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Monday, March 28, 2016

Alan Price: The Price To Play

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.

3 comments:

  1. I was very pleased to read this review; I can now see the journey made from 60s RnB to later piano-based orchestrations (and I think Simon Smith AHADB is great). But who do you think you were writing it for? Alan Price must be the most parochial UK artist to appear in your writings, the Kinks previously holding that spot. Singing about mining disasters and working class marches against poverty, he couldn't really be expected to have world-wide appeal. And he didn't, only attaining the lower reaches of the charts in Australia and virtually nothing in America. Not for the first time, it has me wondering about the musical culture you've encountered. Me, I lived through it. But where were you when Top Of The Pops was in it's heyday? How did you come to Wire and Cabaret Voltaire? I'd like to know - maybe one of your mini-essays is overdue.

    Don't know if you bother with the comments written here, so copied to the Facebook Page

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  2. Nice to see you covering Alan Price, I imagine his catalogue becomes a bit of a mess to figure out though. Between Today and Yesterday is a bit a classic album, pretty original.

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  3. I bought the CD to hear the 2 English hits. In general I was disappointed with the album with much of it not even being rock and roll. His version of "I put a spell on you" was disturbing compared to Arthur Brown's version. I much prefer Scaffold.

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