One of the British Invasion’s finest exports, The Animals can arguably claim to be the first “heavy” rock band. Graced in its early years with Alan Price and Dave Rowberry, the group helped to bring keyboards to the forefront of rock music and dispelled any doubt as to the instrument’s potential in the genre. Though less reliant upon lead guitar work than contemporaries, The Animals produced a fuller overall sound which, compounded by Eric Burdon’s unparalleled vocals and balanced instrumentation, set the group apart from the British crowd. Developing from a staunch blues approach into increasingly diverse, “progressive” territory by the late 1960s, The Animals helped dictate the direction of rock with each record.
Eric Burdon and the Animals (or New Animals), the later incarnation of the group, indulged its frontman’s affinity for blaring, psychedelic ventures without abandoning its blues roots. Tempered by evocative lulls and varied influences, the tracks allowed Burdon to stretch his voice and solidify his stature as the first great rock singer of the 1960s. Like the 1966-68 Yardbirds, this version of The Animals also used the live arena as a platform for dynamic instrumental exploration. Despite these qualities, the group has gone largely unrecognized for its contributions to the emerging heavy rock movement of the late ’60s.
While Burdon’s “reinvention” did not occur overnight, it did rapidly come to affect every aspect of The Animals’ sound, as evidenced by the group’s reemergence at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Though held to under thirty minutes, the Monterey set unveiled a versatile but consistently gripping, at times punishing band. The original Animals’ final 1966 recordings certainly pointed toward this direction, namely in the cases of “Inside Looking Out” and “Hey Gyp” (a Donovan cover that ultimately served as a platform for Burdon’s screaming); the latter would receive a particularly unsettling, extended airing at Monterey. Upon its release in February 1966, “Inside Looking Out” resoundingly claimed the title of “heaviest rock song ever recorded” and, if not for the release of The Yardbirds’ “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” in October, would likely have retained this position until well into 1968. Utterly relentless and dynamically impressive, “Inside Looking Out” manages to wipe away the memory of everything that came before it in a mere 3 minutes and 45 seconds. Rowberry and Hilton Valentine tirelessly pound the main riff and shift in an instant between stretches of wailing and glowering, but it is Burdon’s performance that steals the show. Rendering “House of the Rising Sun” and “See See Rider” tame by comparison, Burdon outdoes himself with no apparent concern for his health and provides a definitive vocal that frontmen would not even aspire to challenge until Robert Plant and Joe Cocker arrived on the scene.
Though insufficiently documented until recent years, the New Animals’ exploits as a devastating rock outfit saw considerable radio play and artistic success and enlivened the touring scene with a less delicate approach to psychedelia. Burdon, himself a devoted exponent of the burgeoning West Coast lifestyle, attempted less blues-oriented compositions (e.g. “Anything” and “White Houses“) yet never strayed too far from the original Animals approach. Coupled with Vic Briggs’ compelling and varied arrangements, Burdon found a disciplined, willing vehicle through which he could develop his ambitions both vocally and lyrically. Accordingly, the group ravaged every stage it met from late 1966 to Christmas 1968 and, despite a few personnel changes, retained its force. Burdon’s willingness to acknowledge his role as a band member rather than vocalist with light accompaniment ensured that The Animals’ instrumental integrity, which had traditionally put to shame that of most Invasion bands, would continue to drive the recordings. Of particular note is the group’s dual lead guitar setup which, pointing the way toward the “guitar armies” of the 1970s, lent a fullness and degree of dexterity to the mix. This also compensated for the lack of keys, which would not be reincorporated until Zoot Money joined up in Spring 1968.
