The Animals

TrackAlbum / Single
Baby Let Me Take You HomeColumbia DB 7247
Gonna Send You Back To WalkerColumbia DB 7247 B-side
Boom BoomThe Animals LP and EP
The House Of The Rising SunColumbia DB 7301
Don'’t Let Me Be MisunderstoodColumbia DB 7445
Worried Life BluesAnimal Tracks
We'’ve Gotta Get Out Of This PlaceColumbia DB 7639
It's My LifeColumbia DB 7741
Don't Bring Me DownDecca F12407
Many Rivers To CrossBefore We Were So
Rudely Interrupted

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Let’s start at the top. The House Of The Rising Sun is one of the songs with a whole book devoted to it, “Chasing The Rising Sun” by Ted Anthony (2007, 308 pages). He concludes, rightly I think, that the version by The Animals is the best take on the song. It’s the ultimate achievement of The Animals too. Their version is credited (Trad. Arranged A. Price), and that tore the band apart because Alan Price has had all the publishing royalties. Eric Burdon says they were told they could only have one name, and as Alan Price was first alphabetically, it would be him. Doh! Eric! Alphabetical order is based on surnames, except in Japanese record shops. You should have been first …

Eric Burdon claims he first heard it from folk singer Johnny Handle in a Newcastle folk club, then from Josh White. John Steel says that it came from the first Bob Dylan album, Bob Dylan, and nothing else. He says “That’s where we ripped House of The Rising Sun from, no matter what you hear about Josh White. That was another fairy tale from Eric.” I believe John Steel, because I read an interview with Eric Burdon back in the day, where he said that Baby Let Me Take You Home came from Dylan’s first album, and their forthcoming single House Of The Rising Sun did too. I remember. I went out and bought Bob Dylan based on it. Whatever, it’s widely reported that when Dylan heard what The Animals had done to the song, he was inspired to go electric. For years, I was somewhat snotty about Eric’s choice of a male narrator, rather than a female narrator (as in the Dylan version), thinking it the sort of macho that makes Newcastle lads walk around in freezing weather in shirtsleeves, but according to the book, the song had often been sung from a male viewpoint. Still, REAL folk singers don’t need to change the gender of narrators.

Whatever, that ten minute first take recording achieved greatness. Over to Ted Anthony, who after all spent years researching versions:

By the time Burdon cuts in after Price’s organ solo with his two climax verses – Oh, mother tell your children … and the even rawer … I got one foot on the platform, the other foot on the train …’ the agony of the song has emerged fully … This is no longer a folk song about a whorehouse or a gambling den or a prison, or the ruin of a poor boy or girl. This is about pain, plain and simple. Even if you spoke no English whatsoever, that agony would still come through. When the Animals recorded that song, they turned pain into music. That of course, is the definition of the blues.

The Animals had a knack at Anglicizing lyrics and situations. Their first single, Baby Let Me Take You Home was indeed found on Bob Dylan as Baby Let Me Follow You Down, a song Dylan had learned from Eric Von Schmidt’s arrangement. The words lose the intensity of the original, turning it into a plea to have a dance and walk her home, but that’s what I was pleading then, so it worked for me. I just compared their single to the Dylan version, and the two Dylan versions with The Band (Live 66, The Last Waltz). The Animals did it best. It’s 2 minutes 18 seconds. They give you the bones of the song in the first minute, then Eric Burdon does his trademark spoken centrepiece, with just rhythm and punctuations of Alan Price on organ. Then their characteristic “rave” finish … speeding up, all yelling behind Eric. It’s the Animals template.

They followed through with the B-side, Gonna Send You Back To Walker, which was Timmy Shaw’s soul song Gonna Send You Back To Georgia transposed to a Newcastle suburb. Once he’s got his guitar solo in, Hilton Valentine’s guitar is irrepressible, doing little fills right to the end.

