Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Cramps “File Under Sacred Music: Early Singles 1978-1981”

(Munster) I initially thought this amazing collection of early Cramps singles was redundant…in my mind this stuff was super available. Their first LP, “Gravest Hits,” I recalled collected their singles, but I pulled it out and it was only the first three, and I remember a giant, easily available bootleg-ish box set from the 90 that had a shirt, poster, picture disc, and CD repros of the singles, but it only had two discs and they were shitty. The “Off the Bone” LP was the easiest place to find most of these tracks, but its great 3-D cover eschewed all the original artwork of the amazing 45s. So from simply an archival perspective, this new set that comes either as ten 45s with reproduced original sleeves (and a few fake ones for tracks that were never on 45s) or a handsome CD with a beautiful book showing all the original front and back sleeves, is a must have. But even if you are the kind of Cramps fan who has engaged in the kind of rigorous hairy-palm producing activities that led to early-onset blindness, you will still thoroughly dig this even without seeing the artwork, as these are some of the most important tracks ever recorded. As we posited in our Lux obituary, in addition to sounding as good as anything ever, and being showcased with the most dynamic stage shows in the history of punk, the Cramps’ early singles helped invent record collecting as we know it today. Sure they were just covering old garage rock and rockabilly singles, creating a new genre (psychobilly) by recasting a disparate collection of wildest records in rock history as something fresh and cohesive, but they weren’t getting these songs by buying Back From the Grave comps, or leafing through the Norton catalogue, or downloading from iTunes or going to “stores.” They were combing the backwoods, dusty resale shops, and any place in the South, Midwest, or parts unknown that lost 45s could be found. Sure, diehard blues and jazz 78 collectors have always followed the Lomax model of hitting the road and searching nooks and crannies for unknown sounds, but then they horded them or preached only to the snobby choir. Tthe Cramps took these forgotten records about menace, mayhem, skeletons, wrestlers, and rockin’, and savagely re-interpreted them as vital, timeless, frighteningly modern masterpieces, bringing them to the youth who didn’t know Charlie Feathers from Big Bird. This that not only helped revive the “careers” of Ronnie Dawson, Hasil Adkins, and the like, but it also helped create a new way of thinking about old records that has since bore decades of reissue/archivist triumphs. It’s also notable that their first few years, when still drunk on these discoveries, was the period when the Cramos (appropriately, on 45 rpm records) made their most vital, important, perfect songs. “Human Fly” and “Garbageman” are as great as anything they found behind a barn on their excavation journeys, and hearing all their best stuff in one beautiful package here should make it clear to the few squares who don’t recognize that the Cramps were the champs!

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