12/17/2013 12:17 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2014

Who's the British Group with the 'Most' 1960s Hits?

Trick question, kinda. It's The Animals, because their record producer was named Mickie Most! He was responsible for the band's 11 American hits in their first two years of existence -- songs like "The House of the Rising Sun" (which allegedly caused Bob Dylan to jump out of his car seat when he first heard it on the radio) and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." Most produced the group's first three albums --The Animals, The Animals on Tour, and Animal Tracks -- and helped make them one of the "most" distinctive groups of the British Invasion era.

And yet, unlike so many of their popular English rock and roll peers, The Animals have never had a box set devoted to their work. . . . until now that is! Fifty years after their first song was released, The Animals-The Mickie Most Years & More, a 5 CD Set, is now available from ABKCO Music and Records and Real Gone Music!


That box set is at the top of my Christmas wish list, not just because of the soul of "House of the Rising Sun" or the anger of "It's My Life" or the grit of "Boom Boom." It's mainly because the track that opens the 4th CD in the box set is the song that has become over the years the anthem for everyone who served in the Vietnam War, the Animals' classic 1965 hit "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."

My UW-Madison colleague and fellow HuffPost blogger Craig Werner and I know this because that's what we were told it by the hundreds of Vietnam veterans we've interviewed for our book, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Music, Survival, Healing, and the Soundtrack of the Vietnam War. More than any other song, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" was the glue that held the improvised communities of Vietnam together then, and continues to bring vets together today.

"'We Gotta Get Out of This Place' was our 'We Shall Overcome,'" observed Bobbie Keith, who served as an Armed Forces Radio DJ in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. "We listened and danced to the tune in a state of heightened awareness that many of us might not make it back out. We counted our blessings each time the song played, that we were still alive . . . It has become the vets' national anthem."

Observing that "music was our connection to home, our escape," Dennis DeMarco, who served his tour calibrating artillery at Phu Cat, echoed Keith: "We all had one song that summed up almost every single soldiers' feelings about Vietnam. One song that stirred everyone no matter what rank or color or political leanings. It didn't matter what part of 'the world' you came from. It was a rallying anthem that gave us hope."


In some ways, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" was an unlikely anthem. No one involved in writing the song or making the record gave a second thought to Vietnam. Cynthia Weil, who wrote the lyrics for Barry Mann's music, recalled that the song had originally been written for the blue-eyed soul duo The Righteous Brothers.

"Although they were white," Weil recalled, "they sounded so black that we thought of it as a ghetto anthem. I was in a sociological, change-the-world-with-songs period of my young life, so the lyric came from that sensibility."

The song writing team cut a demo of the song with Mann himself singing both lead and background parts. They gave copies of the demo to manager Alan Klein and George Goldner, owner of the Redbird record label. Goldner was so enthusiastic about the song that he convinced Mann to release it under his own name, rather than sending it on to the Righteous Brothers. But Klein passed the demo on to the Animals' producer Mickie Most and the group cut the record without informing the writers. "They'd made it their own stylistically, which was fine," Weil admitted, "but they changed or left out sections of the lyric. It killed Barry's record release, and I felt at the time that the song was not as powerful as it would have been had The Animals consulted us."

"We Gotta Get Out of This Place" spoke with special power to the soldiers in Vietnam, but their response was in part generational. Bruce Springsteen, who would play an important role in placing music at the center of Vietnam veterans communities during the 1980s and 1990s, placed the song squarely at the center of his generation's musical awareness.

Reflecting on the ways in which the music of the mid-1960s expressed the drive to escape to a better world than the one they saw their parents living in, Springsteen specifically credited the Animals with affirming that there was "a way to get there from here." "To me, The Animals were a revelation," he said in a keynote speech to the South By Southwest Music Conference in 2012.

"The first records with full blown class consciousness that I had ever heard. 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place' had that great bass riff." After playing the riff and singing the first verse of the song, Springsteen continued. "That's every song I've ever written. Yeah. That's all of them. I'm not kidding, either. That's 'Born to Run,' 'Born in the USA,' everything I've done for the past 40 years."

For sure The Animals belong among the first rank of British Invasion bands, and this box set is long overdue. Eric Burdon still sounds terrific, and the hits just keep on coming. But, pay special attention to "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." Imagine yourself a 19, 20 or 21 year-old struggling to stay alive in the jungles of Vietnam in the 1960s, anxiously awaiting the day when you can return home. All of that and more. And then listen again.


The song speaks volumes, and, for Vietnam vets, it always will.