WE BETTER GET DOWN TO LONDON RIGHT AWAY (Hilton Valentine, R.I.P.)

I caught an interview with Eric Burdon on YouTube not long ago where he told the story of how his band the Animals came to record their version of a folk standard called “The House of the Rising Sun.” Seems they had signed a recording contract and were on tour in England as one of several opening acts for Chuck Berry.

All the other acts were basically copying Chuck, covering his songs, playing and performing as close to his style as possible. In order to be different, the Animals decided to change things up with “The House of the Rising Sun,’ already a folk and blues standard but nothing anyone had ever imagined as a pop hit.

On an early date in the tour, they found themselves in what passed for the venue’s dressing room, which was close enough to the exit they could overhear fans leaving the arena. This particular night, they heard nearly everyone who passed by talking about how great Chuck Berry was…and what about that one strange song that one group did.

Nobody seemed to know that it was. Everybody seemed to agree it was fantastic.

The next day was the group’s one day a week off. They looked at each other and decided: We better get down to London right away and record this. In those days a week could be a lifetime, the difference between a hit and oblivion (a process Barry Mann would learn a couple of years later when his original version of “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” was pulled from the American marketplace because the Animals had just released it that week in the UK…and it was already #1) could be a matter of days or even hours.

They made it to London and back. While they were there, they unpacked their equipment long enough to record “The House of the Rising Sun,” by Burdon’s account in one take.

The rest is history. “Rising Sun’ is, to this day, the unsurpassed foundation stone of British Blues Rock, the first non-Beatles” British #1 in America after the dawn of the British Invasion and oh so much more.

And for all its unfathomably great elements–Burdon’s yowling vocal (still the toughest, most uncompromising, to ever top either the UK or US charts), Alan Price’s soaring-and-dipping keyboards, Chas Chandler’s throat-grabbing bass, Mickie Most’s gutbucket, caught-on-the-fly production–the greatest and most distinctive element for me was Hilton Valentine’s guitar intro which then boils and burns throughout the whole song, finally gluing it all together from first note to last.

Hilton passed away today at the age of 77. His greatest musical moment came 57 years ago.

I promise you time will never catch it.