The Animals : We Gotta Get Out of This Place (The Template for every Bruce Springsteen song!)

‘[Hearing The Animals] was a revelation … the first records with full blown class consciousness … the chorus of, ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ where working stiffs are looking for a better life can be heard in all my albums …

That’s every song I’ve ever written. That’s all of them. I’m not kidding either. That’s, ‘Born to Run’, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’

(Bruce Springsteen reflecting on his songwriting influences at the South by Southwest Music Conference in 2012)

‘We gotta get out of this place,
If it’s the last thing we ever do,
We gotta get out of this place,
‘Cause girl, there’s a better place for me and you’

Well! Wasn’t The Boss giving you the straight steer!

The Animals magnificently raw and visceral 1965 recording of, ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ laced with frustration, pain and outrage hits you deep in the solar plexus.

These guys aren’t kidding!

Only The Beatles, ‘Help’ kept the disc out of the Number One spot in the UK and it was top 20 in America.

Subsequently it has been recognised as a resonant landmark recording – a cultural earthquake that continues to provide unexpected aftershocks to this day.

The ominous intro, courtesy of Chas Chandler’s bass guitar, is doubled and redoubled throughout the song as Hilton Valentine’s guitar, John Steel’s drums and Dave Rowberry’s keyboards crank up the sense of uncontainable tension through every second the song lasts.

The record starkly dramatises themes of righteous working class anger, the simmering tensions within families especially those between fathers and sons, the asphyxiating atmosphere of the home town and the overwhelming urge to get away – to make a new life down the road.

Eric Burdon sings like a man possessed. He seems, deep from his gut, to be singing a bone crunching Urban Blues for all the disdained miners and shipyard workers he grew up amongst.

The passion and power in his vocal embodies his refusal to accept that, whatever he is told about the, ‘realities’ of his situation it cannot, cannot! be true that there’s no use in trying.

As an act of hope and faith he must, simply must, find that better future. And as a man he knows that a future that’s not shared with his girl, so young and pretty, is not a future worth pursuing.

Looking at his grey haired and life battered father he knows that to stay in the Hometown means he and his girl will be condemned to slaving their lives away and then to dying before their time.

All around there is the fading light and the smell of death. Time to go. Time to choose life. To choose life!

Yet, ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ was born many thousands of miles away from Newcastle and the mighty rolling River Tyne.

To tell the full story of how it came into being and how its onward journey proceeded I’m going to call on three of Kipling’s honest servants; Who and Where and When.

Who Wrote it? When?

Barry Mann and Cyntia Weil in 1965.

Barry and Cynthia were A list songwriters who forged a partnership to rival Carol King and Gerry Goffin. They had the gift of writing songs that lingered in the heart and mind because of the strength of the melodies and the emotional truths of the lyrics.

Think of, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’, ‘On Broadway’, ‘Just a Little Lovin” and, ‘He’s Sure The Boy I love’ to name but four classics form their songbook.

Their success came from natural talent yoked to hard, hard, work. Six days a week they sat down together and wrote and cut demos. Searching, relentlessly, for the miraculous marriage of melody and lyric which makes the difference between just another song and a song which takes on a life of its own and sails to the stars.

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Where was it written?

In New York City!

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Now, pop historians often refer to the songs and records made in New York in the late 50s/early 60s as exemplifying, ‘The Brill Building Sound’. These were polished pop products, alive with youthful fire and energy, which drew skilfully on the Gospel, Rhythm and Blues and Latin sounds which swirled around the stoops and roofs of The Big Apple.

And, The Brill Building at 1619 Broadway was a hive of publishing companies and songwriting teams slaving in tiny cubicles as they conspired to storm the Hot 100. But, that’s not where Mann and Weil wrote, ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’. No, they wrote the song and made the demo at 1650 Broadway where Aldon Music was based.

At 1650 you could write a song, demo it on piano and vocal and then take it the basement studio to be further worked on by a full band.

Then simply find the right artist, add radio and live promotion and Voila! You have a hit!

Who turned a NYC demo into a hit record from England?

Allen Klein, Mickie Most and The Animals.

