: “You want to find the truth in life / Don’t pass music by / And you know I would not lie, no I would not lie / No, I would not lie / Down in Monterey.”

This is the quintessential psychedelic album of the era, with tracks like Just The Thought, Closer To The Truth, No Self Pity and Orange And Red Beams on side one really one long, interlinked, composition.

Just The Thought kicks off with the lines: “There’s a staircase in my livingroom and it leads to nowhere land / There are flowers growing from my wall, / They lend a touching hand…” As usual, Burdon includes a bit of philosophy, thus the line: “As I play I see me winning / And I gain what’s called self pride.” Indicative of how in awe of this album I was, I recall in my final high school year, 1974, being asked by my teacher, as he admired my slovenly uniform, what I understood by self pride. I could, I suppose, have told him that it is no recommendation, but instead I quoted that line from the song.

The songs really do seque, I loathe the word, but I assume it means merge into one another. Anyway, the next song, Closer To The Truth, sees Burdon in full philosophical flow. The song seemed to pioneer the use of echo and muting or muffling devices. Initially, the voice is faint, before it emerges in all its full, rounded glory, alongside an incredibly evocative rock background: “There is a man, there is a man, / There is a man somewhere who is closer to the truth. / He’s not looking outward, / He’s looking to within, / But there is a man somewhere who’s closer than you’ve ever been.” The song, reverberating, echoing rock, goes on to look at people in various occupations: “He may be in Italy helping in a field / Or a medic in Vietnam helping bodies heal”. Again the musicianship is superb.

The wonders of nature are explored in the penultimate song on Side 1, No Self Pity: Again it is the sitar which emerges from the last notes of the previous song, before Burdon launches into: “Electric light shines bright, but against the sun it is dim / Jet airplane sure travels fast, but how fast is the speed of light?” The song then explores life quantitatively: “And no matter how low you are / There is always somebody lower”, with slow, high and other nouns substituted. When it comes to “no matter how ugly you are”, he deviates by saying “there is no such thing as ugly”. Finally, after the music stops and in a philosophical coup de grace, he declares, and you have to believe him, so forcefully is it announced: “I am blind, I am blind … / But I see behind my eyes.”

The final track on the side, Orange And Red Beams, again makes use of muffled voices for interesting effect. A McCullogh composition, it is only now I come to grips with what precisely they were singing, again against a haphazard bit of whimsical rock, steeped in curious inhalations and exhalations of sound. “Orange and red beams / In and out / Peek through my window / In the night / The baby was born / Before a storm / And now I believe them / What they said / The thousand people / Who aren’t really dead / The baby was born / Before a storm / And now a fate calls him a mile away / ’Cause orange and red beams / Yes, are here to stay.” It seems to have some biblical connotation, especially in the second verse where the birth of the baby is seemingly dismissed. “Now I believe him / Before I escape / The thousand people / Do not really care / The baby was born / Before a storm / Orange and red beams, orange and red beams / Orange and red beams, orange and red beams / Orange and red beams, orange and red beams.”

Side 2, in those good old days when there were two sides to albums, starts off with one of the great songs of the era, Sky Pilot. It may not have pioneered the white sound – or maybe it did – but it certainly used it more effectively than possibly anyone else. Apparently created using a revolving microphone, the effect is to make the drums, especially, fade and emerge, fade and emerge, at speed, giving the song a new, almost ethereal dimension. And this is ideal for the subject of this incredibly powerful anti-war anthem. Burdon would have made a great stage actor. The song starts with him talk-singing the opening lines of lyrics that look at the role of religion; of how men of the cloth, Sky Pilots, can send young people off to war in the name of God. Remember that we were listening to this mainly in the early 1970s, with the ever-growing threat of military conscription hanging over our heads and the Vietnam war having given us a rather nasty awareness of how kak war can be.

