ALAN PRICE: THE PRICE TO PLAY (1966)
1) Barefooting; 2) Just Once In My Life; 3) Going Down Slow; 4) Getting Mighty Crowded; 5) Honky Tonk; 6) Move On Drifter; 7) Mercy Mercy; 8) Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever; 9) Ain't That Peculiar; 10) I Can't Turn You Loose; 11) Critic's Choice; 12) Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo; 13*) Any Day Now; 14*) Never Be Sick On Sunday; 15*) I Put A Spell On You; 16*) Iechyd-Da; 17*) Take Me Home; 18*) Willow Weep For Me; 19*) Yours Until Tomorrow; 20*) Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear; 21*) Who Cares; 22*) Shame.
After Alan Price parted way with The Animals, it took him quite a bit of time to find the proper footing, and at the moment when it came to recording his first album, that time had not yet arrived. As an organ player, Price formed an essential part of the band's R&B sound — as a leader of his own band, The Alan Price Set, and being responsible for the material, the arrangements, and the singing, he was nowhere near as effective as Burdon as long as he made the mistake of standing on the same R&B turf.
Indeed, The Price To Play, which came out in the same year as The Animals' first «priceless» (sorry for even more inevitable puns) album, Animalisms, could have most of its songs recorded by the actual Animals, and nobody would feel the difference — there's quite a comparable selection of rock'n'roll, blues, soul, pop, and R&B, maybe with a slightly less hard edge than Burdon would give it all, but that could have easily been remedied. There ain't a single original composition in sight, and although there is no question about Alan actually loving all this stuff, «loving» a song is hardly the only requirement necessary to make your version of it outstanding.
As an R&B singer, Price hits the right notes, but he is not too powerful, nor is he endowed with some stunningly idiosyncratic vocal timbre — you'd probably have a much harder time trying to memorize his identity on this album than you'd have with, say, Manfred Mann's Paul Jones. As for his keyboard playing, The Price To Play is very definitively a band album, not a solo showcase, democratically allowing all members of The Alan Price Set to flaunt their talents: not a good idea, I'd say, seeing as how Alan is the most gifted musician of the lot, and how so much time is taken away from him and donated to the brass players. (On the trivia side, the drummer for this lot is none other than Alan White, whom we would all come to really know later as Bill Bruford's replacement in Yes. No Tales From Topographic Oceans preview here, though).
Not surprisingly, the organ-led instrumentals, such as ʻHonky Tonkʼ and ʻCritic's Choiceʼ, are the most exciting tracks in this lot — on the former, Alan gets to spread his playing wings wider than he could ever allow himself in The Animals. Otherwise, all you really have to do is admire his good taste in R&B covers, but really, you are not missing all that much in life if you do not hear him running through a British-disciplined ʻI Can't Turn You Looseʼ or a smooth, poppy variant of Don Covay's ʻMercy, Mercyʼ, which only one year before was covered by the Stones in a far snappier, edgier manner. And if you want a real corny, catchy version of ʻHi-Lili, Hi-Loʼ, you do not have to go farther than the Manfred Mann version, also from 1965. Ultimately, for most of these tunes, Alan came a little too late and a little too senselessly.
The CD reissue of the album does somehow pump up its value, by throwing on ten additional tracks from contemporary singles and EPs. This includes Alan's first significant solo commercial success in the UK, an organ-led version of ʻI Put A Spell On Youʼ — slyly and subtly re-written and re-arranged so that musically and atmospherically, it brings on associations with ʻHouse Of The Rising Sunʼ (even the solo in the instrumental break begins with precisely the same chords as the ʻHouseʼ solo); and, more importantly, ʻSimon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bearʼ, an early song by Randy Newman that introduced Alan to music-hall values and pretty much turned his entire subsequent career around. Both tunes are quite nice, even if, as of then, neither of them still suggested that Price would ever become a successful songwriter in his own rights.
Anyway, criticisms aside, it all feels good, friendly, and professional — listening to the record is guaranteed to not cause any harm whatsoever. But clearly, if this were to become Price's regular output, then leaving The Animals would have been the biggest blunder he ever made in his life. Fortunately, he was quick enough to realize that himself.