British Blues – Biographies – The Animals

The Animals

Formed: 1963

Disbanded: 1966

Resurrected: 1977, and again in 1983

Contribution to British Blues: The most authentic sounding Blues from a Top 20 pop group.

Which era: 1960’s

Album to get: “The Complete Animals” EMI 2 CD Box Set

The single that is perhaps the best example of their work: Inside Looking Out/Outcast

Associated bands: The Pagan Jazzmen, The Pagans, The Kansas City 5, 7 & Several, The Headley Trio, The Wild Cats, The KonTors, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, The Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, Eric Burdon & The (New) Animals, The Eric Burdon Band, War, The Alan Price Set, The Nashville Teens, The Mike Cotton Sound, The Animals II, Animals & Friends, The Manfreds, Skiffledog.

Personnel: Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Hilton Valentine, Bryan “Chas” Chandler, John Steel, Barry Jenkins, Dave Rowberry, Mick Gallagher

Legend has it that The Animals had their name bestowed upon them by their fans, because of their wild and earthy live performances, though vocalist Eric Burdon maintains the band was named after a Newcastle gang member called Animal Hogg. But even if the group had been named by a man astride a flaming pie, they couldn’t have come any closer to capturing the authentic feel of Chicago Blues than these Geordie lads did in their three short years together.

Although history records that it was The Alan Price R&B Combo who became The Animals, it’s not so widely known that most of the members were in and out of various local bands with one another throughout the latter half of the fifties, beginning when Eric Burdon met John Steel at the Newcastle College of Art and Industrial Design. With Eric offering trombone and vocals, and John opting for trumpet, they formed The Pagan Jazzmen , trying their hand at “trad” jazz, the popular dance music of the day. Eric’s pals Jimmy Crawford and Alan Sanderson provided banjo and drums respectively, but like many British Jazz bands at the time, they were soon seduced by the heady sounds of American Rock’n’Roll and homegrown Skiffle.

Fledgling R&B outfit The Pagans was created when Eric quit the trombone, Jimmy switched to guitar, Alan to bass and John to drums. David Ashcroft was recruited to play piano, his position usurped by Alan Price, who was poached from The Headley Trio , where he’d been a guitarist. The band folded when John Steel left to take a job in Hertfordshire, but after a few months, a dissatisfied Steel returned to Newcastle, and he, Price and Burdon were reunited in the Kansas City Five , alongside Geoff Hedley, George Stoves, and occasional bassist Roger Noble. This fluid line-up added brass and morphed into the Kansas City Seven, and even the Kansas City Several, depending on how many players turned up!

The group came to an end when Price was lured away to join The Kon Tors, a covers band that featured Bryan “Chas” Chandler on bass, but Price soon found the repertoire too restricting and so splintered off a new, nameless line-up with Burdon and Chandler. Barry Preston provided drums and Nigel Stanger contributed sax, but before too long Chandler had invited John Steel in to replace the unpopular Preston, and Stanger had left for University, his place taken by a guitarist from Tyneside Rock’n’Roll band The Wildcats , with the unforgettable name of Hilton Valentine.

During this game of musical chairs, Eric Burdon went down, alone, to London, where he sang with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated , but by 1963 he was back home and had rejoined the newly-named Alan Price R&B Combo . Intriguingly, Price’s present online biography represents Burdon as the “cocky new boy,” who fomented tensions with the group’s “original leader,” though by this point they’d been working alongside one another for around three years.

Local promoter Mike Jeffrey, who owned Newcastle’s Downbeat Club, employed the group as house band at his Club AGoGo, where they played five nights a week, though John Steel recalls that when their Saturday night set ended, they’d go on to the Downbeat and play the “all-nighter” there too. With their craft honed by untold hours of playing together, they also enjoyed the opportunity of backing visiting Blues stars such as John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson II, Rice Miller. Like the Yardbirds, they recorded with Sonny Boy, who was keen to involve himself in the UK’s burgeoning R&B scene, though the tapes weren’t released until several years later.

