I was once I out strolling one very hot summer's day
when I thought I'd lay myself down to rest
in a big field of tall grass.
I laid there in the sun and felt it caressing my face
as I fell asleep and dreamed.
I dreamed I was in a Hollywood movie
and that I was the star of the movie.
This really blew my mind:
the fact that me, an overfed, long haired leaping gnome
should be the star of a Hollywood movie.
But there I was.
I was taken to a place--
the hall of the mountain king.
I stood high by the mountain top
naked to the world
in front of
every kind of girl.
There was long ones, tall ones, short ones, brown ones,
black ones, round ones, big ones, crazy ones.
Out of the middle, came a lady.
She whispered in my ear
Spill the wine, take that pearl! (4x)
I could feel hot flames of fire roaring at my back
as she disappeared, but soon she returned.
In her hand was a bottle of wine
in the other, a glass.
She poured some of the wine from the bottle into the glass
and raised it to her lips.
And just before she drank it, she said
Spill the wine, take that pearl. (4x)
Eric Burdon’s popularity had been suffering a decline in the late psychedelic years. After Sky Pilot, his most successful song with the new Animals was a tune called White Houses (another psychedelic tune with “white” in the title), which only got so far as #67 in the U.S. and was ignored in the UK. Beyond that, he’d released a couple of singles that failed to chart in the U.S. But Burdon was known to have an ear for the future—he was the person that first brought Jimi Hendrix to the attention of the English audience. When he heard War, who at the time was only known in the Los Angeles area, he knew he’d found another winner. Spill the Wine charted as high as #3 in the U.S. and the song turned out to be the highest charter of any of Eric Burdon’s records outside of the Animals' British Invasion hit House of the Rising Sun in 1964. It just so happened that in September 1970 Burdon brought Jimi Hendrix and War to play together in England…it was the last time that Hendrix performed before he died.
From the very first moment, War hits you with its signature Latin funk sound. Burdon raps on top of the loose weave of music, against African percussion accentuated by Charles Miller’s jazz inflected flute. He only sings the chorus. Burdon had been doing this kind of talking record throughout the psychedelic period—San Francisco Nights; Winds of Change; the limited vocal range of Sky Pilot; he was unique at the time with this tendency. Some of his raps were preachy, as if he were setting himself up as a guru, and I think this was a turn-off to much of his previous audience. But in Spill the Wine he is self-deprecating, foiling his usual egotism with the admission that he is “an overfed, long haired leaping gnome”. It puts Burdon on par with his audience again instead of above them, and we hear his story of the Mexican (?) girl as something humorous rather than as a boast. Unfortunately, this would be the last time that Eric Burdon would have a hit. War, however, would go on to have a string of further successes.