The Animals were an English rock and roll band of the 1960s that was part of the British Invasion. Known for their gritty, bluesy sound and deep-voiced frontman Eric Burdon, as exemplified by their signature song “House of the Rising Sun”, the band underwent numerous personnel changes and emerged as an exponent of psychedelic rock before dissolving at the end of the decade.
Formed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne during 1962 and 1963 when Burdon joined the existing Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, the original line-up comprised Eric Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (organ and keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), and Bryan “Chas” Chandler (bass). 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 (Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, etc). 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 huge transatlantic 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 Bob Dylan’s version of the song or by blues singer Josh White’s (who recorded it twice in 1944 and 1949) or by singer/pianist Nina Simone (who recorded it in 1962 on At The Village Gate, predating Dylan’s interpretation) remains a subject of dispute, as does whether all five Animals deserved credit for the arrangement and not just Price.
The Animals’ two-year chart career, masterminded by producer Mickie Most, featured singles that were intense, gritty pop covers such as Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (based on the version of Nina Simone on Broadway-Blues-Ballads (1964)). In contrast their album tracks stayed with rhythm and blues, with Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and Ray Charles’ “I Believe to My Soul” being notable examples. Burdon’s powerful, deep voice and the use of keyboards as much or more than guitars were two elements that made the Animals’ sound stand out.
By May 1965 the group was starting to feel internal pressures. Price left due to personal and musical differences as well as a fear of flying on tour; he went on to a successful career as a solo artist and with the Alan Price Set. Mickey Gallagher filled in for him on keyboards for a spell, until Dave Rowberry replaced him and was on hand for the hit working-class anthems “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place” (an iconic song which was used in Dennis Potter’s Stand Up, Nigel Barton and in Our Friends in the North, adopted as an anthem by American troops in Vietnam and later used, applied to the Iraq War, in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11) and “It’s My Life”. In February 1966 Steel left and was replaced by Barry Jenkins; a cover of Goffin-King’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” was the last hit as the Animals.
By this time their business affairs “were in a total shambles,” according to Chandler (who would go 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 from their successes, eventually claiming mismanagement and theft on the part of their manager Mike Jeffery.
A group with Burdon, Jenkins, and new sidemen John Weider (guitar/violin/bass), Vic Briggs (guitar/piano), and Danny McCulloch (bass) was formed under the name Eric Burdon and the New Animals (or sometimes just Eric Burdon and the Animals) in October 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” (containing the line “warm San Franciscan night,” curious in that nighttime weather in San Francisco—even in mid-summer—seldom exceeds 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celsius), “Monterey” (a tribute to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival), and the anti-war “Sky Pilot”. There were further changes to this line-up: George Bruno (a/k/a Zoot Money, keyboards) was added in April 1968, and in July 1968 Andy Somers
(guitar)—later of The Police—replaced Briggs and McCulloch.
By 1969 these Animals had dissolved, and Eric Burdon joined forces with a Latin group from Long Beach, California called War.
The original Animals line-up of Burdon, Price, Valentine, Chandler, and Steel briefly reunited for an album in 1977 and again for an album and tour (supplemented by other players, including Zoot Money) in 1983. Chandler died in 1996.
In the 2000s Burdon has toured with a new set of musicians under the name “Eric Burdon and the Animals”. Periodically during the 1990s and 2000s Valentine, Steel, and Dave Rowberry toured under the name “(Hilton Valentine’s) The Animals” and Valentine and Steel under the name “Animals II”. Rowberry died in 2003. As of 2005 another “The Animals” was also active, consisting of Steel and Mickey Gallagher; this group frequently play gigs on a Color Line ship that travels between Scandinavia and Germany.
The original Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Their influence can be heard in artists as varied as The Doors, Bruce Springsteen, David Johansen, and Fine Young Cannibals.
The Heart Never Lies
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