2/02/2011

"When I Was Young": The Psychedelic Regeneration of Eric Burdon and The Animals

Eric Burdon and The Animals came together as a new band in late 1966, after The Animals, one of the biggest of the many British bands who became famous during the swinging years of the middle 1960s, had fallen into a situation of discord that resulted in their breakup. When Eric Burdon and The Animals released their first single, "When I Was Young," in April of 1967, it showed that Eric Burdon, who had been the singer with The Animals from their beginning, was seeking a new direction in his musical style. For the rest of that mind-expanding year and into the next year, Eric Burdon and his band remained in the vanguard of the psychedelic revolution.

The Animals had started out as The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, at the Club A'Gogo in Newcastle, England, in the early 1960s. The five musicians (Eric Burdon, Alan Price on keyboards, Hilton Valentine on guitar, Chas Chandler on bass, and John Steel on drums) dedicated themselves to playing blues and jazz, and changed their collective name to The Animals when they moved down to London in 1964. The Animals soon had a worldwide hit, "The House of the Rising Sun," and were an active part of the British Invasion that followed The Beatles across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.

Alan Price left The Animals in 1965, and John Steel departed in 1966. By the end of 1966, after having released a number of hits in addition to "House of the Rising Sun" ("I'm Crying," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," "Don't Bring Me Down"), the band was finished. In early 1967, Eric Burdon moved to California, settling in San Francisco for a time, and then assembled a new lineup, known as Eric Burdon and The Animals, with Vic Briggs on guitar and piano, John Weider on guitar and violin, Danny McCulloch on bass, and Barry Jenkins on drums.

The first single by the new lineup began with a thunderous outcry from an electric guitar, giving way to a sound that was dark and striking. "When I Was Young," written by Eric Burdon with the band, features the bold tones of John Weider's violin, along with a forceful drumbeat from Barry Jenkins. The pained voice of Eric Burdon, sometimes wailing with heavy echo, tells a bleak story of lost youth and deep regret. The powerful elements of the track are skillfully combined to convey an overall mood of confusion and desolation. The flip side of the single, "A Girl Named Sandoz," reflects the degree to which Eric Burdon, in common with The Beatles and other musicians of the 1960s, had happily embraced the hallucinogenic properties of LSD. (Sandoz Laboratories provided the first quantities of lysergic acid diethylamide to the world.)

"When I Was Young" was followed by another single, "San Franciscan Nights," a gentle song that offers Eric Burdon's observations of street life in San Francisco, and an album, Winds of Change, that includes a cover of "Paint It, Black" (first recorded by The Rolling Stones in 1966), and "Yes I Am Experienced," a track intended as a response to the open question posed in "Are You Experienced?" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. In June of 1967, Eric Burdon and The Animals performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival, one of the major gatherings that happened during the Summer of Love. Later in 1967, the band wrote and recorded a new song, "Monterey," in honor of their appearance at the festival.

Eric Burdon and The Animals continued their psychedelic journey in 1968, releasing three more albums in the course of that year. The Twain Shall Meet, the first of the three, includes "Sky Pilot" (also released as a single), a musically adventurous track that uses guitars, drums, bagpipes, and the sounds of battle to depict the violence and inhumanity of war. Among the best tracks on the next album, Every One of Us (released only in the United States) are "White Houses," a song that archly describes the shallowness and hypocrisy of life in the suburbs, and "St. James Infirmary," a heavy rendering of an old song that carries the same kind of earthy feeling as "House of the Rising Sun." Love Is, a double album that was released toward the end of 1968, features the talents of Zoot Money (a leading figure among players of jazz and soul in London) on keyboards, and Andy Summers (who later gained fame as a member of The Police) on guitar.

In early 1969, Eric Burdon and The Animals broke up, after two years of steady touring and four albums of provocative music. Eric Burdon, always restless and once again seeking a new direction for himself, quickly went on to record and perform with War, a band from Los Angeles, and had a hit in 1970 with "Spill the Wine." Although Eric Burdon and The Animals had a fairly brief history together, their albums and singles stand as heady examples of the inventive musicality that flourished during the psychedelic days of the 1960s.