TRASH IS NEAT

Lessons The Cramps Taught Us

BILL WOOD | SEPTEMBER 6, 2022

The Cramps poster art by Bill Wood.

Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. I lived through nearly five decades of musical trial, tribulation and experimentation assuming The Cramps were just another really cool punk band. I never realized exactly how much they had to offer, or that Lux and Ivy were actually guiding us down the path to musical enlightenment. I now realize the error of my ways.

 

Yes, The Cramps were a really cool punk band. But they were also so much more.

 

Formed in the mid '70s by the husband and wife duo of Lux Interior (vocals) and Poison Ivy (guitar), The Cramps spent much of their 30-year career delivering high-octane rock n'roll to sweaty, packed clubs and theaters across America and Europe. They were mainstays on the original CBGB punk scene before relocating to Los Angeles to continue their career throughout the '80s and beyond. The band's unique style was influenced by surf, garage, blues, rockabilly, burlesque and b-horror movies. Their early sound was defined by a garage-guitar-sans-bass sonic attack, perhaps proving to a young Jack White that it could be done. They literally coined the term "psychobilly," delivering deliriously demented gems such as "Garbageman" and "Human Fly" via the timeless rumble of the electrified guitar.

 

But The Cramps' legacy doesn't end there. You see, Lux and Ivy were true musical connoisseurs, and their passion for obscure record collecting eventually opened up new doors for those looking for something more than the latest Led Zep or Aerosmith long-player. Like their musical contemporaries The Ramones, Lux and Ivy longed for the days when rock n'roll was straightforward, exciting, and most importantly, fun. When it came to finding inspiration, they didn't reach for the lowest hanging fruit, instead they got out their shovels and started digging their way through vast musical graveyards. They embraced the discarded and the forgotten, artists long left behind in favor of trending musical currents. Because, as your local sanitation expert will inform you, one man's garbage is another man's treasure.

 

Case in point; Lux and Ivy's Favorites, a 17-volume collection of rarified musical gems that have been lost to the annals of time. Curated by a fine fellow named Kogar the Swinging Ape (and if you happen to be reading this Kogar, thank you), this exhaustive set collects the special songs that Lux and Ivy fell in love with during their life-long musical journey. Lux and Ivy name-checked these tunes in various interviews throughout their career, many of which have been out of circulation for eons. At the time of those interviews, it was probably assumed that these songs would be out of reach for all but the most devoted audiophiles, but years later they were traded, collected and assembled via the modern technological marvel known as file-sharing (Napster anyone?). Garage rock, surf rock, novelty, country, rockabilly, doo-wop, soul, from Sheriff and the Revels' "Shombolar" to Lord Luther and the Kingsmen's "(I Was A) Teenage Creature," it's all here and it's 100% goodness.

 

The songs on Lux and Ivy's Favorites may be eclectic and diverse, but they share one common trait; they're all immensely enjoyable. Singing ensembles such as The Clovers and The Blenders croon out raunchy ditties that must have raised more than a few eyebrows back in the day. Late-night horror host John Zacherle's "Dinner With Drac" should have been the next "Monster Mash." "The Rubber Room" is the psychotic country classic you never thought Porter Wagoner would sing. Roy Brown's "Butcher Pete" is a rockin' number filled with risqué double entendres that was later featured on the Fallout 3 soundtrack. Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey takes an organ solo. And if you've never heard the kitschy theme song to the b-chiller The Blob, well, shame on you. In an era when rock n'roll was becoming increasingly complicated and business-like, Lux and Ivy dove into the primordial soup to uncover songs that made them fall in love with music in the first place. The Cramps may have released an album called Bad Music For Bad People, but the songs included in Lux and Ivy's Favorites reveal exactly how tongue-in-cheek that title was.

 

Underground compilations are easy enough to track down these days. Back From The Grave, Garage Punk Unknowns and Hillbillies From Hell are just a few of my personal faves. But don't go searching for Lux and Ivy's Favorites on your favorite streaming service or online shopping site, it was never intended as such. In fact, these collections were never officially released in any format, their purpose was never to turn a quick buck. If you're savvy enough to find 'em, go and grab 'em, throw on some headphones and enjoy discovering these obscure gems. Lux and Ivy already did the heavy lifting for us, scouring their way through countless record store bins and discount aisles to prove that trash is indeed neat. - BW

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