The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we look at The Animals’ The Best of the Animals.
For those of you not up on your classic rock curriculum, The Animals were a UK group formed in the early 1960s. The band’s line-up would go through some changes–through the 60s especially–but for the purposes of this review the line-up included: Eric Burdon (lead vocals), Alan Price (keyboards), Dave Rowberry (keyboards & backing vocals), Hilton Valentine (guitar), Chas Chandler (bass) and John Steel (drums).
The material that would eventually appear on The Best of the Animals was recorded in 1964 and 1965. It would become the group’s premiere greatest hits compilation. They were the only band to approach the genres of blues and soul with the single-minded devotion of The Rolling Stones prior to 1965 at least.
Side One of this collection opens on the classic Atkins-D’Errico composition “It’s My Life”. This was a statement of purpose written just for this band although others would later go on to cover it. It’s from 1966 and featured Rowberry in one of his first appearances on keyboards and backing vocals. It peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The second selection was written by Johnnie Mae Matthews and John Hammond Jr. It’s titled “Gonna Send You Back to Walker”. This was their first song to make the Billboard Hot 100 climbing to number 57.
The next number is the band’s version of Sam Cooke’s 1962 song “Bring It On Home to Me”. It’s both a lesser known song and perhaps one of the most influential pieces in terms of shaping the genre of rock ‘n’ roll.
Another cover, the group’s take on John Lee Hooker’s “I’m Mad Again” follows here. The side closes on perhaps one of their most popular and successful songs “The House of the Rising Sun” going on to be their only transatlantic number one hit. This take of the Price- arranged piece is actually an unedited version. Burdon’s deep voice and the band’s bluesy, gritty signature sound were perhaps best exemplified here.
The flip side opens on the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil work “We Gotta Get out of This Place”. This particular anthem is the famous “U.S. ’mistaken’ version” and also includes one of Rowberry’s earliest appearances on keyboards and backing vocals. Released in 1965 the rock song would climb to number 13 thanks in part to its popularity among the armed forces serving in Vietnam.
The second selection on this side is a cover of John Lee Hooker’s 1961 upbeat stop-time tune “Boom Boom” which reveals a bit of the predominant Hooker-blues influence. They made it a minor hit a few years later (1965) hitting the charts at number 43. The covers continue here with their version of Fats Domino’s lesser known number “I’m In Love Again”.
Also included here is “Roberta”. This was written by Huey “Piano” Smith and Johnny Vincent. All too soon it’s overshadowed by the band’s first original hit “I’m Crying”. Written by Price and Burdon, it would rise to number 19 on the charts.
The closing cut is another noteworthy number “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. This classic, composed by Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus and Gloria Caldwell, would make it to number 15 in 1965. The tracks demonstrate that the band was just as imaginative and resourceful as any other band in the British Invasion.
Released in February 1966 on MGM in the US and elsewhere, it would not be put out in the UK due to a similarity to another album already on the racks there. With a running time of almost 32 minutes it was a commercial success rising to number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart. It would be a high point in their career. Five months later it would become their only gold record and remain on the charts for two years.
Their catalog of songs would somehow end up in terrible disarray and other compilation albums with the same name (and even sometimes the same cover) but slightly different playlists would be released as the years went on including a CD reissue in 1988. Rolling Stone magazine slotted The Best of The Animals into a 1960s section of a list of 200 essential rock albums in 1997. The new millennium would witness a re-issue of the release that would include additional bonus tracks.
Allmusic even recently rated it a five-star album. It ably showcases the band’s tough-edged pop pieces as well as their devotion to R&B and the blues. In short, The Animals’ The Best of the Animals/MGM E/SE-4324 belies better, more powerful material than most music fans would ever initially expect from this band.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.