The Animals Perform “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place”

Listen to this track by serious-minded R&B figureheads from Newcastle The Animals. It’s their 1965 hit song “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place”, a single released in July of that year, and used subsequently in seemingly every single movie about Vietnam ever (I think it must be a rule).

Up until this point, the Animals hadn’t quite reached the screaming heights of the Beatles or the Stones. But, they were established on the scene with those bands from the early to mid 1960s, and were known as being as close to the “real thing” as any band working in the London rhythm & blues scenes. They were respected.

They also had a hit or two under their belts, pretty much owning “The House of the Rising Sun”, even if it was something of a well-travelled folk tune before they recorded it. But, “We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place” was perfectly matched to Eric Burdon’s old-man-living-in-a-young man’s-body vocal delivery. This is a tale of worldly wisdom before one’s time, aware of the cruelties of life, the pointlessness of toil, and the fleeting nature of beauty and innocence; heavy stuff.

The irony that this tune, a stalwart anthem of so many war movies about Americans in far away countries, is more closely associated with sentiments much closer to home.

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Eric Burdon & The New Animals Perform ‘Sky Pilot’

Listen to this track, an ambitious single from former R&B powerhouse Eric Burdon, with a reconfigured Animals from 1968.  It’s the orchestrally augmented psych-pop single “Sky Pilot” as taken from the album The Twain Shall Meet, a record that allies itself more with West Coast American psychedelia than with the London R&B boom of years previous.  This makes sense, since Burdon had moved the band Stateside by this time, after re-starting the group after their initial 1966 break-up.


After the R&B boom during which the Animals built their reputation in London had ceased, and music had moved from singles-driven efforts, to more album-oriented, and musically ambitious offerings, they had already split. When they re-emerged, it was in sunny, acid-soaked California. The new version of the band was ready to take on weightier, more contemporary themes, with more ambitious arrangements.  And “Sky Pilot” is one of the best examples of this shift.

There is something of a parable suggested in this song of an army Chaplain and his attempts to ease the burden of soldiers about to go into battle.  But, I wonder if the obvious interpretation of anti-Vietnam sentiment isn’t the only thing that lies beneath the story told here.

Referencing the Vietnam conflict  isn’t exactly a hard leap to make. By 1968, Nixon had become President for the first time.  And the conflict in Vietnam was escalating, seemingly by the day. It’s not a huge stretch to think that taking on the role of ‘Sky Pilot’ is, perhaps, the way that members of the rock  counterculture thought of themselves- as the conscience of a nation, of an international community, and source of comfort to soldiers in the field too.  And they certainly were that, with AM radios blaring while soldiers awaited their orders to be dispatched ‘in the shit’. By the time Burdon and this new version of the Animals were ensconced on the West Coast of America, the conflict being felt stateside over the war would have been impossible to ignore.

Even if the band’s, and particularly Burdon’s, interest in American music and way of life was on another level from most bands in Britain at the time, members of the band were still culturally English.  They were among the first  of a generation born during and immediately after the Second World War. That  earlier conflict moulded the consciousness of their generation, with early memories of British industrial towns turned into munitions factories, loss of family, bombing blitzes of the nation’s Capitol, destruction of architecture, rationing, and repressed emotions in the face of what was thought of as more important than personal feelings – victory.

‘Sky Pilot’ may well be about a generation of rock musicians seeing themselves as the spiritual guides to their generation, many  members of whom were in the jungles of Vietnam at the time this song was recorded and released. But, it could be that it’s also about working through the impact of a war that came before, when they were children raised in a region of the world literally on the brink of domination from one of  history’s most evil military machines from only a few miles away, as opposed to many thousands.

Eric Burdon went onto solo recordings, as well as working with soul-funksters War by the 70s.   The Animals would reform many times through out the 70s and early 80s, complete with keyboardist Alan Price.  He continues to be an active musician today.

For more information about The Animals, and more music, check out this Eric Burdon & The Animals site.


Song rendition showdown: “Around and Around” by Chuck Berry, The Animals vs David Bowie

This week’s showdown is between Tyneside bluesmeisters the Animals and rock n’ roll messiah Ziggy Stardust, as played by David Bowie. The song? Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit “Around and Around”.

