The Incredibly Strange Music Box: 60 Songs from The Cramps’ Crazy Collection (Righteous Psalm 23 85D)
Anyone picking up this monster compilation has probably already guessed that legendary schlock horror rockers The Cramps didn’t get their chops from listening to Eagles LPs. Come to think of it, they probably didn’t learn their licks here either, but the inspiration behind their scuzzy 60’s rock ‘n’ roll formula lurks in the bit stream of this double CD.
First up, one of the more familiar names of Rock n Roll history, Mickey & Sylvia treat us to their jittery, battle of the sexes washboard shuffle, ‘No Good Lover’. The Collins Kids’ innocent-sounding name leads us into a false sense of security, ready for their licentious ‘Whistlebait’, with a strangulated boy (or is it a girl?) vocal. Skip Manning’s basic Elvis grunt is enriched with fine distorted guitar on ‘Ham ‘n‘ Eggs’, a slightly comical take on the ‘We go together like…’ simile beloved of songwriters.
Smokey Joe’s Fats Waller-like croak provides a suitable voice for the crazy jungle rhythm of ‘Signifying Monkey’, a ditty that’s less than the sum of its parts, although easily the best song title here. In our more sensitive age, we would probably baulk at ‘Stutterin’ Cindy’s mockery, but it’s easy to guess why Lux Interior would have liked this Charlie Feathers song. The familiar scrape of plectrum on steel guitar string signals the appearance of the great Bo Diddley, in a steady rocker, ‘Congo’, with a heady infusion of exotic jungle atmosphere.
The hurtling comedy of The Aladdins’ harmony piece, ‘Munch’ comes on like an even dumber ‘Give Me Back My Bubble-gum’, and with a crazy sax break cranking it higher. The sax is downright salacious on Joe Dodo’s ‘Groovy’, but we get a chance to cool our heels and our ardour in Jim Backus & Friend’s ‘Delicious!’, a sort of guffawing, Stateside take on Champagne Charlie furnished with an equally bibulous female companion. Sticking with the inebriate theme, we get a fairly standard country whine, ‘Here I Am Drunk Again’, from Clyde Beavers.
Sparkle Moore’s ‘Skull and Crossbones’ has our tough gal giving her man a good ticking off, and how easy it is to imagine the young Poison Ivy Rorschach hearing this little gem and filing it away under ‘Personal Style’. Rusty Draper’s stammering vocal on the banjo-driven country stomp ‘Tongue Tied over You’ might have been a little too much for the age it was minted in, but has its moments. Charlie Ryan & The Timberline Riders’ ‘Hot Rod Guitar’ is a steady roller with nimble fretwork, but there’s not much here to elevate it above the usual fare.
The Sheiks’ ‘Baghdad Rock’ instro is an obvious Cramps favourite, with its ‘The Walk’ style beat and weird, haunting horn. The Duals’ stormy ‘Lovers Satellite’ has a crystal clear guitar solo to clean the eardrums out, and The Invaders ‘Shock Treatment’ comes on like a lost Jo Meek track, all ghostly calls over a standard surf backing. Freddie & The Hitch Hikers’ ‘Sinners’ makes good use of a not-so-heavenly chorus, in this sermon-infused chugger. It would be nothing but a low swindle to leave out ‘Tequila’, and it’s ‘The Three Suns’ take which does the honours here.
A solid hint of menace and some icy-cool guitar work in The Ventures’ ‘Green Onions’, followed by a Billy Fury-like moody vocal performance from Gary Warren, in ‘Midnight Rain’, a memory song with a whispering chorus that provides two high spots in a row on this first disc. A genuine, murmuring blues with brooding guitar, in the form of Kenyon Hopkins’ ‘Let Me Out’, takes us deftly into a crazy rocker with heavily distorted guitar and primitive lyrics in ‘Hot and Cold’ by Marvin Rainwater.
Hank and the Electras’ ‘Get Lost Baby’ is a tepid little number, in spite of its great title, but redemption is on the way with The Bikinis’ ‘Crazy Vibrations’ a rattlesnake-like sound, with tinkling piano behind and a snaky, pumping sax with deep twangy bass fattening up the beat. Those of you with a taste for low-end comedy will love Jerry Neal’s ‘I Hates Rabbits’, but we’re soon into the truly inspired ‘Twistin’ In The Jungle’, Buddy Bow’s near-horror movie soundtrack with its bonkers bongos and brass.
