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Woo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo-Hoo (Soundtrack Sundays #2)

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Pecker & Kill Bill

The Rock-A-Teens / The 5.6.7.8’s: Woo Hoo
The Grid: Swamp Thing

Led by Vic Mizelle, The Rock-A-Teens were a rockabilly band based in Richmond, Virginia. They built up a following locally, a large part of their live appeal coming via a near instrumental originally known as Rock-A-Teen Boogie.

Mizelle certainly possesses a fascinating backstory. As a teenager he struggled to control himself and was known to bark like a dog and shout obscenities in public for no apparent reason.

Institutionalized, he was forced to undergo shock treatment. Luckily his family refused the option of a frontal lobotomy. It might seem strange now but it took until the mid-1970s for him to finally be diagnosed as suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome.

Music proved something of a saviour and by the time Rock-A-Teen Boogie was renamed Woo Hoo, life looked to be on the up.

Released in the late summer of 1959, Woo Hoo came out on the independent Doran record label, a subsidiary of Mart Records, owned by record shop owner George Donald McGraw.

The band jointly took the writing credit. Facts here are disputed but I think McGraw invented a story regarding a threatened lawsuit for plagiarism coming from Arthur Smith, the man who wrote and performed one of the great proto rock’n’roll records Guitar Boogie. And, yeah, Woo Hoo clearly bears a striking similarity to Smith’s 1945 song.

With the threat of lawsuit supposedly looming over them, the band were persuaded to sign Woo Hoo off to McGraw, who then awarded himself the sole writing credit.

Re-released on Roulette, a New York label with national distribution, the song now really took off nationally, spending twelve weeks on the Billboard charts in the second half of 1959. It peaked at #16.

The Rock-A-Teens began playing far outwith their Richmond base, one show seeing them share a bill with Arthur Smith, who reputedly claimed he knew nothing about any threatened lawsuit.

Two more singles and an album also titled Woo Hoo followed. These flopped and, within a year of the recording of their vinyl debut, The Rock-A-Teens disbanded.

Their biggest hit, though, has stood the test of time.

Ironically, The Revillos covered the song on their Rev Up album of 1980 where they changed its title to Yeah Yeah and claimed authorship too.

Woo Hoo was also selected for the soundtrack of Pecker, John Waters’ 1998 film which I’ve just watched for the first time since its release.

As we moved towards the millenium, Waters’ movies no longer struck many as that weird. Maybe the world had caught up with cinema’s great outsider.

While the Baltimore director was swimming in the direction of the mainstream and even talking about how he’d like to work with Meryl Streep, the mainstream itself was becoming a whole lot stranger. Just think of the success of The Jerry Springer Show and the celebrity status being accorded to the likes of John Wayne Bobbitt in the 1990s.

Independent films like Spanking the Monkey and Happiness made for far more uncomfortable viewing; Clerks was more potty mouthed and lo-fi while Something About Mary grossed millions at the box office and grossed out millions of movie-goers with a tale that was a million times more tasteless than Pecker.

And wasn’t Waters here just reflecting the feelings of the general public – that the art world is full of pretentious tossers all too eager to embrace the latest version of the Emperor’s new clothes?

With a whole new generation of independent directors like Quentin Tarantino on the rise, suddenly Waters was looking a little old hat even though films like Serial Mom and Pecker still made for entertaining viewing.

It would be Tarantino who would next boost the profile of Woo Hoo when he used it to great effect in his 2003 release Kill Bill Volume 1.

On first seeing this I suspected that the The 5.6.7.8’s might be a Q.T invention. Three supercool, identically dressed Japanese girls with a frenetic stage act playing an exuberant brand of surfabilly. Surely they were just too perfect to be real?

But no, they were a band. Formed in Tokyo in 1986, the track had been released back in 1996 on their Bomb the Twist EP.

Later the track was chosen for a number of high profile TV commercials, in America for Vonage and Chevrolet, while in Britain it featured in an ad (shot in Glasgow) for Carling lager.

