The Animals

The Animals were an English music group of the 1960s formed in Newcastle upon Tyne during the early part of the decade, and later relocated to London. Known for their gritty, bluesy sound and deep-voiced frontman Eric Burdon – as exemplified by their number one signature song "The House of the Rising Sun" as well as by hits such as "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "It's My Life" – the band balanced tough, rock-edged pop singles against rhythm and blues-oriented album material. They became known in the U.S. as part of the British Invasion.

The Animals underwent numerous personnel changes in the mid-1960s and suffered from poor business management. Under the name Eric Burdon and the Animals, they moved to California and achieved commercial success as a psychedelic rock band, before disbanding at the end of the decade. Altogether, the group had ten Top Twenty hits in both the UK and U.S.

The original lineup had a brief comeback in 1977 and 1983. There have been several partial regroupings of the original era members since then under various names. The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

First incarnation

Formed in Newcastle upon Tyne during 1962 and 1963 when Burdon joined the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, the original line-up was Eric Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (organ and keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), and Bryan "Chas" Chandler (bass).

They were dubbed "animals" because of their wild stage act and the name stuck.[1] The Animals' moderate success in their hometown and a connection with Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky motivated them to move to London in 1964, in time to be grouped with the British Invasion. They performed fiery versions of the staple rhythm and blues repertoire, covering songs by Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, and others. Signed to Columbia Records' subsidiary of EMI, a rocking version of the standard "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" (retitled "Baby Let Me Take You Home") was their first single.

It was followed in June 1964 by the transatlantic number one hit "House of the Rising Sun". Burdon's howling vocals and the dramatic arrangement created arguably the first folk rock hit. Whether the arrangement was inspired by versions by Bob Dylan, folk singer Dave Van Ronk, by blues singer Josh White (who recorded it twice in 1944 and 1949), or by singer/pianist Nina Simone (who recorded it in 1962 on Nina at the Village Gate), remains a dispute.

The Animals' two-year chart career, produced by Mickie Most, featured intense, gritty pop music covers such as Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" and the Nina Simone popularised number "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". In contrast, their album tracks stayed with rhythm and blues, with John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" and Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul" as notable examples.

In November 1964, the group was poised to make their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and began a short residency performing everyday in theatres across New York City. The group arrived at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport in a motorcade which featured each member of the band riding in the back seat of a Cadillac with a model. The group drove to their hotel with the occasional shriek of girls who had chased them down once they discovered who they were. The Animals sang "I'm Crying" and "The House of the Rising Sun" to a packed audience of hysterical girls screaming throughout both performances. In December the MGM movie Get Yourself a College Girl was released with the Animals singing a Chuck Berry song, "Around and Around" headlining with The Dave Clark Five in the movie.[2]

By May 1965 the group was starting to feel internal pressures. Price left due to personal and musical differences as well as fear of flying on tour;[1] he went on to a successful career as a solo artist and with the Alan Price Set. Mick Gallagher filled in for him on keyboards for a short time until Dave Rowberry replaced him and was on hand for the hit song "We Gotta Get out of This Place"[3] and "It's My Life". Around that time, an Animals Big Band made a one-time appearance.[4]

Many of The Animals' hits had come from Brill Building songwriters recruited by Most; the group, and Burdon in particular, felt this too restrictive. As 1965 ended, the group switched to Decca Records and producer Tom Wilson, who gave them more artistic freedom. In early 1966 MGM Records, their American label, collected their hits on The Best of The Animals; it became their best-selling album in the US. In February 1966 Steel left and was replaced by Barry Jenkins; a leftover cover of Goffin-King's "Don't Bring Me Down" was the last hit as The Animals. For the single "See See Rider" they changed the name into Eric Burdon & The Animals. In September they disbanded and Burdon recorded a solo album, called 'Eric Is Here', which also featured Burdon's UK #14 solo hit single, "Help Me, Girl", which he heavily promoted on TV shows such as 'Ready, Steady, Go!' and 'Top of the Pops' in late 1966. The 'b' side, "See See Rider" was credited to 'Eric Burdon & the Animals' and this would be Burdon's final release for Decca Records.

By this time their business affairs "were in a total shambles" according to Chandler (who went on to manage Jimi Hendrix) and the group disbanded. Even by the standards of the day when artists tended to be financially naïve the Animals made very little money, eventually claiming mismanagement and theft on the part of their manager Michael Jeffery.

Second incarnation

A group with Burdon, Jenkins, and new sidemen John Weider (guitar/violin/bass), Vic Briggs (guitar/piano), and Danny McCulloch (bass) were formed under the name Eric Burdon and the Animals (or sometimes Eric Burdon and the New Animals) in December 1966 and changed direction. The hard driving blues was transformed into Burdon's version of psychedelia as the former heavy drinking Geordie (who later said he could never get used to Newcastle "where the rain comes at you sideways") relocated to California and became a spokesman for the Love Generation.

Some of this group's hits included "San Franciscan Nights",[5] "Monterey" (a tribute to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival), and "Sky Pilot". Their sound was much heavier than the original group. Burdon screamed more and louder on live versions of "Paint It Black" and "Hey Gyp". In 1968 they had a more experimental sound on songs like "We Love You Lil" and the 19-minute record "New York 1963 - America 1968". The songs had a style of being silent at the beginning and then becoming psychedelic and raw straight to the end with screaming, strange lyrics and 'scrubbing' instruments.

There were further changes to this lineup: George Bruno (also known as Zoot Money, keyboards) was added in April 1968, and in July 1968 Andy Summers (guitar) - later of The Police - replaced Briggs and McCulloch.

By February 1969 these Animals had dissolved and the singles "Ring of Fire" and "River Deep – Mountain High" were internationally released.

Burdon joined forces with a Latin group from Long Beach, California, called War.

Reunions of first incarnation

The original Animals line-up of Burdon, Price, Valentine, Chandler, and Steel reunited for a benefit concert in Newcastle in 1968 and reformed in late 1975 to record again. Burdon later said, nobody understood why they did this short reunion. They did a mini-tour in 1976 and shot a few videos of their new songs like "Lonely Avenue" and "Please send me someone to Love". They released the album in 1977 aptly called Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. The album received critical praise and Burdon and Valentine also recorded some demos at that time, which were, however, never released.