Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Burden of Being Eric Burdon

When I was a little boy I didn't know much about sex but the minute I heard "Boom Boom" by The Animals I thought it was the sexiest song I'd ever heard. I didn't know it was a heavily tarted up version of a John Lee Hooker song, all I know was that I felt the vibe the band projected, and I felt pretty funny all over at the time. "House of The Rising Sun" was their biggest hit, a very jazzy reading of an old Leadbelly folk tune that completely transcended the sharecropper fields by Eric Burdon's East End working class Angry Young Man voice. It definitely didn't end there!

"It's My Life" and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" were further raw slices of intense Albert Finney-style anger served by Mr. Burdon set to the jazziest organ in British rock. (Rod Argent of The Zombies was more classical than jazz to my ears). When Burdon drops to a baritone when he sings "I don't need your sympathy" in "Inside Looking Out" it gives me chills. His reading of Donovan's "Hey Gyp" makes more sense than the original, altering the original's "I don't need you sugar cube" to "I don't need your Cadillac, long, shiny, cool and black", pouring out more sex again. And let's not forget recalling his first sexual experience in "When I Was Young", "She was brown and I was pretty green".

Making the transition from Mod groovers to Psychedelic explorers has always been rough terrain for some bands (The Kinks, The Zombies, etc.) but for others like The Who it was a slam dunk. The Animals really took to psychedelia with sometimes hysterically bad results. Ironically, though it's really entertaining kitsch! "A Girl Named Sandoz" is a love song to acid with some tasty vibes, but then there's the cringe-worthy "San Franciscan Nights" with it's silly spoken introduction urging one and all to move to Haight-Ashbury. No matter how bad the lyrics Burdon sings with so much conviction you almost want to believe everything he sings. But common sense tells you not to.

"Winds of Change" is one of his name-drop tunes, where he tells us about the history of music, "Frank Zappa zapped...The Mamas and Papas knew where it's at". I'm not making this shit up! At least he roll calls jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Cozy Cole, so he's not just playing pop favorites. But the roll call continues with "Monterey" with it's Big Girl Lost in The Bigger City music stolen from The Mothers of Invention's "Call Any Vegetable" (Zappa produced an Animals album, so maybe he okayed it). The roll calls got sillier: "Hugh Masakela's music was black as night...His Majesty, Prince (Brian) Jones smiled as he moved through the crowd...Even the cops grooved with us".

If there's one thing that's unimpeachable about Burdon, it's the soulful sincerity of his music whether he's crooning a cool bluesy number like "Club A Go-Go" or goes tropical in "White Houses" ("you better get straight") or goes Disney African on us with "Spill The Wine". Whether he's at the top of his game or playing the migraine hipster Eric Burdon is never boring.

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