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Animals - The Animals and Beyond

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 10 / 1 / 2009

Animals - The Animals and Beyond


While filmed in 1991 and missing out on almost twenty years in his extraordinary career, Malcolm Carter finds the reissue of documentary film 'The Animals and Beyond' providing plenty of insight into the life of sixties legend Eric Burdon

This documentary about the former singer of sixties pop heroes the Animals was originally released on VHS in 1991 and was previously released on DVD in 2003. Unfortunately this latest reissue adds nothing to the 2003 issue so it only takes in Eric Burdon’s musical career up to 1991 which was the year he hooked up with another sixties legend, Brian Auger, for the next few years. It would have been nice to have a few extras tagged onto the original documentary to bring us up to date with what Burdon has been doing since this was originally taped. It’s been eighteen years after all and Burdon was never one to sit still for long. It would also have been good if mention was made of Burdon’s film career ; while music was, and is, his day-job it would have been interesting to hear about some of the films he has appeared or acted in, as even die-hard Burdon fans haven’t seen them all. But quibbles out of the way what we do have here is an extremely informative and entertaining hour of interviews with Burdon, former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, guitarist Hilton Valentine and their original drummer John Steel (who, apart from the interviews with Burdon, really steals the show here). Missing, tellingly, from that original Animals line-up is keyboardist Alan Price. The reason for that is obvious; the story has been told many times now of how the rest of the Animals felt cheated by Price being the only band member to receive an arranger's credit on their biggest hit, ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’, and how that contributed to his departure from the band; we hear the story again here but it’s interesting to hear it from the other band members for a change rather than by a third-party. Considering that Price is not the only person mentioned in the documentary who is painted as a bad guy; manager Mike Jeffery doesn’t come out of it too well either but then he probably wasn’t so different in hindsight to most successful band mangers of the sixties. Although many years have passed one can’t help but wonder why the former band members don’t sound too bitter about it now. It’s fascinating to hear Burdon and Steel talk about what was happening behind-the scenes when on the surface, to their young fans who were only interested in the music at the time, everything was fine. There’s a particularly fine clip of the group members presumably in America fighting their corner with some female ‘suits’ at a time when the band were obviously tired and falling apart. Apart from the band members there are also interviews with Sammy Hagar, Brian Auger and Zoot Money. But as revealing as these interviews are maybe the biggest thrill for Burdon and The Animals fans will be the clips of many of their best known songs. The sound is excellent even when accompanying old, grainy black and while clips and, apart from ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, this will be the first time many fans will have seen some of the clips in colour. Burdon was really in a class of one back in the early sixties. The band were never going to make it on looks alone ; it’s said that the Pretty Things were the ugliest of the beat-boom bands, hence the name, but the Animals would never have got by on looks alone either. They could play pop like the Beatles and the Stones but it was obvious that The Animals, and Burdon in particular, had their hearts in something more substantial. They took the R’n’B of the Yardbirds and the Pretty Things and added an edge that those bands lacked. That edge was in Burdon’s vocals. Phil May of the Pretty Things and Keith Relf of the Yardbirds were excellent R’n’B vocalists, but Burdon was a blues shouter as Sammy Hagar quite rightly points out in his interview in the documentary. There really was no one else around at that time doing what Burdon did. Just listen to some of the live clips here for evidence. The man had a remarkable voice. The other thing that comes through in this documentary is just how much of a survivor Burdon is. Once the original Animals fell apart he immediately formed ‘Eric Burdon and The Animals’ (sometimes referred to as The New Animals, but I have my doubts if this name actually made it onto any record labels or album sleeves) and in 1967 this totally new line up released ‘Winds Of Change’ which showed Burdon taking on the new psychedelic sounds of the latter part of the sixties and adding a twist that none of their contemporaries could; that blues-soaked voice. Burdon, as he would prove time and again in his career, wasn’t just jumping on a new bandwagon; he was steering the whole bloody thing. Not for him and his new band of super-hot musicians (including John Weider later a member of Family, Vic Briggs and Danny McCulloch) was the very British strain of psychedelia; all toy-town pop laced up with brass and everything all-so-happy, Burdon had taken the more bluesy-acid tinged sound that was the American’s version and with his still unique vocals made a sound that no other band could match at that time. He made more albums in this vein, ‘The Twain Shall Meet’, Every One of Us’ and ‘Love Is’ and even had Zoot Money and Andy Summers (later of The Police) join the band during some of the very last line-up changes during this period. Burdon, during the latter part of the sixties made some of the strongest yet underrated albums of that period. There was more, much more, to Burdon and his band than the singles of that time like ‘San Franciscan Nights’ and a cursory listen to any of the above albums will prove that. If ever an artist has a body or work that was ripe for reappraisal it must be Burdon. The seventies found Burdon once again finding a new direction and a new band to front. Moving from psychedelia to funk shouldn’t have been an easy transition but Burdon managed it with style and somehow it all made sense that he should team up with street-funk band War for his next project. He made three albums with War all of which are still available on CD and all three are well worth your time and money. Mixing a few originals in with some well-chosen covers is something Burdon has been doing for all his musical career ; on the last album he cut with War, ‘Love Is All Around’ there’s an eleven minute version of ‘A Day In The Life’ and he revisits The Stones ‘Paint It Black’ in a medley, a song he first covered on ‘Winds Of Change’, and really rips into ‘Tobacco Road’, a song that every band of the early sixties must have played at some point. If Burdon had stopped there, during the last part of the seventies, he would have been assured of his place in rock and roll hierarchy but the fact that he went on to release numerous ‘solo’ albums after this just cements his position as a rock and roll survivor in stone. One day there will be the ultimate DVD about Eric Burdon, one that brings his story bang up to date but for now this reissue will do very nicely thank you. It’s good to see it back on the shelves.

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