Saturday, May 05, 2007

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” / The Animals


I know I’ve written about the Animals a few times already – they were, after all, the band that gave Alan Price his start – but I couldn’t really do a British Invasion month without writing about the Animals, could I?

This was the first track they recorded in June 1965 after Alan Price left the band (so see, I’m not writing about Alan Price again), but he was replaced by another Newcastle lad, Dave Rowberry, so this second incarnation of the Animals still had a lot of Geordie soul. Their producer, Mickie Most, was driving them continually in a more pop-oriented direction, urging them to record this song by Brill Building songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, but the Animals still were able to turn it into another gritty song about urban rebellion. (Can you imagine what the Monkees would’ve done with a song like this?)

It starts off with an ominous deep bass line, played like thrumming machinery by Chas Chandler (who’d become Jimi Hendrix’s manager in his post-Animals life); next John Steel gives us a warning ting! on the cymbals, like a factory gate clanging shut. Then Eric Burdon starts, in his bluesiest low register, “In this dirty old part of the city / Where the sun refuse to shine / People tell me there ain’t no use in tryin’.” Add the guitar and full drums as Eric warms up to his subject, his voice shivering with pity: “Now my girl you’re so young and pretty / And one thing I know is true / You’ll be dead before your time is due.” Those clotted Newcastle vowels (despite all his attempts to sound like a Deep South bluesman) and his smoky timbre bring all the darkness and sorrow they can into that lyric. The metallic cymbals and guitar, the wheeze of the organ, the echoing vocals, all read heavy industry to me. Forget Swingin’ London; this was a different United Kingdom, a place of sooty brick walls and smokestacks and pubfuls of men on the dole. A dirty old part of the city, indeed.

Eric goes up an octave for the next verse, getting worked up, yelping on the high notes: “Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin’ / Watch his hair been turnin’ gray / He’s been working and slavin’ his life away.” Sure, he’s sorry for his dad – but what really scares him is imagining himself going down the same road. “We gotta get out of this place,” the whole band agrees in the chorus, the voices behind the frontman shouting sloppily, desperately, “if it’s the last thing we ever do / We gotta get out of this place.” Things screech to a halt so Eric can sing a cappella – “Girl, there’s a better life / For me and you.” On the “you,” all the instruments come jerking back in, playing convulsive chord progressions against a relentless hammering drumbeat. I can’t help but feel that their escape is doomed, whatever Mann and Weil intended.

Eric Burdon’s always had a gift for phrasing – see how he pauses for dramatic emphasis before “dirty old,” lags meaningfully on “refuse to shine,” bounces off the beat on “for me and you.” All the extra “oh yeses” and “you knows” he throws in, testifying like he’s at a tent revival –and yet that dream of a better life shimmers just out of reach. Sure, there’s a love song in here – that brave young couple, like Romeo and Juliet, trying to escape their parents’ fate. (Cue up West Side Story and “There’s a place for us…”) But what really hit me about this song in 1965 was that image of the industrial city, like a trap from which the young can only dream of escaping. British bands were already reaching for something a little meatier. And where they would go next was anybody’s guess.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place sample


G12 said...

As much as I know I'm in a tiny minoirty, I never liked Burdon's voice, especially the shrieks.

Just really grates. Though, of course, The Animals had some brilliant songs, BRILLIANT!

Iñakink said...

One of my favourite sixties songs. I knew it from a horrible Spanish version and I didn't like it too much, but when I heard the animals one... Wow! I saw the light.

Julie said...

This is a great track. And you only mentioned Alan Price twice.