Wednesday, 14 January 2015

7 inch Singles collection: The Animals - House of the Rising Sun

Old blues songs never die...


A-Side: House of The Rising Sun
B-Side: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
              I'm Crying

(RAK 1964)

Obviously this isn't the original 1964 pressing, but something from the late 70's/early 80's to act as a kind of a 3 hit mini-compilation.
Let's talk about definitions briefly R'n'B seems to be something different today that what it was in the 1960's. I'm about to make some sweeping generalisations here, but R'n'B now seems to refer to sassy black American women singing slickly-produced soul-based dance numbers, whereas the 60's version was very much about middle-class white British boys with guitars, bashing out the blues with attitude. I know which I prefer, an in the context of this record it's the latter of the two definitions I'll be working to in this piece. 

Whilst the early Stones, the Yardbirds, Them, The Zombies, Manfred Mann and The Pretty Things, (more of all of them later!) may well represent the cream of the crop of R'n'B, I reckon that The Animals may well have the sound and attitude of te quintisesstial R'n'B group. They chose their name well having a naturalistic, animalistic, raw feel. 

You probably know House of the Rising Sun already, if not from this then maybe Bob Dylan's folky version, or Frijid Pink's bizarre hard rock version, or any number of hundreds of different versions going back well over at least a hundred years - all with slightly different lyrics.Having said that when I think of this song it's always The Animals take on it that comes to mind first. The rise and fall of the guitar arpeggios (performed by the magnificently named Hilton Valentine) overlayed by Eric Burdon's impassioned blues shouting sticks in the memory. One of the the things that distinguishes the sound of The Animals is Alan Price's organ (stop sniggering at the back), I know it's not a church organ, but it still feels reverent and gives the whole song a hymnal quality. What's it about? Well about 4 and half minutes (ba-dum-tisch!) - that seems like a bit of a flippant answer, but it's important because despite being about two minutes longer than most of it's contemporary competitors it still managed to rise to the top of the heap, both in the UK and the USA (and many other places across the globe). This make it a significant record historically as one of the first stepping stones towards rock (as oppose to 50's style rock 'n' roll). The fact that it is really about destitution, degradation and desolation as the result of alcoholism just makes it even more astonishing. House of the Rising Sun by the Animals is truly not just a fantastic record but an important one too.

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood seems like another old standard too, but actually was fairly fresh at the time having only been written a year or two earlier for Nina Simone. Again so many people have covered this track, and once again it's The Animals who, for me, have provided us with the definitive version. All the stuff that make House of the Rising Sun great is here, but the real key to this song, the reason why this makes an impression is Eric Burdon's singing - he has a great blues rock voice, and what makes it special is the passion the is in the performance of the lyrics - he's not just singing the words of the song - he really is pleading not to be misunderstood. You really feel for him, he sounds like man who's been pushed to the edge and only has one chance left. I heard a story about Eric Burdon many years ago which may or may not be true, but it illustrates the point I'm making. Apparently he didn't like doing television appearances to promote the records because he wasn't good at miming to the record (as many TV promo slots were wont to be). The reason he wasn't good at miming was that every time he sang a song he put a lot of emotion into it so every time he performed it was different and he couldn't recreate that spirit through miming. Which is pretty much one of the best arguments for letting musicians play live on the telly I've heard.

The third track on this record may be the lesser of them, but it's still a great piece. If you were to look for the most typical piece of music to illustrate the British R'n'B boom, then you could do worse than picking I'm Crying. The organ drives across the blues backbone of the record, never letting up the pace. It's very of it's time - almost from the opening chords this record says "This is 1964" - it could come from nowhere else. Compared to the other tracks on this record it's a lightweight bit of sneering bluesy froth, however taken away from the other songs it's still good enough to stand on it's own. Whilst lyrically it seems as bleak and mournful as the other two songs, musically it's an aggressive juggernaut that is made for dancing.

I know I like The Animals and I think they're a fantastic band, but they are a group that I don't listen to that much these days - so I'm glad that I've listened to this and reminded myself that I need to listen to them much more.

Next time I may answer the question why am I bothering with this...

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