The Animals, thanks in large part to Eric Burdon’s powerful, gritty vocals, were one of the most authentic-sounding rhythm and blues revival groups of the British Invasion. The band was also one of the few First Wave acts to make a successful transition from mainstream pop to progressive rock in the late 1960s.
All members of the Animals’ original lineup—Burdon, organist Alan Price, lead guitarist Hilton Valentine, bass guitarist Bryan "Chas" Chandler, and drummer John Steel—came from working class families in the Newcastle, England area. After becoming the top pop band in their home town in 1962-1963, the group—feeling that a more dramatic name would increase their chances for a commercial breakthrough—dropped the Alan Price Combo moniker in favor of "the Animals" (taken from audience remarks that they played like a bunch of wild animals). The Animals relocated to London in late 1963, where club dates and television appearances (beginning with BBC’s "Saturday Club," December 27, 1963) led to a record contract with British Columbia.
The band’s second single, "House of the Rising Sun" (MGM 13264; 1964), a Price arrangement of an African American folk song, reached number one in both England and the United States. Although Price’s fear of flying and loss of the spotlight to Burdon led to his departure (he was replaced by the classical-trained organist, Dave Rowberry), the Animals remained a top-selling singles act throughout the mid-1960s with hits such as "I’m Crying" (MGM 13274; 1964; #19), "Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood" (MGM 13311; 1965; #15), "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (MGM 13382; 1965; #13), "It’s My Lfe" (MGM 13414; 1965; #23), and "Don’t Bring Me Down" (MGM 13514; 1966; #12).
By mid-1966, with competing artists such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys releasing increasingly sophisticated material, Burdon opted to reorganize the band around most talented musicians such as guitarist/violinist John Weider, guitarist Vic Briggs, bass guitarist Danny McCulloch and drummer Barry Jenkins. Although now focusing on album releases—including Winds of Change (MGM 4484; 1967; #42), The Twain Shall Meet (MGM 4537; 1968; #79), Every One of Us (MGM 4553; 1968; #152), and Love Is (MGM 4591; 1969; #123)—complete with socially-relevant lyrics and extended instrumental jams, Eric Burdon and the Animals (as they were now billed) continued to produce best-selling singles, most notably "See See Rider" (MGM 13582; 1966; #10), "When I Was Young" (MGM 13721; 1967; #15), "San Franciscan Nights" (MGM 13769; #9), "Monterey" (MGM 13868; 1967; #15), and "Sky Pilot" (MGM 13939; 1968; #14).
Ever conscious of prevailing trends, Burdon broke-up the group with psychedelia on the wane and formed the funk-oriented War. After the top-selling recording, "Spill the Wine" (MGM 14118; 1970; #3), War left Burdon to pursue mainstream funk success. The original members of the Animals would reform in 1976 to record Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted (United Artists 790; 1977). A later reunification would result in Ark (I.R.S.70037; 1983) and the live Rip It to Shreds (I.R.S.70043; 1984). From the mid-1980s onward, the group performed largely in various rock revival tours. In 1994 the Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.