Eric Burdon and the Animals, “Sky Pilot”
Today is Eric Burdon’s birthday (b. 1941).
I’d always been a huge fan of all the Animals (and Eric Burdon and the Animals — they were two different bands with two different line-ups) hit songs from “House of the Rising Sun” in 1964 through “When I was Young” in early 1967. But I had never heard their later hits, as they weren’t included on any of the compilation albums I used to own. Then many months ago in a Youtube surfing frenzy, I came across them and finally got to hear them. I found two of the songs embarrassing. “Monterey” and “San Francisco Nights” sound like craven, naked attempts to cash in on a trend that Burdon was no longer in the vanguard of. They’re like attempts to pen an anthem about artists and a movement that were then eclipsing his own movement (the British invasion and the earlier phase of the blues boom). And the first time I played the third tune, their last major hit, 1968’s “Sky Pilot” I found myself snorting in derision as well. The tune sounded moronically simple and some of the lyrics clunky and its earnest political message Springsteenesque in the worst possible way.
And then what happened? Oh YOU know, reader. I couldn’t get it of my head. For months. I played it once and it would not go away. I have literally been anticipating this post for months. Not only has the tune stuck to my brain like napalm (I mean that in a good way) but the central image of the priest or minister blessing troops on their way to war, the irony and hypocrisy of it — it’s very powerful. And, somehow it evokes imagery…I see young men riding in Hueys shooting machine guns into a flaming jungle canopy, I see rows of caskets with American flags draped over them. The bagpipe section in the longer version reminds me of the pipers in The Longest Day. A song like this makes me think of the bard tradition…somehow poetry and music work in this song to achieve actual magic, take your soul someplace else, and think about things.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc