Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Animals (music)

Original Group:
Eric Burdon (vocals), Hilton Valentine (guitar), Alan Price (keyboards), Chas Chandler (bass), John Steel (drums)
Wikipedia Entry

The Animals -- don't they look wild? The original British Invasion was an exciting time in music, and several groups made their names above the rest and had tremendous staying power. But, after the "big four" of the era (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and the Kinks), there is a name that vied as chart-toppers, but who eventually faded away.  Now, they even look like one-hit wonders, which vastly underestimates their talent.

I'm talking about the Animals (as you've obviously guessed if you read the title).

The Animals came out of the same musical roots as the Rolling Stones, starting by playing covers of blues numbers and keeping to their blues roots.  They picked up their name because the looked like animals on stage.*

The group was led by singer Eric Burdon and they were quickly discovered and signed to a contract.  In a few months, they had put out their one perennial hit, an adaptation of an old folk/blues song, "The House of the Rising Sun." That's what is remembered best today, but what is forgotten is that they had a series of successful singles and albums in the US and the UK, including the hits "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Got to Get Out of this Place," and "It's My Life.** There were also some very strong versions of blues classics like John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." 

But the group was never a very stable one.  Original member Alan Price left early on, and various musicians came and went.  Burdon was the one continuing performer, and in 1966, he formed basically a new group called "Eric Burdon and the Animals," which started off in a more psychedelic mode, with great songs like "San Franciscan Nights," "Monterrey" (about the famed pop festival), and the brilliant "Sky Pilot" (an antiwar song about a military chaplain). 

Eventually, even that broke up.  Burdon left and the Animals were gone.  He had a later hit with the song "Spill the Wine" with War**.

So why don't people think of the Animals when they consider the British Invasion?

First, of course, was lack of staying power.  The original group was together for far less time than the other big names. In addition, the group had constant turnover.  The Beatles, Stones, Who, and Kinks really had only one important change of personnel among them (Brian Jones leaving and Mick Taylor joining), but the Animals rarely kept the same personnel from year to year.

In addition, they wrote fewer original songs -- most of the original group's hits were covers (though when the started giving Burdon top billing, they did start writing themselves).  Their albums tended to be song collections when the other groups were working on more thematic works.  And with the group breaking up in 1969, time made people forget (the Beatles also broke up that year, but their influence was immense).

So nowadays, they're reduced to "House of the Rising Son" on most radio stations (and occasionally "It's My Life" and ""We Got to Get Out of This Place").  Certainly when people think of the great groups of the British Invasion, they do not come to mind.

*Either because of their stage act or their unkempt appearance; accounts vary.  Though, looking at their album cover, they hardly seem that way today.

** Not the Bon Jovi song.

**War, which was a working band when Burdon found them, started singing their own vocals and had a very successful career.


Unknown said...

And let's not forget one of the all-time great songs in rock 'n' roll history: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. And, I'm Cryan' is right up there, too!

Unknown said...

I got to see them live in concert at the Hammond, Indiana Civic Center in 1966.