Raise a pint to Reg Presley, the singer and co-founder of the Troggs, who died Monday at age 71 after a battle with lung cancer. Yes, of course, stand at attention for the band’s mega-hit, “Wild Thing,” and for the primal pleasures of its three-chords-and-a-yowl philosophy.
But please, dig deeper, because the Troggs (born in the early 1960s in Andover, England) at their best were one of the most primal of the early garage rock bands, a dangerously regressive bunch of thug-rockers whose attitude on love, life and their place in the world helped spawn an entire movement. Their debut album, "From Nowhere ... The Troggs" (released Stateside as "Wild Thing"), is an underappreciated gem, and their output from 1965 through 1970, while pocked with missteps, showcases a band whose influence on future volume-abusing music is notable. In the grooves, you can hear the seeds of Iggy Pop’s Stooges, of MC5, Motörhead and the New York Dolls. The Troggs were proto-punk personified.
Take the rhythm-heavy bummer ballad “Our Love Will Still Be There.” A desperate, defeatist cry of irrationality whose opening line, delivered by Presley, describes the band’s world view in its first stanza: “I believe that in years to come when the mountains have crumbled to dust/And all the oceans have run dry, and the cars on the streets turn to rust/Our love will still be there/Our love will still be there.”
Sounds like a nice day for a picnic, but Presley and his underrated complex baritone goes further. In the next stanzas, he imagines a world without rain, a time when the stars have vanished, the wars have been fought, day has joined night and babies no longer cry. What remains? “Our love will still be there.”
The lyrics suggest the final words of a desperate man. No rainbows, puppies, floating hearts or flowers for Reg and his woman. Instead, dirt, starless darkness, dead soldiers and silent babies. Ah, love.
Another revolution can be found in “I Just Sing.” Echoed, down-tuned and guttural, the song sounds as if it were recorded in the Velvet Underground’s dungeon, and Presley paints himself with a desperate kind of loneliness. As thumping tom-tom drums pound with a back-of-the-room harpsichord offering a gorgeous counterpoint, Presley explains that when he’s feeling overwhelmed, lonely or frustrated, he has a solution: “I just go to my bed/Put my hands on my head/And I sing.”
Presley and guitarist Chris Britton were a force, as was a rhythm section of drummer Ronnie Bond and bassist Pete Staples that avoided simple basslines, snare drums and cymbal crashes in favor of tribal pounding and bottom-end beats. Here, it’s as hard and powerful as the best tracks from the Rolling Stones, the Who or the Yardbirds from the same era. No wonder Jimi Hendrix honored the Troggs with a cover of "Wild Thing."
“From Home,” another standout track, borders on creepy: “I need your loving, I can’t wait long,” Presley sings to a driving backbeat and a fuzzed out guitar line. “I get this feeling, it comes on strong/I try to see you, you’re always gone/From home, girl.”
As the song continues, Presley reveals her to be an obsession, notes her fancy clothes, her nights out, then wonders how she does it: “Where you get your money, no one knows,” he sings, suggesting both envy and a little disgust.
It’s a rough song, one that tackles rocky feelings with fury and honesty. Presley did that throughout his musical life (The Troggs' "Live at Max's Kansas City" album from 1981 is shockingly heavy), and though his band didn’t leave as big a mark as others of the era, its volume and energy left a powerful mark on future punk rockers and metal heads. Without the Troggs' aggression, the world would be a much quieter place.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit