The Animals were known for their gritty, bluesy sound and deep-voiced frontman Eric Burdon, as exemplified by their signature song and transatlantic No.1 hit single, “The House of the Rising Sun”, as well as by hits such as “We Gotta Get out of This Place”, “It’s My Life”, and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. The band balanced tough, rock-edged pop singles against rhythm and blues-oriented album material. They were known in the US 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, the much-changed act moved to California and achieved commercial success as a psychedelic and hard rock band with hits like “San Franciscan Nights”, “When I Was Young” and “Sky Pilot”, before disbanding at the end of the decade. Altogether, the group had ten Top Twenty hits in both the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100.
The original lineup had brief comebacks in 1975 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.
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.
The Animals’ success in their hometown and a connection with Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky motivated them to move to London in 1964 in the immediate wake of Beatlemania and the beat boom take-over of the popular music scene, just in time to play an important role in the so-called British Invasion of the US music charts.
The Animals performed fiery versions of the staple rhythm and blues repertoire, covering songs by Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, and others. Signed to EMI’s Columbia label, 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 1 hit “House of the Rising Sun”. Burdon’s howling vocals and the dramatic arrangement, featuring Alan Price’s haunting organ riffs, created arguably the first folk rock hit. There is ongoing debate regarding the Animals’ inspiration for their arrangement of the song, which has variously been ascribed to prior versions by Bob Dylan, folk singer Dave Van Ronk, blues singer Josh White (who recorded it twice in 1944 and 1949), and singer/pianist Nina Simone (who recorded it in 1962 on Nina at the Village Gate).
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 begin a short residency performing regularly in theatres across New York City. The group arrived in New York City direct from John F. Kennedy International Airport in a motorcade formed of Sunbeam Alpine Series IV convertibles, with each individual car featuring a member of the band riding with a model in the back seat with the top down. The group drove to their hotel accompanied by the occasional shrieks 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 on Sullivan’s show. In December, the MGM movie Get Yourself a College Girl was released with the Animals headlining with the Dave Clark Five. The Animals sang a Chuck Berry song, “Around and Around”, in the movie.
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. 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 songs “We Gotta Get out of This Place” and “It’s My Life”.
Around that time, the Animals put together a big band to play at the 5th Annual British Jazz & Blues Festival in Richmond. The Animals Big Band made their one public appearance on 5 August 1965. As well as Burdon, Rowberry, Valentine, Chandler, and Steel, they featured a brass/horn section of Ian Carr, Kenny Wheeler and Greg Brown on trumpets, and Stan Robinson, Al Gay, Dick Morrissey and Paul Carroll on saxophones.
Many of the Animals’ hits had come from Brill Building songwriters recruited by Mickie Most; the group, and Burdon in particular, felt this too creatively restrictive. As 1965 ended, the group ended its association with Most, signed a new deal with their American label MGM Records for the US and Canada, switched to Decca Records for the rest of the world and MGM Records producer Tom Wilson, who gave them more artistic freedom. In early 1966 MGM 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 rendition of Goffin-King’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” was the last hit as the Animals. For the single “See See Rider” the band changed its name to Eric Burdon & the Animals. By September 1966, this lineup of the group had dissipated.
Burdon began work on a solo album, called Eric Is Here, which also featured Burdon’s UK number 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. Eric Is Here was 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.
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 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”, “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: Zoot Money was added in April 1968, initially as organist/pianist only, but upon the departure of McCulloch he also took on bass and occasional lead vocals. In July 1968 Andy Summers replaced Briggs. Both Money and Summers were formerly of British psychedelic outfit Dantalian’s Chariot, and much of this new lineup’s set was composed of Dantalian’s Chariot songs which caught Burdon’s interest. Due to Money’s multi-instrumental load, in live settings bass was played alternately by Weider and Summers.
By December 1968, these Animals had dissolved, and both their double album Love Is and the singles “Ring of Fire” and “River Deep – Mountain High” were internationally released. Numerous reasons have been cited for the breakup, the most famous being an aborted Japanese tour. The tour had been scheduled for September 1968 but was delayed until November due to difficulty obtaining visas.
Only a few dates into the tour, the promoters – who, unbeknownst to the band, were yakuza – kidnapped the band’s manager and threatened him at gunpoint to write an IOU for $25,000 to cover losses incurred by the tour’s delay. The manager wrote out the IOU but, correctly surmising that none of his captors could read English, added a note that it was written under duress. The yakuza released him but warned that he and the band would have to leave Japan the next day or be killed. The Animals promptly fled the country, leaving all their tour equipment behind. Money and Summers both subsequently pursued solo careers (though this pursuit was swiftly aborted in Summers’s case), Weider signed up with Family, and Burdon joined forces with a Latin group from Long Beach, California, called War.
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