Geordies Go America (The Animals)

In 1964 American music was in thrall to the  British upstarts who swarmed across the Atlantic in the aftershock of the Beatles. Many, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark 5, were pretty disposable, that’s how pop music is. In September of that year the first non- Mop Top British #1 was a record which set a new standard of  innovation & quality for this music explosion. “The House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional American folk-blues, it has been recorded by the greatest of that country’s artists, I first heard it on Bob Dylan’s first LP. In the hands of the Animals, Newcastle’s very own R&B heroes, the song became a pulsating pop record. From the opening guitar arpeggio (huh !), Alan Price’s palpitating organ & the impassioned vocal by a pocket rocket Geordie with an extra-ordinary voice, the track is instantly recognisable and an instant classic. I’m not going to include the song here, we all know how it goes. The Animals made some memorable records after their triumphant entry and here’s one of them

In the North East of England, Eric Burdon grew up with a passion for American music. Like Van Morrison in Belfast he wanted to sing like Ray Charles or John Lee Hooker. For both of these young men emotion came before technique. The Animals were a wild, raving live band covering Hooker, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley (Live at the Club A-Go-Go 1963…mmm !). “Rising Sun” was their 2nd single recorded with a young producer, Mickie Most, a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter more interested in making records that sold than creating art. This collision, the rawness of the Animals, the pop sensibility of Most resulted in a sound which kept the band in the charts all over the world for 2 years.

The Animals did not write their own material & this caused a couple of ripples. “House of the Rising Sun”‘s arrangement had been credited to organist Price. When the royalty cheque arrived, (carried by 4 big guys), others in the band got a reality check instead. Price was out…musical differences ? Yeah right. The wilder blues jams of their LPs did not make for commercial records, “Bring It On Home To Me” a Sam Cooke tune, “Don’t Let me Be Misunderstood” a song written for Nina Simone, were given smart soulful arrangements which featured Eric Burdon’s magnetic interpretations. there were other hits too.

The story goes that Mickie Most rang the Brill Building, New York’s song-writing factory, in search of songs for the Animals. That one call yielded “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” (Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill), “It’s My Life” (Roger Atkins & Carl D’Errico) and “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Gerry Goffin & Carole King) all hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have always thought that the experience of all of these young British provincial men, born in a war, raised in an austere country (food was rationed until 1954), suddenly gaining access to the benefits and the temptations of stardom  in the richest country in the world must have been surreal for them. Promoting “It’s My Life” the Animals are dressing well, looking cool & not taking it too seriously. These young Geordie men were now world travellers, exposed to new ideas. They were not too happy about the constant touring and the songs they were being given to record. The band left Mickie Most to record in the USA with Tom Wilson.

“Inside-Looking Out”, a work song polished by Burdon & bass player Chas Chandler, was not a big hit but was more representative of how the Animals wanted to sound. Who can blame them ? This live TV appearance shows what a great band they had become. All 5 members are making a contribution here. The ill-advised band uniforms aside this is great 60s music. It was to be their last recorded 45, the irresistible “Don’t Bring Me Down” came later but was from an earlier session. Their manager, Mike Jeffery, the owner of the Club A Go-Go, was suspected of appropriating the band’s earnings & the band were falling apart. Drummer John Steel went back to Newcastle, guitarist Hilton Valentine discovered L.S.D & Chandler discovered Jimi Hendrix.

Eric Burdon was left with his reputation as a great blues shouter but had no band. he was far from finished. It was still only 1966 & it had been a short, strange trip. The Animals are not always placed in that pantheon of British groups along with the Beatles, Stones, Kinks & the Who. Their powerful blend of blues, soul & pop was influential & produced some great music.