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Allen Klein! A legendary figure in the Music Business. He was a fixer, a hustler, some kind of genius with the numbers, a ‘you’d better not get in my way buddy’ negotiator and a man you never, ever, wanted to make an enemy of!

He made several fortunes, for himself, and some for his clients – which by the end of his career had included both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones! We are talking about a big time operator.

In the mid 60 s he was getting into his stride and building the personal and business networks he would ruthlessly exploit therafter. One of his friends and networking allies was Don Kirshner, the Don off Aldon Music!

So, Allen was often in 1650 Broadway. And, one day he listened to a demo by Mann and Weill – ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ and smelled the aroma of a big, fat, hit.

Mann/Weil had imagined the song as a vehicle for The Righteous Brothers or a chance for Barry to record the song himself for Leiber & Stoller’s Redbird label.

Allen, didn’t see it that way. He saw it as a chance to feed his client in England, Mickie Most, who was proving to be a producer with the midas touch.

So, Allen sent the demo to Mickie who was searching for a gritty song to suit the gritty group from Newcastle.

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The Animals.

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The Animals, who had the previous year, made an all time classic record in ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ (which had stunned everybody from Bob Dylan to Muddy Waters) would surely devour such a song and take it all the way to the top of the charts.

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Mickie Most had ears fine tuned for what makes a hit. And, he proved this over and over again with The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Lulu, Donovan and Jeff Beck among many others.

He had immediately spotted the potential of The Animals when he saw their powerhouse performances at their Hometown base of Club-A- Go-Go. They clearly had a deep natural feeling for Rhythm & Blues and Soul Music.

Perhaps Mickie Most’s best gift as a producer was to know the strengths of a song and his artists. The Animals strength was the intensity of their earthy sound. He largely kept out of their way in the studio concentrating on capturing that sound on tape.

Who listened?

Rhythm & Blues buffs and all over the world, tuning in to their radios and TVs, teens and twenties discovering the way music could reflect the lives they led and inspire dreams of escape.

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Now some of these buffs, some in their teens, had dreams of making such music themselves.

Dreams which would just about turn into an inferno of desire when they heard ‘We gotta Get Out Of This Place’.

Enter, aged 15 from Freehold, New Jersey, one Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen!

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Who else listened?

The Soldiers of The Vietnam War.

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Getting out of this place is fine if its your own choice.

But what if the choice is made for you by your Government?

What if, instead of lighting out for the territory you were drafted and put on a plane to fight a war thousands of miles from home?

What if you were listening to this song amid shells and bullets at Dong Xoai, la Drang, Khe Sanh or Hue?

What then? What then?

Then, a song written in New York before being recorded in London by a group from Newcastle might take on an even more desperate and urgent character.

Falling asleep each night after another day in Hell you couldn’t help but add your voice to that chorus;

‘We gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do’.

The line about being dead before your time is due would echo and echo as you saw comrades fall all around you.

No wonder, ‘We Gotta get Out Of This Place’ is generally considered to The defining song of the War for Vietnam Vets (there’s an excellent book of the same title by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner).

Who might be listening now?

Music buffs like me. Listeners to Oldies stations.

And, always, always, anyone seemingly trapped by life.

A woman trapped in a loveless or abusive marriage.

A child unable to drink clean water.

People enslaved by lack of education, poverty and corruption.

And, today watching The News about the trauma and tragedy of places like war devastated Aleppo who can doubt that if those benighted citizens heard, ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ they would not say words to the effect of Amen Brother, Amen!

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Blue Moon (Revisited) : Elvis, Cowboy Junkies & The Marcels

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‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.’

(Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice)

While The Akkadians slept the Moon shone down.

While The Hittites dreamed of an eternal empire the Moon set the tides a flowing.

While The Assyrians and The Phoenicians marched the Moon shone down.

While The Babylonians, The Persians and The Etruscans dreamed of eternal empires the Moon set the tides a flowing.

While The Greeks and The Romans rose and fell the Moon shone down.

While the empires of great Alexander and that of Chandragupta Mauraya rose and fell the Moon set the tides a flowing.

