(2012 mostly but abandoned; found buried in my drafts and cleaned up in 2018)
Had the Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place running through my head lately (which is a major improvement on Margaritaville). I’ve always loved the Animals but don’t have anything by them, not one record. Considering that Eric Burdon might be my favorite English singer ever, that makes no sense at all. Oh well. But Youtube has the song in spades. I could never figure out why people put up tunes that are already up a hundred times already but then most people don’t make any sense at all either.
The point is that I found out there are two versions of We Gotta Get Out of This Place, an American and an English version. Somehow the American was the wrong take. That was the version that we heard on the radio throughout the vinyl years here in the States. I think it’s on their Animal Tracks LP, too, and the greatest hits everyone stateside used to have. Then came CDs, and MGM made dead sure that it was the correct English version that got on all future CD releases. English band, English version, everything’s logical again. (Well almost, it was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and originally intended for the Righteous Brothers, but wound up in England instead.)
Watch my Daddy in bed a dyin’, Eric tells us in the first verse, see his hair been turning grey. He’s been workin’ and slavin’ his life away. Newcastle was a beat up, used up city by the time the Animals came together, as the Empire fell it fell too, coal pits closing, shipyards shutting down, ancient factories empty. London was far away. When the band played the blues you get the feeling it felt them for real, not like art school kids but the more like way they felt the blues in the tough bars in Chicago. Maybe the South side and Newcastle weren’t that far apart in a lot of ways, poor, cold, scuffling for money. Ignored. That is certainly the sound in Eric Burdon’s voice. It’s almost like he’s channeling some long dead singer in Chicago, someone struck down in a knife fight, maybe, or died, lingering, of consumption. The windows let in a sticky breeze. I can almost smell those TB sheets.
So with all those We Gotta Get Out of This Places to pick from, I selected one that was taken directly off a seven inch. [Well, it was a few years ago. Alas that link died but here’s another of the same record, but I like the next couple lines too much to delete them….] You can tell because the guy picks up the single, shows it to us, both sides, and pulls the record from the sleeve and puts in on the turntable. The magic of digital cameras. He whisks the tone arm into position and then drops the needle into the grooves with perfect timing and the song begins on a bass note. Dum-da-dum-da-da-da-da Dum-da-dum-da-da-da-da Ting! then there’s a beat and another ting! and the drummer shifts the stick a couple inches back from the edge of the ride for the next ting!, less resonant, fainter, higher pitched and in comes Eric, over three more tings, In this dirty ol’ part of the city, where the sun refuse to shine…. and he owns you, he does, he’s got you, you’re listening. People are telling him there ain’t no use in trying, and there’s the rhyme, the shine, tryin’, dyin’, and it’s all downhill from there but listen to the edge in his vocal here. The anger. The girl, doomed, the Daddy, dying, his hair turning gray, working and slaving his life away. Eric knows. Working and working, work, work, the band chants, it’s a road gang work song, all rhythm, work, work work and suddenly Alan Price carries them into the chorus, we gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do….. Entire pubfulls of voices ring that out when the jukebox spins it, girl there’s a better life for me and you. Not that they believe there is. You look in the mirror back of the bar as you sing and doubt that there’s anything better at all. Just this. This is it.
Watch my daddy in bed a-dying, Eric demands again in the second verse, his voice now cracking with pent up rage, watch his hair been turning grey. He been working and slaving his life away. He then slips out of the melody to say–not sing–yeah I know he been working too hard, a bit of jazz phrasing that startles, almost dissonant, then back into the melody again, you know I been working too babe, the band pushing behind him, I been working so hard….and then from the deepest depths of everything that was Eric Burdon in 1965 emanates this Chicago blues banshee wail utterly untranscribable, a sound the likes of which I’m sure had never been heard on a rock’n’roll record before then, and it roars above the band for several extraordinary seconds and must have scared the bejesus out of everybody.
The song finishes up in a catchy afterthought. Girl, there’s a better place for me and you, Eric sings. I found a live version from some goofy pop music show, the band dead serious performing a dead serious song, and as the second verse builds to its cataclysmic finale the idiot director gives us a close up shot of the guitar player. Eric’s bloodcurdling howl is unseen by everyone except the mash potatoing kids. I never found another televised version that did the American take. But no matter, soon enough everyone was dropping acid and loving everyone and a primal scream would have just bummed a thousand trips. Heaven’s above, it’s a street called Love, Eric explained, when will they ever learn? Though I like that song too, and Sky Pilot, and Monterey, and his psychedelic freak out River Deep, Mountain High too. But none contain that bone chilling howl heard on the American release of We Gotta Get Out of This Place. I guess they’d finally gotten out of that place after all.