Of all the cudgel-toting barbarians who washed up on American shores in the frontline of the British Invasion, it’s a cliche to say that the Animals were the most deserving of both their name and their designation. But it’s true. Other bands may have looked rougher (the Stones), others may have behaved worse (the Pretty Things), and so forth. But when it came to actively plugging in and plowing through their repertoire, the Animals possessed a whacked, wired wildness that had absolutely zero peers.
The component elements should be familiar to all – Eric Burdon’s deep friend vocal, the blues wailing bellow of his generation; Alan Price’s Behemothic organ; a rhythm section that took no prisoners; guitar lines that scythed from the undergrowth like sniper fire.
The repertoire, too, is a part of history. “House of the Rising Sun” was, is, and forever will be the Animals’ signature tune; “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” are just a few yards behind; and then there’s the band’s ability to reach into every corner of American blues and rock’n’roll history, and reduce it to livid magma.
Did anybody make a mightier mountain from Chuck Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee”? Did Elias MacDaniels even recognize what they did to “The Story of Bo Diddley”? Did Little Richard go to bed at nights wishing his “Girl Can’t Help It” was as willful as the Animals? Their bright lights were brighter, their big city was bigger, their road runner raced, and when Burdon sang “I Put A Spell On You,” even Screaming Jay Hawkins was bewitched.
All of which should prepare you for an evening in the Animals’ company, courtesy of The Mickie Most Years and More, a five CD (plus bonus T-shirt) box set that comprises four of the five albums the band released in the US before Burdon’s name was added to their title, and effectively serves up an alternate history of an invasion that wasn’t commanded by the Beatles. For there’s not a hint of envy, a scrap of competitiveness, a hint of John-and-Paulyness about a note of the music herein.
And there’s not many Brit bands of the same generation that you can say that about.
Other bonuses. A fifth disc comprising the four track EP that the Animals cut while still Alan Price’s R&B Combo. A dozen stray tracks that didn’t make it onto the album, appended to the LP that they best accompany. Brief liner notes attached to each album. And, of course, a cube-shaped box which looks pretty sad once you’ve removed the T-shirt, and realize that the CDs take up less than half the space, but is great for storing all your later Burdon albums in.
Personally, I’d have been happier losing the T-shirt and replacing it with some more commanding literature. The Animals’ story cannot even be scratched across a mere five sides of jewel-cased cardboard, no matter how tiny the type is, and given ABKCo’s relentless grasp upon this material, if their own Animals box doesn’t treat them right, there’s nobody else going to have the chance.
From an historical point of view, too, one could also question the decision to reprise the American albums, with all their mix-and-matching of material from a host of different sessions. After all, if the Beatles catalog can be remastered in the form that its makers envisaged, why not the Animals? In fact, why not everyone?
But then you remember a review, a few years ago, of an imported twofer comprising the Troggs’ first two albums, and a review that sniped “they’re full of filler, the US Wild Thing was so much better” (or words to that effect). No less than the Capitol Beatles and London Stones, for an audience that grew up on this side of the wet stuff, these are the original albums. Besides, they’re certainly a lot easier to listen to than messing about with b-sides and EPs and all the other doodahs that the UK market was forced to grope through. (Although talking of EPs, that Manfred Mann EP Collection box set that just came out is killer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Okay, let’s tick some boxes. Sound quality is great, although it’s unclear how much was actually remastered for this set, and how much dates from the last time the Animals catalog was given the once-over a decade ago. Packaging is… minimal, really; simple jewel cases with the front and back covers of the original jackets reproduced within (bring your magnifying glass). The box is functional and the T-shirt lets you advertise its existence everywhere you go.
But the music… ah, the music. Five CDs scream out of the speaker with a dirty defiance that might not prompt a wholesale re-evaluation of the Animals’ place in the British Invasion league standings; they will forever be Top Ten, without ever endangering the Big Four. But it will remind you how much they deserve that ranking; how there was so much more to the band than oldies radio admits; how precious few bands have ever had the electrifying chemistry that bound the original band (and producer Mickie Most) together…
…and how much we need a similar package that tells the rest of the story. Those Eric Burdon And… albums that say as much for the madness of the second half of the 1960s as these do for the first.