If you look at the albums, The Animals were doing much the same Chuck, Bo, Fats, John Lee and Ray Charles repertoire as everyone else, but they had a different ear for their singles (or perhaps producer Mickie Most did), and Eric could take on anything by anyone. They were lined up with The Rolling Stones as the tough boys, in contrast to the poppier echelons of Merseybeat: Gerry & The Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, Dave Clark Five, Freddie & The Dreamers. The Animals were also big sellers on EP, though their first EP In the Beginning There Was Early Animals … was the last to be released, in 1966, consisting of their 1963 Decca audition tapes. It contains Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker, but I’m taking the subsequent EMI Columbia recording from The Animals LP. It follows the template, breaking into the rave up early on, but they did that so well. It’s going to stand for two dozen other solid covers.

Albums … they did two live albums, both from the same sessions. Their set is Live at The Club AGoGo (recorded December 1963, before their first single) plus a further set, a live recording backing Sonny Boy Williamson II, The Animals With Sonny Boy Williamson. As recounted in The Last Waltz, Sonny Boy described his adventures in England as Those white boys want to play the blues so bad. And they do. He recorded an LP with The Yardbirds too and so the comment may have embraced both bands, though Paul Jones said on his radio show that he may have been referring to Manfred Mann, who had a row with him before a TV show (resting on their differing definitions of ‘twelve bars’ and ‘in tune’). But I wouldn’t choose anything from the albums.

The Animals original British albums steadfastly consisted of R&B covers, without the leavening of the hit singles: The Animals, Animal Tracks and Animalisms. The Story of Bo Diddley, credited to Burdon/McDaniel opens the first album and was tempting, because Eric Burdon is such a commanding narrator. Bury My Body is a chance to hear how well Eric does gospel … the speeded up rave with It’s alright … alright … is predictable, but still a worthy candidate and near miss from the list.

Mickie Most, as producer, had a hand in selecting Brill Building originals for the singles. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written for Nina Simone, and a recent release when The Animals speeded it up, rocked it up, and again, for me, did the best version. There was a degree of restraint in The Animals that didn’t carry over to Eric Burdon’s later solo career with the New Animals and War … try his post-Animals version of Ring O’ Fire for how far over the top you can go, but with The Animals it was always just before it went too far.

Alan Price deserted the band at very short notice, claiming fear of flying, but the others say it was the acrimony over royalties on Rising Sun. Mick Gallagher says he was called from the airport to join and go to Sweden on keyboards (he’s in the 2000s band). Dave Rowberry replaced Price permanently (Zoot Money, later with the New Animals, declined the job). We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place is a Mann-Weil song, originally intended as a follow-up to You’ve Lost This Lovin’ Feelin’ for The Righteous Brothers, which Barry Mann then did alone. Again, the Animals personalized the lyrics.. It’s so impassioned, so in line with the desperation to escape.

It’s My Life was commissioned by Mickie Most, or rather he solicited songs specifically for The Animals. It rests on propulsive Chas Chandler bass and chiming guitar from Hilton Valentine.

The Animals moved to Decca. They made two fine singles, Don’t Bring Me Down and Inside Looking Out. The fuzz guitar on Don’t Bring Me Down reminds of Satisfaction and The Spencer Davis Group … Spencer Davis was to appear with the 2000s Animals.

Inside Looking Out recycled the gospel feel of Bury My Body, but you can see they’re going into something else already. The third Decca release, Help Me Girl / See See Rider was credited to Eric Burdon & The Animals. Only Barry Jenkins, who had replaced John Steel, remained from the previous band. I count that single as the start of Eric Burdon solo. The stop point comes with Eric Burdon’s split from the original Animals. ‘Eric Burdon & The Animals’ and ‘Eric Burdon and War’ are a different story, and should be a different Eric Burdon Toppermost.

The original band reunited in 1975 to 1976 to tour and do an album, Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted in 1977. It was produced by Chas Chandler, after his management successes with Jimi Hendrix and with Slade, and released on his Barn label. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue was the best-known track, but in the style, I think Chris Farlowe and Van Morrison do it better. Brother Bill (Last Clean Shirt) was co-written by all of them, with the Gonna Send You Back To Walker / Can I Get A Witness riff. The one that goes in is Many Rivers To Cross, the Jimmy Cliff classic. I have half a dozen versions. The song is incredible. Alan Price has gone way beyond the original Vox Continental organ and we get the full rich Hammond sound. And Burdon can hit the notes better than anyone, and you know he means the words:

I’ve been licked
Washed up for years
And I’ve merely survived
Because of my pride!

