HOW MUCH CAN ONE RECORD MEAN (Volume 10: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”)

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (U.S. Version-1965)
Artist: The Animals
Writers: (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil)

CIRCA 1966: Songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil pose for a portrait circa 1966. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

(Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, circa, mid-sixties)

You’ve got to start somewhere.

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” seems to have started as an extra beat in Barry Mann’s ambitious heart.

Barry Mann the wannabe singer that is.

Barry had a big hit in the early sixties with “Who Put the Bomp” one of those great half-serious, half-goofy odes to rock and roll transcendence that occasionally lit up the charts back then. It wasn’t quite as great as Johnny Cymbal’s “Mr. Bass Man,” but it was still pretty darn great. That said, even “Mr. Bass Man” wasn’t quite the sort of record for a singer to build a career on. Too much competition in those halcyon days for “now what” to be the logical question about a follow up.

Besides, everybody knew who Barry Mann was. Barry Mann was a songwriter, and, especially after he met his soulmate, Cynthia Weil, a very great songwriter. (Of the three marriage/partner teams around whom the Brill Building was built, Mann and Weill were the ones who wrote “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and the ones whose marriage lasted–they call it art for a reason)

But Mann didn’t exactly give up on his idea of being both a singer and a songwriter. After the advent of the Beatles and the rise of Bob Dylan, he probably started getting ideas. And who could blame him?

If they can do it, why not me?

So he planned and schemed and wrote and used his contacts and his talent to put pressure on the powers-that-be. It wasn’t too long before he secured a recording contract with Red Bird records and decided the demo he was shopping to the Righteous Brothers (as a followup to “Lovin’ Feeling”…there’s run for you) would make his own perfect debut.

Thus he recorded this:

Not bad. Kinda different, which wasn’t the curse in those days it is now. A little murky on the production end, maybe, and Barry Mann wasn’t a Righteous Brother, let alone, two Righteous Brothers. But lots of records of similar quality found their way up the charts even in that hyper-competitive era. It could have happened for Barry.

Certainly what happened next had to leave him wondering if it was his singing career’s great might-have-been.

animals

The Animals, whose producer, Mickie Most, had been slipped a demo by the era’s most ubiquitous hustler, Allen Klein (he’d later end up managing both the Beatles and the Stones), had recorded their own version for the UK market. It had been released there days before Mann’s record was set to be released in the U.S. Mann and Weil’s overseer and friend, Brill Building honcho Don Kirshner came to break the news.

The Animals’ version had come out that week and smashed high on the British charts.

Cynthia Weil had one question.

“How do we keep it from coming out over here?”

Answer:

“We can’t.”

The Animals eventually hit #2 in the UK, with this, the “correct” official version.

Better. It was kept out of the UK top spot by the Beatles’ “Help,” which was the kind of record it took in those days to keep a record like “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” from climbing all the way up the mountain. In the UK, at least.

If this were the only version that existed, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” might still have become all the things it did become: a trans-Atlantic smash; a permanent oldies’ staple in both countries; something close to the official anthem of Viet Nam grunts stuck in the jungle mud, forever being asked to take some plot of ground which the brass already fully intended to give back at all costs.

Something funny happened, though, along the way.

Somehow or other, a version that was never meant to see the light of day ended up being shipped to the States and becoming the American hit.

Remarkably, what became to be known as the “U.S. version” was the stronger record (and I’m sure I’m not just saying that because I heard it first and most). The rhythm was tighter. Eric Burdon’s fine original vocal was replaced by one of his fiercest yowls. The slightly langorous space around the beat was squeezed out. The distance between lament and fury was squeezed out along with it.

More than all that, two key lyric changes were made (they’d already improved slightly on Mann’s original). One of the changes was real: “Watch my daddy in bed a dyin'” became “See my daddy in bed a dyin'” which was, as Mark Twain might have had it, the lightning bug turned into lightning, not to mention a lot more singable.

But I have to confess it was the other lyric change, the “imaginary” one, that always grabbed me.

At the top of Mann’s version, the “real” lyric was clearly “In this dirty old part of the city,” and, in the subsequent UK and “live” versions, Eric Burdon clearly sang those words.

But what I heard for years, in the “U.S.” version–and what I hear now, is the far more forceful and poetic “In the still eye of the city.”

Or, if you like:

“in the still-l-l-l EYE of the city…”

Now, I know those aren’t the real words. No lyric sheet anywhere on the internet suggests such a change. No live version Burdon has sung, from the mid-sixties to yesterday, that I can find on YouTube, suggests he ever so much as thought of singing any words except “In this dirty old part of the city.”

Even the recorded UK version doesn’t quite suggest it, though if you listen close you could almost get confused.