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Look up! Look up!

It’s the same moon! The same moon!

And, looking up, we can’t help but feel the Moon looks down on us knowing all the secrets of our hearts.

Sometimes we shiver as we realise we know so little of what the Moon has known and seen and is yet to see.

Yet, somewhere within us we feel that the Moon is a mother and a mentor.

So we address the Moon in worship, in stone, in ritual, in story and poetry and song.

Somehow we feel the Moon understands.

So night after night, for century after century, for millennia after millennia we look up.

We look up as the Moon looks down. We look up as the Moon looks down.

And, looking up we see the Wolf Moon. Or the Snow Moon. Or perhaps the Pink Moon or the Milk Moon.

Sometimes above us we see a Strawberry Moon or a Mourning Moon. Sometimes the Thunder Moon or the Harvest Moon.

Sometimes as we look up and ponder our fates we are blessed by a Blue Moon.

The song Blue Moon came from the fabled Broadway Golden Age partnership of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. It was written in 1933/34 and went through several iterations before becoming the song we all know and love.

Initially Rodgers’ limpid melody so redolent of the moonlight was called, ‘Prayer’ and intended for Jean Harlow. Unused, it became, ‘Manhattan Melodrama’ then, ‘The Bad in Every Man’ before by the power of commerce (MGM demanded a hit!) and the alchemy of the tortured genius of Lorenz Hart it became the eternal yearning prayer of the heart that is, ‘Blue Moon’.

All Lorenz Hart’s great romantic songs are distinguished by their lyrical felicity and sophistication. But, with Hart, there is also always a melancholic core, a subliminal shadow of foreboding, a sense that isolation and the curse of loneliness can only be eluded momentarily – if at all.

Without a love of his own he sensed that his dream, his prayer for someone to care for, would almost certainly go unanswered and that the blue moon above would cruelly stay blue and never, ever, glow gold.

In his version from 1949 Billy Eckstine’s burnished tones evoke a man walking down the moonlight city streets at four o’ clock in the morning.

Amid the rapt surrounding stillness he offers up his prayer in a stately voice that suggests the rarely glimpsed gold moon is a passing dream or chimera not the harbinger of a bright future.

Still, he walks on. For, whatever else befalls, he knows he can rely on the Moon to light the world tomorrow night and every night that he can look up to see it. And, there is comfort in that.

Elvis recorded his ghostly take on Blue Moon in the summer of 1954 for Sun Records with the wind whispering percussion probably played by Buddy Cunningham. Elvis takes the song far, far, away from The Great White Way.

Elvis’ Blue Moon shines over Southern soil. I have always heard his eerie crooning here as a keen for the lost thousands of Southern men and boys who perished in the Civil War.

Elvis, normally a singer of enormous physicality, here, miraculously achieves a wraithlike weightlessness that evokes the silent smoke drifting over the battlefield after the living and the wounded have withdrawn leaving the charred earth to the care of the unnumbered dead and their departing spirits.

Lately, when the sky is clear and the moon is high, I’ve taken to heading off into the dark woods in search of clarity of mind and peace of the spirit. It’s my habit to read a passage from a beloved book to inspire and sustain my thoughts before I set off.

Last week it was James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses.

Over the course of five days I recited over and over again the following passage until I knew it by heart and could chant it out to the Moon above as it bathed me in the balm of its light:

‘Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations; her nocturnal predominance; her satellite dependence; her luminary reflection; her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect; her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation, her potency over effluent and refluent waters; her power to to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite and aid delinquency; the tranquil inscrutability of her visage, the terribility of her isolated dominant propinquity; her omens of tempest and of calm; the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence; the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence, her splendour, when visible; her attractions when invisible.’

Perhaps after such an exhalation of genius there is no more to be said about The Moon.

Yet, our imaginations cannot exist on a diet of the sublime alone. We also need more than once in a while to throw our heads back, laugh out loud, and ask the silent moon to share in our good humour.

So, on other nights, as the moon shines through crowded trees I dare to sing with all the force at my command to the distant satellite the joyful Esperanto which kick starts The Marcels 1961 worldwide No 1 hit version of Blue Moon (All together now!)

‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding Blue Moon moon blue moon dip di dip di dip
Moo Moo Moo Blue Moon dip di dip di dip Moo Moo Blue Moon dip di dip di dip
Bom ba ba boom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding …’

Now, don’t that make you feel mighty, mighty, fine!

The Marcels (named after the hairstyle) were five high school (multi-racial) friends from Pittsburgh who in 1959 bonded over their love of Doo-Wop and Rhythm & Blues music.

Richard Knauss was the baritone, Fred Johnson hit those low, low notes on bass, Ron ‘Bingo’ Mundy was first tenor with Gene Bricker second. Out front was the happily named Cornelius Harp.

A demo tape of theirs found its way to sharp eared Stu Phillips at Colpix Records. He was particularly taken by their arrangement of The Cadillacs, ‘Zoom’ with its ‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang’ intro.

When he had a little time free in Colpix studio on 15 February 1961 Stu asked them to sing, ‘Heart and Soul’ but found they didn’t have it worked up.

So instead, in a glorious example of serendipity he said let’s do, ‘Blue Moon’ using that intro to, ‘Zoom’ – and thus a classic was cut in two takes!

I recommend you listen first to the song for the sheer thrill of it then listen again to all the wonderful ensemble vocal work going on behind Cornelius Harp’s stellar lead.

I have to say that my heart is always uplifted by the hosanna in excelcis passage that starts at 1.53 and lasts for ten ecstatic seconds – providing enough joy to blast you all the way to the moon and back!

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Sometimes I look up at the Moon and wonder if she ( the Moon is surely a she?) is sad and lonely in all that immensity of space – perhaps recalling her traumatic birth some 4.5 billion years ago when cruel Theia hit the Earth broadsde and brought her into independent being.

Does her ache carry across the lonely miles to Earth. Is that the ache you feel in the pit of your stomach, for no discernible reason, on certain moonlit nights?

Does her ache call forth the howling of the wolves?

Sometimes, as Shelley wrote the Moon does seem to be a dying lady lean and pale wrapped in a gauzy veil.

Now, if its ache you want I defy you to find any group to match The Cowboy Junkies.

Listen to them here taking Blue Moon with riveting gentleness into the cold dark realms of inter stellar space. The Timmins siblings assisted by Jeff Bird and Jaro Czewinec will slow down the beating of your heart and let it find a contemplative rhythm that may just open up interior worlds normally barred and shut in the hurly-burly of our everyday lives.

It seems to me that this version is an exquisite hymn to and lament for two of the greatest American artists; Lorenz Hart and Elvis Presley whose tenure on this Earth was so brief yet whose music will echo on through the centuries.

We humans have been looking up at the Moon in wonderment throughout all of our existence as a species. Contemplating the Moon has stirred us to puzzle about the meaning of becoming, birth, death and resurrection.

We come to understand that life is a series of cycles.

How many cycles and how they continue we know not.

We know not.

So we look to the Moon. And the Moon looks down on us.

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We must hope that the Moon will bless us with her silver will and turn her perfect face towards us always.

And, with the Psalmist trust the righteous will flourish and peace will abound so long as the moon endures.

Captain Beefheart: Visions from Beyond – Big Eyed Beans from Venus!

‘Mr Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long lunar note .. And let it float.’
(Captain Beefheart ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’)

‘Once you’ve heard Beefheart it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains like coffee or blood’ (Tom Waits)

‘If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in popular music it’s Beefheart’ (John Peel)

A day or so ago, on a whim, I decided to play my vinyl copy of, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

So, I carefully punched in the combination code (get it wrong twice and the caged tigers are released) and entered the sanctum sanctorum containing the motherlode of a lifetime’s dedicated record collecting.

Adjusting my eyes to the subdued lighting and breathing the filtered air in a thermostatically controlled dry heat I strolled past the substantial, ‘A’ section and found myself mesmerised by the bounteous treasures contained within the, ‘B’s.

