With the Fifties rehashed past the point of musical surfeit, the rich body of Sixties rock must now have its day. Important innovations like surf music and the girl-group sound (particularly Phil Spector’s creations) have already been resurrected. And now the music of the crucial, nearly ten-year-old British invasion, so significant in revitalizing the spirit of rock & roll in ’64-’65, is being revived as well.
British Invasion bands can be divided into two categories — those inspired by classic Fifties rock ‘n’ roll and hard-core R&B, and those who derived their approach from early Sixties pop music. ABKCO Records’ first two British anthologies feature one group of each type. The Animals, with the Stones, were the most prominent example of the former (other important contributors including Manfred Mann, Them, the Pretty Things and the early Yardbirds and Who), and they were exceptionally adept at it. With Eric Burdon’s impassioned vocals and Alan Price’s creative organ superimposed over a throbbing rhythm section, their ’64-’66 (pre-psychedelic) legacy is one of the most impressive of the era.
Best of the Animals, despite a certain shoddiness, conveys the rocking excellence of the group. Hits like “Baby Let Me Take You Home,” “I’m Crying” and “It’s My Life” sound great, and the neglected flip side, “Cheating,” is a fine rocker. But the amusingly cheesy cover, irrelevant liner notes, general brevity and randomized order are all detriments. More importantly, three of the Animals’ biggest and best ’66 hits, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “See Rider” and “Inside Looking Out,” are missing and unaccountably replaced by a multitude of odd and often unimpressive LP cuts. There’s also a strange and inferior alternate take used for “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
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All is almost forgiven for the inclusion of the Animals’ crowning achievement, “The Story of Bo Diddley.” It’s a humorous capsule history of rock & roll, which utilizes all the right cliches and incorporates interesting snatches of key historical hits, from Johnny Otis’ “Crazy Country Hop” to a contemptuous bit of “Take Good Care of My Baby,” together with snatches from the Beatles and Stones. Price’s organ holds it together, and Burdon’s sardonic commentary culminates in Bo Diddley describing the Animals as “the biggest load of rubbish I ever heard in my whole life!” You might pick up the anthology for this cut alone (but you might be better off hunting for the original on Animal Tracks and looking for other old albums as well).
Herman’s Hermits’ package comes off better — 18 of 20 tracks (a shamefully scanty total for a purportively comprehensive anthology, especially when all the cuts are of the two-minute variety) were legitimate hits. The other two cuts (flip sides) are OK, although the compilers might have opted for two big British singles, “Show Me Girl” and “You Won’t Be Leaving,” instead. The LPs reveal once and for all that Peter Noone & Co. were a first-rate pop group.
Disregard the music hall piffle (“Mrs. Brown,” “Henry VIII,” etc.); Noone always took it as a purely exploitative joke, and a pretty good one on us it was. But the group recorded many excellent pop tunes with pretty melodies, fine harmonies and surprisingly solid instrumentals. Some of the best pop tunesmiths of the day churned out songs for the Hermits (Goffin-King, Graham Gouldman, Ray Davies and P.F. Sloan), and hits like “No Milk Today,” “Hold On,” “Don’t Go Out Into the Rain,” “I’m Into Something Good” and “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” make for extraordinarily enjoyable listening.
London Records has managed to avoid shoddy anthologies by reissuing two of their early catalog items intact, with the original covers and songs. Alan Price, currently prominent via his soundtrack for O Lucky Man!, left the Animals in ’65 and formed the Alan Price Set, which had a number of big British hits. Some of these were gathered together on a late ’67 American LP called This Price Is Right, finally making its reappearance now. Price’s music is cabaret/music hall-oriented, with a shuffling R&B feeling as well. His pleasantly mellow vocals and expressive piano, added to his previously demonstrated organ abilities (best exemplified here on the minor US hit “I Put a Spell on You”), make for a thoroughly listenable LP. Five Randy Newman songs (Price was one of his earliest boosters) stand out, and originals like “Don’t Do That Again” and “House That Jack Built” are also noteworthy. There’s plenty more Price in London’s vaults, and one hopes a second volume will be forthcoming soon.
If any group ever deserved a comprehensive retrospective it is the Zombies. As part of the reissue fever roaring through the record industry, their first hit, “She’s Not There,” has been re-released, accompanied by their first LP. The Zombies, with their complex chord constructions, the wistful reflectiveness of their songs and Colin Blunstone’s fragile, breathy vocals, were always mavericks. It shows on even their earliest work, with delightfully delicate original material like “I Don’t Want to Know” and “What More Can I Do” contrasting almost irreconcilably with inept R&B renditions of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” and “Can’t Nobody Love You.” However, adding in their first two hits, the unforgettable “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No,” the package becomes an unqualified plus, one you shouldn’t pass up if you missed it before.
There are countless Zombie delights moldering in the can or on inaccessibly rare singles or English pressings. Even taking into account London’s fine 1969 Early Days package, there’s enough material for an excellent anthology — if done right. With these four packages (and previous Kinks and Them collections, the former easily the most admirable effort so far), the initial steps of making the music available have been taken. Now it is up to the companies to lavish still more extensive care and attention on this lastingly vital and exciting British rock & roll — the time is definitely right.