Wild Thing original
The Wild Thing original and a garage rock hit
American songwriter Chip Taylor wrote “Wild Thing” in the mid 60s. In April 1966, English band the Troggs released a version that spent eight weeks in the top ten and became a garage rock standard. However, six months previously New York outfit the Wild Ones released the “Wild Thing” original.
Artist turned record producer Gerry Granahan, who worked for United Artists, asked Taylor to write a song for the Wild Ones, a band well known for their outrageous hairstyles. Until then the Wild Ones had only performed covers, and Granahan wanted them to have their own song.
Brother of Jon Voight and uncle of Angelina Jolie, Taylor composed the “Wild Thing” original in one hour and recorded a demo version. He’s also known for writing “Angel of the Morning”. Artists including Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, PP Arnold, Janis Joplin, Juice Newton, Anne Murray, Ace Frehley, Jimi Hendrix, Chrissie Hynde, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris performed Taylor’s songs. Sadly, much of his songwriting earnings disappeared into his gambling habit.
The Wild Ones
In 1964 in Manhattan, socialite Sybil Burton (Richard Burton’s ex-wife) established the Wild Ones as a band. The group consisted of Armenian-American singer and hairdresser Jordan Christopher (who went on to marry Burton in 1965), Tom Graves, Chuck Alden, Tommy Trick and Eddie Wright.
The Wild Ones first gained attention in Burton’s posh New York nightclub, Arthur. Granahan signed them to United Artists in 1965. The Wild Ones recorded the album The Arthur Sound which made it to number 149 on the US Billboard. The Arthur Sound was promoted as a live album, but was actually recorded in a studio. United Artists withdrew the album once they found this out.
Recording & releasing the Wild Thing original
Soon after, Christopher left the Wild Ones to pursue a career in acting. In 1966, he appeared in Return of the Seven. Alden took over from Christopher as the Wild Ones’ lead singer. It was Alden who sung lead vocals for the “Wild Thing” original.
A recording engineer used his hands as a whistle for the solo halfway through the song. In their version, the Troggs imitated this sound using an ocarina (a terracotta wind instrument with finger holes).
The “Wild Thing” original came out in November 1965, but failed to chart. I think the song has a groovy 1960s sound. It’s less garage rock than the Troggs version, and perhaps less of a solid production, but it’s still a great rock ‘n’ roll song. In later years, Alden said he regretted not performing “Wild Thing” in the same style as Taylor’s demo.
The end of the Wild Ones
In 1966, Sears, Roebuck sponsored the Wild Ones to tour nationally. However, this wasn’t much more than a marketing ploy. That same year the band appeared with Christopher in the movie The Fat Spy, starring Phyllis Diller and Jayne Mansfield. This film featured in the 2004 documentary The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made and scored 2.7 out of 10 on IMDb. The Wild Ones soon split up following Arthur’s closure in 1967.
The Troggs formed in Hampshire, England in 1964. They took their name from “troglodyte” – meaning a cave dweller – which suited the caveman rock that they played. Their first single “Lost Girl” flopped. For their second single producer/manager Larry Page asked the band to choose between “Wild Thing” and “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” by The Lovin’ Spoonful.
The Troggs went with “Wild Thing” and recorded it at Olympic Studios in London, with Keith Grant as engineer. The band had limited session time, recording “Wild Thing” and “With a Girl Like You” in around 20 minutes. The songs were mixed live as the Troggs recorded.
Because of a dispute over US distribution rights, “Wild Thing” was released, along with the Troggs’ debut album of the same name, on two competing labels, Fontana and Atco. The pressings came from the same master recording, so Billboard combined the sales for both releases. This made “Wild Thing” the only single to simultaneously reach number one for two labels.
Success on two labels
In 1966, “Wild Thing” went to number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the UK Singles Chart. It ranked number 257 in Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. “Wild Thing” had a lasting influence on garage and punk rock. However, the Trogg’s success in the US was limited as they couldn’t tour there until 1968.
In addition to “Wild Thing”, the Troggs’ singles “With a Girl Like You” and “Love Is All Around” went gold, each selling over a million copies. By the time “Love Is All Around” came out in late 1967, the Troggs had moved from caveman rock to a more evolved sound. You may also recall Wet Wet Wet’s cover of this song made famous by the soundtrack to the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Over covers of “Wild Thing” include versions by Fancy, the Creatures (Siouxsie Sioux’s second band), X and Liz Phair. The Troggs themselves recorded a new version in 1993 which reached number 87 in the UK Singles Chart. Perhaps the most notable cover since the Troggs’ 1966 version was the one performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix introduced the song as the joint British/American “national anthem” and finished by burning his guitar.
I’d say that the greatest version of “Wild Thing” is the one by the Troggs. Lead singer Reg Presley’s vocals are iconic, stronger than Alden’s in the “Wild Thing” original. With a start-stop pattern inspired by Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”, the pauses, stomps and heavy guitar riff confirm this version as a garage rock legend.
Read more about unknown original songs with covers that came out in the 1960s here.
References Songfacts - Wild Thing Wikipedia - Chip Taylor Wikipedia - The Troggs Wikipedia - The Wild Ones Wikipedia - Wild Thing You Heard It Here First! (compilation & notes by Rob Finnis and Tony Rounce) © Ace Records 2008