‘[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.
Where was it written?
In New York City!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Who else listened?
The Soldiers of The Vietnam War.
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!