Friday, July 29, 2011

Nothing Left to Lose: The Animals: "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"

The promise of rock 'n' roll - and of all music in general - is that it can liberate the individual. Rock in particular is the ultimate democratic music in that just about anyone with some skill can play it and music lessons are not strictly necessary. Thus it is that people can free themselves just by having the guts to go onstage and play, play and play until they get heard. If you want freedom enough you will go through just about anything to get it, and the same goes for rock*. Who knows how many dubious parents watched as their sons and daughters set off for musical glory, though I am guessing they were mostly supportive as well, since music is like a bug - it cannot be helped, and the need to play and sing is as strong as other primal urges...

...all of which is to say here we are in Newcastle, with a band who undoubtedly had music as their one way out; it surprised me to find out they didn't write this song, as it is so much their story. And yet once heard it became everyone's song, from the UK to the US to soldiers in Vietnam, for whom this was an anthem. The imperative to break the chains and start up fresh and GET OUT are fuelled by the tense, rough vibe of the song and Burdon's compassionate and loud pleas. Can things really go on as they are? Can a young man go off to join the Freedom Riders, only to come back and find his girl's parents watching The Black & White Minstrel Show? Generations were slamming into each other all over the place and the intractability of the older generation was threatening to smother the younger - they simply HAD to break free, because 1965 wasn't 1945 or even 1955 (how much of UK culture refuses to comprehend this, I wonder).

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote this for the Righteous Brothers; then Mann was going to record it himself, only to have this come out first (due to Allen Klein's giving a copy of the demo to Mickie Most). From New York to Newcastle the message was sent and received, and heard and understood worldwide. In the above clip the Animals seem to be in a post-Shindig!-riot Victorian museum - bad boys they may have been, but freedom perceived and freedom not-quite-within-reach could make anyone angry. And one way or another this song spoke to many everywhere yearning for escape, even if they had no real expectation of it, just kids with transistor radios under their pillows, listening and biding their time. Freedom is there, you just have to be determined enough to take it. How to escape, though; that's the thing.

*There is a wide manly sentimental streak in rock that forgives and tolerates a great deal; in the Sixties the liberation was on all fronts, which of course caused some to overdo it. The repercussions of those excesses caught up with some faster than others.

1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

For me, the finest vocal performance ever in British white blues, and there are deep social reasons why this is so.

Eric Burdon at this point was to one historically oppressed class (then arguably enjoying a strong period in terms of social advances, but there were still deep injustices built into Butskellism) what Elvis, nine years earlier, had been to another; the point where it realises the similarity of its situation to, and forms a kinship with, the oppressed peoples of black America.

This was a test for some gatekeepers of the Left; to this day connections to black America have never been as important in north-east England as in the north-west, and what it is to be of the Left was never redefined in the same way (in that respect as others, it does feel more like it should be south-east Scotland). But plenty understood; this music runs like a river through the lineage of radical drama from 'Stand Up Nigel Barton' to Our Friends in the North (which isn't quite the whole of it - we mustn't forget what Armchair Theatre had already been - but it is the whole of it after British pop had really got good). It is clear that, even if they didn't really share a cultural grounding, Dennis Potter recognised that this wasn't simply the working class reciting words prepared for them by the admen, not really out of their own minds, as he had felt about the newly consumerist young of five years earlier, but a genuine statement straight from both head and heart.

So the important thing about this record is the freshness and nuance of its rejection of the post-war state; it refuses the social norms of its time not because they denied free enterprise, but because they stood in the way of something deeper, older and truer ... human nobility and the dignity of the poor (as opposed, perhaps, to the dignity of labour in the abstract). In that respect, it stands to Mick Jagger's idea of white blues as ABBA's "The Visitors (Crackin' Up)" - the greatest piece of anti-Communist popular art - does to pretty much any American anti-Communist rock song.

The great shame, in retrospect, is that you would only end up writing about "Rolling in the Deep" rather than "0121".