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

Celebrating Troggs bassist Pete Staples on his 77th birthday.Ed.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that prehistoric man had wisely declined to descend from the trees. Or at best had made his home in a cave, and from then on had declined (“No, thank you very much”) to evolve further. Think how wonderful it would be! No school (yea!), no cubicle farms filled with despairing wage slaves, no taxes, and no Maroon 5! No cars to run over bicyclists who run over pedestrians! Of course there would be no Chinese take-out or designer drugs (you can’t have everything), and the best your darling could hope to receive this Holiday Season would be a necklace made of the penises of your enemies, but still, Paradise!

Got all that? Now here’s the point. There would only be one rock’n’roll band in the whole world, and that band would be The Troggs.

Because the Troggs (and okay, The Shaggs as well) played songs so primal a caveman could have bashed them out. Hell, your dog could play them. And the Troggs didn’t even play them particularly well. But their music captured perfectly their primitive priorities, which amounted to making a big din designed to attract girls, girls, and girls, in that order.

And in keeping with their boycott on evolution, the moment some would-be crew of virtuosos had appeared to play a more sophisticated form of rock (say Emerson, Lake & Krog) mankind would have clubbed them to death like baby seals. Would the world be a better place? Probably not. But the Troggs would be Gods, as they deserve to be Gods, for proving that anyone can be a rock star after just two or three days of practice, tops.

Originally called the Troglodytes, the Troggs were formed in Andover in Southern England in 1964. They’re most famous, of course, for the ur-punk classic, “Wild Thing,” England’s prehistoric answer to “Louie Louie.” It’s barbaric in its simplicity and a million bands have played it, thanks to its simple club-to-head chord structure and lyrics that I suspect pre-date history.

As for the Troggs, their original line-up featured Reg Presley on vocals, Chris Britton on guitar, Pete Staples on bass, and Ronnie Bond on drums. They look like a friendly bunch, and evidently traded in their Fred Flintstone animal-skin one-pieces for matching white suits for the album cover of The Best of The Troggs: The Millennium Collection.

The album opens, naturally, with “Wild Thing,” which was written by Angelina Jolie’s uncle Chip Taylor, who turned to songwriting after failing to make the grade as a professional golfer. Why this strikes me as worthy of mention, I don’t know. What I do know is that “Wild Thing” is a monstrous slab of Neanderthal Rock, and its genetic DNA is virtually identical to that of “I Want You,” also on the LP.

“I Want You” sounds a bit more menacing and more like a proto-Stooges tune than “Wild Thing,” but both hammer away at the lizard part of your brain, the part that predates civility and Talking Heads’ artsy-fartsiness and just wants to fornicate in triumph atop the gargantuan carcass of a freshly killed dinosaur. (I know the dinosaurs were gone by the time we came along, but I don’t care. I’m a rock critic, not an expert on the origins of Man.)

The barbaric beauty of “Wild Thing” most likely has something to do with the way Britton’s primal guitar riffs invariably run to the chords S-E-X, which nothing, not even the incongruous flute solo in the middle of “Wild Thing,” can temper. And while we’re on the subject of Britton, it must be said that he plays a cool pair of solos on “I Want You” that made him the world’s premier cave man guitarist until Ron Asheton came along.

“Anyway That You Want Me” shows off the more sensitive side of the band, and features some strings that give the song a distinctly Velvet Underground feel. Presley is at his most sensitive, singing in a completely different vocal style than he does on the rest of the LP. As for “Love Is All Around,” which R.E.M. made famous, it’s a wonderful pop confection, complete with strings, and the kind of song that, if you don’t like it, well there’s something wrong with you.

Finally, “With a Girl Like You” is a perkier pop rocker, and eons more bubblegum than the rock-to-the-cranium that is “Wild Thing.” It features lots of nonsense syllables, and has a shy Presley sending his love across the dance floor to a girl he’s afraid to approach, which he obviously made up because back then if you liked a girl you simply dragged her back to your cave condo by the hair.

“I Can’t Control Myself” opens with a great, “OH NO!” by Presley, and features lots of the same nonsense syllables as “With a Girl Like You,” but ramps ups the sexual urgency dial four or five notches. “Give It to Me” is self-explanatory, and features Presley in sensitive mode again; I like to think of it as the gentleman caveman’s take on “I Want You.”

“Little Girl” is an odd tune about the birth of an illegitimate child, the daughter of the singer, who wanted to marry the mother and make the whole shebang legit but was stymied by his love’s mother. It’s a pretty progressive idea for a pop tune, and a real surprise from the Troggs, who whatever else you may choose to call them, were not progressives. “You Can Cry If You Want To” is a simple love song with strings and some great backing vocals on the chorus, and features Presley singing about how “you’re the one for me.”

“Night of the Long Grass” opens with the whistling of the wind and features a repetitive guitar riff and a cool chorus (check title). It’s more complex (which is to say it might have taken ten minutes to learn, rather than five) than most of the songs in the Troggs’ repertoire and is catchy as hell, and takes us to the savannah for some hot stone age loving.

As for “From Home,” it doesn’t fit the Troggs template at all; it opens with a galloping guitar riff, then goes all fuzz guitar on you, and features a drum tattoo, to say nothing of one super freak-out on the axe. Presley’s girl in this one is wealthy and evidently never home, which makes a hook-up difficult. It ends with another burst of wild guitar, and that’s it for the song, as well as the album.

The surprising thing about this LP is that the ratio of cave raves to prehistoric pop tunes is heavily skewed to the latter. But the Troggs, who may well have been troglodytes, had their eyes on the Top of the Pops and wanted to be famous like The Beatles, and they knew that pop, and not Dinosaur Rock, was the route to the Toppermost of the Poppermost.

Which is a pity, because “Wild Thing” and “I Want You” aren’t just great songs, they’re prophetic. They prefigure the barbaric simplicity of The Stooges, even if they’re not as raunchy. (The Troggs were cavemen, but they were also gentlemen.) It’s their stone-age brutalism that the Troggs will be best remembered for, and if man had wisely declined to evolve they would be it, the only band worth dancing to in the whole wide world. Do the Caveman!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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