Artist: The Animals
As has been proved countless times over the years, just because a song tops the chart, it does not ensure that the song in question is of high quality, or the finest song of that time. Taking this a step further, one could infer that simply because a song was the biggest hit that a band had does not necessarily mean that it was that groups best work. This theory is perhaps no more true than in the case of U.K. psychedelic-blues rockers, The Animals. Without question, the group is best known for hits like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," yet by the time the group made their greatest record, not only had the lineup responsible for these hits been changed, but the group itself had called it quits. Regardless of which lineup was playing, The Animals were easily one of the most important bands of the entire "British Invasion," and their brilliant blend of R&B sounds into a rock and roll format is perhaps only second to that of The Rolling Stones. Releasing albums filled with fantastic original material, as well as a steady stream of covers which revealed their influences by everyone from Chuck Berry to Ray Charles to Robert Johnson, The Animals possess one of the most instantly recognizable sounds, and their songs remain just as enjoyable today as they were upon their initial release. Marking their final musical effort before the band name changed, The Animals' 1966 release, Animalism, is without question one of the most extraordinary records ever recorded, and it stands as a perfect final note for one of musics' finest bands.
Truth be told, for many reasons, Animalism, is one of the most difficult records to find in any format. The initial release, in December of 1966, was only available in the U.S., and even this was in VERY limited quantities. Since the group had disbanded months earlier (though a "different" group would soon emerge, calling themselves "Eric Burdon & The Animals"), there was very little press for the release (though it did manage to crack the Top 40), and the album soon became little more than a myth. Regardless of its lack of notoriety, the fact is, the music on the album is absolutely stunning, and this fact soon began to make the record one of the most highly sought items by collectors around the world. Finally, in 2006, a small record label called Hip-o Select re-released the album, again in VERY limited quantities, and after quickly selling out, Animalism remains one of the most rare albums in rock history. Furthermore, many people understandable confuse this album with their previous release, Animalisms (which was released in the U.S. under the title Animalization). These two albums feature different lineups, different songs, and different covers, and the overall musical experience is far superior on the more rare of the two records. Animalism also features a seemingly strange pairing, as the opening track, "All Night Long" was arranged by, and also features the playing of a young, up and coming artist by the name of Frank Zappa.
By the time The Animals began recording Animalism, they were into their forth overall lineup, and the second lineup of 1966. This album would be the only recording by this grouping of musicians, yet it musically outshines all of the previous incarnations of the band. Serving as the core to the bands' sound throughout their existence, guitarist Hilton Valentine and bassist Chas Chandler are clearly just hitting their stride on Animalism. Valentine sounds as brilliant as ever, as he seamlessly switches between lighter, more reserved playing on tracks like, "The Other Side Of Life" to absolutely destroying songs like "Louisiana Blues." Similarly, Chandler unleashes some of his most entrancing grooves ever, and this would be a fitting end to his formal career as a musician, as following his album, he would go on to manage the likes of Nick Drake and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Having joined the band only a year before recording keyboardist Dave Rowberry fit perfectly with the groups' sound, and whether playing electric keyboards and organs or simply a piano, his sound gives the songs much of their "down home" and raw feeling. Rounding out the final incarnation of The Animals is drummer Barry Jenkins, who was brought in after original drummer John Steel quit the band only two months before recording commenced for Animalism. The fact that Jenkins was able to so easily transition into his role with the band is clearly one of the key reasons why he would be the only "holdover" that would be a part of the first incarnation of "Eric Burdon & The Animals."
It is quite literally impossible to have any discussion of the music of The Animals without spending time discussing one of music's finest frontmen, Eric Burdon. With one of the most distinctive voices in history, Burdon's voice is in many ways the ultimate blues-rock sound, as he can snarl, growl, and belt out vocals with the finest of any genre. Whether it is his wailing rendition of Little Richard's "Lucille," or his swinging, soulful take on "Hit The Road, Jack," Burdon is nothing short of stunning on every song. Bringing a darker, sometimes sleazy sound in his vocals, it is somewhat surprising that Burdon was not labeled as "the" singer for parents to help their children avoid. Without question, Burdon's vocals were more overtly sexual in tone and in many ways, he represents an unrestrained version of Mick Jagger. This stunning delivery style, combined with his phenomenal vocal power makes him remain today one of the greatest singers in music history. Even when Burdon holds back slightly, as he does on The Animal's fantastic cover of the Sam Cooke classic, "Shake," the soul and power of his voice still shines brightly. However, one can easily argue that the cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" is the greatest single track that the group ever recorded. Featuring the ideal balance of blues, soul, and just a touch of rock, it is this track that stands as the epitome of everything that makes The Animals such an amazing band. Similarly, Burdon is nothing short of perfect on the song, as it is on this track that it becomes clear that it is his vocal work that served as the inspiration for later artists like Jim Morrison and many of the early punk style singers.
Though it is easily one of the most difficult albums in history to find, there are few records that are as worth spending the time to track down as this, the final recording of The Animals. The group had clearly found their groove, and their signature take on the blues-rock sound has never sounded better on any of their previous efforts, or even on those of other bands. Ripping through eleven covers, as well as the "new" song from Zappa, it is mind-boggling to think how this album was NOT a massive hit upon its release. Regardless of the fact that the band ceased to exist at the time, and the fact that the label did little to promote the album, the fact remains that the music on Animalism marks some of the greatest music of the decade, and the overall power of the album is perhaps the key factor in it remaining such a highly sought record. The rhythm section of Chandler and Jenkins clearly bonded very quickly, as their performance on the cover of B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" stands as one of the most thundering and absolutely phenomenal musical moments in history. This track also spotlights Valentine's abilities, and the amount of soul that he emits through his playing is virtually unparalleled elsewhere in music. The contrast between the often light playing of Rowberry, with the gigantic presence of Burdon creates the final, absolutely perfect piece to the band, and though it did not produce any hit singles, there is little question that the album represents the finest hour for band. Remaining today one of the most important bands of their generation, there have been few records released that are as powerful and perfectly executed as the final effort from The Animals, their tragically rare 1966 masterpiece, Animalism.
Standout tracks: "All Night Long," "The Other Side Of Life," and "Smokestack Lightning."