And so Burdon blurts: “He blesses the boys as they stand in line / The smell of gun grease and the bayonets they shine / He’s there to help them all that he can / To make them feel wanted he’s a good holy man.” Powerful bass notes boom as the revolving mic scatters the drums as the chorus pours forth: “Sky pilot … sky pilot / How high can you fly / You’ll never, never, never reach the sky.” The nitty-gritty of battle is explored as the cleric considers the “boys’” prospects. “He knows of their fear in the forthcoming fight / Soon there’ll be blood and many will die / Mothers and fathers / Back home they will cry.” All the time, the sounds of battle grow as, Hendrix-like, the guitar weeps and cries and the drums and bass reverberate bomb-like. There is one chilling moment where the guitar note rises in pitch and velocity – or so it seems – like the terrifying approach of a fighter bomber. Later, as bagpipes, so emblematic of war down the centuries, wail to the fore, there are sounds of general mayhem and the cries of wounded soldiers. As the mood quietens, a solo violin leads to the point where, a subdued Burdon sings: “In the morning they return / With tears in their eyes / The stench of death drifts up to the skies / A soldier so ill looks at the sky pilot / Remembers the words / Thy shalt not kill”

I wonder if anything akin to this sort of song-writing has been achieved in the past 40 years since this album? Apart from Hendrix, I mean.

What to follow such a forceful song with? That must have been a tricky one, at the time, but the solution was sublime. A single man whistling the Second World War tune, Lily Marlene, launches the seven-minute We Love You Lil. This is an instrumental track which serves almost as a requiem in the wake of the carnage that came before. However, there is no escaping the dogs of war, for again it is a plaintive lead guitar, along with the tolling of church bells, which make this track a pivotal point of the album.

As if to reinforce the theme of humankind, indeed the universe, being a single inter-related entity, the final 7-minute track, We Are One, has the didactic tone of someone issuing the commandments for the new “religion”. This time it is the Scots bagpipes which emerge from the embers of the previous track, and they continue for a good minute or two before a sitar takes over with a tight little arpeggio. As the bass enters, Burdon unburdens: “We are all one … your neighbour is your brother”. It is all sung from the heart, incredibly convincingly. The tempo picks up, driving one ineluctably on, as he expounds about our universal oneness, a concept which has been proven scientifically as the same elements in our bodies have been found to exist throughout the stars and planets. “Everything is one – the wind, the rain, the sun”. As the strings move in, the tempo drops before picking up for a final assault, during which Burdon declaims the likes of “By thinking I am superior, they are only making themselves inferior. / Now can’t you see that?” Finally, as the song winds down, he stage whispers: “Well you should know by now”. What it all meant we weren’t quite sure at the time, but hell was it one heck of a trip – even without any artificial “enhancements”.

Love Is

Interestingly, I notice that in July 1968, one Andy Somers joined the lineup as a guitarist. He, of course, was to make himself even more famous with the new wave group The Police in the late 1970s. And he performed on the band’s last album, Love Is, which is no doubt their apotheosis, also from 1968. We had this album too, with its cover of a purple sky and the band tucked away inside a cloud, but today I only have a naughty CD copy of someone else’s original. It is a heavier, bluesier, less psychelic and more plain rock album – and probably one of the finest albums ever. Here Burdon and the group are in their prime, full of inventiveness, but not at the expense of the general rock thrust of the eight tracks on this double album.

So when it starts with Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High you know you are in business. “When you were a young girl did you have a ragdoll …” sings Burdon as this rollicking rock song gets under way. Soon, as the mood simmers, you get your first experience of the “echo” sound which characterises the album. It is probably made on an organ, though it could even be electric guitar. In any event it is played at a slower pace than the basic beat of the song, creating an interesting dichotomy. As the tempo changes, he again refers to a contemporary musician: “I love you baby like a flower needs the spring / I love you baby like Aretha Franklin needs to sing”. Near the end, as a reverb sounds sets in, he asks: “Have you seen Tina Turner?”, with her name being chanted further as this humdinger of an opening track concludes.

