Friday, 29 May 2020

Eric Burdon









Eric Is Here (1967)


In The Night/Mama Told Me Not To Come/I Think It's Going To Rain Today/This Side Of Goodbye/That Ain’t Where It’s At/True Love (Comes Only Once In A Lifetime)/Help Me Girl/Wait Till Next Year/Losin’ Control/It’s Not Easy/The Biggest Bundle Of Them All/It’s Been A Long Time Comin’

Recorded in September 1966 and released in March 1967, this was credited as “Eric Burdon & The Animals”, but in reality it was Burdon backed by a big band, led by Horace Ott, who had co-written Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. The album veered far more towards brassy soul than the psychedelia that the next few albums would possess. It is very a much a bridging album between the r’n’b/blues of The Animals' first albums and the more adventurous, experimental psychedelic/hippy-influenced material that would follow. There is a poppiness to it, particularly in its second half that renders it a little bit inessential, although pleasant enough. The first half is much better.

In The Night is a very Chris Farlowe-esque number, one that is very representative of bluesy soul from the 1966-67 period. The subsequently much-covered Randy Newman song Mama Told Me Not To Come (notably by Tom Jones) is performed in a muscular, Van Morrison & Them style, with a keyboard riff dominating. A similar keyboard introduces the slow I Think It's Going To Rain Today, another Randy Newman song later covered by UB40 on their debut album. Burdon's version is very sixties brassy soul in style with that definite Stax/Volt influence, horns everywhere and big fatback drums too.

 

Gerry Goffin & Carole King's This Side Of Goodbye is also punchy and horn-driven while That Ain’t Where It’s At again has echoes of Van Morrison’s sound at the time, with its loose, brassy vibe. True Love (Comes Only Once In A Lifetime) is a slow pace Tom Jones/Chris Farlowe number. The backing vocals that sound like children is a bit of a clumsy interjection. Help Me Girl is very typical of the time, swinging, groovy, but soulful and Motown-ish at the same time.

Wait Till Next Year finds Burdon singing in character as a disaffected Geordie with a gruff regional accent. It is not one of the album’s better tracks. Losin’ Control is a heavily orchestrated but catchy song with a view bits of proggy strings here and there. It’s Not Easy is a poppy number. The strangely-titled The Biggest Bundle Of Them All is a frothy piece of Farlowe-esque, brassy pop. It reminds me of Farlowe’s cover of The StonesRide On Baby. The bluesy It’s Been A Long Time Comin’ is a return to the blues that runs through Burdon’s veins.

It is a bit of a strange album really - not fully blues, not fully pop, not yet psychedelic. Sort of typical of 1966-early 67’s music, I guess.








Winds Of Change (1967)


Winds Of Change/Poem By The Sea/Paint It Black/The Black Plague/Yes I Am Experience/San Franciscan Nights/Man - Woman/Hotel Hell/Good Times/Anything/It's All Meat

After the soul and big band brass sounds of Eric Is Here, this is the album, from later in 1967 (September) is the one that saw Eric Burdon go the same way as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and pretty much everyone else - he went hippy/Eastern/psychedelic and it was far-out, man. As on the next two albums, only drummer Barry Jenkins remained from the original Animals.

Winds Of Change was an aptly-titled opener as those so very 1967 Eastern vibes - sitars and druggy vocals - dominated. Burdon sings about the blues over a decidedly non-bluesy backing. He name-checks many legends as the guitar swirls all around, along with whistling wind sounds. Poem By The Sea is evocative but very predictable - its slow, brooding hippiness is exactly what one would have expected. It morphs into a cover of The Stones' Paint It Black that takes the song's Eastern influences to the max. Some have criticised it, but I like it. It is full of drugged-up verve, vitality and mystery. Burdon's improvised, bluesy vocals add to the song's appeal.

Late sixties music often liked to use a bit of monastic music as backing, and it happens here on the eerie, spoken-vocal The Black Plague. Imitation monks moan their chant and Burdon narrates his medieval-inspired tale of pestilence. It is very evocative, but possibly not something you would want to listen to over and over. It ends with a minute or so of spoken narrative with no music - all very prog rock/folky. Some haunting music returns to finally end the track.

