1979 – Illegal/ I.R.S
Garage Rock/ Punk/ Psychobilly
This debut EP from American psychobilly band The Cramps is a short yet satisfying burst of real gone rockabilly spirit. Consisting mainly of cover version this little record works very hard to show off the band’s distinctive take on the raucous music of the fifties, and I’ve got the say that it works really quite well.
The almost monotonous vocals layered atop the white noise fuzz of a guitar track in Human Fly instantly grabs the listener and plunges them into the weird world of The Cramps, and this release doesn’t let up from there moving into the screaming blues of Jack Scott’s The Way I Walk and Sam Phillips’ Domino. It’s not, however, entirely in your face like many of the other punk bands of the day, rather it is more insidiously dark as it slowly creeps through the accepted music of your parent’s (or perhaps grandparent’s) generation and turns in on its head until it’s almost unrecognizable. I mean, Lux Interior’s voice on this record is only slightly tinged with demonic sleaze and the drums are just that little bit more throbbingly forceful than what one might hear on an Elvis record which makes this EP all that more disturbing in its underlying threats of sadistic violence.
I will say, however, that this first attempt at an EP doesn’t really reach the heights of madness and mayhem that the band achieved with their second release (and first full album) Songs The Lord Taught Us. While this EP does have its fair share of true rockabilly style weirdness, some of the tracks, such as their version of The Garbagemen’s Surfin’ Bird, are not really any crazier than those fifties and sixties garage-rockers that did the tracks first. I mean, if you’re going to put together something this full of cover versions you should really do more than just cover the songs in an almost identical manner. I’m not saying that The Cramps have done this with every track on Gravest Hits, but certainly it does occur at points.
This being said, there is one thing that this EP has over every other Cramps record I have listened to, and that is the addition of what can only be described as a slow song. The group’s version of Lonesome Town (originally by Baker Knight) really is something quite sublime to listen to with Interior’s vocals coming across as almost understated in their sadness and Posion Ivy Rorschach’s guitar letting itself fill the aural space naturally without too much crunch and distortion. Really it’s somewhat beautiful, and in my opinion the band have never again risen to this challenge of actually performing a song that would affect anyone in any way other than to cause indignant disgust and low-down riotous fun.
All things considered, however, Gravest Hits is more suited to those who are already big fans of the band than first time listeners (bizarre for a debut release). It is by no means their best work and it lacks the energy that they produced for their later recordings. There is nothing altogether wrong with any of the tracks, and I’d be happy to listen to the record again, but then again I would also be happy to listen to pretty much anything else. I guess, in conclusion Gravest Hits is more of an historical artefact that demonstrates the beginnings of a band that were just starting to find their feet and get real gone. The music is fine, but really it’s one of the last Cramps records you need to acquire.
And here is Lonesome Town, one of the most beautiful tracks that The Cramps have ever recorded.
- Songs The Lord Taught Us – The Cramps (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- A Date With Elvis – The Cramps (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)
- Poison Ivy of The Cramps (pistolarchives.com)
- The Cramps’ Lux Interior posing with his John Wayne Gacy portrait (dangerousminds.net)