I’m An Animal starts with a heart-like thumping beat, as Burdon belts out the opening lines: “I’m an animal – here to blow your mind” and later “… of the English kind”. Then comes the first bit of wah-wah lead guitar, another hallmark of this album. There is a Doors-like chanting and panting as the song explores “Animalism”, with Burdon at one point singing, “A woman is my prey”, something the feminists might baulk at. Again, it a classic work.

I’m Dying, Or Am I has a Cream feel to it. “Got that sleepy feeling ... got that sleepy feeling / When the lights go out ... know the lights go out / Well, I know I should not do things ... know I should not do things / But I really must work out ... really must work out / Really must work out / It’s a chemical reaction to state your piece of mind / God knows I’m dying…” Having built up to a crescendo, the verse concludes, joltingly with words I’m only now seeing for the first time: “Body can’t keep up ... with my mind.” This seems to be about a bad old trip. “Heard many people like me ... many people like me / On this manufactured trade ... manufactured trade / Tying to satisfy people ... trying to satisfy people / When you know they’ve got you whipped ... know they’ve got you whipped / Know they’ve got you whipped / One can only hope / Someday the sun will shine / God, knows I’m dying / My body can’t keep up with my mind.” This was clearly not the sort of stuff an impressionable teenager should have been dwelling on. “You told me I’d be dying / At the temple was the living / But even when you’re dying / There’s some sweet joy in giving giving / Giving, giving, giving.” I often experienced, after coming “down” from a marijuana “trip”, that the return to normality was the biggest “high”. This next verse, for me, alludes to that. “Sometimes I sit and wonder ... sometimes I sit and wonder / In a wine and smoke filled room ... in a wine and smoke filled room / Why we sit here talking ... why we sit here talking / Only adding to the gloom ... adding to the gloom / Adding to the gloom / Then I see the wonder / The sky bursts into flame / God knows I’m dying.” In my case it was not so much a death as a rebirth, after hours of torment. It’s weird, though, to think that for decades I heard that opening line to read “got that slipping feeling”, not “sleeping”. There is a slipping-away quality to this song which probably justifies that error.

Ring Of Fire is notable for Burdon’s intimate, up-close-to-the-mic vocals as he opens the song, against subtle acoustic guitar. While Johnny Cash did early justice to a classic composition by his wife, June Carter, and Merle Kilgore, it took Burdon to turn country into steamy blues-rock. “Love, is a burning thing, and it makes a fire ring / Bound by wild desire, I fell into your ring of fire.” As teenage boys, we can I think be forgiven for reading all sorts of sexual connotations into this song, which features some great lead bass work, before the guitar starts dueling against a choral background. Again, the group’s ability to cover a range of moods is showcased on this track.

There is a Canned Heat feel to some of the lead guitar solos on the next track, Coloured Rain. “When I was a young man, searching for my way, / Not knowing what I wanted, living life from day to day, yeah – / Till you came along there was nothing but an empty space, not a trace / Feels like coloured rain, tastes like coloured rain, bring down coloured rain”. In the song, the girl is warned that her lover is fallible: “If you want my sunshine, you’ve got to accept my rain, hail, snow.” Wikipedia tells us that Coloured Rain was written by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Cooper and recorded by Traffic in 1967 for their debut album Mr Fantasy. Running to more than nine and a half minutes on Love Is, guitarist Andy Summers later wrote, says Wikipedia, that “this recording contained ‘one of the longest guitar solos ever recorded until this point ... a “soaring hymn to ecstasy” style solo that is so long that I find it impossible to play in a full trance state and still come out at the right place, so Zoot (Money) stands in the studio, counting the whole way, and at bar 189 he gives me the cue out’.” Wikipedia adds that “supposedly this solo earned Summers a ‘slight legendary reputation’.”

The next song is probably the best ever rendition of the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody. It opens with a rising crescendo of “you don’t know what it’s like”, before slowing to allow the soulful voice of Burdon to begin with: “There’s a light, a certain kind of light, / That never shone on me, / And I want my life to be, / To live with you…” On this super-tight arrangement, a standout for me is the great harmonising between Burdon and the female backing vocals. Then, of course, the bit at the end that we loved as teens, as he wraps up the song .. “the way that I, love …. Good God! …. Yooouuuu…”.

