Friday, May 14, 2010

The Troggs- The Best of The Troggs: The Millennium Collection (Island/Mercury, 2004)

The 20th Century Masters compilations put out by the Universal Music Group, while never close to comprehensive, are affordable and usually spot-on in their track selection. If you’re looking for ace B-sides or obscure album cuts that could have been hits, forget it. But if you just want the best-known songs of, say, Chuck Berry, The Jackson Five, or even Night Ranger, you could do a lot worse. One band that was perfect for this series was The Troggs, who could never beat contemporaries like The Who or Kinks if you compared their best 20 or 30 or 40 songs. But if you just go by their best ten songs, The Troggs were probably as good as any ‘60s band besides the Beatles and Stones. Lean and mean at just 11 tracks, and largely comprised of the group’s incredible run of UK hit singles from 1966-67, this particular best-of supports my argument that The Troggs are one of the most underrated rock n’ roll bands of all-time.

The Troggs formed in 1965 in the southern England town of Andover. Fronted by Reg Presley, notorious for his primal vocal style but highly underrated as a songwriter, the band was reputed to play a live cover of “You Really Got Me” that was even better than the original. A demo of this cover landed in the hands of Larry Page, who was managing the Kinks. A year later, Page, no longer working with The Kinks, would sign on to manage The Troggs. Page had produced some demos for The Kinks during their 1965 American tour, and this experience would allow him to make the most of The Troggs’ affinity for “You Really Got Me”. Serving as band manager and record producer for The Troggs, Page helped fashion the band’s raw, crunching guitar sound, which was somewhat of an anomaly in 1966, when mainstream rock was shifting away from the simplicity of the British Invasion and moving towards psychedelic and baroque pop complexities. The band was two years behind the times, and it must have seemed more like 20 given how quickly music was changing. In spite of that or maybe because of that, The Troggs would dominate the pop charts that year, hitting the UK top ten four times and scoring #1 singles on both sides of the pond.

“Wild Thing”, composed by American songwriter Chip Taylor (Angelina Jolie’s uncle!), had flopped for The Wild Ones in 1965. But a year later The Troggs made it their own, turning it into a thumping masterpiece of fuzzed-out three-chord rock n’ roll, replete with an ocarina solo and perhaps the heaviest guitars ever heard on record at the time. Having missed with their debut single “Lost Girl”, The Troggs would suffer no such letdown this time around. “Wild Thing” shot to #1 in the States, and peaked at #2 in the UK. And they were just getting started! Followup “With a Girl Like You”, an upbeat British Invasion throwback, topped the UK charts. The brazenly sexual proto-punker “I Can’t Control Myself” was another UK smash, going all the way to #2. And to close out 1966, The Troggs would once more crack the Top Ten with “Any Way That You Want Me”. In ’67, the band struck again with “Give It To Me” (#12 UK) and the eerie, brilliant Stones rip-off “Night of the Long Grass” (#17). Branching out from their garage/British Invasion signature style, the group really hit the jackpot with the ballad “Love Is All Around”. Hitting the airwaves at the height of flower power, this pretty number made the top ten in the UK and the US. It was the band’s last big hit (although they’d continue to make records for years!), and probably rates historically as the very first “power ballad”.

Like any good Troggs comp does, The Best of The Troggs corrects the American misperception of the band as a “two hit wonder”. It includes all seven of the band’s ’66-’67 chart smashes, plus the killer B-sides “From Home” (the flip to “Wild Thing”) and “I Want You” (the flip to “With a Girl Like You”). The only truly essential song missing is the band’s ferocious version of the garage rock standard “I Can Only Give You Everything”, left off in favor of the ballads “Little Girl” and “You Can Cry If You Want To”. The rock guy in me could do without any of the ballads, and would prefer another early B-side like “Gonna Make You” or the proto-glam of 1970’s “Lover”. But come on – you can’t properly represent The Troggs without including the ballads (Just ask REM!). And the ones here (especially “You Can Cry If You Want To”, later covered beautifully by The Muffs) are pretty fantastic as far as ballads go, their overt sappiness matched by truly magnificent melodies.

The Troggs may not have had the sheer quantity of great tunes to rival the A-listers of ‘60s British rock, nor did they have the underground “garage” cred of American acts like The Sonics and Standells. But if you asked me to name the one band from the ‘60s that sounded the most like punk rock, I’d say The Troggs. If “You Really Got Me” is the root of all proto-punk, then “Wild Thing” and “I Can’t Control Myself” took it a step further. The Troggs didn’t invent rock n’ roll, but probably played it more primitively and salaciously than any band had thought to before. The MC5 were huge fans, and even covered “I Want You” on Kick Out The Jams. That the group took to a three-chord “caveman rock” ethos at a time when every other band out there was trying to be “progressive” was not lost on Troggs fans The Ramones, who’d do the very same thing a decade later, forever changing music in the process. But while it’s very easy to get lost in the “importance” of The Troggs, this was not one of those “critics’ bands” that you appreciate for its influence but hate to actually listen to! The Best of The Troggs, or any Troggs comp for that matter, is an absolute treat for the ears. Take in its well-selected blend of pounding proto-punk, sunny British Invasion pop, and top-notch ballads, and within the hour you may find yourself lobbying to get The Troggs in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame!

-Josh Rutledge

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