Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Cramps—
Psychedelic Jungle


Released 1981 on I.R.S./Illegal
The Seth Man, December 2003ce
The Cramps have been largely written out of every single serious tome on the American punk class of ‘77. And like The Cramps themselves, it’s a complete mystery to me. They nailed it from the get go and are STILL at it. They are a misunderstood brood who are a cool, degenerate pack of cards with one too many jokers who leave you to draw your own conclusions and couldn’t care less what you think of ‘em anyway as they draw a heaving syringe from the forgotten and gnarled vein of rock’n’roll that got this ball of wax of beat, rhythm and blues first rolling back in the bad old days when junk was REAL junk and everything else was just plain old ‘respectable.’

After their guitarist Bryan Gregory (the handsomest man in rock’n’roll) fled The Cramps in their equipment van, they drew Kid Congo Powers into the fold on second noise guitar to join Lux Interior on vox deluxe, Poison Ivy Rorschach on lead guitar and Nick Knox (the man with the big beat tattooed on his elbows) for their second album, “Psychedelic Jungle.” The green and purple type on the front and the titles scrawled on the back like a jimson weed-induced prayer hint to the influence of psychedelic garage punk on the record as it references the same colour scheme of the sleeve of “Pebbles Vol. 3” (which itself was in reference to one of the tracks within: The Bees’ terrifying “Voices Green And Purple.”)

But The Cramps were (and still are) just as gone as Bryan Gregory was back then in 1980 -- and I mean real, REAL gone. in 1983 they wrote to ‘Legion Of the Cramped’ fan club prez Lindsay Hutton to cease and desist operation because they felt that they didn’t need anyone interpreting them and what they possibly represented for other people because anybody’s own interpretation of them was good enough for them without outsiders imposing their own angle -- whether as gospel or conjecture, however well-meant. I respect that outlook (even though I’m about to do likewise, although aided by 20/20 year hindsight) because it is nothing but total rock’n’roll in attitude. About as much as not getting the lyrics to “Louie, Louie” right (ever) or making up a string of erstwhile verbal nonsense, adding ants-in-the-pants piano and giving it a divine meaning with the simple refrain of “Tutti Frutti” or performing songs as memorably stupid set to numbskull-simple toons like “Wolly Bully,” “Hang On Sloopy” or “96 Tears.”

So although I could ramble on about at the greatest of length about The Cramps and why they were so great and what I think they mean, I’ll never get it right but no one possibly can, either -- Except by maybe saying they play, live and breath rock’n’roll. They are accomplished yet are willfully primitive and keen con-o-sewers of the real deal and are completely informed and fired up by those musical forms that fire THEM up so bad. Namely: demented rock’n’roll, rockabilly, instrumental and garage punk tracks with a hint of psychedelia of only the cheapest exploitation level chucked in for good measure with lyrics that pant, taunt, flaunt, wiseacre and riff on a lexicon of leerin’ and quadroople entrendres galore.

After eons of subjecting myself to their wonderfully disreputable sounds, I believe “Psychedelic Jungle” to be their overall best album despite the fact it was their first one without guitarist Bryan Gregory and produced cleaner than anything they’d previously unleashed. But it’s a darkly seductive record that threads fourteen songs on a quivering, stark sex beat with evil voodoo scumbag rockabilly cut into a trailer of “Macumba Love” looped for an album’s length. All the tracks clatter’n’snap with Nick Knox’s narco-stare snare slapback, Poison Ivy shows off her slinky, world class riffs that get shook up, twang and buzz in all your organs, Kid Congo Powers wrenches out a background of un-nuanced noise on second guitar as Lux Interior barks out a vocal holler naturally reverbed like Marc Bolan on strychnine all beside hisself until it drives his crazy soul outta his skin and into your mind. The bass-less Cramps are captured here for the last time in the studio, with half the album cover versions that smear into Cramps originals until you can’t tell which are which are what as they trawl through several layers in the junkyard of forgotten and ancient (un)popular culture: ranging from The Ventures’ proto-psychedelic “Ventures In Space” album to Link Wray-tried and tested riffage to passing the mustard all over 45s from The Novas to Randy Alvey & The Green Fuz to Kip Tyler and beyond.

Side one kicks the can off into the far hinterland with an astonishing cover of “Green Fuz.” By Randy Alvey & The Green Fuz, of course and it’s ALMOST better than the original that surfaced on “Pebbles Vol. 2” that sounded like it was recorded at a Battle of the Bands in a high school auditorium on a portable Sears reel-to-reel in mono. You need at least both copies of it, it’s that good. The Cramps smoothed out the drum solo on the original into a repeat snare hit at minesweeping speed, but so what. For years, I thought “Goo Goo Muck” was a Cramps original, but nope: turns out the real culprits were Ronnie Cook & The Gaylads (Check out the “Songs We Taught The Cramps” compilation if you don’t believe me. Check it out anyway, it’s fantastic scuzz roots rock’n’roll.) It’s haunting, suggestive and has a lowdown, stripped down charm till next year like the rest of side one and the rest of the album, too. The slow, steady and unswerving rockabilly fuel continues to eat away at civilised sensibilities with ”Rockin’ Bones,” the background vocal reiterating all swaying with undying torpor. “Voodoo Idol” growls with buzzing mega-strum guitar played just as monomaniacal straight-lined. Kid Congo Powers unleashes chainsaw fuzztone in the background for a cover of the sixties snot-punk classic “Primitive” by The Groupies and damn if the band doesn’t play it like it was written for them. “Caveman” follows and features a Kid Congo ‘solo’ in the middle that is truly an epic of unhinged, controlled noise. Ending side one is a blistering rendition of The Novas frat/beat on the brat epic, “The Crusher” and it is -- both Ivy and Congo’s gunning twin guitars blaze as Lux spazzes out the lyrics hoarsely and the beat of Nick Knox just keeps on like it’s not half the work it really is.

Side two continues with a brief warning set within snatches of Nokie Edwards riffing they called “Don’t Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk” while the second side continues at the restrained speed limit crawl of side one with the brainless grind of “Can’t Find My Mind” only to hit a speed bump into second gear with the vintage U-Bangi stomp of “Jungle Hop” decorated with distant whooping and birdcalls. The Cramps original The Natives Are Restless” is cut from a cannibal B-movie loin cloth, coiling sexy under the limbo pole of tightly cracking skins from Nick “Fort” Knox, and are just as hermetically sealed. “Under The Wires” is swamped by twin distorto guitars and ups the ante with a truly disturbing string of Lux wordplay that is unrequited foreplay with late night pervert phone panting. The end of the trip is signaled by the spiraling insanity of “Beautiful Gardens.” This track is sees Ivy and Congo really go for broke, building the piece ever higher with guitar derangement to match the sensations Lux describes so hoarsely desperate as he sees “spiders in the eyelids and ghosts in the cheese”, losing his way on that manic express train to the world of LSD -- but this time there ain’t no round trip ticket coming with the first rays o’ daylight. As a whole mess of cosmic debris passes by, the guitars aggressively build in distortion over Knox’s pounding beat and one a slight return later, destruct into splintery runs up the necks of vintage guitars until all slams shut with an abrupt end...right into a long stretch in the terminal wing of the old puzzle farm.

“The Green Door” brings it all back down to earth in time to close the album long after all the squares got scared off and bolted after thirteen truly fine tracks of impeccably curated noise, concluding the darkened, damaged attic sojourn that is “Psychedelic Jungle.”