However, it was not the sound of 1977. Eric Burdon has done several revisits to the catalogue, now on budget albums such as Eric Burdon Sings The Best of The Animals, but while his voice was still at full power, there’s a magic which resides in the originals.

Those nine were pretty much in my mind already when I started. The tenth slot was harder to fill. The singles I’m Crying (Burdon & Price) and Bring It On Home To Me? Both worthy. Or the narrative Club A GoGo? Or a blues like For Miss Caulker? Or Worried Life Blues? A Ray Charles cover? I Believe To My Soul? Bring It On Home To Me is intrinsically the best as a song, and it’s a magnificent version. Worried Life Blues has jazzy guitar and a big organ sound, and is a long way from Chuck Berry’s version (see Toppermost #20). It gets the last place to demonstrate The Animals playing the blues, and as none of the live stuff quite made it, this shows a very “live” feel in the recording.

Much was made of Morrissey’s autobiography appearing on the Penguin Classics imprint in 2013. Back in 1986, Eric Burdon’s “I Used To Be An Animal But I’m All Right Now” appeared on the equally prestigious Faber & Faber imprint. There’s a passage about touring America by plane that sets out their futures. Chas Chandler was in a card school with the managers, Mike Jeffries and Peter Grant, and musician Peter Noone (Herman). Chas consistently won loads of money. Hilton and Eric were getting royally stoned. Alan Price was alone staring out of the window at America.

Eric describes returning from an American tour, hoping to pick up some royalties from House Of The Rising Sun when it was reissued on Mickie Most’s RAK label in 1982, and went to #11 in the charts. He met the accountant:

– Ah, Mr Burdon. Yes, House of The Rising Sun is doing nicely in the chart. We’ve had a big promotion campaign on TV, you know.
– Yes, I was hoping for an advance.
– Well, now, let me see. According to the accounts, taking note of the original Animals contract, the inflation rate, interest and cost of promotion, it seems you owe us £675. Feel free to photocopy the accounts.

The Animals Official Website

Eric Burdon official website

Alan Price official website

Peter Viney’s review of The Animals current band

The Animals biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #254

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 17, 2014

    Great list on a great band…

    Not that I want to bring Rory Gallagher into everything (although I often try), but there is a nice clip of Eric Burdon, him & David Lindley doing ‘I’m Ready’ on YouTube.

  2. Glenn Smith
    Apr 22, 2014

    Thanks Peter for the background on the song arranging issues around House of the Rising Sun. If we track the providence of the arrangement to Bob’s first album, then it is Van Ronk who should have got the royalties as Bob ripped off his!

    The other interesting footnote within your toppermost is the reference to Mickey Gallagher who later pops up in the Blockheads and then with The Clash in their London Calling/Sandinista era. And of course, Andy Summers had a stint with Eric (and his Animals, I know you are right they are a whole other thing) in 1968 on the Love Is album.

    To me Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood is their signature tune and Eric’s finest moment. Elvis Costello had a decent crack on King of America, but nothing matches Eric pleading and urging on that song, superb.

  3. Peter Viney
    Apr 22, 2014

    Mickey Gallagher plays with the current Animals, a tenuous second 60s member after John Steel. They make quite a bit about how he joined them when Alan Price left, missing out that he was only temporary. Zoot Money ended up with the New Animals too – Andy Summers was with Zoot Money in the Big Roll Band and they were my favorite live band for years. Both Bournemouth lads.

    Since doing the Toppermost I read “Roadie” by Tappy Wright, who started with The Animals. He confirms the “Dylan first album” source for House of The Rising Sun, as well as telling many tales. After reading what Eric Burdon did to Chas Chandler’s toothbrush, you’ll never leave your toothbrush in a hotel bathroom again.

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