The Animals - BBC files 1964 - 1967
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). 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 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 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" 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.