MAYBE I’M DREAMING: Eric Burdon & the New Animals

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The years 1967 and 1968 brought more than just the winds of change for the British singer—as illustrated on a pair of key new reissues, it was also a time for rearranging styles, priorities, and minds. Pictured above are Burdon and his new crop of Animals at the start of the journey; at the bottom of the page, the same men after taking more than a few musical trips.

BY FRED MILLS

It’s no secret that during the Sixties, LSD rearranged many a musician’s perspective—sonically, aesthetically, culturally, politically; even literally, for some artists, sadly, took trips from which they never returned. Eric Burdon, frontman for British Invasion hitmakers The Animals, even let it shift him geographically, having found “enlightenment” circa 1966 and, with his band splintering in the wake of extreme mismanagement and infighting, decided to put together a fresh ensemble, eventually relocating to California. At the time it may have seemed folly, given that the group probably could’ve continued to reap commercial rewards on the back of such mega-smashes as “The House of the Rising Sun” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” but at that point the lineup was already in flux (keyboardist Alan Price, a core member, had left a year prior). And Burdon himself was plotting a solo album (Eric Is Here), and as suggested above, and the seeds of transition had been planted.

Eric Is Here spawned a modest hit, “Help Me Girl,” although since the album was billed as “Eric Burdon & The Animals” the general public was probably unware that the, er, “winds of change” were blowing for the singer. Indeed, the fresh group, sometimes referred to as Eric Burdon & the New Animals, commenced operations in December of ’66 and went on to record the album Winds of Change the following March (the same month Eric Is Here was released) for the MGM label under the tutelage of house producer Tom Wilson, who also worked with the Velvet Underground.

Winds of Change

Burdon published a manifesto on the front sleeve of Winds of Change, one which might also be characterized as a call to arms (or even a chemically-inspired confession):

“I love you all and want you to gain something from these new sounds as I gain from listening to my saints in past years. If you feel alone and confused and unhappy discontented, just know that I (and there are many like me) love you, and maybe you’ll know why I am happy contented and un-confused. The games I play are mostly games of children (not all) happy games, games of love, games of mystery, games of wonder…”

Games indeed. The album was released in September 1967, by which time Burdon was living in the States and had had his mind additionally blown by the Monterey Pop Festival that summer (more on that later). The WoC lineup featured Burdon, bassist Danny McCulloch, drummer Barry Jenkins, Vic Briggs on guitar and piano, and future Family member John Weider on guitar and violin; the record was dedicated to a host of fellow musicians (among them, original Animals Price, Hilton Valentine and Chas Chandler, along with Mick Jagger and George Harrison) and cultural notables (Ho Chi Minh, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ray Charles, Roland Kirk, etc.), which gives you a sense of the way in which Burdon was trying to expand his personal parameters beyond merely hard-rocking R&B.

“Expand parameters” is exactly what Winds of Change did. Right from the get-go, in fact: the opening title track’s a mélange of droning sitar, Weider’s eerie peals of violin, a hypnotic, almost dub-like bassline and whooshing “wind” sound effects all summoning mental impressions of exotic newness as Burdon’s recited vocals, double-tracked and overlapping, tick off a roster of musical icons who’d inspired the singer. A couple of songs later we’re in the middle of a psychedelic cover of “Paint It Black” that only intermittently recalls the Stones original, followed by yet another recitation, this one a cheery little number titled “The Black Plague.” Also included is a kind of answer song to Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” called “Yes I Am Experienced”; a pair of more-or-less “hits” from the album, the folk-rocking “San Franciscan Nights” and baroque popster “Good Times”; yet another spoken word piece, the proto-rap “Man-Woman”; and closing track “It’s All Meat” which could pass for a vintage Nuggets gem (or a long-lost B-side from the later punk era, take your pick).

Winds of Change is, quite frankly, the most bizarre entry in Eric Burdon’s entire catalog. Yes, it’s “psychedelic” as fug, and with its multiple nods in the direction of the Beats and their ilk, it’s also fuggin’ literary. But it also lacks focus and makes for an extremely difficult listen, the kind of record one respects but doesn’t necessarily pull down off the shelf to entertain the guests at a dinner party. Just the same, it’s still a meaningful piece of the Burdon puzzle, a transitional recording of note, and even a reasonable period-piece for students of the hippie era (keyword: acid). The Sundazed label has dutifully reissued it in its original monophonic glory, additionally reproducing the handsome gatefold sleeve. So while not “essential” in the usual musical sense, WoC remains a key artifact.

Twain Shall Meet

Take all that and multiply by a factor of at least “10” for 1968’s The Twain Shall Meet which, like WoC, was helmed by producer Tom Wilson. Sundazed goes stereophonic for this one, while Burdon & Co. go fully widescreen. Recorded in December of ’67, the Monterey Pop Festival afterglow still in full effect for Burdon, it’s got everything its predecessor had—the celebration and the moodiness, the psychedelia and the folk-rock, the recitations and the exhortations, the politics and the personalities—and it is also everything its predecessor was not, namely, it’s focused and it’s powerful.

From the rocking, almost boogie-esque “Closer to the Truth,” which hews close to vintage Animals electric R&B; to the baroque, orchestrally-inclined mini-symphony “Orange and Red Beams”; to the bagpipes, sitar and violin-fueled “All Is One” (itself a credible rock symphony with not-untoward prog ambitions); to the soaring, psychedelic anthem “Sky Pilot,” a masterpiece of atmosphere, composition and arrangement; The Twain Shall Meet succeeds on multiple levels. The latter track, in fact, ranks among the greatest anti-war songs ever, telling the tale of a Vietnam War chaplain counseling his charges prior to their departures into battle where death surely awaits many of them. It’s a complex number comprising three neo-operatic movements (read a good Wikipedia breakdown HERE), one of which contains a remarkably moving segment for strings and flute that, to this day, can bring tears to my eyes for the strong emotions it summons. Controversial in its time here in America, the 7 ½-minute tune nevertheless became a staple of the underground FM airwaves and even enjoyed a bit of notoriety as a Top 20 single, with the 7” uncharacteristically (for US record labels at least) split into a “Part 1” and “Part 2” for the “A” and “B” sides rather than getting edited down into a more deejay-friendly 3-minute 45.

Speaking of singles, we have album opening track, “Monterey.” Also hitting the Top 20 in America, this literal and musical chronical of the iconic rock festival remains as emblematic of the era as “California Dreaming” or “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” I’d even rate it higher than CSN&Y’s signature version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” if we’re talking “emblematic,” given how it not only posterboards many of the Monterey Pop fest’s iconic performers (Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Hugh Masekela…) and at least one equally iconic attendee (the Stones’ Brian Jones, or, in Burdon’s lyrics, “His Majesty, Prince Jones”) but also recreates, sonically, aspects of the actual performances, from Shankar’s sitar twang to Hendrix’s searing leads to Masekela’s jabbing trumpet. “I think that maybe I’m dreaming,” Burdon confesses, his mind summarily rearranged, and as much out of exhilaration as exhaustion, quoting the Byrds while summarizing the entire hippie ethos of the time.

Of which the same might be said of The Twain Shall Meet. The album only briefly made it into the Top 100 Albums chart, buoyed by “Monterey” and “Sky Pilot,” but ultimately garnering only middling reviews from the critics and soon disappearing from view. Don’t let it be overlooked a second time—it’s an understated masterpiece that deserves a closer look. Kudos to Sundazed for making that possible.

The acid’s optional, by the way.

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