As we noted last time, this US release, the Animals’ third in the US, had little to nothing to do with the British release (their second there) by the same name. With the benefit of hindsight and Wikipedia, it becomes clear the reason this album always felt a little disjointed, even in the time before albums had much by way of concept, is that it was. It’s basically singles and tracks that weren’t on their first two US releases. That doesn’t make it bad, just different. Where the UK version is full of raving R&B covers, this starts out with the much more pop Mann-Weil “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and then includes six Animals-penned tunes, a simple Sam Cooke number, and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Listen, I love “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” It’s a raver built on the blues traditions. But this is literally a Brill Building song being covered by a band that usually covered John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Reed, when they weren’t making their own mark in the rhythm and blues genre.
It was entirely common at the time that British artists’ British albums were butchered, rearranged, appended and amended for the US market. Were we simply not worthy of their original product? Couldn’t handle the raw blues? Perhaps. The Beatles famously revolted against this practice, once they could. As someone who was collecting British Invasion records 15-20 years after they came out, it drove me insane – I wanted to hear the albums the way the artists (and their producers, honestly) intended them, but very often the British version simply wasn’t available in the used record stores and garage sales that provided most of my meager collection. Very few artists warranted import re-releases; that was pretty much The Beatles’ territory, as I recall. And so I never heard the incredible rave-up version of “Roberta” until I was able to get the UK re-release of “Animal Tracks,” after several years of wondering why the song was named for someone who was barely mentioned and almost unintelligible. (Answer: in the UK version, her name is repeated over and over in the backing responses.)
It’s a little hard to separate out when I picked up most of my Animals records. I know it started with a garage sale copy of “Best of Eric Burdon and the Animals Vol. II,” in 1979, but I then picked up everything I could find in pretty short order. I do wish I had picked up even more Animals records — or, rather, records in better shape. Some of my copies are just beat up, and considering how much I loved them and played them, I could have sprung for better.
With all that whining about differing versions taken care of, this is still a great album. Besides “Roberta,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” the rest of the album is originals and semi-originals in the R&B vein. “The Story of Bo Diddley” is basically a long story of meeting Bo Diddley, told over the Bo Diddley beat. “Club A Go Go” does some more name-dropping as it fades out, letting you know who The Animals thought were the cool cats of the day. The rest of the songs are solid, and this has long been one of my favorite albums, despite a cover that is pretty unexciting.