Eric Burdon, Animals, Generally Annoyed by Screaming Teens
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
September 17, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 48
The Animals in NY
By Sally Kempton
With American hysteria over English rock-and-roll singers reaching new heights, the purveyors of entertainment for the young last week booked a series of English acts in two rival rock-and-roll shows. Over in Brooklyn Murray the K, WINS' hippy disk jockey, had a staggering line-up of Beatle imitators. At the Paramount on 42nd Street the WMCA Good Guys were presenting the Animals, a group which, far from being clean-cut, seemed bent on returning to American blues roots.
Last Saturday afternoon the Paramount was filled with restless teen agers, most girls under 16. They sat through the six acts which preceded the Animals with ill-grace, and as the waiting period drew to a close girls began to drift down toward the stage emitting little shrieks of anticipation. By the time the Animals appeared, the immediate vicinity of the stage was four-deep in jumping girls who hurled gum wrappers, paper cups, and small change under the performers' feet.
Throughout the first number, which was drowned out by the general pandemonium, the rain of projectiles continued to fill the stage, while the musicians in the front row of the band held their scores over their faces to avoid being hit. Half-way through the third song a girl leapt upon the stage and threw her arms around guitarist Chas Chandler's feet. So far nothing unusual had occurred; the girl's Dionysian frenzy was standard behavior at an American performance of a British group. Then Eric Burdon, the lead singer, looked menacingly over the microphone and went into a hard rhythm-and-blues number. The audience screamed. Gradually the innocuous hip grinds with which the Animals had been punctuating their music became wilder, and instead of screaming louder, the audience quieted down.
Eric's grind turned into a bump, and he took off his jacket. There was a tiny shriek and the hush deepened. Eric took off his tie. John Steele, the second guitarist, shed his jacket, and the music grew more driving. the girls were looking at each other nervously. Finally Eric shouted, "Everybody say YEAH," put the microphone between his legs and began to ride it around the stage. Confused and a little frightened, the audience at last gave in and began screaming again, and Eric, gyrating wildly, finished the number. "They're just too far out for this audience," said the man on my left. "These kids get excited over the cute stuff, not sexy stuff."
...Several months ago the British watchers of teenage trends observed with alarm that the Beatles, whom they had come to regard as symbols of a healthy (or non-delinquent) and therefore permissible Adolescent Rebellion Against Adult Mores, were being cut out of the charts by a blatantly unhealthy group called the Rolling Stones. The Beatles, as everyone knows, appeal to the maternal instinct of the 12-year-old fan, and parent and alarmist journalists could satisfy themselves that the Beatles were not leading their children into that funky sexual underground which lurks in the further reaches of rock-and-roll. The Beatles could sing "Keep on Truckin', Mama" and make it sound perfectly innocent.
But the Rolling Stones are another matter. Their voices are rich with sexual innuendo, and there is something definitely licentious about their guitar runs. Their lyrics are dirty, or at least suggestive. And the kids, deserting the clean and fun-loving mainstream of English rock-and-roll, were taking it in like Coca-Cola.
To make matters worse, the Beatles were getting into the new groove. George Harrison incorporated a hip swing into his stage act which looked suspiciously like the Fish, a dance which used to get banned from high school proms back in the high old days of rock and roll. Formerly the Beatles had kept their hipsterism for interviews, but now it began to creep into their songs, and Ringo put out a record called "Matchbox" which is a bastardized but still recognizable version of an old Blind Lemon Jefferson number.
...On my way to interview the Animals, I passed a small group of pre-pubic girls attempting to beat in the door of a coffee-shop on 44th Street where John Steele and drummer Hilton Valentine were eating lunch. Up in the dressing room I found Eric Burdon glancing mournfully out the window at the fans lined up across the street. "I saw Hilton and John swooped up into a mob of girls," he said, "and they've been gone an hour."
"Our first casualties," said Alan Price, laconically. A girl in red sweater saw Eric's head and immediately began to scream his name. Eric picked up a stuffed panda bear and pretended to throw it out the window, causing pandemonium in the crowd.
"This is awful," said Eric. "You can't even go out for a drink here without getting jumped."
"In England," said Alan, "we can walk through a crowd and talk to the kids, shake their hand. Here if we did that we'd be torn apart."
In England the Animals are considered serious musicians, and they are bemused by the reception which they get here, and by the screams which cover up their music whenever they appear on stage. "It's frightening," said Eric. "English audiences come to listen to us. This is like playing into a head-wind." Eric Burdon is small and dark, and speaks with a brooding impatience. All five Animals are intense about their music, but Eric is the most intense of them all. Alan Price, the organist, and Chas Chandler, the guitarist, regard their American image with amusement, but Eric seems to feel that he has been betrayed as an artist. His greatest pleasure in visiting America has been the opportunity to meet American musicians. "We went to the Five Spot to see Mingus," he said excitedly, "and we shook his hand."
"John nearly died," put in Chas, who looks like a blond, rangy version of Beatle John Lennon.
"But Mingus didn't know who we are," continued Eric wistfully. "He thought we were just another pop gropu."
"I'd love to really talk to him sometime," said Alan. "He's supposed to be a very wise man, isn't that right?"
The Animals come from Newcastle and have been working together under various names for two years. "Newcastle is riddled with R-and-B fans," says Chas. "We grew up on Joe Turner-Pete Johnson records because those were the only blues you could get at that time. Then it started to get big."
"There've always been two schools of music in England," said Eric. "The people who liked Joe Turner and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, and the squares."
"How can you pick out an R-and-B fan?" I asked.
"Oh, you can always tell them. You see a guy standing with a record under his arm and a certain look in his eye and you know. You ask him does he want to come up and hear some sounds and pretty soon you're friends."
..."People think we're pansies, us and the Beatles," said Chas. "They forget we've all been dock laborers and the like."
"One time John Lennon got so mad he broke some crazy fan's arm," said Eric.
An emissary from another dressing room poked his head in the door and said, "The Dixie Cups want to know what kind of beer you like."
"Any kind," said Alan.
"That's another thing about America. We aren't supposed to drink, we're supposed to be clean kids," said Eric.
"In England everybody takes for granted that we're tough. They're watching the Stones, if Charlie sounds funny on drums the kids all say he must be stoned."
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]
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