Digging into the review copy of the new 5-CD boxed set The Animals: The Mickie Most Years & More (Abkco), to be released on 26 November, I was immediately reminded of my first visit to London in 1983.
I found an inexpensive hotel off Kings Road in Chelsea, hoping that there might be some remnants of the punk rock movement. Needless to say, I was too late; not a mohawk to be found. I remember getting checked in by a very pregnant woman; she gave birth the next day. With 24 hours rest, she was back at the front desk the following day.
Her cockney husband, about 10 to 15 years older than me, also worked at the hotel. He took a liking to me, and I ended up trading him an extra New York Times t-shirt I had in exchange for a biography of the great British actor Alec Guinness. The barter was his idea. Not sure why, and why we didn't get into my obsession with kitchen-sink British film and television, such as Monty Python's Flying Circus.
We did, however, talk about music. The hotel manager was impressed by my encyclopedic knowledge of British rock from the 1960s and 1970s. He told me how his and his mates' favourite band had been The Animals, who were working class like them, even though the group hailed from Newcastle. They used to crash concerts all over London when the Animals played at local colleges.
He didn't have to sell me on The Animals. I already cherished my battered vinyl copies of Animalization (among the CDs in the new release) and The Best of The Animals, and told him that I preferred The Animals, Yardbirds and Kinks in that era to the more popular and successful Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The ragtag Animals oozed a sturdy realness when playing American R&B that lacked in the cover versions presented slickly by the Fab Four and Jagger & Richards & Co.
In "The Story of Bo Diddley" The Animals mockingly refer to the Beatlemania phenomenon, almost to imply that the Liverpool lads might be more successful, but the Newcastle gang pay homage to American bluesmen in a more much respectful manner.
I was too young to see The Animals perform in their heyday, and thought I might in 1994 when they were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria, for which I had a press pass.
All the original band members except lead singer Eric Burdon showed up to collect their awards. According to Burdon's 2001 autobiography Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, he was chuffed about the recognition, but couldn't afford to give up an already booked gig in Germany. That was also the explanation provided at the Hall of the Fame event.
Bassist Chas Chandler (who went on to manage Jimi Hendrix) said during the press conference he wanted to wear a button on his lapel that stated "I don't know where the fuck Eric Burdon is."
Apparently, Chandler (who died in 1996) had to often answer that question back in the mid-1960s. Keyboardist Alan Price didn't say a word at the Waldorf press conference, and looked pretty pissed off during the proceedings.
Apparently, there's still some friction over Price getting songwriting royalties from the sales of "House of the Rising Sun," as the result of the band's manager assigning sole credit to Price even though the entire band was responsible for the arrangement of the traditional folk ballad, and although Price's organ certainly made the song memorable, so did Hilton Valentine's electric guitar chord progressions. (Valentine will be guesting with the garage band The Headless Horsemen on 23 November at Manhattan's The Bowery Electric.)
The Animals' complete history from 1964-1966 is annotated in the liner notes. I wish I could say the packaging matched the uniformly excellent newly re-mastered music found on the CDs' 51 tracks, but it appears the label skimped a bit on providing a deluxe package (jewel cases?!), when compared to its fine job on last year's vintage Stones set.