But the U.S. version–the one most Americans heard for two decades, before the CD releases began and Klein, still owning the master, began insisting on the “proper” version being the only version–exchanges all that clarity for another sort of clarity.

Namely, that, whatever technological trick (or malfunction) was applied to the accidental release–whatever splicing or compression gave my ear “still eye” where “dirty old part” should have been, doubled the record’s power and turned “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” from a really good record into something that actually deserved everything it became.

These days, you can find the “U.S.” version on a comp or two (2004’s Retrospective has it for sure). You can also hear it on YouTube…

..and, of course, you are free to hear it any way you want. Just don’t think you’re gonna change what I hear.

That’s hardly where the story ends. In whatever version,  “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” went as many places, affected as many lives, as any record ever has.

The most interesting story I ever heard was some years back on Public Radio. Mann and Weil were being interviewed by Terry Gross, and, inevitably, the subject of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” came up. Gross was well aware of the song’s history and pressed them for details on their feelings about having what was supposed to have been Mann’s big shot at a solo career effectively pulled from under him by a twist of fate.

About that, Mann waxed philosophical. Regrets, sure, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t had a great life.

Then Gross asked if he preferred his own version to the Animals. Mann danced around the question for maybe two minutes before conceding that, yes, maybe the Animals’ version was better. It became the hit, after all.

Eventually, he quit talking.

Without being asked, Cynthia Weil immediately added:

“I prefer the version by Barry Mann.”

After which I no longer needed to wonder why theirs was the marriage–and the partnership–that lasted.

NOT JUST A COUPLE OF YOBS (Bobby Keys, Ian McLagan, R.I.P.)

Bobby Keys started out backing Buddy Holly and became one of the revolution’s handful of “go-to” sax players in the sixties and beyond.

The act who went to him most memorably was the Rolling Stones (who have posted several heartfelt tributes to him on-line today). He drove their toughest, most uncompromising record, “Brown Sugar,” which made the impulses to rape and slavery inextricable from each other (and far more primitive than the “profit” motive now routinely assigned to the latter by intellectuals who really ought to know better), went #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K., and was the most notable omission (among several) when they finally played the Super Bowl and proved, once and for all, that heartfelt tributes to the dead were all they would ever be good for again.

Just in case you think there was ever a time when they (“they” always meaning Mick, the only one whose decisions count) weren’t willing to play the man’s game the man’s way, here’s a scorching version from the BBC in ’71, with Keys and any reference to what a “black girl” should do (as opposed to a young girl), notably missing.

…And here’s the real, full-blown, scary thing:

McLagan was an ace keyboardist for two great bands, the mod-ish Small Faces and the bloozier Faces. He was the source of one of my favorite anecdotes. After the Faces broke up, he was asked to join the Grateful Dead. He took several of their albums home and listened to them for several hours. He told NPR’s Terry Gross some years back that if he were forced to listen any longer he would have slit his own throat.

My kind of guy, basically.

His own greatest musical moment? Well, identifying that is a tall task. But I’m willing to bet he never had a better one than the intro here, which kicks off a fabulous duel of a duet between Steve Marriot and P.P. Arnold.

Keys passed yesterday at age 70. McLagan today at 69.

Consider this joint they left behind fully rocked.

THE SHOCK OF THE NEW…MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: Circa 1970 (Great Quotations)

“And I looked in the studio mirror–they had this glass right there–looking at the engineers and everybody was jumping up and jumping up and jumping up and I said, ‘I must be doing something right.’”

The Reverend Al Green, on recording “Tired of Being Alone,”–which became his first major hit–after taking his producer Willie Mitchell’s advice to “keep it mellow” (and after also talking Mitchell into recording a song Green himself had actually written–they had, among many other things, already taken a run at “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”)

I can’t link to it, but I can’t possibly recommend  the full interview from which the above quote is taken highly enough.

It’s available at the following:

Search for NPR Fresh Air

Click on Browse Past Shows

Go down to November 2003 (kind of tedious because you have to back track one year at a time) and scroll down to “Musical Legend Al Green” and pull it up and click on “listen.”

I promise it’s worth the trouble!

Green talks with NPR’s Terry Gross about much of his career, including how listening to Elvis and Jackie Wilson as a teenager set him on the road to stardom…by getting him kicked out of the house. Equally fascinating is his story of how he came to record “To Sir With Love” a decade after first hearing it–note the gentle way he completely undermines and deflates Gross’ condescension to the song without ever directly chastising her ignorance…That is the true nature of New Testament Evangelism at work…and I love the way he refers to the seventeen-year-old Lulu as “some English lady!”

If, by chance, you can’t get to that, then by all means link to this: