God bless The Cramps. Not only did the mighty Lux and Ivy provide us with several albums worth of top quality sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, but they also did more than just about anyone else to bring the lost worlds of wild and crazy 1960s proto-punk, rockabilly, surf music and general oddball no-hit wonders to a winder public attention. I’ve often wondered if they had any bad records in their collection – if so, they kept them well hidden!
This new compilation describes itself as ‘from the vault of Lux and Ivy’, though how official that is is open to question – the pair were so open about the records that they loved that you can easily put together first rate collections bases solely on what they name checked in interviews. In fact, there’s a multi-volume bootleg Lux and Ivy’s Favorites series that is available for easy download that does just that.
If you’ve got those albums (and if not – seek them out now!) then some of this collection will be familiar to you already. But in collecting together 26 instrumental tracks, this new collection does offer a great primer and is perfect for the sort of parties and nightclubs we’d all like to attend.
In a sense, I could review this by simply saying that it’s all great. And it is. But of course, some bits are greater than others. For me, the best stuff here are the bump ‘n’ grinding titty shaking sleaze-induced belters – Buzzsaw Twist by the Gee-Cees, for instance is the sort of thing than any decent burlesque dancer would kill for, a throbbing, sordid, insistent slice of no-nonsense musical perversion. Then there is Road Block by The Teen Rockers, as crude, down ‘n’ dirty as the sort of venue you’d hope to hear such music in, with it’s fuzz-laden guitars (the fuzz coming from low rent amps and piss-poor recording facilities rather than pedals). Meanwhile, Caterpillar Crawl from The Strangers is so infused with sex that it seems almost indecent just listening to it. There is no way anyone could dance to this without it being an act of wanton provocation!
The Premieres’ Firewater is fantastically salacious, the guitar riffs and wailing sax matched by the vocal cries of ‘firewater – mmmm!’. That is what it’s all about. And Link Wray and the Wraymen also add vocal flourishes – again, just the song title because who needs anything more? – to Commanche, as fine a 45 as you’ll ever hear. Ron Thompson and his Rowdy Guitar (and is it ever!) offer up Switchblade, where the screams punctuating the music let you know just what the switchblade is being used for.
There are great surf numbers too – Moon Dawg by The Gamblers, Scorpion by The Carnations, Stampede by The Scarlets (mixing a secret agent vibe with a howling sax to add a sense of abandon) and Stick Shift by the Duals all make you want to head for the beach and check out the bikini girls while hitting the waves. Expanding the genre is Sheba by Johnny and the Hurricanes, which mixes surf guitar and almost ethereal organ backing adding a sense of the exotic and mysterious.
Also here are pure strip club classics. Cozy Cole’s Topsy Part One and Two will be familiar to lounge compilation collectors and is the height of sleazy listening, a number virtually designed for girls to take their clothes off to and then shimmy and shake. It’d be rude not to, frankly. The Viscounts’ Harlem Nocturne is a cool jazz tune that conjures up images of hot sultry nights and hot sultry dames – pure film noir territory!
Sitting somewhere between genres, we have the fantastic Red Headed Flea by The Caps, a mix of sordid sax wailing and surf strumming. Camel Walk by The Saxons has a relentless drum beat and a sense of the sinister with it’s unintelligible vocal cries. The Tornados’ Telstar is possibly the most familiar track here – certainly not out of place, but a tune that crops up rather more frequently than most here and so less of a dramatic revelation than a visit from an old friend.
With most tracks clocking in at under two and a half minutes (proving that with music, as with movies, less is often more), this is the perfect collection for anyone looking for an introduction – a secret password, perhaps – to the members only speakeasy world of The Cramps and the music that fired them up. Astounding and essential!
(As an aside – the booklet accompanying this disc features an ad at the back for what seem essential packages – The Funeral of Hank Williams, Seduction, Crime Occasionally Pays etc, which mix CDs with assorted extra material like pin up postcards, police tape and condoms. Seek these out!)