1980 – Illegal
Garage Rock/ Punk/ Psychobilly
Alright folks, sit down, strap yourself in and get ready for the wild ride that is New York punk band The Cramps’ first full length studio album Songs The Lord Taught Us. This record truly is a near forty minutes of pure rockabilly madness that rivals the great weirdos of history like Hasil Adkins and Groovy Joe Poovey.
Starting out with TV Set we get a feel for what this band and record are all about. It’s raw, it’s dirty, it’s creepy, and, perhaps most important of all, it’s a whole load of fun. I mean, every track is just so firmly rooted in such a great tradition of music that it’s hard not to get up and do the twist to some these tunes. Don’t get me wrong though, Songs The Lord Taught Us is in no way a rockabilly revival record. No, it is, in fact, quite the opposite. This is an album that spits at the luxurious quiffs of revival acts like Stray Cats and eschews all the pretentions that have become associated with rockabilly music in favour of the wild, real gone spirit of the scene.
I mean, the band just seem to take so much delight in doing everything that a band should be doing if they want to be successful: the levelling is off, their timing is far from tight, and many of the tracks just seem to end without any kind of warning. This is not to say, however, that the music is band as such, rather the group manage to create some really rockin’ tunes precisely by doing exactly what they shouldn’t.
Perhaps it’s all because, while the band are ostensibly ‘doing it wrong’, they know exactly what they are doing. Everything on this album is just so well-studied it its crassness and stupidity and so academic in its anachronisms. I mean, no one can seriously think that guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach didn’t know what she was doing when she shamelessly ripped off Link Wray in I Was A Teenage Werewolf, and it was no accident when singer Lux Interior snuck in his take on Louie Louie to Garbageman. Really it seems like The Cramps were trying to condense the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll into one album, and, to my mind, they achieved this with great results.
All this being said, at the end of this record I was left with a slight, niggling feeling that the band could have done just that little bit more. I mean, for all their obvious love of those wonderful nutters that litter the history of rockabilly music The Cramps just didn’t ever seem to let themselves get real real gone on this album. They came close at times with tracks like Sunglasses After Dark and What’s Behind The Mask, but there was always a feeling that they were holding back musically. Maybe this can be put down to the group’s academic preoccupations or their obsession with the ‘pure’ sounds of the masters, but either way I was left slightly wanting.
So, in conclusion I have to say that Songs The Lord Taught Us is an excellent album in an era where rockabilly seemed more interested in Elvis’s white rhinestone jumpsuit than Jerry Lee Lewis’s jackhammer piano and howling yelps. It brings rock music back down to its dangerous and sex fuelled roots, but I’m just not that sure that it goes quite far enough. Still though, I would heartily recommend it and it is definitely a very welcome addition to my collection.
And here is a wonderful live video of The Cramps performing Garbageman from Songs The Lord Taught Us.