The Animals: A Rock Legacy Spanning Decades

In the rich tapestry of rock history, there are only a handful of bands that have etched an enduring legacy quite like The Animals. Originating from Newcastle upon Tyne in the early 1960s, they swiftly became synonymous with a raw, blues-infused sound, propelled by the commanding vocals of their deep-voiced frontman, Eric Burdon.

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In the annals of rock history, few bands have left as indelible a mark as The Animals. Hailing from Newcastle upon Tyne in the early 1960s, they became synonymous with a gritty, bluesy sound and a deep-voiced frontman, Eric Burdon. This article delves into the journey of The Animals, also billed as Eric Burdon and the Animals, exploring their iconic hits, lineup changes, and enduring impact on the music scene.

The Early Years and Signature Sound

The Animals rose to prominence with their distinct rock-edged pop singles and rhythm-and-blues-infused album material. Eric Burdon’s commanding vocals became a defining element of their identity, captivating audiences worldwide. The unforgettable “The House of the Rising Sun” and other chart-toppers like “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “It’s My Life,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “I’m Crying,” and “See See Rider” showcased their versatility and musical prowess.

Evolution and Challenges

The mid-1960s brought both success and challenges for The Animals. Personnel changes and poor business management led to the original lineup’s dissolution in 1966. Undeterred, Eric Burdon reformed the band in California, giving birth to Eric Burdon and the Animals. This revamped incarnation explored psychedelic and progressive rock, producing hits like “San Franciscan Nights,” “When I Was Young,” and “Sky Pilot.”

Commercial Success and Disbandment

The late 1960s witnessed the commercial zenith of Eric Burdon and the Animals, with 10 top-20 hits in both the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100. However, the decade’s end saw the band disband, marking the close of a significant chapter in their musical journey.

Reunion and Brief Comebacks

Despite the challenges, the original lineup, comprising Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler, Hilton Valentine, and John Steel, reunited for a memorable benefit concert in Newcastle in 1968. Brief comebacks in 1975 and 1983 followed, demonstrating the enduring camaraderie among the members.

(1962–1966): A Journey Through Rhythm and Blues Revolution

Unveiling the Origins

The Animals’ saga begins in the vibrant music scene of Newcastle upon Tyne during the early 1960s. Formed in 1962 and 1963, the band took shape when Eric Burdon joined forces with the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. The founding members comprised Burdon (vocals), Price (organ and keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), and Bryan “Chas” Chandler (bass).

From Combo to Animals

Originally known as the Alan Price Combo, the band adopted the name “Animals” due to their reputed wild stage presence. While speculations circulate about the origin of the name, with connections to a friend named “Animal” Hogg or Graham Bond, the undeniable truth remains—the Animals burst onto the scene with an act that matched their moniker.

London Calling and Beatlemania

Motivated by their success in Newcastle and a connection with Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky, the Animals made a strategic move to London in 1964. This relocation aligned perfectly with Beatlemania and the beat boom takeover of the music scene, positioning them as key players in the British Invasion of the American charts.

Musical Prowess and Chart Triumphs

The Animals didn’t just ride the wave of popularity; they carved their niche with fiery renditions of rhythm-and-blues classics. Their debut single, a rocking version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” set the stage for a two-year chart journey. However, it was the transatlantic number-one hit “The House of the Rising Sun” in June 1964 that catapulted them to international acclaim.

Charting New Territories

Debates linger regarding the inspiration for their groundbreaking arrangement of “The House of the Rising Sun.” Whether influenced by Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Josh White, or Nina Simone, the Animals’ rendition marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of folk-rock. Their desire to stand out on tour in the UK undoubtedly played a role in crafting a memorable arrangement.

Internal Shifts and Continued Success

By May 1965, internal pressures had surfaced, leading to Alan Price’s departure. Despite this, the Animals persevered, bringing in Mick Gallagher and later Dave Rowberry on keyboards. The hits kept coming, including the anthems “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life.”

The Big Band Experiment

In a unique move, the Animals assembled a big band for the British Jazz and Blues Festival in 1965. This eclectic lineup, featuring brass and horn sections, showcased their versatility beyond traditional rock boundaries.

Artistic Evolution and Business Turmoil

As 1965 concluded, the Animals sought more artistic freedom, parting ways with Mickie Most and signing with MGM Records. Working with producer Tom Wilson, they explored new musical territories. However, internal conflicts persisted, leading to lineup changes and eventually the original incarnation’s split in September 1966.

Legacy and Solo Ventures

The Animals’ legacy endures through their hits and the enduring influence of their members. Eric Burdon embarked on a solo career, releasing “Eric Is Here” in 1966, featuring the hit single “Help Me, Girl.” Despite their musical impact, financial challenges and mismanagement plagued the Animals, contributing to their disbandment.

(1966–1968): A Psychedelic Evolution

Embracing Change and Exploration

As the 1960s unfolded, so did the musical journey of Eric Burdon and the Animals. In December 1966, a new chapter commenced with the formation of a group under the moniker Eric Burdon and Animals, or occasionally Eric Burdon and the New Animals. This lineup, featuring Barry Jenkins and new members John Weider, Vic Briggs, and Danny McCulloch, signalled a departure from the blues-oriented sound that defined the original Animals.

The California Shift

Relocating to California, Eric Burdon became a spokesperson for the Love Generation, embracing the ethos of the era. The band’s early performances with this lineup steered away from the hits that characterised the original group. Instead, they delved into a fusion of progressive rock, psychedelic, soul, and folk music, giving birth to a sound that resonated with the evolving musical landscape.

From “San Franciscan Nights” to Experimental Soundscapes

The new Animals quickly made their mark with hits like “San Franciscan Nights,” “Monterey” (a tribute to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival), and “Sky Pilot.” The heavier sound, marked by Burdon’s intense vocals, set them apart from their predecessors. Live renditions of classics like “Paint It Black” and “Hey Gyp” showcased a more aggressive and experimental side.

By 1968, Eric Burdon and the Animals had fully embraced experimentation, evident in tracks like “We Love You Lil” and the epic 19-minute journey of “New York 1963–America 1968” from the album Every One of Us. This era saw the band pushing boundaries and challenging traditional musical norms.

Lineup Changes and Collaborations

Zoot Money’s addition in April 1968 brought a new dimension to the group, initially as an organist/pianist. With Danny McCulloch’s departure, Money also took on bass and occasional lead vocals. In July 1968, Andy Summers, later renowned as the guitarist for the Police, replaced Vic Briggs. The lineup, enriched by Money and Summers’ backgrounds in the British psychedelic outfit Dantalian’s Chariot, expanded their repertoire to include Dantalian’s Chariot songs.

The International Farewell

By December 1968, the vibrant incarnation of Eric Burdon and the Animals had run its course. However, their legacy continued with the international release of the double album Love Is, featuring memorable singles like “Ring of Fire” and “River Deep – Mountain High.” Despite the breakup, the impact of this psychedelic phase would resonate through the years.

Unravelling the Breakup and New Ventures

Numerous factors contributed to the dissolution of the band, with the infamous aborted Japanese tour taking centre stage. A delayed and tumultuous tour, coupled with unexpected encounters with the yakuza, led to a hasty exit from Japan, leaving behind tour equipment and marking the end of this chapter.

Post-breakup, members pursued individual paths: Money and Summers ventured into solo careers, Weider joined Family, and Burdon found a new musical collaboration with the funk/r&b/rock group War from Long Beach, California.