Getting back to Pecker. Like many of his movies, it featured mainly music from Waters’ youth, here mostly American rock’n’roll era novelty tunes like Paul Evans’ Happy-Go-Lucky-Me and Leroy Pullins’ I’m a Nut.

The big musical number however was much more contemporary.

Utilised for a climatic scene where the New York art world find the urge to party with a bunch of blue-collar Baltimore eccentrics irresistible, this is The Grid and Swamp Thing. Time to embrace your inner hillbilly, folks!

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Soundtrack Sundays #1

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Roy Ayers: Coffy (1973)
Don Ellis & Julie Driscoll: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Before Hollywood began barfing out an endless stream of Fast and Furious Transformers, before streaming and DVDs, before even VHS and Betamax videos were an option for anybody but the rich, cinema going was a very different experience to what it is today.

In Britain, multiplexes didn’t yet exist. Cinema chains would not be given the same access to new releases ensuring film openings would be staggered. My local picture house was a Caledonian, which meant it would usually be showing a completely different set of new films to, say, Odeons or ABCs.

Coffy lobby card

Of course, this meant if you really wanted to see something that was just out you’d sometimes have to travel. I can remember, for example, getting a bus into the old Muirend ABC (known as the Toledo in its former heyday) to see Sheba Baby, a blaxploitation favourite starring Pam Grier. Memories of seeing Coffy are hazier but I think that I must have had to travel into Glasgow city centre for that one. And I vaguely remember it was part of a double bill, possibly with a kung fu flick.

Yes, back then, cinemas hadn’t got round to ripping off their customers at absolutely every available opportunity.

You could accuse Coffy of being formulaic and terribly dated. But it’s also utterly watchable and fantastic fun. Pam Grier is irresistable in the titular role. Few women have ever looked so foxy and been able to kick ass so effortlessly. ‘The baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad that ever hit town!’ as the publicity insisted.

She certainly has the most dangerous Afro in movie history. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

As with most blaxploitation movies, there’s a great soundtrack too. AllMusic claims it’s a ‘masterpiece on par with Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Isaac Hayes’ Shaft‘ which I reckon slightly exaggerates its value but vibraphone legend Roy Ayers does supply a steady stream of soul, jazz and funk grooves that complement the action very effectively. And that famous vibraphone of his does offer a very pleasing texture throughout.

Back then I doubt the score would have made much of an impression on me but all these years later I have to agree with Cullen Gallagher’s liner notes to the Arrow blu-ray re-release: ‘One can’t imagine watching Coffy without the music or listening to the album without seeing the film’s images in your head.’

Right on! This is Coffy is the Color:

Finally, a wee mention for drummer Dennis Davis, who provides the percussion here and would soon go on play with David Bowie and Iggy Pop on classic albums such as Station to Station, Low and The Idiot.

He was also sat behind his kit on many of Bowie’s live tours, including his final Reality Tour in 2003. Sadly, he died just a couple of months after Bowie, just over two years ago.

Moon Zero Two quad poster

Don Ellis & Julie Driscoll: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Hammer Films wasn’t all Count Dracula, Frankenstein, werewolves and creatures from the Black Lagoon.

Moon Zero Two attempted to exploit the success of sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey and the public obsession with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

If compared to Kubrick’s masterpiece, its psychedelic Pop Art vision of the future fails miserably. On the plus side is the booming John Barry-esque title track. Splendidly over the top and even slightly wonky in places – the music was apparently speeded up to better fit in with the animated opening credits sequence much to the annoyance of its composer, visionary Californian jazzer Don Ellis.

Julie Driscoll’s mesmerising, soul-searching vocals, though, save the day.

A cross between Twiggy and Aretha Franklin, psychedelic princess Julie will always be best remembered for This Wheel’s On Fire, a huge hippy era hit credited to Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and The Trinity, a name that didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

As for what turned out to be the final Hammer release of the 1960s, well, Moon Zero Two flopped and no soundtrack album has ever been released, helping to consign the title track to undeserved obscurity.

Here is Moon Zero Two:

For more on Roy Ayers: http://www.royayers.com/

For more on Julie Driscoll: http://www.mindyourownmusic.co.uk/julie-tippetts.htm