The Animals album 1964

60 Years On: The Animals, the Hollies, and British Beat

As these 1964 albums from the Animals and the Hollies show, the music of the beat boom was characterized by excitement, reverence, and sound.

The Animals
The Animals
MGM
September 1964
In the Hollies Style
The Hollies
Parlophone
November 1964

The Animals, a blues-rock band from Newcastle, and the Hollies, a pop-rock harmony group from Manchester, had sounds that fit into two primary schools of British popular music in the early 1960s: the London blues and the Liverpool beat, and both groups had some of the sharpest singers on the scene, as well as crack bands to match. 1964 would see an explosion of recording activity from the British beat boom following the Beatles‘ debut the year before, and the signs were already there that this music was here to stay. Album debuts that year came not only from the Animals and the Hollies but also from Dusty Springfield, the Kinks, Manfred Mann, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds, who would all cast an enduring light upon rock music.

This was a narrow window in which bands were wresting control of the music they wanted to perform, but before they had any pretensions towards artistic statement or an enduring legacy. Songs were here and gone within two minutes, instrumental solos included. Within a year of their debut, the Beatles were already recording entire albums of original songs, but in 1964, Paul McCartney spoke of the Beatles’ long-term ambition to move from being in a band to becoming professional songwriters in the model of New York’s Brill Building, crafting song after song according to a tried and perfected formula.

If one believes that music created firstly for the fun and enjoyment of performer and audience has its own value just as music performed with more seriousness of purpose, then The Animals and In the Hollies Style, both from 1964, are records that capture this energy as well as anything since. They are driving rock ‘n’ roll records from beginning to end, powered by youthful abandon where the energy level does not give way to sentimentality at any point. This energy is passion, crafted with an appreciation of the musical language of American blues and pop. It is a raw passion guided by simplicity, spontaneity, and a keen ear for what works and what doesn’t. The music of the beat boom was characterized by excitement, reverence, and sound.

1964 marked a further shift in British popular music, which had already been following American trends since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. The dominant new British personalities in the late 1950s and early 1960s were the teen idols, young men groomed for stardom. The audience for teen idols was, of course, teenagers. However, it was the managers who controlled the images and the destinies of the performers. While teenagers were seen as an important new market for the entertainment industry, they were regarded as shallow, lacking in free will, and more concerned with star appeal than music. 

The beat boom was marked by groups rather than solo performers, which would change not only their music but their image. Gone were the stage names, as the musicians were pooling their identities into bands with names that could sound genial, playful, or tough but were also tokens of their devotion to a particular flavor of American pop. The band members were not entirely serious-minded in this allegiance. Whilst being part of a group, each might emphasize an individual trait to promote themselves in interviews with a new generation of teen music magazines such as Fabulous and Rave, both published for the first time in 1964, which could add dynamic tension to their performances.

Also coming into the scene was a new generation of entrepreneurs intent on shaping the beat boom from behind the scenes, as was the case for the Animals, whose records were produced by pop impresario Mickie Most. Just as the teen idols had followed their American counterparts in singing songs created on the Brill Building model, this new wave of managers would look to the iconic American producer Phil Spector to shift the emphasis on hitmaking from the singer to the song, to the sound. At one point in 1964, eight of the top ten records in the British charts were by British bands, and five of these had been made by independent producers and sold directly to the big recording companies.

In 1964, the Animals appeared to be following hot on the heels of the Beatles in breaking through in America. While history has cast the Rolling Stones as second in line in the British Invasion, the band’s first American tour in June was not the success they had hoped it would be. By contrast, contemporary reports about the Animals’ first American tour in October would describe it in the same delirious terms as Beatlemania. For a group of blues fans, the Animals were given the opportunity to perform in several southern states, although the tour was heavily concentrated in New York, with limousines escorting the band to hotels and media engagements while pursued by crowds of screaming fans. The band would also be the first white group to play at the Apollo Theater.

Listening to The Animals, alongside the famous hit single “House of the Rising Sun”, it is clear why. The band offered a fresh blues-based alternative to the Motown and girl-group influences of the Beatles, with a force to surpass any London blues band. Eric Burdon was a gifted vocalist equal to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, capable of blues belting, soulful stirring, and vigorous wit. The band presented five distinct faces, drawn together by their music and ambition. The keyboardist, Alan Price, would say, “R&B is the biggest thing in our lives. It’s more than just playing the blues. We feel them. We attack our songs. Like to create an atmosphere. We improvise all the time.”

Drawn out of these improvisations, The Animals is an entire album of cover versions, which was unusual even by the standards of 1964. The Yardbirds, too, delivered an album of covers, performed live in concert and enhanced by their trademark instrumental rave-ups, but other blues-rock groups, including the Rolling Stones and Manfred Mann, were already recording their compositions. The issue was that these original compositions were seldom very good. Even Paul Jones of Manfred Mann, who had been a literature student at Oxford University, could not muster a convincing blues pastiche, whilst his jazz-trained bandmates stuck rigidly to the conventions of 12-bar blues.