James and Septette’s ’‘Congo Elegy’ comes on like a perverse Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett out-take, with a mambo struggling to get out of the piece, and desperate, salacious lyrics. A standard Bill Haley-o-like beat for ‘Tarzan’ from Glen Reeves & His Rock-Billys, and to end this disc, two songs entitled ‘Voodoo Doll’. The Interiors (dig that name…) piece is an R ‘n’ B chugger and Glenda and Glen’s has an unnerving female vocal and random raindrop sound in the bass that does the job the more effectively of the two. (Heard that name before somewhere, too.)
The innocent sounding Buddy Holly-ish performance of ‘Straight Skirt’ by Gene Summers that opens the second CD belies the rather lecherous subject matter. The Ventures are in fine form in ‘Bumble Bee Twist’, picking their way precisely through a ‘Man of Mystery’ style riff. The Romans’ ‘Uh Huh’ is every bit as primitive as the title suggests a crazy piece of exotica, chugging guitars and exclaiming sax. Art Wood’s hillbilly hiccupping on ‘My Jib’ is a little too stereotypical to satisfy. The fast, jazzy rock ‘n’ roll and sax craziness of Sil Austin in ‘Fallout’ is far more pleasing to the ear.
Charlie Feathers’ ‘Wild Wild Party’ shuffle has its moments, as does Gene Simmons and the Rebels’ ‘Twixteen’, an Eddie Cochrane-a-like treatment of a tale of perilously young sexual allure. Martin Denny’s ‘Misirlou’ uses creepy woodwind and drum brushes hissing their snakeish rhythm in a very different take on the classic tune.
The Forbidden Five show us why they’re called so, with their bongos, animal noises and weird Eastern/Western rhythms in ‘RFD Rangoon’, and continuing with the Eastern stylings, Preston Love and Orchestra serve up a tasty slice of exotica in ‘Ali Baba’s Boogie’. The Bambinos’ ‘Algiers’ is another entry in the downright disturbing category, and Marvin Rainwater’s distorted echo sounds like it was produced with some species of elastic band, on his bizarre ‘Boo Hoo’. Dick Penner’s ‘Cindy Lou’s slightly mocking guitar notes and sinister twang perfectly suit this borderline suggestive song. Skip Manning’s ‘Devil Blues’ is more big band than bottleneck, with its ‘behave or face the consequences’ message.
The Red Callender Sextet offer up more exotica in ‘Voodoo’, and Garry and Larry’s hard driven ‘Garlic Bread’ is by way of total contrast.
Moving into the Red Zone, The Blenders’ ‘Don’t F*ck Around With Love deliver the doo-wop song sweetly, making the profanity all the more of a surprise, but The Empallos’ ‘Hi Cups’ mighty sax creep is true instro-salaciousness. The Midnighters’ rock ‘n’ roller ‘Sexy Ways’ fully lives up to its name.
‘Gumbo’ by Shades of Rhythm has a loose, crazy feel, and The Voxpoppers ‘The Last Drag’ has a screechy-voiced treatment with the faint air of Fats Domino about it. Roland Janes’ ‘Guitarville’ has the fabulous spacey twangy bass and subtle, tapping drums of a surf classic. The Ventures’ ‘Ginchy’s faintly Neo-Classical high-note guitar workout pleases, and Spot Barnett’s loud, brash, Rock ‘n’ Blues ‘Sweetmeats’ is enlivened by a wavering sax. For my money, the standout track here is ‘Young William & The Jamaicans’ urgent, echoed ‘Limbo Drum Part 1’. Ike Turner Orchestra’s ‘Cuban Get Away’ seems a little too far removed from Ike to be all his work. Our CD selection closes with Bobby Rhines and the Rogues’ call-and-response festival, ‘Port Zibee Part II’ and Tommy Mercer and the McBrides’ ‘Volcano Rock’, a left-field rock ‘n’ roller with enough sound effects to make even Joe Meek blush.
What’d’ya mean, you’ve got ‘em all?