Around this time the band became “ The Animals ,” and under that name they recorded four numbers for a one-sided 12” demo. Titled I Just Want To Make Love To You , after the Muddy Waters cover that appeared as track one, it also included their versions of Jimmy Reed’s Big Boss Man , Bo Diddley’s Pretty Thing , and John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom . The cuts finally saw the light of day in 1966 when the band left Decca, and the label released them as the EP In The Beginning There Was Early Animals . Though they don’t capture the frenzied excitement of the group’s live recordings, or the sophistication of their chart singles, they more than adequately display the brooding menace of Burdon’s voice and the astonishing fluency of Price’s keyboards, particularly on the title track, which has a much darker and moodier approach than the frantic Rolling Stones version.

Seeing the group’s growing popularity, Jeffrey wasted no time in signing them to a managerial contract, and at the urging of visiting band leader Graham Bond , went to London where he met Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky, who suggested that the group should relocate to the capital, which they did in January 1964. Ronan O’Rahilly, later involved in founding the pirate radio station Caroline, offered them a base at The Scene club in Soho, a predominantly “mod” venue that hosted names like Chris Farlowe , Georgie Fame and The Who . Despite the band’s anxieties, their dynamic performances won over the mod crowds, and they became firm favourites at the venue.

Working the Southern R&B circuit at places like The Crawdaddy, The Flamingo, and Eel Pie Island, The Animals came to the attention of independent record producer Mickie Most, who had himself enjoyed a career as a pop star in South Africa, where his band The Playboys had notched up eleven consecutive number one hits. He secured a deal with EMI to record the band for their Columbia label, persuading the group to let him pick songs for the A-sides, leaving them to choose material for the B-sides and LPs. The first song he brought to them was Baby Let Me Take You Home , seemingly based on Bob Dylan’s recording of the Folk Blues song “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” which had appeared on his first album in 1962. The song had its origins in an old tune called, variously, “Baby Don’t Tear My Clothes,” “Mama, Let Me Lay It On You,” and “Please Baby,” which had been passed down through recordings by Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Boy Fuller and The Reverend Gary Davis.

The Animals single, including the striking guitar intro, the spoken middle 8, and the double time outro, closely follows the arrangement of the January 1964 single “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” by US Soul singer Hoagy Lands, attributed to Bert Russell and Wes Farrell. Russell was in fact noted 60’s American hitmaker Bert Berns, responsible for “Here Comes The Night,” “Twist & Shout,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody” among many others. Hoagy opens on a slow vocal verse, which brings to mind the smooth style of Sam Cooke. Then the song suddenly picks up tempo, as an acoustic 12-string plucks out the strident arpeggios which Hilton Valentine later transferred to his six-string electric for the opening of the Animals recording. His strong, bright guitar also replaces the girlie chorus on the original, and Burdon uses a different and more effective lyric for the stop-time middle 8, punctuated by Price’s hymnal organ. The outro features Burdon in a gospel style call-and-response, which establishes the technique for the classic Animals backing vocal – unison rather than harmony – that features repeatedly throughout their recording history. Where Lands fades out, the band brings the song to a powerful full stop, creating a stunning debut single which hit the charts just below the Top Twenty at no.21, an impressive start for a band unknown outside the Blues Clubs.

As a footnote: mere months after the Hoagy Lands single was released, Berns & Farrell re-recorded the song as The Mustangs, under the title “Baby Let Me Take You Home.”  Using the same backing track, with the slow intro removed (but with the annoying “giddy-up” backing vocals still in place) they toyed with the lyrics until a version very much closer to the Animals single appeared. History tells us that the Animals single was released in March and the Mustangs one in May,  but whether this was Berns issuing a “cover version” of the song for the US market after the Animals UK success, or whether Most had originally brought a Mustangs demo to the UK, has been lost in the mists of time.

The Animals ‘ demo version credited the song to the entire group, though by the time it was released that had been amended to “Trad. Arr. Price,” a practice that was soon to create friction within the band. When it was subsequently re-released on the EP The Animals Is Here the credits were returned to Russell & Farrell, but for all the changes in lyrics and orchestration, this is essentially the same song first recorded by The State Street Boys in 1935. On the B-side is Gonna Send You Back To Walker , a very polished cover of another contemporary American Soul single, Timmy Shaw’s “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia (A City Slick)” written by (and correctly attributed to) Shaw, under his birth name J. Hammond Jr., and Detroit singer/songwriter/producer Johnnie Mae Matthews. This sprightly 12-bar, in the mold of Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” provides a fine vehicle for Burdon’s aggressive voice, while Valentine’s spiky guitar carries the solo, with Price’s organ breaking in only occasionally. The Walker of the title is a reference to Walker-On-Tyne, a depressed area of Newcastle that was Burdon’s birthplace.

