Graded on a Curve: Wolfman Jack,
Fun & Romance

File under Must Own, Never Play. There are only two things you need know about the late great Wolfman Jack: (1) he’s a bona fide American icon, and (2) he can’t sing a lick.

The Wolfman’s career took him from Mexico’s legendary 250,000 watt “border blaster” radio station X-ERF–immortalized in ZZ Top’s “I Heard It on the X”–to show stealer on 1973’s America Graffiti to longtime host of NBC-TV’s late night concert staple The Midnight Special, becoming one of the world’s hippest and most recognizable figures in the process. The man was as cool as the Orange Creamsicles he ate in American Graffiti.

And it’s Wolfman Jack’s lovable persona, rather than his singing ability, that carries the day on 1975’s Fun & Romance. Everybody’s favorite gravel-voiced DJ (one Wolfman Jack = six Dr. Johns) does a better job talking jive than singing, but his love for the golden oldies comes through loud and clear on every cut. There’s something endearing about Wolfman Jack’s amazing inability to hold a tune. He’s that passionate tone-deaf guy at the karaoke bar who can’t wait to get his hands on the microphone, and I can relate. Why suffer for your art when other people can do it for you?

The Wolfman makes maximum use of his players–you get horns galore, scads of backing vocalists, and lots of raucous piano–and they definitely lively up the proceedings. The Hirsute One’s cover of Dr. Feelgood & The Interns’ “Dr. Feelgood” boasts SNL horns and has a Blues Brothers feel to it, while the heavy-duty percussion on the very funky “I’m So Happy” brings War to Mind. Funk’s also the name of the game on the worth a listen or even three“Ghost Story,” on which the Wolfman does some trademark cackling.

Wolfman Jack’s cover of the Coasters’ “Idol with the Golden Head” actually works, thanks to the call and response between Wolf and his backup singers, and I love the blubbering, as well as the positively crazed rockabilly piano solo. His take on Sonny Knight’s “Confidential” comes up a long shot winner as well, because it turns out he’s a real romantic. Wolfman’s out of his depth on “Short Fat Fannie,” but it’s got so much jump and jive you’ll be inclined to give him a pass. He also does a grave disservice to Little Anthony’s “Tears on My Pillow.”

The Wolfman goes doo-wop big time on the Casino’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” and adds personality to his rambunctious cover of Lloyd Price’s “You’ve Got Personality” (why hasn’t Ringo Starr ever covered this baby?). And you’ll really want to check out his shark-jumping cover of Tom “Yeah you heard that right” Jones’ “Somethin’ ‘Bout You Baby I Like.” And he adds real gospel verve to his Fats Domino medley “Blueberry Hill” and “Blue Monday.”

Fun & Romance is a novelty item for sure, and if have one caveat beside the fact that everybody’s favorite lycanthrope is the worst singer this side of me, it’s that he didn’t play up the Wolfman angle for all it’s worth. Who wouldn’t find it an existential necessity to own albums with titles like The Wolfman Sings, Howlin’ with the Wolfman, or The Original Rock ’n’ Roll Animal?

But Fun & Romance is more than just an LP–it’s a love letter from Wolfman Jack to the music loved most. This is one of the LPs you listen to with your heart. Your brain will tell you it’s embarrassing, but your brain doesn’t pay the Wolfman his due. He really was that tuneless guy at the karaoke bar, singing his heart out.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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