Monday, June 08, 2009

'80s Monday: The Cramps

The Cramps are a little different from most of the bands I've written about in a couple of ways. First, they never had much success in terms of record sales in the US or the UK. Second, they never broke up, mainly because they were headed by a married couple, singer Lux Interior and guitarist Poison Ivy. Lux and Ivy were together for 37 years until Lux's tragic death from an aortic dissection earlier this year. (RIP, Lux.) Other members came and went, but Lux and Ivy stayed together through it all.

The Cramps were are one of my favorite bands, and when I was young I could never understand why they weren't more successful. Today, it's kind of obvious to me, though: they were just too extreme and too unique. They rocked like hell, and they rocked like nobody else. They blended punk and surf guitars with rockabilly, coining the term "psychobilly" (although what they did was a little different than bands that fit that genre today). Their sound was unique, often featuring two or three guitars, a stripped-down drum kit, and no bass. Their lyrics often referenced old B horror movies from the '50s and early '60s, or were filled with sexual innuendo.

Above all, their live shows were insane, mainly because of Lux. He's one of the few performers who bear comparison to the heyday of Iggy Pop. Lux may never have engaged in the kind of self-mutilation that Iggy sometimes did, but other than that, anything went. And Ivy, by contrast, mostly affected boredom, with an occasional sneer at Lux's antics. The effect could be hilarious, as you'll see in the "Tear It Up" video (if you're up to watching the whole thing).

They never had much success selling records, but these videos will show you why they were able to keep making music and selling out shows for 30+ years. Enjoy.

"What's Inside a Girl?" (c. 1986). This is actually a little subdued for Lux (though not for 99.9 percent of other singers) -- maybe because it was for TV -- so it makes for a nice warm up.

This isn't really a video -- "She Said" was the B-side on a single, so of course there was no official video for it -- but I love this song. And my five-year-old daughter loves to sing along with the chorus: "Woo-ee-ah-ah! Woo-ee-ah-ah! Woo-ee-ah-ah! Woo-ee-ah-ah! Woo! Ee! Ah!"
"She Said" (1981)

"Human Fly" live (filmed in 1981). This one gives the full Lux effect, although unfortunately the sound is a little bad.

"Tear It Up" (1981). This was the first Cramps song I ever heard, but I'm playing it last. For a reason -- Lux's performance is insane. And by insane, I mean obscene. And by obscene, I don't mean the language, I mean the performance. Actually, this video is a pretty good test. If you really and truly, deep down in your soul, ROCK, you'll think this is great, and you'll turn it up. If you're a normal person who just kind of likes rock music (not that there's anything wrong with that), well, you'll probably turn it off. So let me know in the comments: did you turn it up, or did you turn it off?

If you want to hear more of the Cramps, I recommend starting with Bad Music for Bad People.

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