Like a lot of Chuck Berry songs, this one is an ode not only to rock n’ roll, but also to the culture it created. This is a song about good times and police intervention. In 1958, rock n’ roll was considered by many to be a cultural threat, and in many ways they were right. Communities which had been apart were drawn together because of the popularity of the music, and the peace was often disturbed.

Where the song here focuses mostly on how the music affects people, causing them to rise out of their seats with the feeling that they “just had to dance”, the underlying themes here are undeniable too. When the police knocked, those doors flew back. Rock n’ roll here is both joyous and fraught with danger at the same time. For this alone, it’s a classic. And as the cover versions which came about proved, it was a very interpretable classic too.

The Animals

The Best of the AnimalsThe Animals had credibility among their peers as R&B experts during the British blues-boom in the 1960s. The group boasted the authentic blues voice of lead singer Eric Burdon as well as the gospel-infused organ of Alan Price, who arranged the band’s most famous recording; their version of ‘House of the Rising Sun”. The group’s love of the Chess Records catalogue was obvious too of course, and their debt to Chess artists is even more obvious. They scored hits with two John Lee Hooker songs – “Dimples” and “Boom Boom” – and this tune by Berry as well which appeared on their debut album The Animals in 1964.

Berry’s influence is felt all over the rise of British R&B. But what is most striking about this version is the sense of menace in Burdon’s delivery. You really get the feeling that there is impending violence in the events that unfold in the song. That’s my favourite part about this version; Burdon’s voice is so compelling, so believable, you know that he’s not just talking about a night out. He’s talking about confrontation. The Animals’ take on Berry’s song seems to allude to impending change, proving the song to be something of a prophecy, whether they intended it or not.

The ensuing years would prove that the British establishment feared rock n’ roll as a means of stirring things up, just as it had been feared in America as well. Jail sentences and drugs charges plagued rock royalty by the end of the decade in an effort by the police to make examples of them. Members of the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles were raided, and some were even put up on criminal charges. Jagger and Richards even went to jail before they were exonerated in late 1967. The seeming effort to suppress social change ultimately failed, and although the social changes of the time are difficult to accredit to rock musicians, the music they made did seem to create an environment where it was possible to break out of cultural doldrums by embracing new experiences and new cultures. And what is this song by Berry talking about if not crossing the tracks to the other side in some fashion? In many ways, it’s the perfect countercultural anthem.

David Bowie

David Bowie Sound and Vision Box setIf anyone was aware of cultural shifts and changing times, it was Bowie who first made a splash on national TV when he debuted his song “Starman” on Top of the Pops in 1972, dressed like a glittery androgyne from outer space. The performance was a shock to some, and a delightful wake-up call to others, as Bowie knew it would be. By this time in his career, he had Mick Ronson aiding Bowie’s glam-rock sound on guitar, which is effectively a sound fueled by 50s American rock n’ roll. This of course makes the choice of this cover version a pretty obvious one. Yet another aspect of this of course is the tension in the song – the crowded club, and the arrival of the police who mean to knock the doors down and do who-knows-what after they do.

His take on the Berry song, found on the boxset Sound + Vision (called “Round and Round”) is along the same lines as the Animals, in that this is more than just a story of an overcrowded night club. This is about fear and supresssion on the part of the authorities. Bowie’s delivery is not as menacing as Burdon’s, but there is a heightening sense of tension in his voice, something almost maniacal when he reaches the line “those doors flew back!”. And Ronson’s haphazzard guitar solo makes this sound like a riot is breaking out, which is perfect for the material. Like a lot their work together, Ronson’s guitar is the wave on which Bowie’s voice rides. And the “Around and Around” on this version is about disorientation, more than it is about dancing. Bowie would cover this ground on his own of course with his song “Changes”. But on this track, we’re not getting a patient explanation that the generation coming out of the time is “immune to the consultations” of police and government. This is anarchy. This is revolution.

It stands to reason that such a song would become so important to many with regard to changing one’s views on authoritarianism. And where I don’t think that records alone can change the world, I think that singing them and hearing them sung tends to be an indicator of what are on people’s minds. In the 1960s and 1970s in Britain after the war, rationing, classism, and a mass amount of immigration from places which had formerly been a part of the Empire, change was in the air just as it was in America in the late 1950s. The doors were about to “fly back” as it were.

But the question today is this, good people. Which version is best? British R&B disciples the Animals? Or meta-performer Ziggy Stardust?

As always, you decide!