The Troggs

"1, 1...a 1, 2, 3, 4 - you're doing it fookin' wrong!"

Archeology: 1966-1976 ***

Since I only have this two-CD box set of this band, I'll introduce you to the Troggs here. "Wild Thing," and "Love Is All Around," were their two big hits, one a foot-stomping proto-metal anthem, and the other a proto-power ballad hippy dippy anthem. There exists little doubt in my mind that the Troggs are the real-life Spinal Tap, and even less doubt that they are the original Ramones. This box set ends in 1976 - the year of the Ramones' debut album. Coincidence? Or perhaps the Neanderthal soul of the Troggs leaving that spent corpse for the fresher one making noise in CBGB's?

The Troggs were formed in the mid-'60s in the brick manufacturing town of Andover. The liner notes employ a gratitious slur against people from brick-manufacturing towns, stating that Andoverians were viewed in England as thick as bricks sticks from the hicks. Well, as the progeny of a brick-manufacturing burg myself, I feel it my duty to leap to our British cousins' defense. Brick fumes to do not make you stupid. In fact, brick factories don't give off fumes. Paper mills, now that's another story. And let's not forget what paint fumes can do to you. Actually, I've never been inside a brick factory; the only knowledge I have is from my Dad who worked at Acme Brick for a few months before the heat got to him and his back. Did I mention that my hometown held a "Brickfest", complete with a brick-tossing contest and a Miss Brickfest? I am not making this up. In fact, Brickfest was the major civic event of every year.

But back to the Troggs. Indeed there was a certain brick-layerman-like quality to much of their work, as they crudely set down blocks in their chunky style. As it states in the liners, the Troggs' first demo consisted of both a Stones and a Kinks cover, along with two originals, which underscores their two (count'em) influences. Essentially, the Troggs rewrote "You Really Got Me," with the sleaze of the Stones umpteen times; these were the real cavemen folks thought the Kinks were until the Davies Bros. started acting all Edwardian and English. Their reportoire is one of sometimes unbelievable crudity - this band was so musically incompetent and limited that their simplistic tunes (nursery rhymes, almost) attract an almost perverse fascination. When they wanted to go pop and melodic, the Troggs had two basic ideas. First, if it was a midtempo number, string a bunch of "ba-ba-ba's" together. Second, if it was a ballad, turn down the volume and sing about love instead of sex. Naturally, the Troggs were at their best when they went straight for the hard-rock jugular: unpretentious, honest, and basically likable, a crew of blokes you wouldn't mind knocking back a pint with after a game of darts in the pub. Their sexual propositions - and about all of their songs are sexual propositions - escape the taint of pornography by being so matter of fact and blunt. It's the difference between the ladies' man who tries to slime his way into a girl's pants through oily pick-up lines, and the guy up the street who just comes out and says what he wants.

So let's start looking at this 52-song set. Their debut single, "Lost Girl," isn't that impressive until they rewrite it as "From Home," the B-side to "Wild Thing," the only Top 40 hit to contain an octorina solo. As with most primitives, the Troggs' best shot was their first, the album From Nowhere. "With A Girl Like You," is the Troggs at their most "ba-ba-ba" mid-tempo, but it's the B-side that's really news: "I Want You," a thudding, extremely heavy number that the MC5 didn't perform half as well in twice the time, and incidentally the best song ever with that title. And out of nowhere comes the incredibly melodic (for the Troggs) "Our Love Will Still Be There," a wonderful pop number from that first album, though "Jingle Jangle," ain't no "Mr. Tambourine Man," by a long shot. Have you ever heard "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" by the Ramones? If you have, then you know what all of the Troggs' ballads sound like. "I Just Sing," takes us out of From Nowhere on a high note.

And then we get to my favorite Troggs song, the infamous, banned by the BBC "I Can't Control Myself." Very blatant for 1966 - you can literally smell the slobber of Reg Presley as he eyes this sweet young brunette in low cut slacks, her hips showing (ah, the sexual revolution). Do you think "you fill me up with this thick temptation," is some sort of allusion to Reg's little wanger? As if you missed the point, the B-side is entitled, "Gonna Make You." However, the Troggs do have their sensitive side, as demonstrated by "Anyway That You Want Me," in which Reg promises not to think only of his only pleasure, but to ensure her pleasure first. "66-5-4-3-2-1," is almost as good as "I Can't Control Myself," as Reg worries about possibly going too far with his girlfriend, which decoded means pregnancy - having a kid on the way is the reason he has to sell his car. He claims Sam & Dave as the inspiration for "Give It To Me," which is a great chant (if not much else), and now that I think about it, I suppose there is a kind of gritty kinship in terms of sound with Stax/Volt R&B.

Their second LP, Trogglodynamite (which uses a certain groovy exclamation a full decade before JJ on What's Happenin') seems to be a bit weaker than the first, if only for the fact that the Troggs are, ulp, attempting artistic growth. Okay, "Last Summer," is a pretty enough ballad, and the pseudo-psychedelic single "Night of the Long Grass," has nothing to with Mary Jane - it's about laying down a babe in a field under the moon. However, the creepy "Cousin Jane," does rather blatantly concern incest. The liners claim that their third LP, Cellophane, is a career highlight, but the 8 selections here aren't as good as the ones off the first LP, though "Her Emotion," is one of their best songs.

If I cherry-picked the first disc of this box set, I might concievably end up with a four-star tape, but there's the second disc we still have to deal with. Age does not behoove the Troggs, and neither does artistic ambition. "Love Is All Around," begins things kind of okay, but I've never cared much for it, and its B-side, "When Will The Rain Come," contains the exact same melody as "Night of the Long Grass." I really flip for the great lost psych-out B-side, "Maybe the Madman," which has a cool distorted robot vocal that reminds me a lot of "Iron Man." Speaking of Black Sabbath (who were obviously heavily influenced by the Troggs), their producer drops in and jumpstarts the Troggs for a couple of their loudest and heaviest numbers. However, at this point their sound is beginning to get strained, as you'd expect, and there are some real atrocities committed in their attempt to gain another hit (the bubblegum novelty "Hip Hip Hooray," in particular). The second best song on the second disc is another extension of the Troggs' basic sound, "Lover," with its crunch Spanish guitar. Every day turns Reg more and more into a dirty old man, as "Strange Movies," makes clear - lyrical subject matter is watching porno flicks, complete with gratitious grunts. The cover of "Good Vibrations," is so unbelievably bad that I'm at a loss to describe it. I mean, the freakin' Troggs attempting a Brian Wilson mini-symphony? At least this second disc ends on a relative good note, "Get You Tonight," even if the band didn't write it.

The real treat comes next on the unexpected bonus third disc. Yep, this is a two-disc set with a third disc, which contains no music. Instead, this is a recording of an in-studio argument between the Troggs that has to be heard to be believed. Known as "The Troggs Tapes," this infamous bootleg was undoubtedly the inspiration for the movie This Is Spinal Tap. The band members' vocabulary barely extends beyond repeated usages of "fuck," and the behind the scenes attempt at actual music is hilarious in its demonstration of just how musically incompetent the Troggs actually were. I gave this box set a relatively low grade, but overall I found these discs fun, even if 52 songs is overkill from a band this limited. Mercifully this compilation ends in 1976, but there are plenty of Troggs albums to come if anyone's at all interested. Yes, the Troggs are still at it, they just don't know when to quit; I hear they still put on a good show if you can bear the sight of Reg Presley, who must be 50 at least, grabbing his crotch and leering.

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