Graded on a Curve:
The Troggs,
Best of The Troggs

You’ve heard of rock music? Well, these English trogolodytes played real rocks. Legend has it the members of The Troggs were discovered as feral children living in the vicinity of Cheddar Gorge in the mid-1950s, where they romped about naked and walked on all fours. Five years of English lessons, some rudimentary musical training, and learning how not to hoot and waggle their genitalia at the sight of females of the species later, they were ready to bring their ludicrously crude garage rock to the listening public.

Here in the US The Troggs are primarily (if not exclusively) known for the cave man stomp “Wild Thing,” but in England’s green and pleasant land they scored a fair number of hits, which is where 1967’s Best of the Troggs comes in. You may not have wanted to let these guys anywhere near a live chicken (the results were invariably bloodcurdling), but their early work holds up as a prime example of the sonic possibilities of inspired primitivism.

To the extent that the Troggs are labeled a proto-punk band, it has less to do with attitude (Reg Presley and the boys didn’t have a rebellious or mean-spirited bone in their bodies) than with their determination to prove that any rough beast could slouch its way towards the Top of the Pops. What the Troggs offer the listener are a bunch of likable songs banged out with an equally likable amateur spirit; it bears remembering that it took years to teach these lads how to use knife and fork, and their learning curve more or less ended there.

That said, they’re not exactly the neanderthals you might think, and if you’re expecting every track to be a barbaric yawp along the lines of “Wild Thing” you’re in for a disappointment. A few songs do the crunge: “From Home” features some nasty fuzz guitar and is heavy as a club, while “Gonna Make You” is all cock-sure assertion set to a badass Bo Diddley beat.

“I Want You” is an obvious “Wild Thing” rip, but who cares? Reg Presley wants what he wants, Chris Britton bangs out a mean riff and tosses in some Scott Ashton-school fuzz dementia, and you get a real bludgeoning for your dollar. And then there’s the ridiculously simplistic “You’re Lying,” which features a guitar riff so artlessly basic you could teach it to an ape.

But for the most part the boys come across as, well, a Stone Age power pop band. “Anyway That You Want Me” is a lovely number that, I swear to God, wouldn’t sound out of place on the first Velvet Underground LP. “With a Girl Like You” is as catchy as they come–think the Flintstones meet the Summer of Love. As for “Give It to Me,” it’s a wannabe bubblegum classic, and how it eluded the upper reaches of the American Top 40 is beyond me.

What else do we got? “I Can’t Control Myself” evokes The Who of “Pictures of Lily” and is a must-hear, while “66-5-4-3-3-1 (I Know What You Want)” may just be the first telephone number to make its way into the popular song. Reg wants you to call him, girl! As for “Girl in Black,” it’s another Who-inspired number on which Ronnie Bond does his dotty and halting best to imitate Keith Moon.

The Troggs were charming primitivists who proved that even charming primitivism has its limits–I’m a big fan of gross incompetence, and even I wish these guys played a mite better. But they possessed native inspiration enough to fill out a pretty good greatest hits compilation, which makes Best of the Troggs a better value for your entertainment dollar than the greatest hits of that civilized nullity James Taylor, or any other number of genteel artistes who would never consider tearing the head off a live chicken and drinking its blood.

As Jane Goodall, who spent seven years living amongst The Troggs, once said, “They make an ungodly sound, but they’re not dangerous unless poked with a sharp stick. I know this from personal experience.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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