Geordie Love Beads (Eric Burdon & the Animals)

Eric Burdon did not hang about after the demise of the original Animals. There were a couple of singles in 1966 which were promoted by a band which was now called Eric Burdon and the Animals even though one, “See See Rider”, was an old track & the other was from a solo LP of covers (3 Randy Newman songs !) backed by the Horace Ott Orchestra (No, me neither). It was in 1967 that a run of distinctive, even sensational, 45s, all composed by this new band, established a new direction for Eric & brought more success.

Eric had some things to get off his chest. About his childhood, “I met my first love at 13, she was brown & I was pretty green” in “When I Was Young” & then his years as a star in “Good Times”, “when I think of all the good times that I’ve wasted having good times”. This direct confessional style, undoubtedly influenced by his use of L.S.D. & patchouli oil, contrasts with the more allusive, even obtuse lyrics of much of the “Love Generation”. Burdon embraced this new emotionality with a lack of guile, an almost naive candour. Back in Northern England 2 teenage boys (drug-free) appreciated such a straightforward reaction to the new ideas from a fellow Northerner. We loved Eric Burdon & the New Animals.

The band were up to the job as well. Vic Briggs’ distorted tremelo (huh !) intro to “When I Was Young” is classic acid-rock. Multi-instrumentalist John Weider went from ragas to rockers. This was a muscular psychedelicism, a working class reaction to new freedoms & new experience. Having said his piece Eric began to write about his hippie friends.

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” wrote Mark Twain. There is more than a touch of rose-tinted spectacles about “San Franciscan Nights”. Still if you were going to Northern California in 1967 the flowers in your hair & the free love would keep you warm. It’s unrealistic, a little credulous but that’s hippies for you, you gotta love the innocence. “San Franciscan Nights”, the band’s biggest hit is charming, a couple of years ago we were listening to this on a 60s radio show, the DJ let it run out & said, “that’s the coolest song ever”. We may have laughed but we did not argue. BUT, the song seems to have been removed from the Internet. So, “Good Times” it is then.

The group played at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The psychedelic Animals stormed it with the hippies, their attack a good fit with the aggression of the Who & Jimi Hendrix (an honorary Brit). Eric, of course, wrote a song about it. “The Byrds & the Airplane Flew” (ouch !) & a lovely quote from the former’s “Renaissance Fair”. This single was not released in the UK. Two young fans knew which dark corners of the radio dial would be likely to play the tune. I can often struggle to remember what I had for dinner two nights ago but the memory of hearing “Monterey” for the first time is palpable…strange.

With the confidence gained from decent sales & the acceptance of a new audience the band recorded a lot of material. In January 1968 they released an epic 2 part single which was over 7 minutes long.

From my, hopefully, more adult perspective if a band had a track which already included flanging, aeroplanes & gunfire and they were thinking of adding bagpipes, I would advise against it. My 15 year old self  loved the everything but the kitchen sink approach of “Sky Pilot”. It was anti-war, against the hypocrisy of a religion which gives its blessing to troops before they go out to kill people. It was both right on and far out…at the same time…still is.

This run  of 45s are simplistic hippie statements (“includes Indians too”) with some very distinctive acid rock. In the USA the Vietnam War was causing a polarization of the generations. Eric Burdon & the Animals records were played on the radio & were so straightforward that you had to go…well yeah ! The band were a little too prolific. In 1968 they released 3 LPs, one of which, “Love Is” is a double & there were diminishing returns. 1967’s “Winds of Change” was a cherished record of ours at the time. If I can find some interesting clips of the future Police guitarist, Andy Summers’ short time with the band then I’m not finished with Eric because those records were a little crazy, Prog-rock Johnny Cash covers…anyone ?

Eric was caught in a whirlwind for a while & the band finished. He still though had a good reputation and any music he made would be given a hearing. It was not long before he was back in the charts with an L.A. funk band as he declared War.

Monday I Got Friday On My Mind (The Easybeats)

In 1945 the Australian Government launched the rather drastically named “Populate or Perish” policy. British migrants were encouraged by an assisted passage costing only 10 of our English pounds and until the cost was increased in 1973 over 1 million people took up the offer. I have met some of these “Ten Pound Poms” & they regard it as the best decision of their lives. In 1952 this was extended to other European countries, places where white people lived but hey…another time yeah. So in the early 1960s 5 young kids, 3 Brits and 2 Dutch, met in a Sydney migrant hostel. They formed a band which brought the energy, excitement and fan hysteria of the decade’s music to Australia. These guys were a long way from civilization but they certainly got what was going on.

The Easybeats & “Easyfever” were absolutely the thing Down Under in 1965-6. When the band left for England it was big, big news. The early hits were the work of guitarist George Young and singer Stevie Wright. Young formed a new partnership with lead guitarist Harry Vanda. They brought some good songs with them to the UK, brought their old producer too. After a false start Shel Talmy replaced the producer, Shel was fresh from “My Generation” & “You Really Got Me” so obviously knew a thing or two. The first single “Friday On My Mind” was a worldwide smash. It’s a wonderful thing, a living for the weekend classic. The rough edges of the band had been smoothed a little but those lyrics, “even my old man looks good”, benefited from the simple guitar line rather than the power chords of the Who or the Kinks. Surely the Easybeats were on their way.

With a tight, fresh songwriting team and a cocky, energetic front man to sell the songs the band seemed to have the right ingredients. It just did not happen for them. The follow-up single “Who’ll Be The One” did not consolidate the success of “Friday” and the band were never quite able to find their own place in a rapidly changing music scene. They fell between two stools. They were very good at that R&B garage pop but Vanda & Young, like everybody else, had heard “Sergeant Pepper” and wanted to extend themselves.

That first clip of “Good Times” shows that they still had a contribution to make to high energy rock. Despite the lip-synch it is one of my favourite clips on the Y-tube. Those guitar chords are perfect, Steve’s enthusiasm makes me smile (Steve Marriott’s backing vocals are good too) and the knee-drop at the end makes me laugh. This single is one that got away and the LP “Vigil” swung between these lively rockers and more orchestrated psych-pop. The more experimental tracks are pretty good but you just didn’t know where you stood with the Easybeats.

Vanda and Young spent more time on their recording studio and did not want to tour. The band were in debt & had contractual problems and a third LP was largely filled with demos. In 1969 it was done. Stevie Wright went back to Australia where he had a big hit with an 11 minute epic “Evie”. Unfortunately his personal problems with addiction,  a controversial and drastic treatment kept him in the spotlight. Man, I do not want to read a book titled “Sorry – The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright”. Vanda & Young had a hit as Flash & the Pan before hooking up with George Young’s little brothers, Angus & Malcolm, producing the first 6 LPs for their group  AC/DC.

“Friday On My Mind” has been much covered, most notably by David Bowie on his “Pin Ups” LP, Richard Thompson and Earthquake on one of the gospels of Powerpop “Beserkley Chartbusters, Volume 1” (an essential record). “Good Times” turned up in “The Lost Boys” by Aussie song manglers INXS … a joke surely. The more I hear of the Easybeats, I always liked the singles, the more I enjoy both sides of their music. When I need a little musical pick-me-up then it’s the rocking “Good Times” that does the trick.