Eric Burdon & War Play “Spill The Wine”

Eric Burdon Declares WarListen to this track by Animalistic, leaping gnome-like singer Eric Burdon as backed by Latin-influenced Long Beach L.A funkateers War. It’s “Spill The Wine”, a 1970 hit as featured on the collaborative and self-referentially titled album Eric Burdon Declares War. It was initially released as a single, scoring a top ten chart result.

 

The song bridges the gaps between British rock, R&B, and Latin music, with a long portion of it being something of a spoken-word short story. That story is a rather dreamlike excursion, filled with images of tall grass, afternoon naps, dreams, Hollywood movies, and visions of “every kind of girl”. There aren’t too many tunes like it. Since its release, it’s been featured on soundtracks in movies and on TV, and covered by a number of artists from The Isley Brothers, to Michael Hutchence.

War was an outfit that started out as a socio-political concern, with statements against racism, crime, poverty, and other negative forces that were becoming serious issues in their native Los Angeles. Eric Burdon had moved to the West Coast from Britain after having dissolved the second incarnation of the Animals, with the original group having split by the mid-60s. In some ways, it was kind of an odd pairing, with Burdon being a student of Chicago blues, and War being more of a funk outfit who’d left the blues behind for a more contemporary Latin R&B funk hybrid sound.

 

But, “Spill The Wine” consolidated their success, and with an approach that was stylistically off the map in many ways. Here are a few of them. Read more

The Animals Perform “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place”

Listen to this track by serious-minded R&B figureheads from Newcastle The Animals. It’s their 1965 hit song “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place”, a single released in July of that year, and used subsequently in seemingly every single movie about Vietnam ever (I think it must be a rule).

Up until this point, the Animals hadn’t quite reached the screaming heights of the Beatles or the Stones. But, they were established on the scene with those bands from the early to mid 1960s, and were known as being as close to the “real thing” as any band working in the London rhythm & blues scenes. They were respected.

They also had a hit or two under their belts, pretty much owning “The House of the Rising Sun”, even if it was something of a well-travelled folk tune before they recorded it. But, “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place” was perfectly matched to Eric Burdon’s old-man-living-in-a-young man’s-body vocal delivery. This is a tale of worldly wisdom before one’s time, aware of the cruelties of life, the pointlessness of toil, and the fleeting nature of beauty and innocence; heavy stuff.

The irony that this tune, a stalwart anthem of so many war movies about Americans in far away countries, is more closely associated with sentiments much closer to home.

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Eric Burdon & The New Animals Perform ‘Sky Pilot’

Listen to this track, an ambitious single from former R&B powerhouse Eric Burdon, with a reconfigured Animals from 1968.  It’s the orchestrally augmented psych-pop single “Sky Pilot” as taken from the album The Twain Shall Meet, a record that allies itself more with West Coast American psychedelia than with the London R&B boom of years previous.  This makes sense, since Burdon had moved the band Stateside by this time, after re-starting the group after their initial 1966 break-up.

 

After the R&B boom during which the Animals built their reputation in London had ceased, and music had moved from singles-driven efforts, to more album-oriented, and musically ambitious offerings, they had already split. When they re-emerged, it was in sunny, acid-soaked California. The new version of the band was ready to take on weightier, more contemporary themes, with more ambitious arrangements.  And “Sky Pilot” is one of the best examples of this shift.

There is something of a parable suggested in this song of an army Chaplain and his attempts to ease the burden of soldiers about to go into battle.  But, I wonder if the obvious interpretation of anti-Vietnam sentiment isn’t the only thing that lies beneath the story told here.

Referencing the Vietnam conflict  isn’t exactly a hard leap to make. By 1968, Nixon had become President for the first time.  And the conflict in Vietnam was escalating, seemingly by the day. It’s not a huge stretch to think that taking on the role of ‘Sky Pilot’ is, perhaps, the way that members of the rock  counterculture thought of themselves- as the conscience of a nation, of an international community, and source of comfort to soldiers in the field too.  And they certainly were that, with AM radios blaring while soldiers awaited their orders to be dispatched ‘in the shit’. By the time Burdon and this new version of the Animals were ensconced on the West Coast of America, the conflict being felt stateside over the war would have been impossible to ignore.

Even if the band’s, and particularly Burdon’s, interest in American music and way of life was on another level from most bands in Britain at the time, members of the band were still culturally English.  They were among the first  of a generation born during and immediately after the Second World War. That  earlier conflict moulded the consciousness of their generation, with early memories of British industrial towns turned into munitions factories, loss of family, bombing blitzes of the nation’s Capitol, destruction of architecture, rationing, and repressed emotions in the face of what was thought of as more important than personal feelings – victory.

‘Sky Pilot’ may well be about a generation of rock musicians seeing themselves as the spiritual guides to their generation, many  members of whom were in the jungles of Vietnam at the time this song was recorded and released. But, it could be that it’s also about working through the impact of a war that came before, when they were children raised in a region of the world literally on the brink of domination from one of  history’s most evil military machines from only a few miles away, as opposed to many thousands.

Eric Burdon went onto solo recordings, as well as working with soul-funksters War by the 70s.   The Animals would reform many times through out the 70s and early 80s, complete with keyboardist Alan Price.  He continues to be an active musician today.

For more information about The Animals, and more music, check out this Eric Burdon & The Animals site.

Enjoy!