Inductees: Eric Burdon (vocals; born May 11, 1941), Chas Chandler (bass; born December 18, 1938), Alan Price (keyboards; born April 19, 1942), John Steel (drums; born February 4, 1941), Hilton Valentine (guitar; born May 22, 1943)
The Animals were part of the budding, homegrown U.K. blues scene of the early Sixties and one of the most noteworthy bands of the British Invasion. Formed in Newcastle-on-Tyne, a port city and coal-mining hub in northeast England, the Animals reflected their upbringing with brawling, blues-based rock and roll. The group derived its inspiration - and much of its early repertoire - from American blues and R&B sources, adapting them to their native British working-class sensibility. Eric Burdon was among the best white R&B singers of the Sixties. His gruff, soulful vocals brought out the anguish in such anthems as “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” The band’s sound was also heavily defined by Alan Price’s organ playing, which provided dramatic accents and a blues-jazz atmosphere. The other founding members - guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler and drummer John Steel – balanced Burdon’s earthiness and Price’s melodic finesse.
Originally known as the Alan Price Combo, the group changed its name to the Animals when Burdon joined in 1962. In 1963, they performed a monthlong residency (much like the Beatles did) in Hamburg, Germany. They also served as the U.K. backing band for visiting bluesmen, including John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Their career took off with their move to London in January 1964. With the release of “House of the Rising Sun” later that year, the Animals became the first British group after the Beatles to chart a Number One single in America. Their brooding arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” - a traditional folk song recorded by Josh White and Bob Dylan - became an early milestone in the British Invasion. The single was unconventional in both its lyrics (it was about a house of prostitution in New Orleans) and length (it ran for more than four minutes at a time when anything longer three minutes was considered too long for radio). Nonetheless, “House of the Rising Sun” topped the American and British charts. In fact, it stayed at #1 in the U.S. for three weeks – longer than any single since the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” held down the top spot a half-year earlier.
The Animals followed “House of the Rising Sun” with seven more Top Forty hits, at least four of which – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (#15), “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (#13), “It’s My Life” (#23) and “Don’t Bring Me Down” (#12) – are bonafide classics of the British Invasion era. The keys to these and other Animals tracks is their passionate intensity and strong sense of identification with working-class travails, which would become hallmarks of such later rock and rollers as Bruce Springsteen and David Johansen – both of whom were professed Animals fans. Basically, the group was steeped in the blues and R&B sounds that filtered over from America. Many of the Animals earliest recordings were solid remakes of favorites by such revered artists as John Lee Hooker (“Boom Boom”), Sam Cooke (“Bring It On Home to Me”), Chuck Berry (“Around and Around”), Ray Charles (“Hallelujah, I Love Her So”) and Bo Diddley (“Roadrunner”). At the same time, the Animals had great success interpreting the works of American pop songwriters such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King (“Don’t Bring Me Down”) and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”).
The Animals’ original membership released only three albums (The Animals, The Animals On Tour, Animal Tracks) during their 1964-65 heyday. The Best of the Animals was issued in February 1966, as the group was disbanding. This hit-filled collection was one of the stronger LPs of its time, and it reached #6 and hung on the charts for over two years. The Animals’ disintegration began with Price’s departure in mid-1965 due to fear of flying and incompatibility with Burdon. Drummer John Steel was the next to leave (in March 1966), and the others followed suit in September. Burdon continued with new recruits, and the reconfigured band - now billed as Eric Burdon and the Animals - enjoyed several late-Sixties hits in a more psychedelic vein, such as “When I Was Young,” “Monterey” and “San Franciscan Nights.” Burdon became an innovative album artist. The double album Love Is, released in 1969, was a landmark of Sixties psychedelia, featuring the guitar work of one Andy Somers (later Andy Summers of the Police). The Animals’ last Top Forty hit, “Sky Pilot (Part One),” was the first single released in stereo.
Burdon entered the Seventies as frontman with War, a black funk group from Los Angeles. Eric Burdon and War recorded a hit single ("Spill the Wine") and two albums. War graduated to a successful career without Burdon, who continued as a solo artist. He was recorded intermittently and toured constantly in the decades since; he also has written two books about his experiences as a rock and roller. As for the other original members of the Animals, Alan Price enjoyed a successful solo career in Britain and won acclaim for his 1973 film soundtrack O Lucky Man!. Bassist Chas Chandler discovered an unknown Jimi Hendrix performing in New York’s Greenwich Village, and wound up managing the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Slade.
The original Animals reunited in 1977, recording the album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, and 1983, which resulted in the albums Ark and Rip It to Shreds – The Animals Greatest Hits Live!. The reunions were as contentious as had been the group’s first tour of duty, as a certain degree of tension seemed to be an inevitable part of what the Animals were all about – and why their music had such a powerful edge.
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