It’s hard now to pick your way through all the controversies surrounding the band’s second single, House Of The Rising Sun . Burdon cites that he first heard the song sung in the Northumbrian clubs by folk singer Johnny Handle, whereas Steel maintains that the first version he heard was Bob Dylan’s, which in turn is alleged to have been based on Dave Van Ronk’s arrangement, though recordings of it in a Blues framework date back to Alan Lomax’s recording of Georgia Turner’s “Rising Sun Blues” in 1937. It had travelled down through such diverse artists as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Josh White, Lonnie Donegan and Nina Simone before The Animals developed their version, which they were using as a dramatic closing number in their act, while touring with Chuck Berry.

Hilton Valentine tells that Most had originally wanted their recording of Ray Charles’ Talkin’ Bout You to be the second single, as it was being featured on the TV programme “Ready, Steady, Go!” but The Animals were adamant, and during a break on their tour they went into a small London studio to cut their version. Valentine’s broken chords ring out to set the mood, and Burdon’s voice enters, at first ominously low, but soon building to a soulful moan as Price’s organ starts to riff behind him. The tension continues to escalate as the singer’s harrowing tale of misfortune unfolds, with Price’s Vox Continental providing a plaintive, piping solo. On May 18 th 1964, already well-rehearsed, the band made the cut in just one take, in a dynamic performance packed with emotion.

Logging in at 4mins 28 secs, it was an unlikely A-side in days when airplay- and 45 r.p.m sound quality- dictated the average single last around 2-and-a-half minutes, but Most had the courage to release it unedited, and by June it was topping the UK Charts. A shortened version of just under 3 minutes also made the Number 1 spot in the USA, prompting plans that culminated in an American tour, an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and a slot in the MGM movie “Get Yourself A College Girl.” Like their first single, the credits read “Trad. Arr. Price,” allegedly due to Mike Jeffrey’s suggestion that there wasn’t room for all five members to be named on the label. As a result, all the publishing royalties for what was essentially a group arrangement went to the keyboard player, a fact that, in view of the single’s massive success, led to bad feelings in the band.

Meanwhile, Talkin’ Bout You was relegated to the B-side. This begins as a straight cover of the 1958 Ray Charles’ song (not to be confused with the Chuck Berry number of the same name which was covered by The Rolling Stones) but after several verses it starts to morph into The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Although it seems to have been recorded in its full length – slightly over 7 minutes- that version was only made available in the US, on the 1964 LP The Animals. The UK 45’s flip-side is edited down to a scanty 1min 55 secs, leaving only one verse of the Ray Charles song and a snatch of “Shout” before a very premature fade-out.

But before the group set sail for the States, they released a third single, their first to feature original material. I’m Crying is set at a fast, jazzy tempo with vigorous tom-toms and pumping organ fills, opening with four Animal voices raised in chorus before Burdon lets rip with a powerful, passionate plea to a lost lover. Valentine contributes some wild guitar breaks, and Burdon takes the vocal up a notch for the last verse, bringing the song to a striking climax. On the B-side is Take It Easy , a Jimmy Reed-type shuffle with a middle 8. Displaying walking bass, trilling electric piano, and glistening vibrato guitar, it’s as authentic a sounding bit of Blues as sixties Britain ever produced, and remarkably mature for a group of lads in their early twenties. Both sides were Price/Burdon compositions, and fine examples of the band’s abilities, but the disc failed to match the huge impact of House Of The Rising Sun , and though it reached a very respectable number 8 in the UK charts, it couldn’t help but avoid comparison with its predecessor.