 

Yes I Am Experienced is an "answer" to Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced question (although that album had not been released yet). It is an (obviously) Hendrix-influenced guitar-drive rock groove. San Franciscan Nights is a quirky piece of bluesy rock (at the beginning at least) before it changes into a hippy-influenced paean to the city's hippy pleasures. Man - Woman is a tabla-backed spoken example of 1967 indulgence that, despite, its obvious pretensions, carries a bizarre appeal along with it and some great guitar interjections too.

Hotel Hell has a sumptuous, deep bass line, some Mexican-ish guitars and brass, together with a sonorous Doors-style vocal and lots of druggy vibes. Good Times is a catchy, Stones-circa 1966 type of number. It could be from Aftermath. The "posh voice" end bit is so typical of the era - The Stones, The Small Faces, The Kinks all liked a bit of that. The slow ballad Anything has some Walker Brothers-style string orchestration and the album ends on an upbeat note with the Ravi Shankar and Eric Clapton name-checking It's All Meat. It was an album very much of its time, but not without its attractions.

For some inexplicable reason, the excellent psychedelic, autobiographical rock of When I Was Young was left off the album. Also a good track is the muscular, buzzy rock of Gratefully Dead.





The Twain Shall Meet (1968)


Monterey/Just The Thought/Closer To The Truth/No Self Pity/Orange And Red Beams/Sky Pilot/We Love You Lil/All Is One

This album, from May 1968, saw Eric Burdon going all psychedelic in a brave attempt to diversify from The Animals’ traditional r’nb’ blues rock sound. It is a beguiling, interesting album but personally, and I may be in a minority here, I prefer its follow up from four months later.

Monterey is a really enjoyable, catchy piece of hippy pop, name-checking The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, "His Majesty Prince Jones" (Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones) and Hugh Masekela (before a great trumpet blast from I'm not sure who, not the man himself), this is followed up by some deliciously dreamy sixties fare in the gentle strains of Just The Thought. The former track of the two definitely sounds more 1971 than 1968.

Closer Than The Truth is an earthy serving of psych-blues featuring that mid-late sixties rudimentary stereo panning from speaker to speaker and No Self Pity delivers some stark philosophy against a bleak drum and Eastern-style guitar (maybe a sitar?) backing. There is something Jagger-esque about Burdon's vocal on this one. Orange And Red Beams is a morose, overbearing harpsichord-driven track with some Beatles-esque brass in there. All very typical of late 1967 when it was recorded.

  

Sky Pilot is sort of psychedelic folk, with a Thin Lizzy-type tale of heroic soldiers and a Small Faces-influenced vibe to it. The backing is very fuzzy and representative of its era. After some bagpipes and sound effects in the middle, we then get a second part of the song that is more melodic, with some brass interjections and a fine bass sound.

We Love You Lil starts with the air from Lilli Marlene and progresses into a guitar-driven instrumental with lots of sound effects swirling around meant to sound like gunfire, a bit like Roxy Music did in 1972’s The Bob (Medley). Both of the latter two tracks were distinctly anti-war, which fitted the 1968 zeitgeist perfectly, the first lyrically, the second instrumentally. The bagpipes are back to introduce All Is One before some trance-like, Doors-influenced tabla and sitar join the party, man. Far out, Eric. He had gone all George Harrison, as they all seemed to be doing now. The track’s attack and urgency has something about it, however, as Burdon’s voice sounds a lot like Roger Daltrey. The track ends in frantic Rolling Stones fashion, like Midnight Rambler would do, maybe they had listened to this.

As I said, though, the next album did it for me more. Despite its idiosyncrasies, it had much better sound for a start. That doesn’t mean this one is not without merit. Both these Burdon albums went considerably under the radar, both at the time and since.
 




