Thursday, February 7, 2013

RIP Reg Presley: Wild Thing

“Reg Presley is dead.” I learned that Tuesday evening from a post made by one of the followers of this blog, Dennis Harris, on his Facebook wall. For many of you the name Reg Presley may not conjure an immediate response, but for me it did. You see, although Reg Presley wasn’t his given name (Reginald Ball was), he is immediately known to many aficionados of ‘60s rock as the lead presence in The Troggs.

Although the extent of their American success is limited to three and possibly four releases, the band continued to tour even after Reg Presley retired from the music scene in January 2012 due to complications from a stroke and the discovery that he had lung cancer. It was the latter that claimed his life on Monday, February 4, 2013. He was 71.

It is Presley’s iconic voice that we hear on The Troggs American hits of “Wild Thing,” “With a Girl Like You,” “Love is all Around,” and the minor hit of “I Can’t Control Myself.” While these four songs along with “Any Way You Want Me” were all Top 10 singles in the UK, the only two to chart in the Top 10 in the US were “Wild Thing” at #1 in 1966 and “Love is all Around” at #7 in 1967.

I’m not sure when I became aware of Presley’s identity outside his name being listed on the songwriting credits, but I think it was from a book about the history of rock that a friend, Judd Fritchey, loaned me in during my junior year of high school. I remember reading it during a bout of the flu one winter and taking notes on the various bands that were listed in this volume.

Presley’s voice had rough edge and his style and was full of energy. It was not unlike others that came from working class Britain – such as The Beatles’ John Lennon, The Animals’ Eric Burdon, The Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger, and The Kinks’ Ray Davies. The Troggs, who had shortened their name from The Troglodytes, epitomized the garage band sound that would later inspire a generation of punk rock acts.

To honor Reg during this week of his passing, and to fulfill our typical Thursday Repeats and Threepeats feature, I have chosen the song “Wild Thing.” While it wasn’t issued at two different times in the US (it would be in the UK), it was simultaneously released on two divergent record labels.

It is not known specifically how “Wild Thing’s” master was leased to two American record labels, but it was issued to both Fontana, their label in the UK, and ATCO. Fontana, a subsidiary of Philips Records, had been established in the US in 1964 and was distributed by Philips’ American arm Mercury Records. When Mercury would pass on issuing a release from another company, the recording was then offered to other labels.

ATCO typically became the American home for many of these recordings and artists. Both Fontana and ATCO simultaneously released “Wild Thing”; however, each had a different “B” side. The ATCO version featured “With a Girl Like You” as the flip, and the Fontana release had “From Home” on the “B” side. “With A Girl Like You” would resurface as their second single in the US on Fontana.

Both ATCO and Fontana released the corresponding album that was issued by both companies as “Wild Thing” in the US. The original UK LP was titled “From Nowhere – The Troggs.” It is the only time in the US where a song on competing labels charted at #1 and both Fontana and ATCO were given credit in Billboard. Incidentally, their third US single “I Can’t Control Myself” was simultaneously issued by both with the same flip side, “Gonna Make You.”

“Wild Thing,” written by Chip Taylor, was originally recorded by The Wild Ones in 1965; however, it was The Troggs that made the song a colossal hit. Not only was it a #1 record in the US, it peaked the charts in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. It charted at #2 in the UK. If you notice on the ATCO version of the single, the songwriting credits were incorrectly flipped. Chip Taylor is credited with writing “With A Girl Like You” while Reg Presley is listed as the composer of “Wild Thing.” The publisher credits are also incorrect.

Another anomaly concerning “Wild Thing” was the use of an ocarina as the lead instrument in the song. Colin Fretcher, who was acting as the recording’s musical director, played the clay transverse flute. It is probably the reason that the guitar and bass in this song are not tuned to A-440, but are somewhat sharp – but not sharp enough to be played in A#/Bb. My guess is that the band tuned their instruments to the fixed tuning of the ocarina.

Ocarina master - Colin M. Fretcher

While it may be the only Top 40 hit with an ocarina, it certainly is the only #1 record to feature the instrument. Add the ocarina to the raucous guitar and the unique vocals of Reg Presley and a hit was born. Rest in Peace Reg and thanks for your many contributions to rock ‘n roll – you made “everything groovy.”

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