Keyboard player and singer Alan Price led Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo in Newcastle, England in the early sixties. Eric Burdon joined the group in 1962 and by 1963 the group had been renamed the Animals. The group’s performances were primarily covers of American rhythm and blues records. Their first single, Baby Let Me Take You Home, barely reached the charts.
The group’s second single was The House Of The Rising Sun. The song was a traditional folk song that was typically sung as a lament by a female singer. Early versions of the song date back to at least 1905 and the first published version of the lyrics appeared in 1925. Many recordings of the song were done by other performers before the Animals, including Bob Dylan’s version on his first album in 1962. Eric first heard the song sung by a folk singer in Newcastle in 1964 and the band worked up their own version. There are clear echoes of Dylan’s version in the Animals’ recording. The record reached number one in both the US and the UK and was the first British Invasion chart-topper in the US that was not related to the Beatles.
Bonus points if you can name the other British group that had a number one hit in the US in 1964 just two months before the Animals got theirs.
Alan Price was not comfortable with touring (especially the flying part) and by 1965 he left the group to form the Alan Price Set. While that group never had much success in the US, they had several top forty singles in the UK including their cover of the Randy Newman song Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear.
The Animals replaced Alan and had a half-dozen top forty singles over the next two years. That string ended with the Carol King-Gerry Goffin composition Don’t Bring Me Down in 1966. The single reached #12 on the Hot 100 and #6 in the UK.
The band performed the song live on The Ed Sullivan show (not lip-syncing) and that version sounded even better than the single version.
After that single, the band’s line-up changed extensively and the band abandoned their blues roots and ventured into psychedelic territory. The changeover also included a new billing for the group: Eric Burdon and the Animals. Another half-dozen hits followed, but in 1968 the group disbanded completely. Eric went on to join the Long Island group War for a brief stint before going on with a solo career.
PS – Peter and Gordon’s number one hit single in 1964 was World Without Love, which was written by the Beatles.