The Cramps: File Under Sacred Music; Early Singles 1978-81 (Munster Records/Southbound)

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The Cramps: Love Me
The Cramps: File Under Sacred Music; Early Singles 1978-81 (Munster Records/Southbound)

The seriously silly but fright-night funny, ridiculously retro but cutting-edge punk Cramps just kept cracking reductively simple covers of B-grade 50s rock'n'roll, raw rockabilly and thrash-trash two-minute songs beamed in from sci-fi drive-in movies.

Their references, at the height of New York punk then New Wave, were surf rock guitars, coffin-kickers like Screaming Jay Hawkins and menacing spook-crawlers like Ronnie Hawkins' classic cover of Bo Diddley's Who Do You Love (“I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra-snake for a necktie . . .”)

The itinerant Cramps – fronted by Lux Interior who died in 2009, and his wife/guitarist Poison Ivy – brought drama, leopard skin pants, humour and a necessary sense of history to the CBGBs punk scene.

While influencing garagebands, they never got mainstream attention like Talking Heads, the Ramones and Television. But they were constantly moving, to Memphis to record with Alex Chilton (of the Box Tops/Big Star), to low-rent Hollywood, and they embraced Sun Studio echo and a distinctive sleaze factor.

This 22 song collection of ragged, cartoon rock'n'roll imbued with a deep love and understanding of the genre is soaked in voodoo caricatures, rattling bones, rebel-kind thinking and reverb.

They take on Surfin' Bird (which the Ramones also covered) and Jack Ross' The Way I Walk, Fever, The Crusher and other low-rent classics . . . and also throw in their own generically correct songs (one of them appropriating the Twist and Shout title). 

It is ancient knowledge and in this time of music manufactured for a marketplace, the title is timely and right: “File Under Sacred Music”.

Want to hear what was on the Cramps' jukebox at home? Then go here.

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