Next up is arguably the greatest bit of blues by a white singer. Unassumingly titled, As The Years Go Passing By, this starts with some solo piano, as the artist seems to search for a melody. As he finds it, Burdon enters, talking: “Ah, the blues, the ball and chain that is around every English musician’s leg. / In fact every musician’s leg. / Try to kick it off baby, / No, no, you’ll just never do it. / And these are the blues of time, / And the blues of a woman, / And of a man thinking of her, / As time rolls by.” Then he launches into song: “There is nothing I can do …”, and the electric guitar responds in a dialogue which continues throughout “… if you leave me here to cry”… As the song progresses, you have a wonderful blues piano played alongside two serpentine lead guitars, one transformed through a wah-wah pedal. A jazz-like rhythm section provides the perfect foundation for some brilliant improvisation before Burdon seamlessly interjects with that powerful, powerful voice of his: “You think that you have left me behind and that with your other man you are safe …”. But, he says, “there is no escape from this man … this man’s love is gonna haunt you …”. It is a song about obsessive love. As the song gets quieter and quieter, so the chanting, alongside that slow blues, continues. He will haunt her, he says, “… till the day I die. / Till the day I die. / Till the day they rest my head.” Eventually there is just a whispered, hoarse, “die… die … die”

What better way to end this album than with the seminal Gemini – The Madman, which has something of the mood of that other classic, Elton John and Bernie Taupan’s Madman Across The Water. A lengthy 17 and a half minute song seemingly about schizophrenia and split personalities, it features a pulsating rhythm that is sustained throughout. “You ask me how / I’ve become mad now / There was a day, / I had so much say / What of my feet? / Life seemed to be sweet / I was admired / But I was so tired.” It is a rollercoaster ride through the tortured mind of man who “can’t control what is in the stars”. “I’ve got two sides and I’ve got one life.” The guitar solo in the middle is a masterpiece, but only within the greater context of some organ wizardly, haunting foot (or hi-hat) cymbal sounds and those mysterious echoes mentioned earlier. There is such a weird Catcher In The Rye feel to the last section where he chants: “Isn’t that the madman running through the fields? / Isn’t that the madman, wonder how he feels” against a background of acoustic guitar and flute. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the full lyrics or a website where a professional could unpack these songs further, so you’ll have to get this album yourself to see why I rate it one of the best in the history of modern music. “Well I love today but I hate tomorrow / I don’t spend time I only borrow / Don’t blame me for the way I am / Because I can’t control / What is in the stars”.

Alan Price

And that is where our interest in Eric Burdon kind of ended. Those albums remained favourites, but other music meant we took no real interest in what became of him. However, we enjoyed a brief interlude with that lost Animal, Alan Price, in the mid 1970s, when we got hold of his solo album, A Price On His Head (1967).

I “spotted” Price, looking very youthful, in a snippet of that D A Pennebaker documentary on Bob Dylan’s 1967 UK tour, Don’t Look Back. By then he had formed the Alan Price Set. In 1967 he scored hits with The House That Jack Built, his own composition which is on the album. I also recall Don’t Stop The Carnival, a hit from 1968. In the early 1970s he teamed up with Georgie Fame and they scored a Top 20 hit with Rosetta. Significantly, the articulate Price also hosted a musical slot, Price To Play, on BBC television in the late 1960s which explained and played the music of such guests as Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix. Cutting edge stuff, in other words.

Ah, and I had forgotten. Wikipedia reminds me that he wrote the music for the film O Lucky Man!, an album which we also had and enjoyed. He also had several acting rolls, such as in Alfie Darling.

Entirely self-taught, by the late 1950s Price was known as one of the great talents in the Newcastle area.

According to the Price website, the name The Animals was adopted while his Rhythm and Blues Combo were performing at the Club A-Go-Go in London. A member of the audience was overheard saying that “the animals are playing again tonight”, referring to the wild way in which the band performed.

