I loved being a teenager.
I loved my friends. I loved discovering new music. I loved learning what it felt like to work and earn my own money, and I loved looking forward to college and an exciting life beyond.
I didn’t love, however, being at home. Though I loved my family, I always felt like I had to get out of the house. I felt angry. My parents divorced when I was 15, and though my mom and dad did a wonderful job of raising us together while they lived apart, I felt like I had to leave. I didn’t want any more rules, or advice, or suggestions, or guidance. I didn’t want to have to be worried if I was spending more time with one or the other, or whether I was spending enough time with either of them.
I felt angry when my brothers walked in the front door of the house. They didn’t do anything wrong (well maybe sometimes), but anyone walking through that front door represented an interruption. An interruption to the music I was listening to, to the book I was reading, or just to the solace I was enjoying.
I wanted to explore a life somewhere else. I wanted a life anywhere else. I was eighteen years old, living in a beautiful home in a beautiful suburb with everything I could ever need, and I could not wait to get out.
If there was a consistent source of peace, imagination and hope to found, it was found in the new and old music I was continually discovering. In the 1980’s, during my teenage years, I explored the music of the 1950’s and 1960’s. It felt like a time when young people found new ways to explore their creativity and passion through the music they were creating in their garages, backyards and basements. All they needed was to learn a few chords on a cheap dime store guitar, and they were on their way.
The music was simple, but the lyrics were profound.
I found myself connecting with the music of The Animals, a rough shod group of blues aficionado rock musicians from northwest London. Their music was steeped in the musical traditions of Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City, and I identified with many of their songs that imagined a life somewhere else.
The lineup of The Animals has constantly changed since they began in the late 1950’s, but they found their greatest success with Eric Burdon on lead vocals and Chas Chandler, who would go on to manage the Jimi Hendrix Experience, on bass. Released in 1965, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” is a wonderful showpiece of what this hardscrabble band could do, and how Burdon could carry a song.
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” begins only with a loping, droopy bass melody, which is soon joined by a single tap of the high hat symbol on the one beat. Together they continue as the song slowly adds color and momentum. 24 year old Eric Burdon then comes in to quietly set the scene. His voice is low, it has a maturity and experience well beyond his years, and he completely fills the space without needing to yell or scream.
“In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refuse to shine
People tell me there ain’t no use in trying”
Burdon is singing for everybody who ever felt they needed a change, that they needed to find a way to get to a new place and a new situation. Burdon might be singing about himself, but really he is singing for everybody.
The electric guitar comes in, slashing along with the cymbal, and now the band is off and running. The intensity grows.
“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.
Watch my daddy in bed and tired
Watch his hair been turning gray
He’s been working and slaving his life away”
This felt like the coolest music in the world. I could imagine myself walking down the street on a cold winter’s day in an industrial city. Dirt, grime and sadness all around. The collar of my leather jacket (I didn’t own a leather jacket) turned up to keep my face warm against the brutal wind while I took a long drag on my cigarette (I didn’t smoke). My eyes squinted in doubt and confusion at the world around me. I was walking, I was listening to The Animals, and I was getting out. There is hope. There always has to be hope.
“We gotta get out of this place
If its the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life for me and you
Believe me baby
I know it baby
You know it too.”
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” felt like the perfect statement for any band made up of working class stiffs from a working class city. This “place” could really be any place, any place that any person wants to leave for any reason. The “better life” they are dreaming of together is a dream shared by all of us. Eric Burdon sings “We Gotta Get Out This Place” like it was written from his very bone marrow. It speaks of truth, and experience, and desperation.
Listening to “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” through the years has always reminded me of being a teenager, and dreaming of that next stage of my life, and wondering what the future would be like. I always appreciated the truth and honesty of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and how they even kinda made me feel like I was one of them.
And then I learned they didn’t write the song. Not only did they not write the song, but the song was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, two of the very best songwriters of the rock and roll era who also wrote classics like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “On Broadway,” and “Walkin’ in the Rain” to name just a very few.
This song, which I had imagined as the product of a life of hard work, turmoil and tragedy was actually created in the a dingy office in the Brill Building on the edge of Times Square in Manhattan by two of the most successful songwriters of all time. The song is pure imagination. While The Animals undoubtedly put their own stamp on the song through a performance that was passionate and sincere, the words belonged to somebody else.
And yet, Eric Burdon owns this song. His grit and sincerity elevates the song from being a mere carbon copy to being a true artistic statement.
Weil and Mann wrote it. Burdon sang it. The Animals performed it. Glickman listened to it. The provenance is simple, and the impact remains strong.
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Performed by The Animals
Released July, 1965