The Animals – The Best Of The Animals [TrackList follows] – Abkco Music 4324-1 audiophile stereo vinyl ****1/2:
(Eric Burdon – vocals; Alan Price – keyboards; Hilton Valentine – guitar; Chas Chandler – bass; John Steel – drums; Dave Rowberry – keyboards, backing vocals)
The British Invasion of the 1960s was a game-changing cultural event. Led by The Beatles, an assortment of groups drawing on blues, r&b, skiffle and music hall influences took the world (and especially America) by storm. Many of the bands relied on a clean-cut image (Beatles, Dave Clark Five). Subsequent record sales revitalized the music industry. But there were some groups that eschewed the well-groomed image and created their own edgier persona, like The Rolling Stones. While others adopted pop motifs, they remained committed to the burgeoning hybrid blues genre. Another one of these grittier ensembles was The Animals.
Fronted by the powerhouse vocalist Eric Burdon, the Animals hailed from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The original lineup included Alan Price (keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar), Chas Chandler (bass) and John Steel (drums). They served up working-class blues and garnered a loyal fan base. The self-titled debut was an enormous success, largely due to the transformative single, “House Of The Rising Sun”. Already recorded by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Glenn Yarborough, Andy Griffith, Pete Seeger, Frankie Laine and a host of others, Alan Price’s moody arrangement was spine-tingling and it became a Number One hit. The Animals stayed on the charts with other singles, “Don’t Let Me be Understood” and “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. There were personnel changes as Price left the group (musical differences and an alleged fear of flying) and Chas Chandler decided to manage an obscure American guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. The group enjoyed a late Sixties “second act” with “Sky Pilot”, “San Franciscan Nights” and “When I Was Young”.
Abkco Records has released The Best Of The Animals (Note: There are other collections with the same title, so there’s some confusion) on audiophile vinyl. This collection is a testament to the essence of British blues-based rock. Fittingly, “House Of The Rising Sun” opens Side One. After the opening notated chord progression on guitar (Valentine), Burdon joins in with his menacing deep vocals. At the second verse he modulates volume and intensity creating one of the most distinctive performances in the annals of rock. Price adds a stirring organ solo, with a nimble vibrato at the end. The song captures the traditional feel of the song, but electrifies it (literally and figuratively). “I’m Cryin’” has a conventional blues structure and attempts an edgy pop resonance.
The group shows off their rock credentials on Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around”. There are numerous guitar hooks and Burdon establishes front man charisma on this lively cover.
Like many British bands of this era, The Animals pay homage to seminal musicians. A wild gospel jam accentuates the Ray Charles composition, “Talkin’ Bout You”, while two John Lee Hooker numbers (“Boom Boom”, “Dimples”) get raucous interpretations. But it is their version of “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” (originally recorded by Nina Simone) that allows the listener to experience the surfacing of the quirky, atmospheric sound that would be a trademark of this band. As a band they continue to mature. “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” also has a great arrangement. Chandler’s bass intro along with Steel’s cymbal work leads into Burdon’s unbridled vocal fury. The Sixties had a load of attitude and “It’s My Life” expresses that succinctly. The other blues and r&b tracks (including an improvised “Bo Diddley” with a shout out to Bob Dylan and a line from “A Hard Day’s Night”) are genuine and fun. The finale is a bona fide cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” and Burdon indeed…brings it home!
This 180-gram vinyl has excellent acoustics. The stereo separation is flawless. There is clarity in the instrumental tonality (organ, bass, guitar and drums are crisp), but the raw density of a Newcastle bar band is still there. The Animals were a good band and Burdon is equal or better than any vocalist from this period!
Side 1: House Of The Rising Sun; Baby Let Me Take You Home; Around And Around; Talkin’ Bout You; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Boom Boom; Dimples
Side 2: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place; I’m In Love; Bury My Body; Gonna Send You Back To Walker; The Story Of Bo Diddley; It’s My Life; Bring It On Home To Me