Near the end of 1964, as the band was embarking on its American tour, their first eponymous LP was released, although as is often the case. there were some noticeable differences between the UK and US versions, with the American version including the long cut of Talkin’ Bout You , the edited House Of The Rising Sun, both sides of the first single, and a song called Blue Feeling. The last was written by a friend of Burdon’s, Jimmy Henshaw, who played guitar and keyboards with a Carlisle group, The V.I.P.s. Surprisingly, the track managed to make it into the movie “Get Yourself A College Girl,” though it didn’t see release in the UK.

The LP contains twelve tracks of Blues and R&B, including a number of efficient covers that had no doubt been part of the band’s stage act for some time, and some genuinely outstanding offerings. The Story Of Bo Diddley is a (mostly) one-chord jam on Bo’s beat, while Burdon recites high points from the history of his hero, and rock’n’roll in general. It includes name-checks for The Beatles and The Stones, and a couple of choruses of Johnny Otis’s “Crazy Country Hop” and ends with a self-deprecating punch-line. Bury My Body is a sanctified Blues previously covered by both Josh White and Lonnie Donegan, which finds Burdon in unusually devotional mood. It gets the old “Trad. Arr. Price” treatment again and was more recently sampled by rapper Matlock for his 2007 album Moonshine. Fats Domino’s I’ve Been Around is speeded up and given what almost amounts to a Buddy Holly approach but is chirpily upbeat and appealing, whereas the following track I’m In Love Again is both an absolute corker and a total mystery.

Credited on the album’s back cover to Domino/Bartholomew, you’d be expecting the cheery 1956 New Orleans R&B single that starts “Yes it’s me and I’m in love again.” What you get is a precious little nugget of British Blues in the Jimmy Reed mold. Approached at the same pace as Take It Easy , there’s a knuckle-cracking solo from Hilton Valentine, some decidedly tasty electric piano from Mr. Price and a thoroughly catchy chorus. So who wrote it? Internet lyric sites, founts of misinformation, often carry the correct lyric but still attribute in to Fats Domino, or wrongly credit the tune to Motown songsmiths Holland/Dozier/Holland. A recent American CD compilation called “The Mickie Most Years and More” credits it to Burdon, which seems likelier, but wherever it came from, it’s a gem! So is their cover of John Lee Hooker’s I’m Mad Again , with Burdon expressing mucho hostility, reinforced by Valentine’s furious fretwork and Price’s angry organ.

The album ends with two out-and-out, stop-start rockers, John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom and Chuck Berry’s Around And Around , which must’ve both gone down a storm at the Club AGoGo. The performances are terrifically tight, with great “Shake it, baby!” backing vocals on the former, and both are driven along powerfully by the excellent rhythm section. Steel’s drumming is always on the money, and “Chas” Chandler remains, for me, the undeniable master of the walking bass line, ensuring that these two crowd-pleasers swing like crazy. The LP spent twenty weeks in the UK album charts, peaking at a well-deserved number 6 spot.

In time for Christmas that year, a kind of greatest hits package, comprising House Of The Rising Sun, Gonna Send You Back To Walker, I’m Crying and Baby Let Me Take You Home was released as The Animals Is Here EP, (an “extended play” 45rpm disc) reaching number 3 in the EP charts. And hot on its heels, in January 1965, Columbia released the group’s next single , Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. One of five numbers written for Nina Simone’s 1964 album “Broadway-Blues-Ballads” by Ben Benjamin, Sol Marcus and Gloria Caldwell, and based on an idea by Caldwell’s husband Horace Ott, the song found its way to The Animals. “ We fell in love with it immediately,” Burdon said later, and the band produced a more uptempo arrangement, accentuating the broken rhythm of the verse, and turning the violin figure from the outro into a recognisable, repeating guitar riff.

On the flip side was another Price/Burdon composition, Club A-GoGo , a pounding 16-bar Blues based on the “I’m A Man” riff, where Eric extols the virtues of their one-time home town gig, and Alan and Hilton take it in turns to work out. Jazzy piano solos alternate with what sounds like electric 12-string- not altogether unlikely, as Valentine was receiving a lot of “freebies” from Rickenbacker and Vox at the time. The spoken outro offers a name-dropping list of R&B stars who frequented the place- John Lee Hooker, Jerome Green, (Bo Diddley’s maracas man) The Rolling Stones, Memphis Slim, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson- as the record fades out. The result? Another top ten hit for The Animals , peaking at no. 3.

