There's something grungy and tactile about the music of The Cramps. On Songs the Lord Taught Us, you can hear singer Lux Interior freaking out, his grunts and panting are audible throughout the album. The songs are far from over-produced but are echoey and raw–a sound pronounced to perfection in Sunglasses After Dark, a super fun track and the one that got me hooked on this album.
Now, despite my love of vintage clothes, it's pretty well known that Rockabilly is something I struggle with. Blame the long, fedora capped shadow of the 90's, the decade that both molded and haunts me. But along with Chris Isaak, David Lynch and now The Cramps, I've learned there's some pretty cool stuff there. Taking cues from the fifties not only with their surfer sound, but drive in B-movie themes, the album is perfect for Halloween partying with songs titles like Zombie Dance, Strychnine, and I Was a Teenage Werewolf, all of which never sound like mere novelty songs.
The album is the brain child of freaky fun duo Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach, the only two permanent band members–though the guitarist Bryan Gregory most personifies the creepy vibe with his wild look. This is their first full length album and the start of a prolific, uncompromising career that once took them to performing live at the Napa State Mental Hospital, perhaps an excellently strange homage to Johnny Cash. It seems like a rock story of legend, but there's no questioning it really happened, and here's the video to prove it.
I was a bit surprised to find out this was released in 1979 because it sounds much more modern, but that's probably because of the wide spread influence they had on later bands including the Pixies, the White Stripes, and Jon Spencer. As the originals though, the band can easily be credited with inventing the Psychobilly sub-genre. It's fun to read reviews from back when the album was first released and see how truly unique the sound was; Dave Marsh from Rolling Stone said this:
Welcome to art-rockabilly, a merger of the sensibilities and guitar styles of Link Wray and Lou Reed. Actually, this concoction – like fried grasshoppers and chocolate-covered ants – isn't half as unpalatable as you'd imagine. It turns out that the Cramps have reinvented a modern version of surf music.