Sunday, January 3, 2010

S - Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs - "Li'l Red Riding Hood"

You may not believe this, but there is more to Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs than "Wooly Bully" & the title cut of this record. Maybe not much more, but enough that it's a shame to see them relegated into two hit wonder status.

Like you, I was convinced that on the times that I did think of Sam & his buddies, I ended up more annoyed than anything, for, with the exception of "Stand by Me", are there any other 60's classics as overplayed as "Wooly Bully"? Sure it's a fun song and all, but you can't always be drunk (you may not believe that either, but it's because you're drunk). What changed my mind about Sam's relevance was the release of "Turban Renewal", the greatest tribute record of all time, brought to you by the benevolent souls at Norton Records. Remember in the 90's when tribute records were all the rage? Any artist of relevance had to be canonized with a cd full of their work being ruined by flavor of the month bands? Everyone had one - even cult artists like Syd Barrett & Skip Spence, as well as industry giants like Led Zeppelin & Leonard Cohen! And they all SUCKED!! Cheaply recorded, cheaply performed, cheaply packaged, they all reeked of ripoff (okay, the Skip Spence one was not too bad). But "Turban Renewal"? Excellent. The lineup was stellar, featuring some of the greats of low-fi garage punk (Untamed Youth, Devil Dogs, Nine Pound Hammer, the A Bones, Teengenerate) as well as underground legends (Hasil Adkins, the Lyres, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Roy Loney) performing the suprisingly awesome catalog of this "one hit wonder". True, some of these versions are, to my ears, a lot better than the originals due to the increased energy & volume, but certainly I realized Sam the Sham deserved a second hearing.

So I got this, their second record. And it's...okay. Never less than pleasant, but not some lost classic either. If you know "Wooly Bully" (and who doesn't), you know their sound: garagey cheesy organ-driven pop tunes with Tejano overtones. The Pharoahs are pictured on the record, but not identified, so I have no idea who's playing what, or if anyone from the band wrote these songs (singer/leader Sam Samudio co-wrote only 2 songs on this disc; one of them, "Pharoah A Go Go", is simply "Wooly Bully" without lyrics.) Most of the songs are somewhat humorous (the title track (obviously the best song on the record), "Deputy Dawg", "Green'ich Grendel", "The Phantom"), with only a couple of flat out lemons (due to "...Riding Hood" hit status, maybe they thought they could duplicate its success with junk like "Mary is My Little Lamb" & "Little Miss Muffet". Bad idea. Jeans. Plus I'm not sure if this version of "Hanky Panky" came out before Tommy James' better known classic, but it's absolutely rotten.) The record ends with its second best track, the goofy frat-rock of "Grasshopper" ("if she was a bottle, I'd want to be the stopper / I'm so glad she's not a blade of grass / cause that would make me be / a little grasshopper". That's actually pretty cute.)

VERDICT: go buy "Turban Renewal" here!!!!
VIDEO: I don't know if this is awesome or awful: it's certainly awkward when Ed Sullivan calls them all over then sends them away just as quickly. That said, "Ring Dang Doo" isn't on the album I just reviewed, but it was that or "Wooly Bully" again. Last plug for "Turban Renewal": listen to the Devil Dogs' cover of "Don't Try It". It SMOKES!

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