Following that in March ’65 came another EP, titled The Animals after the album, and marketed with the same cover photo – one that showed remarkable similarity to the cover of “Five Live Yardbirds,” released just two months later. Featuring Boom Boom, Around And Around, Dimples and I’ve Been Around , it was the blurb on the back that reinforced the legend behind the band’s name. It read:

“It all started out with the fans. Five young men hammering out Rhythm & Blues in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne clubs under the modest name of The Alan Price Combo hear their audiences talking about “The Animals.” It was, they realised eventually, a reference to themselves, a name which they decided to adopt and which has made them a talking point among pop fans wherever they go. Adds vocalist Eric Burden, (sic) “The name was probably an association with the kind of music we play – earthy and gutty. It’s a sort of animal sound. On stage we can be pretty wild- moments of uninhibited inspiration when we go slightly potty.” But there’s no telling who wrote this piece, or how much truth there is behind it.

Not losing any momentum, the group’s next single was released a month later in April, and again made a significant impact, reaching number 7 in the UK Top Twenty. The A side was a cover of Sam Cooke’s 1962 American hit, Bring It On Home To Me . Opening with only Burdon’s voice and Price’s piano, the rest of the band join in on verse two, and there’s a nicely structured solo with guitar and keyboard playing in unison. Chandler and Valentine copy Cooke’s answering “Yeahs.” and (unusually) there’s a harmony vocal on the last verse, though my suspicions are that it’s Eric double-tracked. On the B-side is another beauty, For Miss Caulker. Credited to Burdon alone, it’s a soulful slow Blues starting with 12 bars of beautifully fluid piano, which continues to play fills throughout. Burdon is in turns intimate, complaining, cajoling, and pleading, “please don’t take my love away,” while sympathetic running bass lines back Valentine’s spiky guitar solo. A real gem.

1965 was looking good for the band, as they were chosen to appear in the New Musical Express Poll Winners concert on the 11 th April at the Empire Pool, Wembley. In front of 10, 000 pop fans they played a short set consisting of Boom Boom , Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, and Talking About You , and their performance was shown on national television . However, in May ’65, just before the release of their second LP Animal Tracks , the group was rocked by the sudden and abrupt departure of founding member Alan Price . Price cited fear of flying among his reasons, claiming recent touring had been difficult for him, though other members have since linked his exit to the friction caused by his owning the publishing rights to their first hit. “Chas said, ‘He must’ve got his first royalty cheque’,” Valentine suggested later. Given that, on the back cover of The Animals Is Here , Price’s prior occupation was listed as “Income Tax Officer,” it seems unlikely that he’d have been unaware of the monetary advantages of his situation. Price went on to form his own band, The Alan Price Set, achieving five top twenty hits in the sixties.

He was immediately replaced by Mick Gallagher, who recalls, “Alan Price left them in the lurch. They had a record in the charts in Scandinavia and a huge tour. Alan just didn’t turn up at the airport. I was in the right place at the right time.” Still, it wasn’t long before he in turn was replaced by the band’s old college friend Dave Rowberry who stayed with the group until it finally collapsed in September ’66, playing on their third LP and all their remaining hit singles, while Gallagher found fame again later, with Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Animal Tracks follows a similar format to the debut album, a collection of well-played Blues and R&B covers, with a few unexpected pearls. One is How You’ve Changed , a mournful yet melodic Slow Blues from the pen of Chuck Berry. Adhering to Berry’s template, the guitar stays in the background while a sophisticated piano provides solo and fills, but the track benefits immensely from Burdon’s more expressive vocal, which brings a new level of emotion to the song. There’s also a fine cover of Ray Charles’ I Believe To My Soul which comes off very successfully, although Burdon seems to have made up his own lyrics. Roberta is not the Leadbelly title, but the B-side of Frankie Ford’s 1959 hit, “Sea Cruise,” an uptempo swing Blues with Berry-flavoured guitar, and strong backing vocals that chime in like a brass section, a real toe-tapper. Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City marries the original shuffle to a dramatic theme reminiscent of the Drifters’ “On Broadway,” alternating between the two, including both a spirited organ break and a novel 12-string guitar solo. The excellent For Miss Caulker get a reprise, and the LP closes with a robust, rocking Roadrunner where an authoritative Burdon encourages Valentine into some vigorous string-scraping.

