Monday, November 16, 2015

Animals – "Don't Bring Me Down" (1966)

One thing I need is your respect
One thing I can't take is your neglect

The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Who became superstars on the strength of their original songs.  

But the biggest hits of the fifth great “British Invasion” band — the Animals – were covers.  

The Animals
“The House of the Rising Sun” was a traditional folk song.  “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was originally written for Nina Simone.  And “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “It’s My Life,” and today’s featured song, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” were written by Brill Building songwriting duos.  

I think that great songwriters get a lot more respect from the critics than great performers.  That’s why the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, and Who are on the Mt. Rushmore of sixties rock groups, and the Animals aren’t.

The Animals also fall short when it comes to longevity.  The original Animals were together only from 1964 until 1966, while the Mt. Rushmore groups stayed together much longer and produced much more music.

But I think the Animals singles listed above are superior as a group to the best singles released by their British Invasion brethren during that same time period.

What makes those Animals singles so good?  Eric Burdon was the quintessential blue-eyed soul singer, and the instrumentalists were all solid.  I assume that Mickie Most (who produced the first four of those near-perfect singles) and Tom Wilson (who produced “Don’t Bring Me Down”) deserve a lot of credit as well.

“Don’t Bring Me Down” is on the soundtrack of Black Mass, a movie about Boston mobster "Whitey" Bulger.  I saw Black Mass a couple of months ago, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when “Don’t Bring Me Down” started playing – that moment was the highlight of the film for me.

Black Mass is a good movie.  It may not be a great movie – I wouldn’t put it up there with The Godfather, or Goodfellas, or The Departed – but it was very satisfying.

Until a few years ago, I would have never compared the quality of television shows to that of movies.  

But I think that has changed.  I’ve been watching a lot of TV series on DVD recently – The Wire, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Justified, and The Missing (just to name a few) – and I find series like those to be more compelling than most current movies.

I think a good 800-page novel is better than a good 200-page novel.  You can utterly lose yourself in a long novel – when you’re reading a good one, you never want it to end.  The same is true of a TV series compared to a movie.

As Stuart Heritage wrote in The Guardian

When applied correctly, the elongated storytelling opportunities afforded by television trump cinema's frayed reliance on the drudgery of 90-minute three-act plots.  “Breaking Bad” showed a character transforming over two years of his life in a way that could never be achieved in film.  “The Killing” dedicated 20 hours to a single murder case.

As I watched Black Mass, I couldn’t help but think how great it would have been if it had been a 12-hour-long TV series.  I wanted to know more about Bulger – especially what he was up to between 1994 (when he skedaddled out of Boston one step ahead of the police) and 2011 (when he was arrested in Santa Monica, CA).  The movie essentially ended when he went on the lam, although it did have a brief epilogue reporting on the ultimate fate of Bulger and the other major characters.

The young "Whitey" Bulger
Generally speaking, I believe that you can’t have too much of a good thing.  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule.

“Don’t Bring Me Down” is only three minutes and 13 seconds long.  If it was longer, that would be too much of a good thing – sometimes, less is more.

If I could, I would change one small detail.  At about 1:43, there’s a brief piano break that just doesn’t fit.  (It’s a little too honky-tonky for the rest of the record.)

Otherwise, “Don’t Bring Me Down” is flawless.  The tempo is just right, the arrangement is perfect – the organ, lead guitar, and bass complement one another beautifully – and Eric Burdon’s singing is (as always) what one critic described as “brutally soulful.”

Gerry Goffin and Carole King
It’s hard to believe that “Don’t Bring Me Down” was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  Goffin and King may have been one of the great pop songwriting teams of all time, but their best-known compositions – like “Will Love You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Go Away, Little Girl” and “Up On the Roof” – don’t have the power and depth the Animals bring to “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

Here’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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