The House Of The Rising Sun, released in June 1964, saw the Animals become the first UK band after the Beatles to reach Number 1 in the US. The single sold millions and made them an overnight success.

After a virtual nervous breakdown, when he withdrew from the Animals in their prime, Price came back with a vengeance with his new group, the Alan Price Set, scoring an early success with Screaming Jay Hawkins’s I Put A Spell On You.

A Price On His Head

Price’s work with Randy Newman compositions seemed to have been pivotal. He reached No 4 on the UK charts with Newman’s Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear. The House That Jack Built also reached No 4 that year, 1967. And, I discover, A Price On His Head was his second album, which also got rave reviews. Price credits Newman with giving him the confidence to “write personal songs”. He later describes the lyrics for House That Jack Built as “just nonsense poetry about all the daft things that people do”. Be that as it may, it is, for me, one of the great classics of the Price oevre. Indeed, the album, which features several Newman compositions, four by Price and even one by Bob Dylan (To Romona), is a remarkable work. Chris Welch, of Melody Maker, says on the sleeve notes that: “Here is music with drive and feeling, emotion and originality . . . (by) one of the major contributors to the British music scene.” Listening to it again, I was struck by the similarity in singing style, at times, between Price and Burdon, particularly on the song, On This Side Of Goodbye. Clearly it was a case of two bulls in one kraal – it couldn’t last for long having two such strong personalities in one band. One would have to go. Price did. But albums like this one gave him an opportunity to give full expression to his talent. His version of Romona is superb. Sung with great feeling, it demonstrates again Dylan’s brilliance as a poet/songwriter: “Romona, come closer, shed softly your watery eyes ...” Price’s own song, Grim Fairy Tale, is a lyrical look at how those who are lucky in gambling are often unlucky in love: “Don’t you know any fool can win the pools, like I did…” The album is also a showcase for the extraordinary songwriting talents of Randy Newman. I’ve always liked the start of Living Without You: “The milk truck hauls the sun up, / Paper hits the door, / Subway shakes the floor, / And I think about you …”

After the band fizzled finally in 1968, the Animals got together for a final gig in Newcastle that year, with Price, bucking the trend of the times, wearing a suit while the others wore jeans or ponchos.

O Lucky Man!

I didn’t see the Lindsay Anderson film O Lucky Man! but the soundtrack from 1973 was a staple in our home for a while. “If you have a friend / On whom you think you can depend / You are a lucky man.” With all the songs, and instrumentals, Price originals, the stand-out lyrics for me are on Justice, a cynical look at the legal system contained in lines like “only wealth will buy you justice”. There is a lovely old world feel to My Home Town: “Down on the corner of the street where I live we used to meet and sing the old songs …” and “you live forever on the never never back in my home town”. The song O Lucky Man! Starts and ends the album, and it is the final reprise which really gets you rocking.

After O Lucky Man! we also lost track of Price, but I see that a solo album, Between Today and Yesterday, was considered his finest work. It reached No 9 in the UK album chart, with the single Jarrow Song reaching No 6 in 1974.

Metropolitan Man, an album from 1975, also sounds like a good fun, featuring songs like Fools Gold, Nobody Can and The Drinker’s Curse.

Also clearly worth exploring is a brief reunion album by the Animals, Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, from 1975, which made the Top 100 in the US and, says Price’s website, “yielded a fine collection of solid performances”.

Price continued to work steadily, organising another Animals reunion in the late 1980s, and producing his own solo albums, while also touring. His work is evidently excellently overviewed in a CD compilation, Geordie Boy, from 2001. He is recognised as one of the great talents from the 1960s British Beat Boom.

Eric Burdon

Meanwhile, a glance at the Burdon website reveals that many of those linked to the band have died, though by 2006 Burdon was still producing albums. Chandler died in 1996, aged 57. In 2003 both Mickie Most and Dave Rowberry died within 10 days of each other. This is a humble salute, then, to a bunch of guys who helped turn the 1960s and 1970s into the most important, most fun, couple of musical decades we were fortunate to be part of.


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