Eric Burdon &
The Animals dream of California in 1966
|Mike's Pith & Wind
My first band, The Chants, later
rebranded Chants R&B, didn’t know it at the time, but
despite the prevailing hype they were simply a ‘cover band’.
They didn’t know it because the term, even without today’s
derogatory connotations, had yet to be invented and was anyway redundant
primarily because all the bands in those days were cover
bands - even after The Beatles had arrived, most of the bands in
Christchurch were still purveying their Shadows’ schtick with
their matching pink Stratocasters and fancy steps. I guess they
were reluctant to relinquish their ‘tribute’ for what
was surely a fad that was bound to fade away as quickly as it had
exploded into the public’s consciousness.
The Chants won a couple of band competitions playing Beatles’
stuff, one of them even before we had settled on The Chants as a
name, but we were already moving into the output of the Stones and
other more obscure English ‘rhythm and blues’ bands
and our securing a residency at the Kingbee Kellar (later The Stagedoor)
meant we had a guaranteed audience of young mods who would follow
us down any and all of our preferred musical paths.
One of those UK bands whose repertoire we plundered was The Animals.
I remember seeing a film clip of the band uncomfortably miming House
of the Rising Sun and marvelling at Eric Burdon’s acne-scarred
face - I also remember the subsequent rush by local bands to acquire
Vox organs just like Alan Price’s.
Alan Price was an exceptional player mind you, but the rest of the
Animals, apart from Eric Burdon (who later famously described himself
as an ‘overfed, long haired leaping gnome’ but was so
much more than that) were competent rather than outstanding players,
putting their versions of American blues songs well within reach
of beginners like ourselves.
The Animals’ version of The House of the Rising Sun
a ‘traditional’ folk song (i.e. in the public
realm), still sounds an exceptional pop record mostly due to Burdon’s
vocal bravado and Price’s playing - the pair carried the band
to a position of breaking in the States before the wheels fell off.
(I think it was Price’s reluctance to travel by air that scuppered
thoughts of the original band's US success, although I remember
a pic of the organ-less band in Billboard magazine where they’d
adopted the American penchant for low-slung guitars).
One of the more unusual songs they released in 1965 was Don’t
Let Me Be Misunderstood, which I thought was one of theirs
at the time, although it was a superior song to their usual releases.
The Chants probably covered it at the Stagedoor, but I can’t
One evening I had dropped off Chants’ drummer Trevor Courtney
at his girlfriend’s place and was alone for a few minutes
in my Gran’s Holden EK. I turned on the radio to while away
the time - and in the next few minutes my musical world was changed.
It was such a different arrangement it took quite some time for
it to dawn on me that I knew the song - it was Don’t Let
Me Be Misunderstood.
I was so overwhelmed that if I’d been standing up I would’ve
sunk to my knees. As it was I was slumped in my seat in shock and
awe at the arrangement and performance of a song that until this
moment I thought I knew. The arrangement was diametrically opposite
to the Animals’ hit single version - glacial in tempo, elaborate,
sophisticated and orchestral for gawd’s sake and
the female singer’s reading intimate and controlled, but at
the same time disturbing. The end result for me was that this version
was infinitely more passionate and dramatic than The Animal’s
Of course, it was Nina Simone and her version of Don’t
Let Me Be Misunderstood had hit me square between the eyes
and gone straight to my naive soul. I wasn’t even aware of
Nina Simone until that moment, but I credit her with opening my
eyes and ears to the potential for artistic expression in pop music.
Oddly enough, it turns out that hers was the original version of
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and her single had
been released a full year before The Animals’ version –
it apparently wasn’t a hit for her so maybe that’s why
I hadn’t heard it till that moment.
She didn’t write the song, even though it sounds as though
she might have – it could even be interpreted as some sort
of personal manifesto. (The B-side of the single was a song called
Monster, which I’m not familiar with but might also
tend to back-up the manifesto theory).
It turns out the song was actually written by a chap called Horace
Ott (originally uncredited) with his writing partners, Bennie Benjamin
and Sol Marcus, who wrote four other numbers for Nina’s 1964
album, Broadway-Blues-Ballads. Horace Ott was also the
arranger and conductor for the entire album. As they say, who knew?
