The Cramps

TrackSingle / EP / Album
Human FlyVengeance 668 / Gravest Hits
GarbagemanSongs The Lord Taught Us
I Can't Hardly Stand ItIllegal ILS 021 /
Bad Music For Bad People
Green FuzPsychedelic Jungle
The Natives Are RestlessPsychedelic Jungle
I Ain't Nuthin' But A GorehoundSmell Of Female
The Hot Pearl SnatchA Date With Elvis
Saddle Up A Buzz BuzzStay Sick!
Hipsville 29 B.C.Look Mom No Head!
Swing The Big Eyed RabbitFlamejob

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Contributor: Brian Greene

I don’t want to try and tell The Cramps’ story in a way that someone could get off AllMusic or Wikipedia. Instead I’ll begin with a personal anecdote that involves their music. It was moving day for me, in the heat of summer. I was back in my hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, after a failed experiment at trying to live somewhere else. I got a job at a crappy chain bookstore and an apartment in one of the city’s sketchiest neighborhoods. My earthly possessions at that time could have been contained in one small van load, but none of my friends were around to help and it was viciously hot out, so the move was still brutal, as moves tend to be. In my sweat-soaked condition I got a horrifying surprise when I went to put some of my junk in the basement of the unit, an area I hadn’t looked at when checking the place out before signing the lease; there was standing water down there. Before I could see whatever gnats or vermin were living around that water, I bolted out of the room and went out to the front of the building. As I stood there, somebody threw a plastic bottle that hit me in the head. I guess I could have tried to figure out which of my giggling neighbors who were standing around the building had been the culprit in the bottle assault, but instead I shook my head in their general direction and went to the liquor store and bought a pint of Old Crow bourbon. I came back home, drained the whiskey mixed inside a large fountain Coke I got at Popeye’s Chicken. I was starting to feel better and now I wanted some music. It took me roughly five seconds of contemplation before I knew that music should be by The Cramps.

I put in the tape I had of all my favorite Cramps songs. I stretched out on the living room floor and set the speakers of my cheap Emerson stereo so that one of them was right up against each of my ears. I jacked up the volume and hit “play”. I was immediately transported to a place where nasty heat and shitty neighbors didn’t matter. That music. Through the band’s unique alchemy it was somehow funny, sexy, rockin’, trippy, and mean all at the same time. It was as if someone had stirred up a brew that contained equal parts of an amphetamine-fueled rockabilly combo, a garage band on acid and playing fuzz anthems, and a burlesque act, and all of it done in the headspace present on the set of a Russ Meyer film. I was being tickled at the same time I was having my head pleasantly bent and my libido activated, was laughing and rocking out in equal measures. The Cramps are funny. That’s one of the best things about them. But what’s even better is that they can have that humor about them without ever being reduced to a novelty act. They’re nowhere near that.

For me, as likely for many of their fans, their very best records are their earliest ones. When dual masterminds Lux Interior and Poison Ivy had iconic guitarists Bryan Gregory and then Kid Congo Powers on board, as well as longtime drummer Nick Knox. Their first LPs, Songs The Lord Taught Us and Psychedelic Jungle, the early singles collections, Gravest Hits and Bad Music For Bad People. When Alex Chilton was producing them and the taste-making I.R.S. label put their stuff out. Their later releases are, for me, good but spottier. Where the early stuff is such that you don’t ever want to skip a single note, the later records became more of a thing where there were those two or three instant classics and the rest was fine but not something you needed to hear over and over. The one exception I’d make to all that is the ’90 album Stay Sick!, which I feel is strong throughout and their third best full length effort just behind those first two.

I saw them in Norfolk around the time of ‘91’s Look Mom No Head! and then again in Washington, D.C. in the late ‘90s, maybe when they were promoting ‘97’s Big Beat From Badsville. Both shows were outrageously good, Lux and Ivy each inspired perfomers whose interpersonal chemistry was always so much of what made the band what they were. I met them around 2003, when they wandered into the D.C. record shop I then managed, on a day when they were playing the 9:30 Club. I can still see and hear Lux taking the younger band members to our DVD section and giving them a little lesson about some of the B-movies I had stocked there. I had a nice chat with Ivy, who was personable.

So that’s it. If you’re new to the band go to AllMusic or Wikipedia or wherever you like to read these things, and learn the details of their story. Whether you already know that story or not, I hope this take on them has done something for you. They’ve been a favorite band of mine since I first heard them around 1985 or so. I just gave their catalog a fresh listen before writing this article, and had all the same wild sensations their stuff has always given me. I’m cramped. And happy to be so.

The Cramps website

The Cramps on AllMusic

The Cramps biography (iTunes)

You can find Brian Greene’s blog here.

TopperPost #314

1 Comment

  1. Matt Roberts
    Apr 25, 2015

    Damn man! I wish I had thought of doing The Cramps. What a fine band, and a fine piece. Thanks!

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