The Animals were a British rock band of the 1960s, formed in Newcastle. They were part of the British Invasion, being one of the most popular bands of their era. Known for their gritty, raw, bluesy sound and hard-voiced frontman Eric Burdon, as exemplified by their signature songs House of the Rising Sun and Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, the band underwent numerous personnel changes, while influencing the later heavy metal music with the riffs of their rock songs such as We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and It's my Life. They emerged as an exponent of psychedelic music before dissolving at the end of the decade. In 1983 they had a comeback and toured for six months before disbanding forever.
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 The 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). Signed to the Columbia Graphophone 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 UK hit 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 (which in turn was inspired by folk singer Dave Van Ronk) 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 the Nina Simone number Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. 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 Gotta Get Out of this Place and It's My Life. Around that time, an Animals Big Band even made a one-time appearance.
Many of The Animals' hits had come from Brill Building songwriters recruited by Most; the group, and Burdon in particular, felt this was 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 onto The Best of The Animals; it became their best-selling album in the U.S. In February 1966 Steel left and was replaced by Barry Jenkins; a leftover cover of Goffin-King's Don't Bring Me Down and the powerful hard rock tune See See Rider were the last hits 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 alias Antion (guitar/piano), and Danny McCulloch (bass) was formed under the name Eric Burdon and the New Animals (or sometimes just Eric Burdon & 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, but also a former heavy metal act and one of the upcoming stars of the genre such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple..
Some of this group's hits included "San Franciscan Nights", "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 Summers (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 first hit under Eric Burdon & War was the funky/chill-out song Spill the Wine. The Group with 8 members disbanded in July 1971.
The original Animals line-up of Burdon, Price, Valentine, Chandler, and Steel briefly reunited for a benefit concert in Newcastle in 1968, for an album in 1977 and again for an album and tour (supplemented by Zoot Money on keyboards and Steve Grant on guitar) 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 "Animals & Friends" 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, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Canned Heat, David Johansen, Joe Cocker, Fine Young Cannibals, Iggy Pop, Mando Diao and many, many more.