Wild Thing (1966)
The Troggs, released as a single
Composed by Chip Taylor
Once upon a time, what the garage band did one year, the mainstream music-makers picked up on in the following years. Garage bands were like tech start-ups along the lines of those that yield something Microsoft or Apple. The garage band, the street expression of Rock-N-Roll, is like the primordial soup from which all life flows. That we are losing garage bands as a major source of innovation and inspiration is depriving the great American musical movement of its vitality.
A hit for The Troggs in 1966, “Wild Thing” is the child of (American – and British!) garage band music and the parent of an incredible guitar performance by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.
Songwriter Chip Taylor is brother to movie actor Jon Voight and uncle to actress Angelina Jolie. He had a long, spotty career, but did write one other chart buster, “Angel Of The Morning,” a beautiful ballad first made popular by Merrilee Rush then turned into a million-seller by Juice Newton.
“Wild Thing” was the product of a little noodling around by Taylor with the most basic Rock chords. As you read various interviews with Taylor, you wonder if he was even half-serious when he composed it. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be a big hit, regardless of who plays it, but it was and is one of the most seminal songs ever.
As to the recording, The Troggs were a band seeking material after their first single flopped and accidentally stumbled on “Wild Thing.”
Lead singer Reg Presley tells it this way: “We recorded ‘Wild Thing’ and ‘With A Girl Like You’ at the same session. We had about three quarters of an hour to get our gear set up for them to get a balance, then record and get out. It was at the end of a session Larry Page and his orchestra had booked. Larry was our manager [Page also managed The Kinks] and said we could have any time left over. So we recorded very fast – and for rawness, you can’t whack it.”
The group’s name is short for “troglodytes,” cavemen. There is a certain pre-historic vibe to “Wild Thing.” It’s beat is hard and simple, the timeless guitar riff simple to the point where if you listen to it enough you can feel your brow lowering and your cerebrum shrinking and your medulla swelling. It is a joy.
Wild thing you make my heart sing
You make everything groovy, wild thing
Wild thing, I think I love you
But I wanna know for sure
Come on, hold me tight, I love you
The production values are nil. A 7th grader could replicate the guitar playing. The savage drumming lines could be handed over to a novice drummer who had been fed a taste of speed and half a bottle of dark rum.
And, of all things, the break, instead of a lead guitar, features an ocarina. That adds just enough exoticism, psychedelic in dimension, to the mid-60s standard. (The ocarina is reminiscent of the alto flute break in “California Dreaming” by The Mamas & The Papas, which had come out a few months before “Wild Thing” was recorded.)
One suspects that the ocarina was tossed in because there was no guitarist available who could have handled the chores. The basic riff is familiar to anyone who listens to a modest amount of music.
By the time the song arrives near its end, it’s easy as pie to see how this garage Rock anthem has appealed to the loins of every American boy and girl since 1966. Jus’ a sumpn’ sumpn’ bout the lines:
Oh come on, come on wild thing
Shake it, shake it, wild thing
The mystical, unreasoning side of sex won’t be denied.
Ask Jimi Hendrix, who took “Wild Thing” to Monterey in 1967 with The Experience and poured aviation fuel into a syringe and shot up. His treatment discharges electrons, neutrons, photons and other energy types yet to be discovered. Calling the Hadron Collider!
Fuzztone, feedback, a sampling of Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night,” sudden shifts in rhythms, Jazz on the rings of Saturn. At the performance, Hendrix humped and screwed his guitar, and any sustained film shot of the crowd shows mouths so far open you’d believe surgery was needed to close them again. It’s almost seven minutes of intoxicating, chemical bedlam. Without argument, nothing like this will happen again in our lifetime. At times it seems as if everyone assembled – performers and audience alike – will be electrocuted on the spot.
With nowhere left to go, the master of masters set his guitar on fire as the band crashed and banged, jamming as hard as any band ever jammed.
You can put away all the overstuffed, embarrassing establishment lists of “great songs” and make one day of your life “Wild Thing” day. It’s one of the greatest Rock-N-Roll songs of any era, bar none. Maybe it just ain’t good enough for the people sitting in their fancy offices on Avenue of the Americas. The song rates high, high, high on plain old 6th Avenue, though.
Maybe it’s because “Wild Thing” invites the rough, unpolished approach regardless of who’s handling it. It is Rock at its most raggedy-ass, all the chrome stripped off, the car chopped and lowered, bucking and jumping down the boulevard, white upholstery stained with God knows what, the wheels rolling out for a night of ecstasy. Ride it like you stole it.
Shake it, shake it, wild thing