Like its forerunner, this release made it to a healthy No. 6, and was quickly followed by a rather unimaginative EP, entitled simply The Animals (now referred to as The Animals 2 EP) which re-released four tracks from the first LP, I’m In Love Again , Bury My Body , I’m Mad Again , and She Said Yeah , and unsurprisingly failed to make a dent in the charts. But if EP sales were low, interest in the band’s live shows was still running very high. On July 5 th 1965 The Animals played their first headliner at London’s Marquee, breaking the club’s attendance record, and on August 8 th they topped the bill at the annual Richmond Jazz and Blues Festival, putting together The Animals Big Band for the occasion. With the group augmented by Ian Carr, Kenny Wheeler, and Greg Brown on trumpets, Stan Robinson, Al Gay, Dick Morrissey, on saxes and Paul Carroll on baritone, parts of the concert were filmed for the American TV programme “Shindig!” and you may still be able to find a clip on YouTube where Stevie Winwood, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Rod Stewart jam with the band for the set’s finale.

The second album was followed by what’s now become one of the group’s most iconic singles, their cover of Barry Man and Cynthia Weil’s We Gotta Get Out Of This Place. The first of several A-sides Most sourced from the Brill Building to appeal to the US market, this was originally written for the Righteous Brothers, then recorded by Mann himself. The Animals completely transform the song, replacing Mann’s reverb-drenched orchestral version with a tough, pared-down arrangement that utilises every strength of the band, from Chandler’s evocative opening bass lines to Burdon’s heartfelt and emotive vocal. Although the song’s writers allegedly hated the group’s interpretation, the single became a no. 2 hit in the UK, only held off the top spot by The Beatles’ “Help!” and the band’s recording is now considered the definitive version, spawning covers from artistes as diverse as Blue Oyster Cult, Richard Thompson, The Partridge Family, and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. On the B-side was another fine Burdon composition, I Can’t Believe It , which evokes a soulful Ray Charles feel, and features “scat” singing at the end of the organ break.

October brought another EP, The Animals Are Back featuring re-releases of Bring It On Home To Me, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, and Club A-GoGo, another “greatest hits” package which reached no. 8 in the EP charts, while in the same month, the second Brill Building single was issued. Written by Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico, It’s My Life follows in the footsteps of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place as another poor man’s plea for a better existence, but this time far tougher and more determined as the singer vows, darkly, “there are ways to make certain things pay.” Though the bass intro’s taken from the Billy Carr demo, the main riffs comes from the band, and once again the group completely reconstruct the song with an original and hard-hitting arrangement that mirrors the virile, vitriolic vocal, and turns the chorus into an anthem of independence. Valentine’s guitar riff gets re-vamped for Burdon’s B-side, I’m Gonna Change The World , an appeal for tolerance which includes a terrific, stuttering one-note solo from new boy Rowberry. The single reached no. 7 in the UK charts, though it fared less well in the States.

In November The Animals set out to tour Poland, making them the first R&B band to play behind the Iron Curtain, but in the meantime the group- some say Burdon in particular- had becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the material Most had been choosing for them. At the end of the year they terminated their association with Most and signed with MGM to represent them in the US and Canada, while Decca covered the remainder of the world. Through MGM, they got to work with hip young black producer Tom Wilson, whose credits included Bob Dylan, The Mothers of Invention and The Velvet Underground.

In the interim, Decca issued the old I Just Want To Make Love To You demo as an EP titled In The Beginning, There Was.. Early Animals. The back cover carried the following words: “In the beginning there was The Alan Price Combo. They were dedicated to playing Negro Blues Music. Audiences went wild for them in the North, and when they came South, as The Animals, they went wild for them there too. On this record you’ll hear four songs that the early Animals committed to tape long before their first commercial record. And you’ll hear that they were as talented then as they are now. ” The ‘sleeve design briefing’ was credited to Eric Burdon .

