Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Troggs - Black Bottom (1982)


Remembered chiefly as proto-punkers who reached the top of the charts with the "caveman rock" of "Wild Thing" (1966), the Troggs were also adept at crafting power pop and ballads. Hearkening back to a somewhat simpler, more basic British Invasion approach as psychedelia began to explode in the late '60s, the group also reached the Top Five with their flower-power ballad "Love Is All Around" in 1968. While more popular in their native England than the U.S., the band also fashioned memorable, insistently riffing hit singles like "With a Girl Like You," "Night of the Long Grass," and the notoriously salacious "I Can't Control Myself" between 1966 and 1968. Paced by Reg Presley's lusting vocals, the group -- which composed most of their own material -- could crunch with the best of them, but were also capable of quite a bit more range and melodic invention than they've been given credit for.

Hailing from the relatively unknown British town of Andover, the Troggs hooked up with manager/producer Larry Page (who was involved in the Kinks' early affairs) in the mid-'60s. After a flop debut single, they were fortunate enough to come across a demo of Chip Taylor's "Wild Thing" (which had already been unsuccessfully recorded by the Wild Ones). In the hands of the Troggs, "Wild Thing" -- with its grungy chords and off-the-wall ocarina solo -- became a primeval three-chord monster, famous not only in its original hit Troggs version, but in its psychedelic revamping by Jimi Hendrix, who used it to close his famous set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

"Wild Thing" made number one in the States, but the Troggs' momentum there was impeded by a strange legal dispute which saw their early records simultaneously released on two different labels. Nor did it help that the band didn't tour the U.S. for a couple of years. As a consequence, the fine follow-up singles "With a Girl Like You" and "I Can't Control Myself" didn't do as well as they might have. In Britain, it was a different story -- they were smashes, although "I Can't Control Myself" had such an open-hearted lust that it encountered resistance from conservative radio programmers all over the globe.

The Troggs tempered their image on subsequent ballads, which utilized a sort of pre-"power ballad" approach. These weren't bad, and a few of them were British hits, but they weren't as fine as the initial blast of singles which established the band's image. "Love Is All Around," which restored them to the American Top Ten in 1968, was their finest effort in this vein. It was also their final big hit on either side of the Atlantic.

But the Troggs would keep going for a long, long time. In a sense they were handicapped by their image -- they were not intellectuals, certainly, but they weren't dumb either. They wrote most of their songs, and their albums were reasonably accomplished, if hardly up to the level of the Kinks or Traffic, containing some nifty surprises like the gothic ballad "Cousin Jane," or the tongue-in-cheek psychedelia of "Maybe the Madman." By 1970, though, they were struggling. They continued to release a stream of singles, most of which had a straightforward simplicity that was out of step with the progressive rock of the time, all of which flopped, though some were fairly good.

The Troggs' image as lunkheads couldn't have been helped by the notorious Troggs Tapes, a 12-minute studio argument that was captured on tape while the band were unawares. The Spinal Tap-like dialog helped keep their cult alive, though, and as punk gained momentum in the mid-'70s, they gained belated appreciation as an important influence on bands like the Ramones and (earlier) the MC5. They found enough live work (sometimes on the punk/new wave circuit) to keep going, although their intermittent records generally came to naught. In 1992, they rose to their highest profile in ages when three members of R.E.M., which had covered "Love Is All Around," backed the Troggs on the comeback album Athens Andover. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
This was only the fourth release on Patrick Mathe's legendary New Rose record label when it was distributed by RCA in Europe. This prototype punk music licensed from Stage Coach Records in England garnered interest in America from A&M, Arista, and Atlantic, specifically, when this writer brought the import album to those labels, but it was probably more curiosity from A&R (and in one instance, a label president), as the Troggs had settled into a definite cult niche. The earlier The Trogg Tapes on Private Stock and eventual Troggs on 45 on New Rose, with the infamous "Troggs Tapes" as a hidden track, were all more commercial than this fine underground disc. The title track, "Black Bottom," is cool with a nifty hook, and the entire project has as much authenticity to the primal Troggs urge as any Ramones album has to their relentless style. "Last Night" is not "Love Is All Around," but it is trademark Reg Presley and it is great, with '50s guitar riffs updated somewhat and reflective of the entire Black Bottom sparse sound permeating "Hot Days" and ringing through "Widge You" and "I Love You Baby." There's no commander Mike Chapman here to embellish the brittle sound, nor is there a Phil Spector to do what he did for Joey Ramone and crew. It's just a band playing minimal with familiar sound and a recognizable frontman, and it shows rock & roll integrity that is hard to match. "I Don't" creeps with personality, spurts of rhythmic guitar, and drums, with Presley teaching how to get a point across without resorting to rap music. A gem for those who appreciate good rock & roll minus the frills. The inverted Chuck Berry riffs of "Widge You" here should have propelled this band to a second level T. Rex.
01 - Black Bottom
02 - Strange Movies
03 - Bass For My Birthday
04 - Little Pretty Thing
05 - Last Night
06 - Hot Days
07 - I Don't
08 - Widge You
09 - Feels Like A Woman
10 - I Love You Baby
11 - Save The Last Dance For Me
12 - I Do Do
13 - Troggs Medley
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