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but Eric Burdon also figures in
the following thoughts on Other Versions, this time other versions
of original band line-ups.
I have to confess that I was very pleased when Jimmie Nicol went
home and we in Christchurch got the original line-up of the legendary
Beatles with Ringo reinstalled on the drum stool. And when, after
half a dozen or more support acts, The Beatles finally materialised
on stage (for their fastest thirty minute set of the Australasian
tour), I was thoroughly satisfied just to be looking at the band
of my dreams and drinking in just the way they looked in
their silver-grey suits with the contrasting collars and (shockingly)
longer hair than I had ever seen them sporting in magazines.
I really wanted all my musical heroes to appear with the original
line-up intact, and I was lucky to see bands like The Rolling Stones
and the Beach Boys’ with line-ups intact, but it wasn’t
always the case.
Like The Animals for instance. Alan Price wasn’t with the
band when I saw them at Festival Hall in 1967 and neither was the
rest of the original band. In fact, they weren’t even billed
as The Animals – they were now Eric Burdon and The New
Animals and, on this unlikely package (loved the packages) they
were touring with Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich and Paul &
Barry Ryan with a couple of local bands.
They had a single charting When I was Young (which contains
the immortal punchline 'And I was so much older then, When I was
young’) that reached #2 in Australia. It didn’t do as
well as that in other markets though and it was another single,
San Franciscan Nights, that got them the ticket to famously
appear at the Monterey Festival
Eric and the band had relocated to California in 1966 after the
original band had dissolved and although this band was keyboardless,
it boasted two guitarists with contrasting looks and styles - the
dark-haired Jewish-looking John Weider played violin in addition
to guitar, (as seen on the When I was Young clip) which
I’d not seen before, although Jimmy Paige played his guitar
with a bow when he appeared at Festival Hall with The Yardbirds.
The band was writing the material jointly at this stage and they
were free-falling into an experimental psychedelia phase. The band’s
late appearance on stage that night (blamed by the hapless Stan
Rofe on the drummer, who’d reportedly locked himself in his
hotel room) reinforced the anarchic feel they projected with their
Even though I had no preconceptions about the ‘new’
Animals I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s Festival Hall appearance
in 1967. The inherited band name gave them a platform to launch
something almost entirely unrelated to the blues-based era of the
original Animals and the Monterey appearance gave Eric Burdon carte
blanche to take his new direction as far as he liked.
Sometimes challenging expectations can be a good thing for everybody
concerned. Sometimes, no matter what you’ve got invested in
the memory of an original version of a song or of a band, another
version or even a completely new version may turn out to be stronger,
more life-changing than the original.
I’m still glad I saw the The Beatles with Ringo though.
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familia looking like a fairy-tale castle
The year is 1980 and my wife and I are in Barcelona a city that
was still a long way from seeing the 1992 make-over that the Olympics
will bring. It is grey, dirty, replete with a gypsies begging and
picking pockets. Overall it is rather depressing. The Franco era
had ended in 1975 but the feeling that the orthodoxies of the regime
were still oppressively in place were not overcome by the pornographic
magazines displayed everywhere and the abundance of adds for cheap
liquor. Both these traits were aptly brought together in the unlikely
product of Fockink gin, a product of the Netherlands widely displayed
above the graffitied walls usually covered by political posters
from an incredible number of political parties. There were always
a large number of grey people on the streets, not happy just being
there. Las Ramblas was not a joyful throng of humanity but rather
a milling dirge of people wondering what was going to happen next.
We were travelling on a very limited amount of money per day which
meant that sometimes we stayed in insalubrious places. The first
in hotel would have been terrific except it was right on the waterfront
where the trucks and trains came to load and unload at four in the
morning; but when you arrive in a foreign city by train at around
midnight not speaking any Spanish it was the only bet. The second
hotel, which was only a dollar a night more and nearer the Picasso
museum was seamier but a least quiet. My description was that it
was a dark, damp and decaying dump but not the worst place we ever
stayed in – an honour that goes to ‘The Diplomat’
in New York.