If there had been any concern that the group had strayed too far from their roots with the Brill Building sides, the next single was surely intended to redress the balance. Based loosely on a 1947 Lomax field recording of a prison work song titled “Rosie,” Inside – Looking Out is an uncompromising, one-chord workout which begins with harsh staccato beats on guitar and drums as a mournful Burdon anticipates his “rebirth” when he’s released from prison and reunited with his woman. The song builds in intensity, reaching a crescendo with a blistering organ solo, then drops down and builds all over again, this time with Valentine pulling tortured noises from his guitar as Burdon asks “Can you feel my love?” With immaculate dynamics and impassioned vocals, this ranks as probably the most ambitious single the band had cut since House Of The Rising Sun .

On the flip side was another example of the group’s skill at arrangement, their cover of a little-known American Soul single from Ernie & Eddie called Outcast . Over double-tracked guitar – one fuzz, one tremolo – and an insistent beat, Burdon ranges from soft, pleading sighs to full-throated yells, investing the song with a power that the original had never possessed. Sadly, despite the great performances, the single didn’t achieve all the success it deserved, reaching no.12 in the UK, but only making the 34 spot in the States, where it also gained a new B-side, You’re On My Mind , an uncharacteristically mellow ballad from Burdon and Rowberry.

The group returned to the Brill Building for their final single, Carole King & Gerry Goffin’s Don’t Bring Me Down . Backed by distorted tremolo guitar and swells of organ, Burdon asks for his woman’s support and respect, pausing only for an exquisite 4-bar piano break. He duets with himself on the fade-out, begging “don’t hurt me,” in an extremely classy pop single that would reach 6 in the UK and 12 in the US. On the flip, thundering tom-toms introduce a Burdon/Chandler two-chord vamp with a fuzzy solo called Cheating which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any American garage band’s LP. But by the time it was released, founder member John Steel had departed the group, playing his last date at Birmingham University in March, to be replaced by Barry Jenkins from R&B hitmakers The Nashville Teens . Chandler left soon after, disillusioned with the hard work and lack of funds. “We toured non-stop for three years, 300 gigs a year and we hardly got a penny,” Chandler said later. “But our manager Mike Jeffrey did all right.” Chandler went on to discover guitar star Jimi Hendrix and manage chart-toppers Slade, almost entirely eclipsing his career with The Animals .

Decca issued one more LP, Animalisms . before the band’s final collapse. A few tracks stand out, such as Joe Tex’s tongue-in-cheek One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show which has a light-hearted vocal and some nice bass and drum breaks, and John Lee Hooker’s Maudie which starts way down low before bursting into life with hard rocking piano and gutsy guitar. The excellent Outcast features again, and an interesting version of I Put A Spell On You, part Nina Simone and part Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. With a busy bass line high in the mix, and some spooky vibrato guitar, it’s full of promise, but seems to lose its way towards the end. The Alan Price Set issued their own version of the song as a single in the same year, and reached no.9 in the UK charts.

On the back of the sleeve, the group members comment about the individual tracks, and some are quite telling. Of their rocked-up cover of Ray Charles’ That’s All I Am To You, Eric opines “At times we’re as bad as the other groups, thinking that tempo can be a substitute for excitement,” and of their Squeeze Her, Tease Her he says, with disarming honesty, “Wish I could sing this one like Jackie Wilson.” Overall there’s more emphasis on guitar, Rowberry’s keyboard isn’t as impressive as Price’s, and despite Wilson’s impeccable credentials, many tracks just don’t seem to pack the same punch as the Mickie Most productions, though this may be an effect of recent digital re-mastering, which is highly criticised my those who originally owned it on vinyl. Well-received at the time, it reached a no. 4 in the LP charts, beating the two previous albums by a couple of places.

On September 5, 1966 The Animals officially split after finishing their summer tour of the USA, and in the same month Columbia issued the Animal Tracks EP featuring four tracks from the second album How You’ve Changed, I Believe To My Soul, Let The Good Times Roll and Worried Life Blues . A couple of months later, Decca replied with a single credited to Eric Burdon & The Animals , though on the A-side, the sophisticated and radio-friendly Help Me Girl , he was accompanied by The Horace Ott Orchestra. The song came from another pair of American writers, Scott English and Laurence Weiss, who also penned “Bend Me, Shape Me” for Amen Corner and Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” The A-side was leader to a forthcoming, Wilson-produced LP which although credited to the band, actually featured Burdon in the role of solo vocalist backed by an orchestra. The B-side, however, presents a very tight and powerful performance from the band on the Rowberry-arranged See See Rider , a pounding twelve-bar with a rolling organ riff, wild guitar, and great vocal improvisations from Burdon, which ranks as one of their finest, and Bluesiest moments.

