Tuesday, February 5, 2013

He Made Everything...Groovy

Reg Presley, lead singer for the 1960s garage band standouts The Troggs, passed away Tuesday from lung cancer at 71. The Troggs are, of course, best-known for their 1966 single "Wild Thing." They were the second band to release the song and Presley's alternately mumbled and howled vocals matched the basic three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust guitar crunch perfectly -- which is why no one remembers Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones 1965 version of "Wild Thing."

For my money, the two best covers of "Wild Thing" were done by X and by the late comedian Sam Kinison. The X version got its fame in the 1989 movie Major League, although it was originally released as a single in 1984. It was the theme music whenever the erratic reliever Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), formerly of the California Penal League, was brought into the game. Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Mitch Williams later earned the "Wild Thing" nickname in real life. Billy Zoom's guitar line was a good deal more urgent than the original and X singer Exene Cervenka eschewed Presley's somewhat sleepy (or hung over) vibe, but the X version carries the strength of the song from the garage of the 1960s to the underground club of the 1980s just fine.

A year before Major League came out, Kinison reworked the song in a sort of novelty version, playing off his reputation for screaming rants. The accompanying video featured several well-known rock musicians and the then-famous Jessica Hahn, the church secretary whose affair with televangelist Jim Bakker brought down the latter's religious media empire. Kinison starts with the original lyrics but then inserts his howled rants against the woman of the title. He implies her wildness includes infidelity: "Every time I kiss you I taste what other men had for lunch;" cruelty: "The only thing that gets you off is to see me in pain;" and untruthfulness and false self-presentation: "Why didn't you tell me you were a demon from hell?" His over-the-top screed makes fun of the way folks who talk down their exes exaggerate awful qualities that seemingly appear out of nowhere.

Although fun in its own right, the 1988 single "Wild Thing" by rapper Tone Loc is unrelated to the Troggs hit except by title.

The best thing I read from among the online obituaries for Presley was this: "He is survived by Brenda, his wife of 49 years..." Reg, I think you knew for sure.

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