Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Animals On Tour - The Animals
The Animals On Tour
This was my first Animals album which I bought in San Francisco in 1979. I had a summer job in the City and in the course of my lunchtime explorations, I stumbled upon a fantastic used record store on the seedy outskirts of downtown. It was run by this hippie-ish guy and was full of old Fillmore posters and a tasty selection of 60s era vinyl. It was pretty pricey and I was pretty broke so I didn't buy a lot, but I learned a lot from browsing and talking to the proprietor. He was kind of gruff but there weren't a lot of customers, usually just me and since I was pretty green he seemed to like teaching me stuff and showing me interesting records. I wish I had taken a greater interest in the posters, he had a great selection and even some of the original litho plates to print them. I thought they were too expensive, but of course compared to prices nowadays they were a bargain. I did pick up some important records in the course of the summer and the place gave me a hunger for quality used record stores that remains with me to this day. Unfortunately when my job ended and I went back to school, I didn't get over to SF and by the time I finally returned to the store, it was gone. At least I have a few records to remind me of it. This is a pretty good one. It was the Animals' second American album. Despite the title it is not a live record, but instead consists of songs taken from the Animals' first two English albums and some singles. Among the groups associated with the British Invasion, I rank the Animals in the second tier. They had a high quality instrumentalist in keyboardist Alan Price and with Eric Burdon they had the best British Invasion vocalist not in a group named the Beatles. Burdon excelled at rhythm and blues vocals although you could probably make a case that he was too slavishly imitative of them in contrast to someone like Mick Jagger who adapted them for his own style. The Animals biggest problem was that they did not produce many original songs. Their early repertoire consisted largely of covers of well-known American songs and their approach to them was derivative. They were like a more talented version of the Downliners Sect. Unlike the Yardbirds or Rolling Stones, who used the rhythm and blues songs as frameworks for their own interpretations, the Animals seemed determined to ape John Lee Hooker or Ray Charles as authentically as possible. Sometimes I wonder why am I listening to this when I could be listening to John Lee Hooker himself. I think the answer to that question is that Burdon brings a lot of enthusiasm to his vocals and the band has a pop sensibility that smooths out the music without losing the energy. The two singles are my favorite songs on this record. "Boom Boom" is a high energy cover of John Lee Hooker's song and it is my favorite version of this song. There is a nice organ solo from Price, but Hilton Valentine's guitar solo has been edited out. It is not a particularly great solo but I don't see why it couldn't have been restored for an album that is already pretty skimpy. Burdon and Price's "I'm Crying" is the only original song on the album and it is a good one with a steady propulsive beat, a hard-driving organ line and a powerful vocal. It was deservedly a top 20 hit and I think it is among the best songs in their catalogue. I really like the cover of Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City" which features another exciting solo from Price, a catchy riff and a strong Burdon vocal. They return to John Lee Hooker for a cover of "Dimples." The song swings but it is not as memorable as "Boom Boom." Unlike most of their tunes, the song is driven by the guitar rather than the keyboards. The group's cover of Chuck Berry's "How You've Changed" is better than the original largely because Burdon delivers a superior vocal. There are three Ray Charles' covers on the album, the best of which is the jumping "Mess Around" with its blazing piano solo and pulsing bass lines. Burdon is a terrific singer, but he can't out-sing Ray Charles and for that reason "I Believe to My Soul" and "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" are a waste of time although Burdon's smoldering vocal on the former is very soulful and I like Price's solo on the latter. Charles is also one of the many people who have covered "Worried Life Blues" which is the bluesiest number on this record. The Animals' version is impressive with a typically impassioned vocal from Burdon, a tasteful guitar solo from Valentine and majestic organ work from Price, but it is also the number that seems most blatantly imitative to me. I prefer the Stones' cover of "Let the Good Times Roll" and the Yardbirds' version of "I Ain't Got You" both of which are more kinetic and imaginative then the comparatively tame versions offered here. I also give the Stones the edge for "She Said Yeah" but the Animal's version is exciting in its own right and it gets me bopping. I don't think any of the original Animals albums are essential, unless you are a big fan, a good comp will probably suffice for all your Animals needs. I do play mine sometimes though and I'm happy I have them. Recommended for people who prefer the Rolling Stones over the Beatles.