Now in our tenth calendar year!
PCR #501 (Vol. 10, No. 44). This edition is for the week of October 26--November 1, 2009.
The Cramps: 30 Years Of Rockin' Terror 1979-2009
To say that there wasn't any other band like the Cramps is an understatement. There was never and will never be any band like The Cramps. 50% of that is amazing guitarist Poison Ivy Rorshach and the other 50% was her husband, vocalist Lux Interior. They played rockabilly, they beatifully destroyed swamp rock, they invented psychobilly and horror rock. In addition to all that they were also the last dangerous live band in America. They were completely unpredictable. You never knew if they were going to come out and blast 20 some odd tunes of raw rockabilly madness or if Lux was going to come out completely trashed and play some of the noisiest mess this side of a car wreck. That was their greatness. Lux in tight black leather deep throating his mic and Ivy in a miniskirt showing off those killer legs and red hair pummeling out dirty rockabilly twang and fucked up swamp rock on her guitar like some fiery pin-up girl from hell. Lux and Ivy loved rockabilly. Old 45s. Horror movies. Had the largest collection of vintage horror comics. Played a concert for Napa State Mental Patients. Recorded the sickest rock 'n roll and swamp boogie ever made. They did all this until Lux left us on Febuary 4, 2009 at age 62. They were/are one of my favorite bands. I realized I owed this tribute to Lux and the band that has rocked me, spooked me, and shocked me for so many years. So, perfectly fit for Halloween, below is their legacy of rockin' terror. Read on, and as Lux would say...."let's get fuuuucked uuup!"
1978 Live At The Napa State Mental Hospital (DVD): This is one of the great legends of rock music. To this day no one knows how they set this up. Who allowed it? Were the inmates real or actors? Did they break in? A guard who was maybe a fan snuck them in? No clue and Napa State Hostpital won't talk to this day. Fact remains, though, that this is the greatest and most off-the-cuff playing you will ever see. The band and Lux play as if the next moment they might get stabbed or strangled as mental patients roam around free on the stage and in the hall. The most chaotic mindfuck ever to grace shitty '70s video tape. Bryan Gregory's guitar playing is so loud and violent and damn good that it's ridiculous. The most absolutely punk rock music and video ever made.
1979 Gravest Hits: The five-song EP that started it all. 30 mins of maniacal Buddy Holly hiccups and the rauchiest guitar a chick ever played. There was no bass. Bryan Gregory was second guitarist to Ivy and this is one of the only two records he made with the band. Find a better cover of "Surfin Bird" than the one on here and I'll give you my life savings.
1980 Songs The Lord Taught Us: There may not be another debut LP in punk history that is as minimalist and pure as this album. Drums that sound like a greaser retard got a hold of some sticks and a log and guitars that sound like surfers raised on Hound Dog Taylor all accented by Lux's vocals that sound like a madman who just murdered an entire family while listening to Eddie Cochran. Alex Chilton of Big Star produced here some of the most haunting empty reverb ever laid to wax. Includes the classics "TV Set", "Garbage Man", and "I was A Teenage Werewolf". Horror Rock and psychobilly started here. Glenn Danzig can suck it.
1981 Pyschedelic Jungle: Bryan Gregory departs. Enter The Gun Clubs Kid Congo Powers. The result was a darker, slower and moodier album. Nightmare swamp rock. Think of this as the typical artsy sophomore album every band has to get past. That being said it's still a masterpiece of eerie tunes like "Voodoo Idol" and the slow burner "Goo Goo Muck". The latter famously appeared in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5 years later.
1983 Smell Of Female: This six-song Live EP is really Posion Ivy's shining moment. The hardest and dirtiest female guitarist of all time along with second guitar by Kid Congo really let's it rip here. Lux screams out the songs like he is being flayed alive. You can feel the sweat and smoke as if you were really there. Must have been a hell of a concert.
1986 A Date With Elvis: This is the album where the '80s version of The Cramps first appear. Gone are the horror movie spookshow lyrics and instead we get porno rock. Lux the ghoul has left the building, please welcome sex-fiend devil-horn Lux. Lux sings as if he is Lucifer himself and banging your girlfriend behind your back. The music is the same with Ivy doing all guitar and bass parts (yes they have bass now!) herself with a much more polished yet controlled raunch that works better than it might sound. The songs "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?" and "What's Inside A Girl" speak more about this album than any words I can type.
1990 Stay Sick!: Their best known, most commercial, and all around most representative album.
Encapsulating everything that made this band so great from horror rock of the 70's "Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon", to the rockabilly of their first EP "Bop Pills", to burlesque rock of their 80's incarnation "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns" this one sums the band up and many believe it to be their finest hour.
1991 Look Ma No Head!: On this one they fall completely flat. It's not bad since it's the Cramps but it's obvious that they were uninspired for this one. Embracing midtempo blues "Hard Workin' Man", "Miniskirt Blues" does nothing for them. But the influence of the biker rock of Davie Allen and the Arrows that can be heard on "Dames, Booze, Chains and Boots", "Bend Over, I'll Drive" , and "Hipsville 29 B.C." is a cool new direction that the band never embraced again.
1994 Flamejob: The closest the band would ever get again to sounding like their Songs That The Lord Taught Us era. Full of blistering Swamp Rock plodding and and a return to their more ghoulish themes. "Strange Love", "Ultra Twist" and the now classic "Let's Get Fucked Up" all could've easily appeard on the earlier releases while "Mean Machine" points towards the swamp metal that would manifest itself on their final album.
1997 Big Beat From Badsville: After a welcomed return to form on Flamejob, the band releases their most laziest and boring album. What should have been a classic, that could've 100% returned to their ghoulrock sound as evidenced by the song titles (God Monster, Sheena's In A Goth Gang, Burn She Devil Burn), instead just sits like a musical lump on a log. Ivy's guitar sounds uninspired while Lux seems to wish he didn't have to sing this year. Basically consists of mostly rockabilly and the odd punk song all but leaving out their more blistering swamp rock and psychobilly sound. But it is a Cramps album and while none of it is unlistenable, you can still hear the obvious disinterest of the band.
2003 Fiends Of Dope Island: Like a greased pompadour bursting out the gates of hell The Cramps returned with the big bang on this one. The opener "Big Bad Witchcraft Rock" chugs and pounds along like a runaway ghost train and introduces us to one of the bands new sounds: Swamp Metal. Ivy plays guitar on this one like her life depends upon it as she strums down to the bones of her fingers and Lux is as "on" as a dead Elvis on viagra. Howling like a mental patient on "Papa Satan Sang Louie" and screaming his lungs out on finally his definitive self-portrait "Elvis Fucking Christ" Lux laid down perhaps his most definitive vocal performance of his career. This was sadly to be their last album as Lux Interior died this year but with their most classic songs since the Stay Sick album they ended their career on a high note as the one and only most fucked up ghoul rocking rockabilly destroying punk band of all time. We will miss ya, Lux.
"The Audio Philes" is ©2009 by Terence Nuzum. All graphics (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.