The Story of the Troggs’ ‘Wild Thing': ‘It Was Raw’
The visceral power of the Troggs' "Wild Thing" drove the song to No. 1 a few months after its release in April 1966. Jimi Hendrix performed an incendiary version at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, but the Troggs' take remains the most primal. It was not, however, the original.
"Wild Thing" was penned in 1965 by Chip Taylor, who also wrote Janis Joplin's "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)." Taylor, the brother of actor Jon Voight, wrote the song for the house band at Arthur, one of New York's first discotheques.
"I got a call from Gerry Granahan, a writer and A&R executive for United Artists," Taylor told Uncut. "He said, 'I have a group I’m recording called the Wild Ones. We have three songs, and to tell you the truth I don’t love any of them. I’d like to get some cool little thing. I wondered if you had something you could send me over.'"
Taylor composed the song and recorded a demo in one day. "I was a very simple, unschooled guitar player," he recalled. "So I started banging out these chords, and it almost sounded like a drum as well as the guitar, because you could hear the beats my thumb was doing. I was just looking out in the street and letting this thing float, and all of a sudden it just felt terrific. It was just me closing my eyes and imagining I was with some sexy girl that I wanted to talk to. She was kinda mesmerized and I was trying to mesmerize her some more."
Listen to 'Wild Thing' by the Troggs
The tepid version produced by the Wild Ones went nowhere, and the song may have disappeared if Taylor's demo didn't reach Larry Page, the producer and manager of the Troggs. Lead singer Reg Presley told Classic Bands, "When I first heard it, I thought if this was done by a group with a bit of balls into it, then this could be a hit. And it was."
Page, who also managed the Kinks in the early days, produced instrumental albums with the Larry Page Orchestra. Near the end of one of the orchestra's sessions, Page called the Troggs.
"He said, 'There might be 10 to 15 minutes left at the end of the session, and I think we could fit in a bit of a recording,'" guitarist Chris Britton told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We got there and unloaded all the gear, and in the last 10 or 15 minutes of the studio time we jumped into the studio, they put some microphones in front of the amps and we recorded 'Wild Thing' and 'With a Girl Like You' in the same session in 10 minutes. And it was actually a live recording. In four-track mono. And then we just came out."
Listen to Jimi Hendrix Perform 'Wild Thing'
Britton explained how he achieved the sound that millions of garage-band guitarists have tried to duplicate. "The only effect on the guitar was a distortion pedal at the beginning to get that intro sound," he noted. "The rest of it was just of the sounds of the amplifiers turned up a little bit loud and a few dozen microphones around the place."
"Wild Thing" has been covered many times, but the Hendrix performance at Monterey, in which he lit his guitar on fire, is the most famous. "The demo was exactly the way that you hear it on the Troggs record, except that it was electric guitar instead of acoustic guitar," Taylor told Gibson. "I love their record. A lot of people don’t understand just how great that record is. When Jimi Hendrix heard it in England, he said it was the best thing he had ever heard. What Jimi did to the song was wonderful as well, but he was very inspired by the Troggs’ version."
"It was raw," said Presley, who died in 2013. "Music was starting at that time to go towards flower power. A lot of people say we’re the first punk rock. Well, when you look back and see how the punks started, they’re probably bloody right."