Friday, December 21, 2007

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: ROCK'S GLORIOUS UNDERBELLY

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 21, 2007


If you’re looking for a grand tour of rock ’n’ roll’s glorious underbelly, you shouldn’t miss I Hate CDs: Norton Records 45 RPM Singles Collection Vol. 1.

This compilation — 45 tracks in all — sums up what Norton records is all about — crazy R & B, reckless rockabilly, garage-band snot, immortal punk rock. This music is raw, rowdy, and sometimes raunchy as it thumbs its metaphorical nose at any precious, prissy, pretentious, and self-important airs that rock all too often acquires.

Norton Records, which specializes in primitive rock, was founded in the 1980s by Billy Miller and Miriam Linna. As shown on this compilation, the label happily plays with fire.

This is the devil’s music, the evil jungle sounds the preachers and the White Citizens’ Council originally warned us about — dangerous-sounding stuff that leads to juvenile delinquency, sex, miscegenation, and eventually to an eternity in hell. Much of the material is from the ’50s and ’60s, but it’s far too unrefined for oldies radio. Not that its lyrics are obscene; most of the artists here don’t need to use dirty words to sound outright filthy.

True to the name of the compilation, I Hate CDs isn’t available on compact disc. But you can download any or all tracks at iTunes, Amazon.com, and eMusic.

There are some impressive names on I Hate CDs, some that you might even recognize. There are a couple of Ramones rarities — demos of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and “Judy Is a Punk.” Question Mark and The Mysterians have a tune here as does rockabilly great Dale Hawkins (most famous for “Susie Q”), guitar killer Link Wray (who does an instrumental called “Vendetta”), and a young Doug Sahm, who sings “Slow Down” with a band called The Pharaohs (but I don’t think these are Sam the Sham’s boys).

The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (who comes from “Lubbock by way of Mars,” according to his own hype) provides the title song to the collection. (“The Ledge” is a high school chum of Joe Ely, who speaks his name with the highest praise. But I’m still waiting for a Flatlanders cover of an LSC song.)

There’s a good, scary Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song I’d never heard before called “I Hear Voices.” What I like best about this tune— besides Jay’s sceamin’ of course — is the weird soprano voice that accompanies him at the end of the track.

Raspy-voiced soul man Andre Williams provides one of the few philosophical discussions. “The Monkey Speaks His Mind” is about someone objecting to the notion of man coming from the apes. Of course, the one objecting is an ape. “No monkey ever deserted his wife, starved his babies, and ruined their life.”

R & B icon Don Covay — called Don “Pretty Boy” Covay here — has a raucous little ode to wife swapping on this collection called “Switchin’ in the Kitchen.” And for fans of Kill Bill and those Vonage commercials, the Japanese girl punks The 5.6.7.8’s (known for their cover of the Rock-a-Teens’ “Woo Hoo”) do a fierce version of “The Harlem Shuffle.”

Big Star, the ’70s band led by Alex Chilton, provides one of the album’s poppier moments, a song called “September Gurls.”

Several mainstays of Norton (“the label with the able stable,” as they call themselves) are represented on this compilation. There’s Esquerita, a 6-foot-6-inch, one-eyed, pompadoured transvestite, who, according to legend, taught Little Richard to play piano. Hasil Adkins, the late wild man of West Virginia, sings one of his fine-feathered chicken songs, “Chicken Shake.” (A few years ago, Norton released an entire Adkins album of this curious subgenre. It’s called Poultry in Motion.) There’s Mary Weiss, former singer of The Shangri-Las, whose wonderful “comeback” album Dangerous Games was released on Norton earlier this year. A “bonus song” from that album, a cover of “A Certain Guy,” is on this collection.

And the Norton house band, The A-Bones (featuring Miller and Linna), have a couple of tracks here. “Stop It Baby” features former Flamin’ Groovies singer Roy Loney, and “New Spark” has unsung rockabilly hero Johnny Powers.

Of course, the real fun is discovering the truly obscure artists. Who the heck is Stud Cole? Apparently this Stud’s a rockabilly who never got his due. His contribution here, “The Witch” (not The Sonics’ hit by the same name), makes me want more.

Bunker Hill just might be the craziest soul man you’ve never heard of; he does a rollicking tune called “The Girl Can’t Dance,” which features Link Wray on guitar. “The Limp” by the Incredible Kings is how I imagined all cool, swingin’ parties would sound back when I was a kid.

“Puddy Cat” by Wade Curtiss and the Rhythm Rockers is a goofy, so-weird-it’s-beautiful parody of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” — as if that trash-rock classic needed a parody. Instead of the refrain “papa oom mow mow” of the original song, Curtiss sings “mamma meow mow.”

Speaking of surfing, you’ve got to hear “Surfside Date” by The Triumphs. Not having any liner notes, I don’t know if this was recorded in the ’60s or last month. Whatever the case might be, surf music rarely sounded as primordial.

And if Hasil Adkins didn’t satisfy your hunger for chicken songs, there’s an even crazier tune called “Chicken” by an unknown shouter named Jack Starr.

If you’re an audiophile, beware. Some tracks definitely are lo-fi. Of course, if you’re that much of an audiophile purist you probably wouldn’t like this primitive stuff anyway.

Don't forget to check out the cool drag race-style audio promo over at Norton's MySpace page.

The Steve Terrell Christmas Special: A Santa Fe tradition. Hear Snoop Doggy Dogg, The Pogues, James Brown, Joan Jett, The Trashmen, and Roger Miller sing the songs we love this season at 10 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, on KSFR-FM 101.1.

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