Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Best of the Animals - The Animals

The Best of the Animals
The Animals
MGM  E-4324
This is yet another premature comp and a pretty skimpy one at that with only 11 cuts.  It covers the Animals' first three American albums encompassing the entire era when Mickie Most was their producer.  There is nothing from "Animalism" or "Animalization," their final two albums before breaking up.  Nonetheless when I feel like hearing the Animals, this is the album I generally reach for.  It has all of my favorite songs from them except for "Inside Looking Out."  It features both sides of the group, the earthy purveyors of rhythm and blues and the skilled craftsmen delivering passionate versions of commercial pop songs.  I prefer the latter facet of the group which is represented on this album by their classic singles "It's My Life" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."  "It's My Life" was written by Carl D'Errico and Roger Atkins who also wrote "No Excess Baggage" by the Yardbirds.  The lyrics describe the aspirations of an ambitious lower class guy determined to make his fortune any way possible including ripping off wealthy women who are attracted to him.  The song's naked aggression, bold statement of independence and blatant misogyny recall the Rolling Stones, but instead of the cynicism and decadence of Jagger's persona, Eric Burdon offers up a desperate and urgent vocal that makes the song extraordinarily compelling.  Musically the song is different from the Animals' usual sound.  When Alan Price was in the group, his organ generally drove the songs, but the keyboard is in the background on this song.  It is steered by Hilton Valentine's jangly guitar line echoed by Chas Chandler's heavy bass riff.  "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" is my favorite Animals song.  It was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil but Burdon sings it with so much feeling that you'd think it was coming straight from his heart.  I consider it the pinnacle of his career and one of the great pop performances of the 1960s.  He starts slow and the vocal gradually builds in intensity before he cuts loose in an awesome display of passion.  I don't know of another song from that era that so effectively conveys feelings of class struggle and oppression.  Musically the song is dominated by a mesmerizing bass riff from Chandler with strong support from Valentine on guitar and Dave Rowberry's wailing organ.  This album features a different take of the song than the one found on British imports and a lot of modern comps.  I believe that this is a superior version.  The other highlight on this album for me is the unedited version of "House of The Rising Sun" which features an extra verse and a more expansive organ solo than on the single.  This was the first Animals song I ever heard and it blew me away as a young teen with its great guitar riff and Burdon's howling vocal.  I'd never heard anything like it and even now it still impresses me.  Another standout cut is "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" which was originally recorded by Nina Simone.  Burdon's anguished vocal and the strong instrumental treatment by the band trounce the original version not to mention the disco version by Santa Esmeralda which I regarded as sacrilege when it came out.  "I'm Crying" is by Burdon and Price and is the only original song on the album.  The group's dependence on outside songwriters was arguably their greatest weakness compared to the top groups in the British Invasion.  The trite lyrics in this song do little to dispel that. although musically it is very dynamic and propulsive.  The rest of the cuts on the album are covers of rhythm and blues songs.  They are derivative by nature, but Burdon's vocals are very convincing.  My favorite is "Gonna Send You Back To Walker" which was originally recorded by Timmy Shaw as "Gonna Send You Back To Georgia."  I never understood the name change until I found out that Walker was the section of Newcastle where Burdon was born.  It is a swinging number with a smoking hot organ solo from Price.  I also like the two John Lee Hooker numbers, "Boom Boom" and "I'm Mad."  The former is one of their catchiest songs with a soaring chorus section.  I'm mystified why it wasn't a bigger hit.  "I'm Mad" boasts a typically powerful organ solo from Price and some of Valentine's most exciting guitar work.  There are more complete Animals compilations out there, but because of its brevity, this is a perfect album.  No song is less than very good and several are great.  It is non-stop classic and essential music.  Recommended for people who wish that Eric Burdon had never spent any nights in San Francisco.

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