“An instant soundtrack to a humdinger of a werewolf frat party.” Shindig!
While they would later distance themselves from the “Psychobilly” tag which had once adorned their nascent gig posters, likening it to a carnival huckster’s ploy to drum up trade, there’s no denying The Cramps’ potent blend of sexed-up Rockabilly mixed with one part nasty Punk and a glug of fuzz-laden Garage would prove a killer cocktail – one whose effect was both intoxicating and long-lasting. Coming to prominence as part of the burgeoning mid-70s New York Punk scene, The Cramps were less a breath of fresh air and more of shot of nitrous oxide in an era when radio-friendly Rock and slickly produced Soul were stultifying the nation’s airwaves. Not that the band were destined to trouble the mainstream. In a career which spanned more than thirty years, the combo had to be content if not hell-bent on maintaining their cult status, eschewing the constraints of the music biz by choosing to self-finance and license their recordings after an early deal turned sour and taught them a bitter lesson.
Oft-imitated but rarely equalled, musically The Cramps revelled in the sleazy, the greasy and the doggone low-down, delighting in rocket-fuelled revamps of the obscure, the absurd and lesser-heard in the manner of demented scientists whacking a souped-up defibrillator on Frankenstein’s monster. Their live shows, records and promo videos celebrated the trashier excesses of 20th century Pop culture with Ed Wood’s B-movies, Burlesque, backwoods Southern culture, tail-finned Caddies, and guitarist Poison Ivy’s own stint as a dominatrix (“I was suited to the work”) all providing rich audiovisual fodder. Often teetering vertiginously on the brink of questionable taste – at least for the times (‘Bend Over, I’ll Drive’ from the album Look Mom, No Head let’s you know what you’re in for) – playful good humour and uncontrived cool rendered the outcome fun rather than offensive. Often dismissed as merely kitsch or camp, The Cramps’ fervent belief in their art was perhaps the secret to their longevity and their loyal fanbase.
By projecting their own personal tastes and imagination onto a febrile New York scene, The Cramps had effectively created their own sub-culture by reintroducing a musical art form which had largely been ignored in the twenty years since Sam C. Phillips first launched a certain Tennessee truck driver onto the road to fame and fortune. And while it’s rarely acknowledged, the shockwaves the band created across the Atlantic did much to influence the flourishing Rock’n’Roll revival which was gaining momentum in Europe. The crowd who frequented CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City just as Blondie was beginning to make waves may not have realised The Cramps’ repertoire was mainly derived from Big Beat’s farthest recesses. No matter, they grew to love the hybrids’ wild, devil-may-care retreads and besides, for those who’d missed Rockabilly’s first fleet-footed go around, the sounds were new and just as electrifying as ever they had been.
Look What The Cramps Dredged Up features 32 of the tracks that were covered by the band. Although most fall into the loose category of rock’n’roll, they all possess a unifying deviancy; rock’n’roll at its most wildly primal and juvenile, the freakish teen music Lux & Ivy idolised and aspired to refashion. Despite their cohesive character, these discoveries vary widely in style, from the peerless balladry of Ricky Nelson to the abandoned rockabilly of Johnny Burnette and the frankly unhinged sound of Fat Daddy Holmes. Rhythm & blues numbers range from Andre Williams’ greasy Bacon Fat to Little Willie John’s timeless Fever and The Top Notes’ pre-Isley Brothers original of Twist & Shout. Throw into the mix Link Wray’s sinister instrumental Rumble, the B-movie horror of The Frantics’ The Werewolf, plus classic sides by Carl Perkins, Richard Berry and Wanda Jackson, and you have a fantastic cross section of The Cramps’ jukebox.
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