You often hear about a singer writing a song in a matter of minutes, but prior to the Beatles, few artists wrote their own songs. They had professional song writers to do that for you, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are just a few of the many well-known names for doing just that. There are of course hundreds who were not well known, but still turned out some fine songs. The writer of this week’s suggestion wasn’t too well known, but is the brother of a famous actor. The actor was Jon Voight.
Voight is best known for his roles is Deliverance, The Odessa File, The Champ, Midnight Cowboy, Mission: Impossible and the TV series 24, but his younger brother is Chip Taylor, who was born James Wesley Voight in March 1940 in New York and is also the uncle of Angelina Jolie. He began playing country music whilst still in high school and followed that with one year at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. Dropping out, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and play golf professionally, but after suffering a wrist injury, that didn’t work out so he decided to return to music and concentrate more on song writing.
It’s surprising that a man with a true-grit voice, reminiscent of a more tuneful version of Lee Marvin, has never had a British nor an American hit as a performer. But as a writer he’s done quite nicely. His first hit as a writer came in 1965 when Cliff Richard’s On My Word reached number 12 in the UK. Eight months later, the Hollies took his song I Can’t Let Go, first recorded by Evie Sands, to number two. “Ever since I was 18 or 19 years old, my drive was music and gambling. When I had my first hits, I allocated a certain amount of time to both. I never really slept much, so it was a lot of work and I loved both things,” remembered Chip.
Wild Thing is a very sexual song, but not subtle enough to get a BBC ban, and some perceived it as a parody, but as Chip told Marc Shapiro, “I treat all my songs seriously and there was an honesty to the song. Sure, when you break it down there’s not a lot to it. But when I was writing it, I was treating it as the most serious thing in the universe.”
In 1965, he got a job as a staff writer at April-Blackwood Music and one day received a request from a local rock band called The Wild Ones who had a residence at the Peppermint Lounge. The band, who became known for their outrageous hairdos, comprised, Jordan Christopher, Tom Graves, Tommy Trick and Eddie Wright. Incidentally, Christopher’s wife was the actress Sybil Williams who was once married to Richard Burton. The Wild Ones recorded it but couldn’t seem to get the public to buy it. Some demo copies of the song were sent to a couple of record companies in the UK and former singer, now producer and manager, Larry Page, got to hear it and wanted it for a new band he’d signed to his own Page One label, The Troggs.
The band whose name is a shortened version of troglodyte, meaning cave dweller, and whose line up was, singer Reg Presley, guitarist Chris Britton, bassist Peter Staples and drummer Ronnie Bond. They signed a deal with CBS in early 1966 and recorded one song called Lost Girl. The song got lost everywhere except for Sweden where it made number 16. So they signed the deal with Page and he played the demo to Reg Presley who seemed a bit miffed initially, he said, “I looked at these lyrics: ‘Wild Thing you make my heart sing, you make everything groovy’ and I thought oh my God, they are so corny what are they going to do to us.” Page was insistent as he had signed them, but they eventually relented and agreed to record it.
The song was released in April 1966 and went to number two in the UK getting stuck behind the Rolling Stones’ sixth number one, Paint It, Black. Many acts have covered the song including Tommy Roe, Jimi Hendrix, The Kingsmen, Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band and The Goodies to took their version to number 21 in 1975 as one half of a double A side with Nappy Love. Siouxsie & The Banshees’ spin-off project The Creatures had a go at it in 1981, as did, God help us, Rolf Harris in 1993. That same year, two body builders from Gladiators had a minor double A-sided hit; Shadow teamed up with Edwin Starr for a re-working of War and Wolf joined forces with the Troggs for another go at Wild Thing. Sadly, it stalled at number 69. Chip Taylor said, of it, “I guess it is the most covered song on the planet particularly if you include all the kids who learned guitar by playing it.”
Fortunately, the Troggs didn’t have to wait long for their number one hit, their follow-up, With A Girl Like You, in July the same year, spent two weeks at the summit. Their eighth UK hit was Love Is All Around which Presley wrote and made him a neat little profit when Wet Wet Wet covered it in 1994 and spent 15 weeks at the top. Thankfully, Marti Pellow did us all a favour and had it deleted because, he claimed, he didn’t want to compete with Bryan Adams’ record-breaking 16-week stay at the top. In truth, he was probably sick of it too. Thankfully, it made way for a Danish beauty to enter at the top with her debut hit in the shape of Whigfield.
Chip Taylor wasn’t quite so lucky, he had a much longer wait to get his name on a UK number one hit. His wait was 35 years for Shaggy’s hit Angel to make it and that’s all because it sampled Taylor’s song Angel of the Morning.
In the late 90s, Presley used the royalty money from Wet Wet Wet’s version of the song to fund his interest in Alien Spacecraft and crop circles which he noted in his book Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us published in 2002. Presley was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011 and died two years later.
Looking back, Taylor, who is now 83, said, “I felt the Troggs captured the essence of the song and I also I loved what Hendrix did with it. Jimi took the song one step further with this really amazing, sweaty strum. I also liked what Prince and Warren Zevon did to it, it’s been great to watch over the years as people have taken it in so many different directions.”