Where the Animals triumphed was in their supreme good taste in cover material. Concentrating on a select group of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, The Animals album features three covers of John Lee Hooker, two of Fats Domino, and two of Chuck Berry, three of the most recognizable writers in the R&B idiom. John Lee Hooker’s chugging, stop-start guitar licks were some of the most identifiable in electric blues, Fats Domino’s rolling piano boogie was the genial face of rhythm & blues, while Chuck Berry’s raunchy fusion of electrified blues and country was synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll. By alternating between these three iconic performers, the flow of The Animals never lets up. 

One such Chuck Berry cover was the song “Around and Around”. It was also covered that same year by the Rolling Stones, whose take was very faithful to the original, due in part to the band taking the opportunity to record at its birthplace in Chess Studios in Chicago during their first American tour. For a young group to record in the same studios as their idols, reputedly meeting several of them throughout the sessions, took chutzpah. Chuck Berry’s original would capture the feeling of a night on the tiles, alternating between friendly, good-time verses and all-out bawdy choruses. If anything, the Rolling Stones would add a bit of British stiff upper lip. Meanwhile, the Animals up the ante, jumping off the walls in the verses and spilling out onto the streets in the chorus. 

The real highlight of The Animals is its opening track, “The Story of Bo Diddley”. Musically speaking, this track is a little more than a cover, a vamp on the Bo Diddley beat, which laid so much groundwork for rock ‘n’ roll. What makes “The Story of Bo Diddley” such a revelation is Eric Burdon’s storytelling. In the space of five minutes and five acts, and from his vantage point as an early 1960s British blues aficionado, Burdon does as much as a Wikipedia article, or indeed as some modern university courses, to tell the story of rock ‘n’ roll. The song was likely inspired by Bob Dylan, whose records were already charting in Britain, and by the storytelling that was part of the blues tradition, but it is an overlooked example of how the evolution in rock songwriting was already underway.

Act one of “The Story of Bo Diddley”, the exposition begins with the Great Migration, the population shift of African-Americans from the rural areas and farming work to the cities and factory jobs, and the meeting of the earthy rhythms of the country blues and the electric atmospheres of the urban juke joints. A young Bo Diddley, evoking the legend of the delta bluesman, stays up practicing his guitar day and night, turning his weary father’s hair white.

In act two of Burdon’s story, the rising action charts the increasing popularity of rhythm & blues, as independently recorded songs start making waves in American popular music. An antagonist emerges in the guise of the corporate music business and the backdrop of race relations in society and commerce. Established songwriters were taking note of R&B, blending its rhythms into mainstream pop, but the recording companies were resistant to its new performers, dismissing them as vulgar and debased. Because of its commercial value, R&B tracks would sometimes be re-recorded, typically by white performers, and with sanitized lyrics, denying royalty payments to the original performers in the process. 

In act three, the climax refers to the financial shenanigans of the Payola scandal of 1959, which threatened to halt rock ‘n’ roll in its tracks. The corporate record companies, by now very concerned about the increasing market share of the independent labels, had them implicated in paying radio DJs for airplay, often in the form of co-crediting DJs as songwriters. Investigations into the practice would result in the firing of DJs and the weakening of promotion for independently recorded rhythm & blues music. 

Act four sees Eric Burdon showing off his vocal versatility. Burdon first mimics the staid tones of Bobby Vee, one of the American teen idols whose rockabilly songs were regarded as diluted versions of the real thing. Burdon then samples snippets of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the Beatles-penned Rolling Stones tune “I Wanna Be Your Man”. Act four represents the falling action; the spirit of American rock ‘n’ roll has been captured, and the burgeoning British beat scene for now remains far off of Bo Diddley’s radar. 

Act five brings Bo Diddley to England, where, upon visiting a blues club, he sees the Animals performing one of his songs. Eric Burdon has the confidence to ask for Bo Diddley’s opinion, but he and his guitarist, the Duchess, are unimpressed. Act five represents the resolution; the impact of rock ‘n’ roll in its homeland has faded, and there is little hope of its songbook being preserved in the hands of a bunch of longhaired Limeys. 

Things didn’t work out quite so badly as that. What “The Story of Bo Diddley” shows is that beyond their youthful enthusiasm for the excitement of rock ‘n’ roll, Burdon and company were remarkably well educated about the bigger picture that played into its story. They were also astonishingly prescient in foreshadowing how the rise of Beatlemania and the Rolling Stones, these Brits from way down in the deep South, in a place called Richmond in Surrey, would reinvigorate the transatlantic popularity of the blues. Moreover, in casting himself and his band into the rock ‘n’ roll mythology, Burdon shows wit and gumption equal to John Lennon or Mick Jagger.

Whilst the beat bands were in thrall to American popular music, the meteoric success of the Beatles had galvanized a spirit of self-belief. The Hollies would claim to have 21 unpublished songs ready in the run-up to recording In the Hollies Style. Like the Beatles, their immediate ambition was to try and write hits for other groups as well. Like the Rolling Stones, they had written the B-sides to all of their hits as a way to earn money from song publishing for every single that was a hit. The debut album had not been a success, but the band were unfazed, preferring to score a number five hit than a number one, thereby containing record company pressure and building their craft slowly but surely. While their debut album had featured one original composition, In the Hollies Style, true to its title, would feature seven.

