This folk-rock footsoldier of the British Invasion instantly impresses by virtue of Eric Burdon’s howling vocal performance and organist Alan Price’s rhythmic precision, both especially remarkable given that the record was apparently a one-take wonder. On repeated listening, though, the Animals’s answer to an age-old arrangement challenge also demands respect. One difficulty with using folk tunes in chart music is that they’re often in a strophic form, in other words they simply repeat a single verse multiple times. While the verse here at least has its own internal melodic and harmonic drive, its subsequent repetitions are nonetheless powerless to provide any additional musical build-up over the longer term, leaving the arrangement and performances to take up all that slack.
The Animals first take the sting out of this is by splitting up their song into two separate build-ups, with the fifth verse (2:25) dropping back to the arrangement of the third (1:19) in order to reclaim some arrangement ‘headroom’ for bolstering the remaining verses. The transformation of the fourth verse into a climactic instrumental (with the organ solo’s ornamentations blurring our memory of the lead melody) plays a key role in the success of this dodge, as I see it, because the dramatic impact of the vocal’s return in verse five helps offset any loss of energy that the textural thinning incurs. Alongside these broad brush strokes, though, there’s plenty of subtler stuff too. The second verse pushes the lead vocal up an octave, for instance, as well as adding sustained organ chords that are intensified for verse three with the Vox Continental’s vibrato switch. Verse four brings not only the solo’s frenzied rhythmic figurations, but also a switch from the guitar’s arpeggiations to more powerful strumming.
Despite all these good things, though, I think the arrangement actually peaks a verse too early, with verse seven unable to top the intensity of the previous verse’s strummed guitar and extra kick-drum eighth notes. Personally, I wish John Steel had delayed his new kick-drum pattern until the final verse, because I reckon the guitar strumming would have provided the step up from verse five on its own.