Munster Records 2012
10 x 7" Vinyl Singles + a stamped envelope with memorabilia.
Very well done compilations of The Cramps early singles. Plus some tracks from the same period that were never issued on the single format. The vinyl box-set contains six repro sleeves and four new sleeves designed for this box-set.
The Cramps were record collectors before they were a band. When Erick Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace met in 1972, they discovered they were both into the same kind of thing: the music of 15 years or so earlier that had been all about kitsch and shock and sleaze, with shitty sonics and snarling, hiccuping singers, and hilarious over-the-top bravado. In the early 1970s, being into "50s rock'n'roll" meant American Graffiti and Sha Na Na and "Happy Days". Wallace and Purkhiser preferred the nasty also-rans-- the records that actually tried to be the threat to society that people sometimes pretended pop music could be.
It wasn't much of a leap to starting their own band in the same mode. Purkhiser reinvented himself as Lux Interior, the slavering, writhing, nearly naked, ectomorphic frontman of the Cramps, and Wallace was Poison Ivy Rorschach, a "bad girl" in leather and wigs and velvet who tore off one ichor-dripping 12-bar guitar riff after another. They didn't have a whole lot in common with their early punk scenemates other than big guitar noise, but punk rock gave them license to do sleazy, shocking, sopping wet rock'n'roll without having to bother with the usual thin veneer of respectability.
The Cramps were an institution for over 30 years, until Lux's death in 2009. They were one of the few punk-era bands who were well served by aging, since they were trying to come off like creepy, depraved old people in the first place. But they were always a better singles band than an album band, and a way better live act than a singles band. Most of the songs that made their reputation are collected on this suitably trashy set. The vinyl version of File Under Sacred Music is, appropriately, a "collectible" box of the band's first 10 singles in replica sleeves--or rather, it would be except that four of them were never actually issued as singles at the time. (The Cramps always did snicker at anything that claimed to be authentic.)
That's probably the ideal way to hear this material: Lux, Ivy, and their ever-rotating associates made the kind of strong, silly records that are best in hot-sauce doses of between three and six minutes. They occasionally came up with fabulously personal-space-invading originals like "Human Fly" and "New Kind of Kick", the latter of which features two lines that explain their raison d'être: "Life is short/ Filled with stuff" and "I learned all I know by the age of nine." The better part of File Under Sacred Music, though, is the crate-digging covers that were their calling card.
Their first single (produced, like a lot of their early material, by Alex Chilton) was a cover of one of the most familiar trash-rock staples, "Surfin' Bird", extended to five minutes with a sloppy gnarl of guitar and drum noise. They subsequently shied away from anything that familiar. Instead, they turned their attention to obscurities whose quirks they exaggerated to the point of perversion. Jack Scott's "The Way I Walk" was slowed down to a psychotic limp, with Lux hyperventilating every line and Ivy screaming bloody murder in the background; Ronnie Cook & the Gaylads' nutty novelty "Goo Goo Muck" turned into a hilariously lascivious threat on which Lux shrieked, trilled, gurgled, and enunciated the title like it referred to whatever bodily fluids your parents feared most.
The title of File Under Sacred Music is a joke about the dusty record stores the Cramps loved, as well as about their own discography: Songs the Lord Taught Us was the title of their first album, Songs the Cramps Taught Us the name of one of the many series of bootlegs of the original songs they covered. But the amazing, out-of-control music they saved from oblivion could show them up, at least on record. To hear the Novas' feral pro-wrestling novelty "The Crusher" ("Do the hammerlock, ya turkeynecks!") next to the Cramps' cover is to understand the difference between lunatics who've somehow ended up with a mic in front of them and record collectors doing a solid, deliberate impression of lunatics.