The reason that we were in Barcelona was primarily to see the architecture
of Gaudi who, in those days, was not on the general tourist route
- unless you were on a serious art and architecture bash of three
months duration. But even then Gaudi was just coming into wider
focus as a couple of his buildings featured in Michelangelo Antonioni’s
film ‘The Passenger’ which starred Jack Nicholson and
Maria Schneider, the latter who played and architecture student
in Barcelona in a butter-free manner. In the 1980’s some of
Gaudi’s’ buildings were quite neglected and inaccessible
- the Casa Mila was a bingo hall covered with neon signs.
My knowledge of Gaudi was largely confined to the references in
Jansen’s ‘History of Art’, the large art history
bible that steered thousands of students across the international
galaxy of stuff that you were meant to know. But the trip was also
informed by a friend of ours Norbert Loeffler who lectured in Art
History and came up with an adjunct visiting list of out-of-the-way
galleries across Europe and the United States. It was he who said
that if you saw one thing in Europe it was Gaudi’s Sagrada
Familia in Barcelona.
And he was right, but we were very fortunate to see it in a way
that nobody does today. There were no buses, no tourists and just
three workmen gathered around a brazier keeping warm in what would
be the nave of the building. In several broken languages we asked
if we could explore the place. They had no issues or no insurance
worries so we climbed over everything, piles of stone rough-cut
or partially worked and even up the four original towers. These
were the only ones built at the time and which had just been recently
capped. We left as the sun set and it was too dangerous to continue.
My handwritten notes just said’…. Worth going 12,000
miles to see. The most incredible building, or bit of a building,
I have ever seen. Kept looking up and going boggle. Went up the
towers and more boggle.‘
(I found four slides as well all of which look like they have been
walked on by somebody in hob-nailed boots. )
We returned in 2004 and had no trouble in finding the building in
a city that was now clean, bustling and the image of modern Catalan
Spain. We just followed the hundreds of buses and the thousands
of tourists. 122 years after construction started the Sagrada Familia
was now a destination for every tour of Barcelona and every ship
that docked in the port.
Now over 4.5 million visitors pay between 17 and 38 euros ($27.50
and $61.50) each to tour the cathedral-sized church every year and
most of them will be there on the day you arrive.
There were many ways in which it was a more informative experience.
The architectural models were on display and the place was being
worked on so there was more to see but even then I thought that
the new bits were not really in sympathy with the original. The
difference in sculptural and architectural style was differing more
and more from what I imagined the original intent was. When Gaudi
was working on the building a sculpture was worked on, then hoisted
into place to see if it looked right in the context of the building.
If it seemed in the slightest way incongruous it was brought down
and reworked until it fitted. Progress was slow, it grew organically
especially as the building was funded by inadequate donations after
Gaudi died after being hit by a tram.
All his was brought back to my mind after a news item that caught
my eye. The Barcelona City Hall finally had issued a work permit
for the unfinished church 137 years after construction started.
Barcelona officials said there was no record the 1885 plans were
granted or rejected. Now permission is secured, it is hoped the
church will be completed in 2026, a century after Gaudi's death.
Barcelona officials said the city will be paid 4.6 million euros
($7.4 million) in fees under an agreement negotiated with a foundation
devoted to completing and preserving La Sagrada Familia, the money
also going to improve connectivity with the Barcelona metro so that
more people can go and look.
Over 4.5 million visitors pay between 17 and 38 euros ($27.50 and
$61.50) each to tour the cathedral-sized church every year which
is more than 12,000 a day but it is estimated that 20 million tourists
stand outside to marvel at the bell towers.
When the building is eventually finished it will no doubt be magnificent
– but I don’t think that it will be a genuine Gaudi
- but rather a tribute to the dedication of thousands of donors,
architects, engineers and craftsmen who have completed a slightly
Walt Disney version of the original version.
Very few will have seen what we saw many years ago, will never have
seen the ragged towers soaring into the sky, lonely in their magnificence.
The vestiges of hope defiant after more than 100 years. Waiting.
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