This same B-side was issued as an A-side in the US, coupled with She’ll Return It , a group-composed bluesy shuffle, on the flip, and made it to no.10 in the charts, perversely the band’s highest-scoring US single. Only the States received the final output from the band, on an album confusingly titled Animalism . It includes several well known Blues covers, but the tracks that stand out are the Frank Zappa collaboration All Night Long, Ray Charles’ famous Hit The Road Jack and an hypnotic version of Donovan’s rhythmic Hey Gyp . By 1967 Burdon had officially moved to California and put together the New Animals , retaining only Jenkins from the previous line-up, and concentrating on original material of a more “psychedelic” nature, yielding several hits.

The original Animals line-up of Burdon, Price, Valentine, Chandler, and Steel reunited for a one-off benefit concert in Newcastle in December 1968, but reformed again in late 1975 to tour and record Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted , a mellow-sounding album with Price and Burdon well to the fore, which features some nice Bluesy material like As The Crow Flies , Riverside Country , Lonely Avenue and Percy Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone To Love. Though the production seems startlingly clean, and it doesn’t capture the sheer power of their 60’s recordings, there’s a lot of thoughtful and enjoyable music here.

In 1983 an augmented Animals, with Zoot Money on keyboards, Nippy Noya on percussion, Steve Gregory on saxophone and Steve Grant on guitar, reunited for a world concert tour and to record Ark. The album consisted mostly of heavily-produced 80’s Rock with a strong Reggae influence, but the reunion also gave birth to a live “greatest hits” album called Rip It To Shreds . Recorded at Wembley Stadium on 31 st December 1983, it was released the following year, after the band had broken up again, but it’s a worthy testament to the group at the height of its powers. They sound like a cross between a punk group and a stadium rock band, combining a high standard of musicianship with phenomenal energy, and Burdon improvises wildly, putting tremendous emotion and conviction into his performance.

Kicking off with an energetic, new-wavey It’s Too Late , the band runs through House Of The Rising Sun , a medley of It’s My Life and Don’t Bring Me Down , a keyboard-led Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood , and a frantic I’m Crying before stopping to catch their breath for Bring It On Home To Me and Price’s O, Lucky Man! John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom , a long-time part of the band’s repertoire, leads into an extended version of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and a new adaptation of Burdon’s own When I Was Young appears as a bonus track. It’s not Blues, by a long shot, but I like it a lot. Sadly, Chandler’s death in 1996 from an aortic aneurysm put paid to the possibility of any further original line-up reunions.

Since then there have been several bands trading on the name The Animals , including The Animals II which featured Valentine, Steel and Rowberry, and another Animals led by ex-”New Animal” Danny McCulloch, who also worked with Steel and Rowberry as Animals and Friends. Rowberry passed away in 2003 and was replaced by Micky Gallagher , while Burdon formed another “New Animals” including Hilton Valentine . In 2008 an adjudicator from the Government’s Intellectual Property Office awarded the exclusive use of the name The Animals to John Steel , on the grounds that Burdon had disassociated himself from the band by trading as Eric Burdon & The Animals , but in 2013 Burdon’s appeal was upheld by Geoffrey Hobbs, QC. Steel and Gallagher continue to play as Animals and Friends with Danny Handley and Scott Whitley, Alan Price plays with The Manfreds , (formerly Manfred Mann) and Hilton Valentine plays Rockabilly with his band Skiffledog . Eric Burdon still lives in California and records and tours internationally under his own name. His last album, “Til Your River Runs Dry” released in 2013, features a moody and rhythmic Bo Diddley Special and a romping, stomping version of Before You Accuse Me , and in 2014, he received the Classic Rock Magazine Bluesman Award, so it seems Burdon’s not through with The Blues yet.

© Stevie King, British Blues Archive 2015