In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Reginald Maurice Ball was born 74 years ago today. Two and a half decades later, he took the stage name of Reg Presley. He may not have been the most famous person to take his identity from the King (right, Mr. Costello?), but he and his band, the Troggs, had as great an impact on rock and roll as anybody, thanks to the lewd, crude attitude of “Wild Thing.”
But while the Troggs were masters of expressing primal urges, they were awfully good with gentle, melodic pop as well. Presley can take credit for this, as he wrote most of the band’s material (“Wild Thing” being a notable exception). Result: the band has a far richer back catalog than the general public realizes, and if today’s artists were to plunder its caves, they would make some valuable finds.
Here are five covers of Presley-penned pieces that demonstrate the Troggs’ range, as well as the riches that await future cover artists.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – With a Girl Like You (The Troggs cover)
“With a Girl Like You” strikes an excellent balance between innocence and lust. If you’ve ever seen the movie Flirting (and you should), you’ll remember this was the first song to play at the school dance, as the boys and girls stood at opposite sides of the room and sized each other up. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down stay faithful with their cover, not changing a single pronoun and keeping every last “ba ba ba.”
Mikal Cronin – Give It To Me (The Troggs cover)
It’s hard to believe Presley got away with some of the lyrics he wrote. In “Give It To Me,” after demanding all his girl’s love in the first verse, he starts the second with “When you come…” It could be called a double entendre, but the Troggs seem wholly uninterested in the clean meaning. Mikal Cronin sounds like he recorded his cover in a vast echo chamber where the song expands even as it softens, nearly smothering itself beneath its sound waves in order to hide the message. But we’ll know. Yeah, we’ll know.
Rage – I Can’t Control Myself (The Troggs cover)
Presley opened “I Can’t Control Myself” with an “Oh, NO!” that matches Iggy Pop’s “LAWWWWWWWD” in the Stooges’ “TV Eye” for intense a cappella beginnings to rock songs, then topped himself with the line “Your slacks are low and your hips are showin’.” No doubt what was on these guys’ minds. Rage covered the song in 1993; where the rest of the world was obsessed with grunge, Rage held fast to their German metal roots, eliminating the “ba ba ba” backing vocals and doubling down on the guitar and drums. No plodding here; indeed, the song has quite a little hop to it.
The Muffs – You Can Cry If You Want (The Troggs cover)
The Muffs take the somewhat unusual step of covering one of the Troggs’ quieter efforts and making it rock harder than the original did. The approach pays off in spades, as “You Can Cry If You Want” packs some muscle on its frame and renders the you’re-the-one message that much sweeter. This cover originally appeared on a 1992 Troggs tribute album titled Groin Thunder, after a phrase Lester Bangs used to describe their music in his landmark essay “James Taylor Marked for Death.”
The Persuasions – Love Is All Around (The Troggs cover)
“Love Is All Around” was the song that proved to be Presley’s jackpot years after the fact, when Wet Wet Wet’s cover went to number one in Britain for over three months in 1994; he spent much of the resulting royalties on studies of crop circles. Most covers of “Love Is All Around” in the years since Wet Wet Wet have followed that template, but the Persuasions, champion a cappella group for half a century, did the song a kindness by performing it with no band a-tall, stripping away anything that could date the song and rendering it even more immortal than it was before.