Every One Of Us (1968)


White Houses/Uppers And Downers/Serenade To A Sweet Lady/The Immigrant Lad/Year Of The Guru/St. James' Infirmary/New York 1963 - America 1968

This is an admittedly odd, but strangely appealing album by Eric Burdon (credited now as Eric Burdon & The Animals despite only one original Animal remaining, drummer Barry Jenkins). Also featuring were Vic Briggs, John Weider, Danny McCullough and blueser Zoot Money (credited as George Bruno). The album does its best to rid itself of any blues boom cobwebs and goes American/hippy (in theory) but a reasonable amount of that old instinctive bluesiness crops up every now and again, however. There are some bizarre odd parts on here, though, and they have rendered the album with something of a Marmite reputation. Personally, there is a quirky appeal to it.

The comparatively straightforward White Houses starts in rhythmic style. As it was 1968, tabla percussion is used and Burdon's vocal, both in sound and style, is very psychedelic. There are hints of Traffic's material from the same era. This is shaking off the British r'n'b of The Animals' 64-66 output, big time. As on a lot of this album, it features an impressive lead guitar solo. Uppers And Downers is a brief, twenty second bit of pub singalong jollity as Burdon and his mates drunkenly sing The Grand Old Duke Of York. The mood changes instantly on the beautiful instrumental Serenade To A Sweet Lady, with features John Weider on jazzy electric guitar, Kenny Burrell style. The bass is sumptuously melodic too. Great stuff.

An Immigrant Lad begins as a folk-inspired, Donovan and Dylanesque acoustic, narrative tale of a Geordie lad, blackened by the coal of his home city, travelling to London in search of work (a subject Eric liked to recycle) for three minutes or so and it ends with a few minutes of conversation in a pub between Burdon, playing the part of an intrinsically racist Geordie newcomer to "the smoke" and an unknown cockney, who comes across as far more tolerant, funnily enough. He is willing to live and let live and (possibly reluctantly, but he does it all the same) accept all sorts, whereas Geordie just wants to "gan hyem" as soon as possible, back to real pubs where women are not allowed and the only black-faced people have "come up from the pit, like...". It is actually an interesting social document. The singer of the folk song part is far more sensitive than the pub speaker, they don't really equate as being the same character.

  

The music returns on the contemporaneously-relevant and lyrically cynical Year Of The Guru, an upbeat piece of blues, rock and bar-room piano-driven fun, full of chunky lead guitar, a clappy beat and some bluesy, soulful ad hoc vocals. The much covered blues standard, St. James' Infirmary is done in typical 1968 blues rock style, with a great guitar solo, throbbing bass and a Clapton/Hendrix/Zeppelin feel to it. These two tracks contain the album's bluesiest moments.

The album ends with the mammoth nineteen minute New York 1963 - America 1968, which begins with a six-minute Bob Dylan-style folky narrative about Burdon's experience on first visiting America in 1963. After that we get a lengthy spoken narrative from a black man who trained as a pilot, but found himself still sadly lacking in the most basic of human rights. Eventually his vocal becomes more of a sung one as he improvises an I Feel Free theme. Some grungy, buzzy guitar arrives and he ends by singing that he will never be free. It is a sobering number and not an easy listen unless you are doing something else at the time, but there is something about it that is sort of infectious. Certainly the first "song" part of it is a fine creation. The point made by the song is laudable too, but maybe a few minutes could have been lost towards the end without lessening the power of the point that was being made.

This is actually an album that has worked its way into my system. It is a bold, adventurous and ultimately rewarding piece of work, way ahead of its time in many ways. The sound quality on it is superb too - warm, bassy and delivered in an impressive stereo.





2 comments:

  1. Can't wait to hear that Eric is Here album because I've never heard it. It's the only one that isn't easy to find. I listened to Winds of Change last night and I still think it's more weird than it is good. I actually like Love Is a lot better. And I don't remember Every One of Us very well so I have to listen to that too. The Twain Shall Meet has the two great peaks of the hits but the rest isn't nearly as good. I agree that When I was Young is totally great. A real high point in their career in my opinion. It might even be the second or third-best.

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  2. Some of them are challenging listens, but I always try to find the good in most albums. The weird stuff has its appeal but in a sort of only listen to it once every three years way.

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