Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood



There’s yet to be an Animals renaissance.

Most of the acts of the British Invasion were sunny, optimistic, or if dangerous, not too much so. Whereas the Animals…

By time they had success in the U.S. these British acts were featured on TV, so we saw Eric Burdon and his bandmates and…they were scruffy, Eric had a less than perfect complexion in the era of Clearasil, there was a darkness and danger to the band’s sound, they seemed to exist outside the British Invasion, but were still members of it. And they had a slew of hits.

It started with a rendition of the traditional “House of the Rising Sun,” a song known by older folkies but so few younger baby boomers, the Animals’ version was the first one they heard, at this late date it’s the most famous one, it’s got 597+ million streams on Spotify. It’s got nowhere near that play count on YouTube, proving that oldsters don’t need no visuals and the green icon service is where true music lovers live.

At this late date, the second most remembered Animals track, with about a tenth of the streams of “House of the Rising Sun,” is “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which somehow seemed to have more cultural impact. Because now it was 1965, music had truly taken over youth culture, music was the paramount cultural medium, if you wanted to know what was going on you turned on the radio, and if you didn’t you were left behind, like the old people with their Perry Comos and Dean Martins.

And “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” was a weird blend of pessimism and optimism, the verses were downbeat, but the choruses were upbeat. But one thing is for sure, the star was Eric Burdon’s voice, the way he enunciated sent the message irrelevant of the lyrics, the Animals were STARS!

But my favorite Animals track is “Don’t Bring Me Down,” which had that curious difference between verse and chorus, but in this case the chorus was an incantation to his beloved not to…bring him down.

But really it was the organ, akin to “96 Tears,” and the fuzztone guitar, Burdon’s vocal was the cherry on top. “Don’t Bring Me Down” had a darkness, a grittiness that was palpable, that could not be resisted. In the era of the war between the collegiates and the diddys, this was one thing they could agree on, this track, all of the Animals’ music. “Don’t Bring Me Down” was primal, you didn’t need to get good grades to understand it, and if you were striving in school you were entranced by its danger, this is the life you wanted to live, you wanted to feel this emotion, this passion, this was not teenybop, but adult music. And despite their focus on their studies the grinds’ hormones were raging, and one thing youngsters can’t deny is their hormones, and in the sixties we got our sex on the radio, not online, and it wasn’t really until late in the decade you could go to the theatre and see boobies, that was enough of an incentive to go, few spoke about the plot of “I Am Curious (Yellow).”

But earlier in the band’s career, back in ’64, the Animals had a hit with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” But they didn’t cut the original version.

That was one difference between the Animals and their competition, they sang covers, they didn’t write the material. But their rendition of the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” was the first popular one.

This was not always the case. Although the Animals were the first to record the Carole King/Gerry Goffin composition “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Yet “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was first recorded by Nina Simone, whose star has risen once again, primarily because of a documentary, then again Simone is dead, whereas Eric Burdon is not.

But Hilton Valentine is gone. Chas Chandler too. And Mickie Most, the architect of the band’s sound, he’s the one who chose the material, pushed the band over the transom, made their records hits. Although “Don’t Bring Me Down” was produced by Tom Wilson, and maybe that’s why I love it so much, it’s got a bit more of a New York feel, equally dark, after all at this point so many of our images were in black and white.

And for a minute there, Alan Price got press as a result of his film work, most notably Lindsay Anderson’s “O Lucky Man!,” but that was fifty years ago.

And Chas Chandler famously found, recorded and promoted Jimi Hendrix.

And Eric Burdon is still plying the boards. The man who sang the hits, who switched it up by working with War, bringing that act to prominence, the man who even had a psychedelic hit with “Sky Pilot,” have you heard the long version?

And I thought of all this when I heard “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” in Harlan Coben’s “Stay Close” on Netflix.


I watch all of Coben’s work. And although one must be prepared for the twists at the end, “Stay Close” is one of the better ones, set in the U.K., however you do have to overlook some ridiculousness, most notably the pastel assassins.

But when we’re deep into it, in the final episode, with its twists and turns, a song starts to play in the background, it’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” But it’s not the Animals, it wasn’t anyone I recognized.

Now it turns out “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” has been covered by everybody from Lady Gaga to Joe Cocker. The Moody Blues did a version. Even Elvis Costello. But which version was used in “Stay Close”?

Now the truth is this information is usually readily available online. I don’t know who the faceless people providing these details are, but they’re busy at work but sometimes it takes a while, there’s a delay, you have to wait for the information to appear.

But now one can read that this rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is by Eliza Shaddad. Who?

