I’m uncertain whether Goo Goo Muck: A Tribute to the Cramps offered much in the way of notice, sneaking out, as it did, at the beginning of the month and maybe possessing a best-kept-secret status similar to the venerable band themselves. It wasn’t so much that the Cramps were unheard of, but, it always struck me, that they were un-heard. Everyone had read about them and tutted about the photos, thinking them exactly the sort of pop filth that shouldn’t be thrown at our youngsters. But, give ’em a go, and they are quite the surprise. Hell, they even had to invent a genre of their own: psychobilly, and what a fine title that was. And yes, if it betrays the broad musical axis upon which they swung, that of the rudimentary buzz of rockabilly, it also shows quite what they did with it. Mind, don’t go thinking psycho short for psychedelic, not their bag at all. This was, and is, psycho in full I was a teenage axe-murderer mode.
I remember looking at the photos in the inky pages of Britain’s New Musical Express, long before getting my ears on them, in awe at the appearances of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach, possibly not their real names. They looked mean and bad and, alone in my teenage room, I wanted to be like them. I guess “Human Fly” was the song I heard first, a no-hit single in 1978, a buzzy earworm of a song that laid its larvae deep in my brain, a recurring item on the mixtapes I made in the day, gifts to all and sundry. Doing the standard research for this piece, I was astonished to see, these two apart, the sole permanent crew, they had had twenty other (often splendidly named) members over their 43-year career. Naively I had thought the Lux, Ivy, Bryan Gregory and Nick Knox combo to have been together near for always, yet I am not totally certain they even were all in the same band at the same time, failing also to clock that Kid “Congo” Powers had also been a later member for a while. (Huh, call yourself a fan!) Active from 1976 to 2009, I guess they more blanked out than fizzled, circumstance wrapping up the band as much as any projected plan, when Lux Interior suffered a fatal aortic dissection, where your main artery from the heart splits asunder.
It is down to the L.A. based independents Cleopatra label, home of many a disparate oddball performer, from Alien Ant Farm to the mercurial Wanda Jackson, that we have to thank for Goo Goo Muck. It’s far from the first to pay tribute to this maverick band. Earlier tributes have included such titles as 2002’s Larsen 19, 2011’s Cramped, Volume 1, and 2020’s Really Bad Music for Really Bad People. However, this time around, rather than trotting out broadly facsimile versions by fanbands and acolytes, the likes of country outlaw Shooter Jennings and Jerry Lee’s little sister Linda Gail Lewis get to throw their caps in the ring.
It is Jennings out first, with “Human Fly,” initially with the chainsaw guitar replicating the original, ahead of some extraordinary madcap “classical” piano all over the shop, giving it the full gothic horror. Jennings sounds suitably distressed and it is a cracking opener. Nordic-Brazilian duo the Courettes are up next; no strangers themselves to punk appliqués to 60’s kitsch, their “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns” is everything you would expect from their Ronettes-meet-Ramones maelstrom, with a touch of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones kitchen sink cacophony. Their English as a second language adds to the sense of unease.
If this is somehow your introduction to the Cramps, song titles like “Aloha From Hell” are telling you all you need to know, sounding like what happens when the Sons of the Pioneers drop some accidental amyl nitrate. This “Aloha From Hell” comes courtesy 69 Eyes, from Finland, who sound not unacquainted with Sweden’s Hives.
Resplendent with a howling intro, Seattle’s Night Beats bring us “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” Rather than garage-rock the genre, it sounds as it were recorded in an actual garage, and a drafty one at that; all echo, stomp and sweaty angst, set to a slow John Lee Hooker shuffle. Super stuff
The Brains are up next, working alongside psychobilly revivalists, Rezurex, which suggests a marriage made in Bedlam. Their early-Beach Boys-via-Iggy Pop-style rendition of the title track delivers a helter-skelter run of tracks. Actually the cover of a cover, it has me wanting to chase the original. Without any let up, Hillbilly Moon Explosion now draw comparison with the aforementioned Wanda Jackson, for “Primitive,” an authentic rockabilly brew of juddering guitars and, um, primitive drumming, that surely belies a deep maturing in oak, derived from generations in Appalachia. They come from Switzerland.
I have to say I didn’t realize the Flamin’ Groovies were still a thing. I’m delighted to confirm that they they are, with shows scheduled for this fall. With it appearing Cyril Jordan is back in the fold, their “Fissure of Romano” is a sassy early Stones/Pretty Things thrash. So, normal service there then, auguring well for the future. Blitzkid’s “Garbageman” is probably the most conventional track, in a sort of Billy Idol conventional way, although I like the retention of the Louie Louieye from the original, itself echoing the Kingsmen’s standard of the same name. But, no room for backchat, back again bounce the Brains, this time all Ramonesabilly, for “I Can’t Hardly Stand It,” which, by the way, contains the best guitar soloing of the album, manic and unmodulated.
Keeping a true legend of rockabilly close to the end, or at least their sibling, proves a classy step. Linda Gail Lewis has seen and lived some of the life her illustrious elder brother did, through rock’n’roll and country, and where they came to meet up, after hours, as rockabilly. Thus her version of “The Way I Walk” is, appropriately, a much more retro affair than much the material here, possibly reflecting the song’s original version. A glorious three-note piano solo enters early on, and is indicative of the direction of flow, a glamorous and gorgeous swagger through the yesteryear that probably stimulated the Cramps to give it a go in the first place. With all respect to the more sectionable contributors here, it is a blooming delight. And it is only Clem Burke on the thunderous drums!
Talking of straitjackets, it is up to the Fuzztones to tackle the age-old question, “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?” Rudi Protrudi and his band are perhaps the most garage band here, down to the cheesy organ, possibly also being the closest in spirit to the band honored here; go check out those noms de guerre! Nothing new and nothing clever, they add to the project in a ramshackle sidecar ride that just has to have you grinning. So, in answer to the question, yes, I guess.
Which only leaves Stellar Corpses, the band surely only in existence as a result of the Cramps, so clear is their debt. Their “Fever” – yes, that one, Peggy Lee’s cover of Little Willie John – if anything, is a tad restrained. I accept that may be as a result of all the songs here ahead of it, but it comes off as a standard generic punky ramalam. It’s OK, but could have been so much more, especially as the closing song.
Irrespective, Goo Goo Muck is a great album. Indeed, but only say this very quietly, by offering the degree of variations in style, it is possibly even a better listen than the sometimes challenging full-on of the Cramps, pure and unadulterated. If you have the old stuff, you’ll love it. If you haven’t? Well, go see, but you’ll love it anyway.
Goo Goo Muck Tracklisting (all Cramps covers except where stated):
1. Shooter Jennings – Human Fly
2. The Courettes – Bikini Girls With Machine Guns
3. The 69 Eyes – Aloha From Hell
4. Night Beats – I Was A Teenage Werewolf
5. The Brains & Rezurex – Goo Goo Muck (Ronnie Cook & the Gaylads cover)
6. The Hillbilly Moon Explosion – Primitive (The Groupies cover)
7. Flamin’ Groovies – Fissure Of Rolando
8. Blitzkid – Garbageman
9. The Brains – I Can’t Hardly Stand It (Charlie Feathers cover)
10. Linda Gail Lewis – The Way I Walk (Jack Jones with the Chantones Vocal Group cover)
11. The Fuzztones – Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?
12. Stellar Corpses – Fever (Little Willie John cover)