Transcript 118–Wild Thing

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.

Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.

My name is Claude Call, and the nose swab isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

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Here’s a neat trivia question for ye: Name the artist whose greatest commercial success came from an alter ego he created based on a childhood nickname he had. This may not be who you think it is, so think carefully.

It seems almost poetic that a song titled “Wild Thing” has a little bit of weirdness attached to it. So let’s turn back the clock to 1965, when a man born James Wesley Voight but more commonly known as Chip Taylor, wrote the song. Does that name James Voight sound kind of familiar? He’s got a slightly more famous brother named Jon Voight. Which makes Chip Taylor the uncle of Angelina Jolie. At that time, Chip Taylor was mostly known for writing Country songs, but he got a call from record producer Gerry Granaham who wanted some rock and roll. Plus, he didn’t have a lot of time to put something together. And when I say “not a lot of time,” according to Taylor the song was needed the next day. Fortunately, he had studio time already booked for recording a country tune, so he called up his engineer Ron Johnson and said, “I’m coming over, have my stool set up, and hit record as soon as I sit down.” He also told Johnson to turn the lights off so that he could lose himself in the in the song, just kind of feeling his way through it. I’m a little sad that I couldn’t find a copy of the demo to share with you, because I’ve read accounts that it’s pretty sparse, with some tambourine and Johnson doing what Taylor described as “a little thing with his hands.” We’re going to talk about that in shortly.

In an interview with Mojo Magazine in 2008, Taylor says that the pauses and hesitations he does in the song were because he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next. However, later on he came to embrace those pauses as being integral parts of the song. Anyway, the next day, his demo was presented to…

…ah ha! You thought I was going to say The Troggs, didn’t you. Nope. The song was recorded first by a group called Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones.


Gerry Granaham approved and produced the song for the Wild Ones, and the record was released on November 1, 1965, where it pretty much failed to sell. And despite Jordan Christopher’s name being out front, the song was sung by another member of the band named Chuck Alden, who later expressed regret for not performing it more like Taylor’s demo.


As I mentioned, the Wild Ones version didn’t do much, but it did catch the attention of a garage band out of the UK named The Troggs. Now, The Troggs were signed to Larry Page, who was The Kinks’ manager, and recording on his label, called Page One Records. And when The Troggs’ first single flopped, they were given the choice of recording “Wild Thing,” or another song called “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind”, and if that sounds at all familiar, it’s because when The Troggs chose “Wild Thing,” the other song went to the Lovin’ Spoonful.

In early 1966 The Troggs recorded the song, and it was released in April of that year.

The song was recorded in one complete take at Olympic Studios in London, but that doesn’t mean they knocked it right out and they were done. What that means is that it got recorded all at once, without any overdubs or other post-production work. They did have to record it more than one time to get it right, and in this song’s case, the final recording was Take Two. To be fair, they didn’t have a lot of studio time booked. In fact, they had NO studio time booked. Instead, when an orchestral session ended early, the band zoomed in to fill up the rest of the hour that Page had already paid for.

So what’s up with that flute solo in the middle of the song? I’m glad you asked. If you know anything about this show by now, you know that it’s not a flute. It’s an instrument called the Ocarina, which is a very old wind instrument, going back as much as twelve thousand years. It looks like a hollow teardrop about the size of your hand, with a small projection to help you hold it. And while it can have anywhere between four holes and a dozen, most of them nowadays have only four, ever since an English mathematician devised a way to play a full chromatic octave using only four holes. Score one for Math! Anyway, when The Troggs heard Taylor’s demo, they thought that they heard an ocarina, but it was Ron Johnson using his hands to make a whistling sound. So they got an ocarina for the recording session. Go figure!

The Troggs’ version went to Number Two in the UK and Number One in the United States, but here’s the interesting thing: Because there was a dispute over distribution rights in the United States, the record was released here on two different labels: Fontana Records and Atco Records. If you happen to have an original copy of the US release on Atco, you may notice that the songwriting credit is wrong. The A side, “Wild Thing” is credited to lead singer Reg Pressley, while the B side, called “With a Girl Like You”, is credited to Chip Taylor. Actually, the A side is credited to “Presley” with one S. The credits read correctly on the Fontana version—in fact, there’s a different B Side called “From Home”—and subsequent releases for Atco are correctly labeled, but it’s an interesting goof nonetheless. For what it’s worth, it doesn’t add a whole lot to the record’s value. You might get ten bucks for it. At any rate, because of this bit with the dual-label release, and the fact that both pressings came from the same master recording, “Wild Thing” is the first, and so far only, song to reach the Number One position for two different companies simultaneously. Now, that’s not to say that they sound exactly the same. As it turns out, the Atco version has something the Fontana version doesn’t, specifically right after Pressley sings “You move me,” there’s a little audible click, which was edited out of the Fontana version I THINK the click is Ronnie Bond’s drumsticks clicking, because it’s in time with the music and makes sense, but listen closely and judge for yourself…