Shaddad’s version is completely different from the Animals’, it’s slowed down. And in truth, so is Nina Simone’s. But Simone’s is more of a period piece, with lush strings and Nina dominating, owning the track, whereas Shaddad’s version is more subtle, and it works perfectly synched to images, quiet, in the background.

And there’s a montage of images. And the music adds to the images and the lyrics penetrate.

“Baby, do you understand me now

Sometimes I feel a little mad

But don’t you know that no one alive

Can always be an angel”

Whew! Apologetic, but really an iron fist in a velvet glove, subtle in a way today’s bop you over the head sexist lyrics are not. Today everybody has to appear an angel, even though as the song says, no one can be, certainly not all the time. We hide our warts, we don’t own our faults, but in “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” the singer does.

“When things go wrong I seem to be bad

But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”

We’re talking about relationships here, one’s private life as opposed to public. And if you have no arguments, no difference of opinion with your significant other, that just means they’re not expressing their true feelings, or maybe you’re not, and that is a recipe for disaster, because eventually they come out and dissension is escalated.

“Baby, sometimes I’m so carefree

With a joy that’s hard to hide

And sometimes it seems that all I have to do is worry

And then you’re bound to see my other side”

There’s always a yin to the yang. No one is happy all the time. Sometimes you’re elated, other times you can’t get rid of your angst, and when you show this other side will you be rejected?

“If I seem edgy I want you to know

That I never mean to take it out on you

Life has its problems and I get my share

And that’s one thing I never mean to do”

Now this song was written in a different time, before not only the woke era, but the women’s movement. When men ruled the roost and could get away with physical violence and…I’m not endorsing it, just detailing it. But the truth is both sexes can lose control.

“Oh baby, don’t you know I’m human

Have thoughts like any other one

Sometimes I find myself long regretting

Some foolish thing, some little simple thing I’ve done”

Regrets, I have a few, don’t you? You’re running on instinct and then you calm down and see the bigger picture and worry about the fallout. You want a significant other who can tolerate your ups and downs, however not violence. Then again, words can be violent too.


Now the truth is listening to Eliza Shaddad’s rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” reinforced how a great song is timeless.

But it was a different era, it was all about the song. The Beatles ushered in a new model, where the acts wrote their own material. The Animals were a bridge between old and new. And soon the new superseded the old nearly completely, and now the paradigm has flipped back. There’s too big a risk, the label wants a hit, get a cowriter, do a cover, the suits no longer trust talent, but the truth is the suits can never completely understand creation. And although some cuts are certified smashes, so many other ones that top the charts are a complete surprise. And then there are the tracks that were never singles that everybody seems to know, although frequently this isn’t realized until decades later. I thought I was the only one who loved the Beach Boys’ exquisite “‘Til I Die” from 1971’s “Surf’s Up” until I saw Don Was’s Brian Wilson documentary “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” in 1995.

And the truth is Brian wasn’t, made for those times, and in these times he can’t recapture what he once had, although every now and then a glimpse comes through, especially when he works with Joe Thomas.

And the Animals were a product of the period too. Today everybody puts money first, they want those songwriting credits. Bands fall apart because there’s not enough money once you split up the royalties, assuming there are any. Then again, making music in the mid-sixties was a completely different endeavor. Pop was seen as disposable. Here today, not worth too much tomorrow, which is why Peter Grant sold Led Zeppelin’s royalties to Atlantic. if you were lucky you could continue to play music, but ultimately you were going to have to get a day job. As for a pension from your music, that’s a laugh.

But maybe that’s why the music from that era was so great, all you had was the performance, the penumbra was outside the act’s purview, other than the sex and the dope. You had no idea how much money you were due, you were too busy working to earn it. And everything was less precious, you couldn’t stay in the studio for months spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it right.

And in truth, artists have given up getting it right. Oh, they shine the production, but the building blocks… Hell, you can buy your beats online, it’s about making a hit record, oftentimes there’s no melody at all.

But it was different. And the Animals were part of the change.

But an equal partner was their songs.

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott and Sol Marcus. The first and third were not well-known then and are not today either, if it weren’t for the internet and Wikipedia their names would have fallen through the cracks, lost to the sand of times.

But this song…

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is forever. Seemingly anybody can sing it. And no matter who does, the darkness, the underbelly, is evidenced, because it’s right there in the words and the changes.

The truth is we’re all misunderstood. It’s amazing people can understand each other at all. Miscommunication is the bane of relationships. We feel so alone, the only thing that seems to get us is these songs, they understand us, they soothe us, they give us hope, make life worth living, that’s their magic.

It’s not easy to create that magic. But when you achieve it…it’s undeniable.

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”

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