Of these, the best is “To You My Love”, which matches a pensive, swaying opening guitar riff to an urgent, stuttering rhythm in the verse. As the Hollies’ lyrics were, at this point, strictly love songs, it could be claimed that “To You My Love” is most effective in conveying the longing of young love through its music. Yet more importantly, it rocks, has the most satisfying playing on the record, and is driven by the rhythm section rather than the harmony vocals. Other highlights which tend to downplay the vocal harmonies in favor of a sharp instrumental attack are “You’ll Be Mine”, where the instrumental solo features a vigorously strummed acoustic guitar, and “Set Me Free”, which closes the record with a hard-driving break-up song with bristling guitars and a fiery harmonica.

There is not a bad song on In the Hollies Style, but of the remaining numbers, there is not a great one either. Eric Burdon’s spirited snippet of “A Hard Day’s Night” in “The Story of Bo Diddley” clearly demonstrates why the Hollies’ early attempts at vocal-driven rock ‘n’ roll failed to catch fire. In “A Hard Day’s Night”, John Lennon and Paul McCartney take turns singing solo sections and, in doing so, adopt different vocal personas. The weariness of Lennon, which contrasts with the yearning of McCartney, is as essential to the vocal charm of the song as are the sections with harmony singing. In copping two of Lennon’s lines, Eric Burdon showed he had the panache to match Lennon or McCartney, but no one singer stands out on In the Hollies Style.

Therefore, the Hollies’ characteristic harmony singing lacks enough character to be anything more than a distraction from the tight instrumental playing, which is the most impressive element of In the Hollies Style. Moreover, much of the harmony singing on the record sounds nasal and slightly but jarringly off-key. This could be down to a rushed recording schedule or a limitation of the original recording equipment. It could also be a reason why, as rock became its own music, the one was often different from the other by virtue of rock’s virtuosic instrumental solos and pop’s lush vocal harmonies. It might even be pointed out that of the Hollies best-known songs, the most enduringly popular is “Long Cool Woman”, which does not feature multi-part vocals. 

The Hollies would use their three-strong vocal line-up to a markedly different effect in their cover of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business”. In the Hollies version, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash take turns singing each verse, and the personality of each voice is nowhere more apparent on the record. Chuck Berry’s original recording is perhaps the coolest rock ‘n’ roll song, with its rhythmic interplay and Berry’s sardonic lyrics. It was so popular that the Hollies, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds recorded covers in 1964. By taking turns, the Hollies’ vocals draw out the exasperation of the song, bolstered by spirited instrumental playing. With Dave Davies‘ supremely raspy voice and ragged guitar solo, the Kinks sound suitably exhausted by the whole malarkey.

 Another of the Hollies covers of note, by virtue of its unusual origins and novel interpretation, is “I Thought of You Last Night”. Neither rock ‘n’ roll nor soul, it had consistently been performed as an orchestrated torch song, most prominently by the jazz singer Jeri Southern. The Hollies version is inspired by the folk revival, featuring three-part harmony singing, acoustic guitars, brushed drums, and no electrified instrumentation. Its hushed and soothing tones utilize the Hollies’ vocals to best effect. At the same time, in drawing from traditional pop, the song anticipated the baroque pop style popular in the middle of the decade and showed a beat group could look outside rock ‘n’ roll.

As for their legacy, well, in the wake of Beatlemania, not many beat acts would likely turn around and say, “This was fun, but I’d prefer to go sit my accountancy exams now!” In America, two teenage brothers would form a soul band in Daytona, Florida. A young Greenwich Village folkie worked at the Brill Building by day and played at coffeehouses by night. They would adopt bowl cuts and head out to Los Angeles. The folkie Roger McGuinn would form the Byrds and pioneer country rock. The brothers, Duane and Gregg, would later form the Allman Brothers Band and spearhead the American blues-rock revival. 

After showcasing the Animals at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Eric Burdon’s second act would be to form the Californian progressive-soul band War. Graham Nash would follow Burdon to sunny California skies and form the supergroup, Crosby Stills & Nash. Back in Britain, the next generation of roots-rock bands like Traffic and Faces would follow The Animals by blending equal parts gritty vocals, funky keyboards, and warm guitars into a hearty musical stew. Art-rock bands the Moody Blues and Queen would follow In the Hollies Style in building their songs around the resonance of the human voice. And so the beat went on.


Works Referenced

writer, u. (1964) “Introducing My Animals One By One by Alan Price”. Rave.

Matthews, K. (1964) “Chat Time With the Hollies”. Record Mirror.

Cannon, G. (1964) “Pop Music Democratised”. New Society.

Cleave, M. (1964) “The decline in power of the record Tsars”. The Evening Standard.

UR Institute for Popular Music. (30 August 2021). “Beatles as Students of American Pop Music” [Video]. YouTube.

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