OK, now that’s it for the Troggs’ version, and you know how I roll: I like to share a couple of covers of the song with you at this point. And wow: are there a lot of covers out there. And most of them are very good in their own right. But let me start with this one, because it came out not long after the Troggs’ version was released. This is a parody recording from 1967 by a comedy troupe called the Hardly-Worthit Players, recording under the name Senator Bobby. The “senator Bobby” we’d be talking about here would be Bobby Kennedy, so the record is full of inside jokes about the Democratic Party and the Kennedy family in general. Plus, it’s peppered with the Senator getting coaching from the record’s producer while he’s recording…


That parody actually made it to Number 20 on the Billboard Chart.

That same year, the Jimi Hendrix Experience performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival, and their rendition was captured on the album that was released in August of 1970, just a few weeks before his death.


This is one of the more notable and known covers, but it was never released as a single…

…In 1988, standup comedian Sam Kinison recorded a novelty version of the song which appeared on his album titled Have You Seen Me Lately? Paired up with a video that got a lot of airplay on MTV—a video which probably set back male/female relations a few years, even for 1984—it had a lot of rock and roll celebrity cameos, plus an appearance by Rodney Dangerfield and the then-infamous Jessica Hahn as the woman at the center of it all. Kinison flipped the script a little bit—Okay, a LOT—and made the song rather misogynistic, setting up the Wild Thing as a heartless woman out to ruin men’s lives…


I have no idea whether any of the performers in the video played on the record itself, as I wasn’t able to find a personnel list for the song. But the record did make it to Number 18 on the Billboard chart.

LA punk band X recorded this next one in 1984, and it didn’t do much of anything until it was used as the theme music for Charlie Sheen’s character in the 1989 film Major League.


That opening note just sucks you in and takes you for an amazing ride. It’s probably my favorite cover…

…It was actually tough to find the record, or even a downloadable version for a long time, but I have seen it on Amazon Music and Spotify lately. Now, a lot of people listening to this song thought it was Joan Jett, and I kind of get that. But I think part of the confusion arises from the fact that her old band, The Runaways, used to perform the song in their concerts, a recording of which was captured on their Live in Japan album from 1977. But that recording also makes it clear that it’s not Joan Jett singing…


…another one which I really like is this one from 1981, recorded by Siouxsie Sioux, who most of you know from Siouxsie and the Banshees. But this is from her work with her other band, the Creatures. She added some lyrics, and the whole thing is very sparse, with just human voices and these Tarzan Movie drums going on. Have a listen…


…I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like that one a lot. Also pretty good is this one by Liz Phair, which was originally recorded for her Exile to Guyville album but instead wound up on an EP and a bonus track. Again, she’s changed the words and the general sentiment, but the guitar line is there:


Now, in listening to all these covers, I started to think that there’s just no way you can screw this song up. There are NO bad covers of this song! And I was…kinda right on this, but there are a couple of questionable ones. Let me give you the more controversial one first:


Let me tell you: I grew up watching Sesame Street, I do like the Muppets but to tell you the honest to goodness truth, when they’re not on the Street, their charm completely escapes me. I hope we’re still cool even though I confessed that to you. The Muppets took a couple of shots at this one; the first was in Episode 222 of The Muppet Show, in which Animal performed the song by himself. That show first aired in the summer of 1977. And then in 1994 we got the clip you just heard, from the Kermit Unplugged album.

And then there’s this one, from Hank Williams Jr. in 1984. I’m just going to play part of the song, but you really need to hear the entire thing for yourself. Hank adds an extra verse where he—no, I can’t spoil the surprise. Go listen to the record. And then get back to me and tell me if you made it all the way through without laughing out loud, because I don’t know what he thought he was doing there…


Oh, dear. Let’s cleanse our palates, because

It’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you about the artist whose greatest commercial success came from an alter ego he created that was based on a nickname from his younger years.


The artist in question is David Johansen, who was part of the proto-punk band the New York Dolls, but he found some genuine commercial success when, in the late 1980s, he put on the persona of an extra smooth lounge singer and called himself Buster Poindexter. “Buster Poindexter” is a name that people called him when he was a young intellectual thug growing up on Staten Island. Buster Poindexter’s big single, “Hot Hot Hot” only made it to Number 45 on the Billboard chart, but it also got to Number 11 on the Dance Club Play chart. That first Buster Poindexter album got to Number 40 on the Billboard Albums chart, and that’s as big a success as Johansen got, from a chart standpoint.

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