“Wild Thing” / The Troggs
MAY IS BRITISH INVASION MONTH!
Come on, it wouldn’t be British Invasion Month without giving a little time to this classic, beloved of garage bands everywhere. By 1966, British music had evolved so swiftly, some rockers already felt the need to strip down the sound and get back to basics. That’s where the Troggs came in. The name itself was short for Troglodytes (not a word in my vocabulary back then, but hey, that’s what life is about, learning new words as you need them), and that caveman image fit perfectly with their raw, primitive sound. These guys made the Kinks look like Mod sophisticates. The Troggs sounded so crude, at first I thought they must be a parody.
For ever and always, this would be their defining song, at least in America. Only four chords, and easy ones at that -- A, D, E, with a few chugging G’s thrown in on the chorus – but they’re played with mindless ferocity, matched by thuggish drum-whacking. There are only two even remotely fancy effects: the spooky ocarina solo in the middle, and that downward sliding guitar note at the beginning, which sounds like an airplane plummeting from the sky. Reg Presley’s vocals sound like he’s just gotten out of bed, and still isn’t sure whether he’s going to crawl back in or not.
This song is the handiwork of an American songwriter named Chip Taylor (trivia fact: he is Jon Voight’s younger brother, which makes him also Angelina Jolie’s uncle), who no doubt made a pile of money on a song that doesn’t even bother to rhyme after the first couplet. You all know the lyrics; they only take five seconds to learn. “Wild thing/ You make my heart sing / You make everything . . . groovy / Wild thing.” “Groovy” is such perfect Sixties slang – we all knew the word already from the Mindbenders’ “Groovy Kind of Love” -- and Presley tosses it in so absent-mindedly, as if he just can’t be bothered to find a synonym. But hey, “groovy” was a very high compliment in 1966.
And then, of course, there’s the chorus, which alternates a few grating chords with silence, as Presley seems to lose his train of thought mid-sentence: “Wild thing, I . . . think I ... love you / But I wanna know for sure / Come on and . . . hold me tight / [pregnant pause] / I love you.” Oh, wait, the second time through the chorus changes lyrics: “Wild thing, I think you . . . move me / But I wanna know for sure / Come on and hold me tight / [pregnant pause] / You move me.” Yes, that develops the theme significantly.
And yet, be honest: You love this song. A song like this doesn’t need specific details about why she’s a wild thing, or where he met her, or what they plan to do the rest of their lives. Sure, his lovemaking seems awfully casual, but there is plenty of insistence there too (just listen to the impatient howl busting out on “I wanna know for sure”). Just feel the heated intimacy in all those silences, that bedroom whisper on “You move me.” Crude, sexy, completely in the moment.
This is the sound of class systems falling apart, of sexual liberation breaking out, of drugs being taken, of authority being flouted. Sure, the Troggs were going back to basics. But they were also the first punk band, years ahead of their time. They just didn’t know it yet.
Wild Thing sample