Generally tighter than the five and six-piece Bay Area groups, the New Animals had in John Weider and Vic Briggs the perfect excuse for blaring, engrossing solo passages and well-wrought arrangements. Weider’s occasional use of the violin (most notably on the heavily-rearranged “Paint It, Black” and “When I Was Young“) diversified the sound and portended a brief trend in rock taken up by the likes of the latter-day Jefferson Airplane, It’s a Beautiful Day, Family (for which Weider would replace Ric Grech in 1969), and The Flock. Meanwhile, the more-than-capable rhythm section of Barry Jenkins (drums) and Danny McCulloch (bass) kept the lead players on Earth throughout it all, adapting to any direction Briggs and Weider were pursuing while Burdon worked himself into agonizing displays. Of course, covers still made up much of the band’s material, and some of the studio recordings were not exactly concise, with Burdon emulating the West Coast approach to a tee. The band could also be accused of attempting to incorporate too many disparate elements within a given track or allotting too much time for Burdon’s spoken-word interludes on occasion. Nevertheless, the level of musicianship, stylistic range, and sheer power present elevated the less-commanding album tracks, while the band’s takes on others’ records always proved entertaining and, in some cases, perhaps superior to the originals (see “River Deep, Mountain High”). Furthermore, the New Animals possessed a remarkable range and seemed to be able to adapt to any musical approach for a given track, from the bouncy groove that upholds Burdon’s outright rap on “The Year of the Guru” to the simmering take on “St. James Infirmary Blues” and the beguiling shuffle of “Yes, I Am Experienced”.
Incidentally, the group attained greater overall success in the U.S. than in the U.K., though the “San Franciscan Nights”/”Good Times” single had been a double-sided hit in Britain. This may have been due in part to Burdon’s gradual relocation to America, as well as the band’s emphasis on touring the States. Additionally, Eric Burdon and the Animals’ third and likely best studio album, Every One of Us, was not even released in the U.K. This draws still further parallels to the Page-era Yardbirds, whose Mickie Most-produced recordings made it (albeit barely) into the U.S. market but failed to present an accurate image of the band. The New Animals found significantly more freedom in the recording studio than Most’s new foursome, but even albums like Every One of Us and the all-covers double-LP Love Is, as experimental as they were, placed some limitations on the band’s aggression and brutality. Ultimately, the live setting proved most comfortable for the New Animals, and had a concert recording been released at any point between 1968 and 1977, when the original line-up reunited for Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, the New Animals’ critical and commercial stock would likely have risen considerably and rivalled that of the more renowned blues-based acts of the day or even the original, universally-lauded Animals lineups. Furthermore, this long-overlooked version of The Animals might have received due acclaim or even an errant FM spin in recent years.
The elusive release Roadrunners! marks the only substantial record of the New Animals’ live prowess, introducing six tracks from a 1967 Melbourne show and a broadcast-worthy soundboard from the January 18, 1968 stop in Stockholm that includes “Yes, I Am Experienced”, “San Franciscan Nights”, “Monterey”, and “Paint It, Black”. Save Monterey Pop‘s “Paint It, Black“, television appearances from 1967–68 offer the only professionally-shot footage, but the performance quality more than makes up for this scarcity.
- “Inside Looking Out“*
- “Don’t Bring Me Down”* (a good representation of a “transitional” record)
- “When I Was Young”
- “San Franciscan Nights”
- “A Girl Named Sandoz” (B-side to “San Franciscan Nights”)
- “Sky Pilot”
- “White Houses”
- “River Deep, Mountain High” (B-side to “White Houses”)
The band released four studio albums (five discs) in a fifteen-month span. Eric Is Here, Burdon’s first release after The Animals’ dissolution, is credited to “Eric Burdon and The Animals” though it in fact represents a solo album; drummer Barry Jenkins was the only New Animal to participate in the recording.
- Winds of Change
- The Twain Shall Meet
- Every One of Us (Zoot Money joins the band)
- Love Is (Andy Summers, later of The Police, steps in for Vic Briggs)
*Recorded and released by “The Animals”
Featured below is footage from a 1968 performance recorded for German television that includes two of the New Animals’ most blues-indebted numbers, “Everyday I Have the Blues” (likely based on Elmore James’ rendition) and a tremendous “Tobacco Road”–a song Burdon evidently found well-suited given its inclusion in War’s set lists and his own solo outings. The existing broadcast record also includes “Paint It, Black” interspersed with narrated tour footage and a partial “Monterey”.