Before extracting Sergeant Pepper from the compendious Beatles cache I lingered over titles from; The Band, The Beach Boys, Badfinger, Blind Boy groups from several States, Paul Brady, Tim Buckley, Joan Baez, Billy Butterfield and, of course, Sidney Bechet (Sidney Bechet!).

However, none of the above accompanied Sergeant Pepper on the walk back to the house.

No, nestled next to the Fab Four was an album from one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of popular music – ‘Clear Spot’ by the one and only Captain Beefheart (otherwise known as Don Van Vliet).

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Captain Beefheart! Captain Beefheart!

In an age when massed phalanxes of politicians, sociologists and Madison Avenue moguls spend untold hours corralling all of us into discrete groups, tribes and categories (personally I’m distraught if I don’t appear in the grouping called ‘other’ in such surveys!) what a relief it is to encounter the Captain – an artist who explodes all the imprisonments of classification and genre.

Captain Beefheart is hors categorie.

He was an American original in excelcis who arrived on the scene like some thunderous prophet from the Desert who lived on a diet of honey and locusts.

Listening his impossibly cavernous voice you imagined a Man-Thing emerging like a vision from the heat shimmer dressed in a hair shirt with buzzards on his shoulders and roaring lions prowling at his feet.

The Captain is best understood as a sculptor and painter who worked, for a time, in the medium of music. He moulded words and sounds and musicians like clay – ripping, tearing and main force wrestling all the material at hand until it matched the mysterious visions blooming in his heart and mind.

And, there can be no better example of the visceral power of his mysterious visions than, ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’ which now takes an honoured place on The Immortal Jukebox as A20.

Usually I’m so pumped up after listening to this track that I have to set off for a long lung-busting run to restore some vestige of equilibrium.

Get ready! Get ready!

This is life changing music.

A work which explodes into life with a, ‘Now I’ve got you!’ guitar riff followed by one of the most arresting opening lines ever recorded:

‘Distant cousins, there’s a limited supply,
And we’re down to the dozens, and this is why …’

Four minutes or so later The Captain with the heroic support of Magic Band members Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad), Rockette Morton (Mark Boston), Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) and Orejon (Roy Estrada) has taken us on a hallucinatory musical journey fusing field hollers, free jazz, the delta blues, rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll into a new and wholly original creation – and isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

No praise is too high for the cosmic commitment this group of musicians offer us here.

Listening I feel as if all my senses (including my sixth and seventh senses) have been shaken and shaken and shaken again until they are singing in rare unison.

The track while proceeding according to some hidden logic asks you to throw out all the conventional expectations of lyrical and musical song structure.

Instead you are taken on a wild, wild ride with sudden stops and accelerations keeping you thrillingly off balance and holding on for dear life.

When Beefheart and the Magic Band put the hammer down you’ll be pulling some serious G forces!

Yet, you always have the sense that someone is at the controls and though you don’t know exactly where you’re going to wind up you’ll be glad you got there when you get there!

Where you will be is far from home in a place you may yet find strangely familiar.

Perhaps Beefheart’s music comes from the parallel universes the physicists tell us surround our own!

It seems to me that all of The Captain’s finest works have the hallmark of mystical transmissions from some crystal beyond. They are simultaneously nonsensical and revelatory bolts of bone deep human truths.

That’s what can make his work so unsettling and downright scary. As Earth people around the circle our instinct is as often to cower and turn our back on such truths as to welcome them.

The Captain’s vocation was to eschew the fol-de-rol of the music business and all the, ‘this is how you do it’ manuals and do, grandly, what all genuine artists do – fearlessly explore and expound the truths he found in his heart.

This was a man who said that a guitar was not really a guitar but a divining rod and that it should be used to find spirits in the other world and bring them over.

There can be no doubt that in creating and performing, ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’ The Captain found some very powerful spirits and blessed us by bringing them over.

There never was and never will be anyone like him.

P.S. Many, many thanks to all the Jukebox aficionados who have taken the time to nominate The Immortal Jukebox for the UK Blog Awards. And, for the very kind words used to describe the virtues of The Jukebox.

Nominations remain open so … If you haven’t already please do follow the link below!

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