The English rhythm-and-blues band The Animals had at least two major incarnations, with the formative version – featuring Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler, Hilton Valentine and John Steel - first hitting the bright lights in 1964, and forming part of the ‘British Invasion’ along with the Beatles, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. Following a string of hits the band split around 1966 and Burdon formed a new line-up and moved to California as Eric Burdon and the Animals. This latter incarnation had a more psychedelic sound and also saw chart success. Since then they have had several comebacks and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. To celebrate Burdon’s birthday on 11 May, Guitars Exchange selects the legendary band’s 10 best songs.
10. Boom, Boom (1964)
If you think of The Animals as a quiet band this track will soon challenge that notion. The Rolling Stones may also have had strong blues roots but Burdon’s energy live on stage (see the accompanying video) helped turn a whole new generation on to John Lee Hooker’s classic.
9. Monterey (1967)
This song pays tribute to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and many of the bands who played there – including The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and Hugh Masekela, who are name-checked in the lyrics. Burdon recalled years later: "It was the first gig we'd played with a new lineup. We had hardly had a chance to rehearse, but we made it. I have great memories of being there. It was a wonderful weekend and I'll never forget it."
8. When I Was Young (1967)
When I Was Young, co-penned by Burdon, shows a different side to The Animals and produced another hit for the reformed band. Recalling among other things the hardships of living through World War II, the song features some wonderful distorted guitar. Possibly it was that latter element that encouraged The Ramones, and many lesser-known grunge acts, to later cover it. "When I first wrote it I played it to George Harrison and his comment was: 'Great! You got to do more of this. You know you'll be able to sing this song when you are in your forties.'” explained Burdon. “Now I am in my 70s and I am still singing it!"
7. Don’t Bring Me Down (1966)
Co-written by the legendary team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, this 1966 wonder featured Barry Jenkins on drums, a great organ contribution and Burdon demonstrating his amazing talent as a lead vocalist.
6. Inside Looking Out (1966)
This traditional folk song was given a different spin by The Animals who were starting to embrace the more trippy sounds that were to become dominant towards the end of the decade. As Burdon commented:"It's the first number we've recorded without a tune. It originates from a Mississippi prison song; the kind of blues we've always wanted to do."
5. Riverside Country (1977)
Released on The Animals comeback album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, this lesser-known cut is one of the group’s finest. Penned by the band’s original lineup, the songs oozes sensuality, with Burdon caressing the words: “Oh baby, stroll with me down by the riverside […] Oh baby, the sun is warm, your eyes they shine, No matter where I go you’ll always be resting on my mind.”
4. It’s My Life (1965)
The lyrics of It’s My Life are full of bravado, and even unpleasantness, which is possibly one reason that Burdon did not enjoy singing it. The protagonist is looking for a woman to "live on their money," saying: "It's my life and I'll do what I want." Written by Roger Atkins and Carl D'Errico, the latter explained that : "'It's My Life" came about when Mickie Most, the producer of The Animals, said he was looking for songs for the group. The writers got busy writing [but] 'It's My Life' […] didn't have enough punch and it was the wrong groove, so I rewrote it. After the rewrite everyone knew it was a hit."
3. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (1965)
Originally put out by Nina Simone, The Animals upped the tempo and turned it into a hit in both the UK and the US. Featuring Valentine’s 12-string Rickenbacker and Price’s heavenly organ, the lyrics hit a chord, with Burdon later saying: "I've really been misunderstood. By my mom, my dad, school teachers, a couple of the women that I married. I've been misunderstood all of my life." This ballad "was never considered pop material,” he observed, “but it somehow got passed on to us and we fell in love with it immediately."
2. We Gotta Get Out of This Place (1965)
Husband and wife songwriting team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann took up Mickie Most’s challenge ‘to make the band sound more American,’ by penning this song that captures the feeling of youthful rebellion. In some ways the sound recalls work by The Who, as Burdon unleashes all his anger into his performance. Perhaps he recalled the frustrations of growing up in gritty industrial Newcastle, but it also resonated with young Americans fighting in Vietnam. Regarding the rage Burdon later commented: "I've always viewed myself as a punk. The Animals could have evolved that way. We had the energy and the anger."
1. The House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Generations of guitar shop owners have probably been driven mad by terrible versions of the guitar riff that opens this song, but The Animals’ version grabs your attention and never lets go. This traditional song originally referenced a New Orleans’ brothel - it was named after its occupant Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant (which means "Rising Sun" in French) – but the band made the protagonist a gambler to make it more likely to get radio play. It hit the number 1 spot in the UK on 9 July, 1964, and in America two months later. As Burdon said: “it is a song that I was just fated to. It was made for me.” Like Motörhead’s Ace of Spades, it has the uncanny capacity to make you feel like you are bad, just by listening to it…