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The Animals

Biography

The Animals (1963-1969, 1975-1976, 1983, 1992-present): a Rock band from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

T

he origins of the band The Animals formed in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1963, when vocalist Eric Burdon joined the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, with the line-up of Burdon with Alan Price (organ/keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums) and Bryan "Chas" Chandler (bass).

They would soon re-name themselves after the popularity they gained from the destruction of their musical instruments on stage; a tradition that originated from an accidental guitar incident on a tiny stage that became a part of their act there-after. But a 2013 interview, Burdon denied this, stating it came from a gang of friends they used to hang out with, one of whom was nick-named "Animal" Hogg and the name was intended as a kind of tribute to him. 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 "British Invasion" of the US music charts.

The Animals repertoire featured fiery versions of staple rhythm and blues, covering songs by Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, and others. Signed to EMI's 'Columbia' label, their first single was a rocking version of the standard Baby Let Me Follow You Down (re-titled Baby Let Me Take You Home).

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The debut single was followed in June 1964 by the transatlantic number one hit House of the Rising Sun. In the track, Burdon's howling vocals and the dramatic arrangement, featuring Alan Price's haunting organ riffs, created what some consider 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 on 1962's Nina at the Village Gate.

The Animals' two-year chart career, boasted intense, gritty pop music covers of Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me and the Nina Simone popularized, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. In contrast, their album tracks stayed with rhythm and blues, boasting John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom and Ray Charles' I Believe to My Soul.

In October 1964, the group was poised to make their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and begin a short residency performing regularly in theaters across New York City. In December, the 'MGM' movie Get Yourself a College Girl was released with The Animals headlining with the Dave Clark Five; The Animals performed the 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, for the recording of We Gotta Get out of This Place and It's My Life.

Many of The Animals' hits had come from Brill Building songwriters recruited by Mickie Most; the group, and Burdon in particular, felt this restricted their creativity. As 1965 ended, the group ended its association with Most, signed a new deal with American label 'MGM Records' for the US and Canada, and switched to 'Decca Records' for the rest of the world. 'MGM Records' producer Tom Wilson, gave them the promised 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 to be replaced by Barry Jenkins.

A leftover rendition of Goffin-King's Don't Bring Me Down would be the last hit as The Animals. The next single, See See Rider, was credited to Eric Burdon and The Animals. By September 1966, the original incarnation of the group had split up. Their last batch of recordings was released on the album Animalism two months later.

Burdon went on to a solo career starting with Eric Is Here, featuring his 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. Although he went on to record other albums, it would be his final for 'Decca Records'.

By the end of 1966 their band business affairs "were in a total shambles" according to Chandler (who went on to manage Jimi Hendrix and produce Slade) and the group finally officially 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.

In December 1966, a group soon formed featuring Burdon, Jenkins, and new members John Weider (guitar/violin/bass), Vic Briggs (guitar/piano), and Danny McCulloch (bass) under the name Eric Burdon and Animals (often also called Eric Burdon and the New Animals) boasting a new musical direction. The hard driving blues of their past was transformed into Burdon's version of psychedelia featuring a much heavier sound than that of the original group, with Burdon screaming often and louder on live versions of Paint It Black and Hey Gyp. Despite the change, even this version of The Animals was dissolved by December 1968. Both versions of the band have had numerous reunions since.

In 2008, an adjudicator determined that original drummer John Steel owned "The Animals" name in the UK, by way of a trademark registration he had filed. Burdon objected to the trademark registration, arguing that he personally embodied any goodwill associated with the name. Burdon's argument was rejected, in part based on the fact that he had billed himself as "Eric Burdon and the Animals" as early as 1966, thus separating the goodwill associated with his own name from that of the band. But this was later overturned on 9 September 2013, allowing him access to the name "The Animals".

Over their career, their discography studio albums would include: The Animals (1964), The Animals on Tour (1965), Animal Tracks (1965), Animalisms (1966; UK)/Animalization (1966; US), Animalism (1966), Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted (1977) - Reissued by 'Secret Records Limited' (2020), and Ark (1983).


Footnote: As memorable as "House of the Rising Sun" might be, however, it was both the band's biggest moment, but also the harbinger of their demise. This tidbit of trivia comes from the author of the song him or herself; an author that is unknown. The song dates back well more than a hundred years before The Animals came along it. The version they perform is about a bawdy house in New Orleans, USA, but research shows it may even date further back to England referring to pubs, or the king of France by the French who settled the Louisiana region. Regardless of its origins the first known recording of it was under the title "Rising Sun Blues", by Appalachian artists Clarence "Tom" Ashley and Gwen Foster on September 6, 1933 on the 'Vocalsion' label. The oldest published version of the lyrics is by Robert Winslow Gordon in 1925, in a column "Old Songs That Men Have Sung" in Adventure magazine.

So, how does this bring down The Animals? Since the author is unknown, and it would have been written long before copyright existed, and allegedly, Alan Price received the credit on the record due to an attempt a filling that legal loophole. At the time, royalties were distributed to the song creator, producer, record label, band, etc. separately but since the song writer is unknown (and the song was technically part of the 'public domain' as we'd say today) the label needed a name to fill the loophole, and Alan Price was it; an unprecedented solution. Many believe it was chosen because his first name was the lowest in the alphabet but the true reason is unknown. Bottom line: Price benefited monetarily from the hit recording while the band (as a whole) didn't.

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