1979: The Cramps - “TV Set” (Demo)

“TV Set” is quite possibly the most twisted song in The Cramps’ long, depraved catalog. Their debut album, the magnificent Songs the Lord Taught Us, is bursting at the sutures with horror movie imagery: teenage werewolves, zombie sock hops, girls with mysterious facial-wear (the last of which I like to think of as a goofy EC Comics precursor to The Birthday Party’s “Jennifer’s Veil”). But there’s a quaintness to these other selections that doesn’t rest so easily on “TV Set.” It’s a love song written by a madman, an ode to the object of his obsession, whose dismembered body he has distributed among all his major appliances. The song is not without its own over-the-top sense of humor, but the ghoulishness of the subject matter colors it a shade or two darker than the tracks that follow it.

And that’s why it’s a shame that the version of the song that opens Songs is so anemic. Alex Chilton’s production helped bring some really interesting things out of those early Cramps recordings, but he didn’t seem to know what do with a snarling monster like “TV Set.” No, if you want the definitive recorded version of this bad boy, you’ve got to go back to the ‘79 demo sessions, packaged variously as The Ohio Demos 1979 and All Tore Up (the contents of both bootlegs are identical).

The difference is night and day, right? Knick Knox’s voodoo drum beat pounds like blood in your ears, Poison Ivy’s guitars are crisper, and Lux Interior’s vocals are a whole other level of unhinged. There’s more character to his delivery here — the little falsetto yelps that punctuate the thrice-repeated “flippin’, flippin’, flippin’ for ya/ Baby-oh” in the second verse, his unrestrained howl as he returns to the first verse at the song’s end. The dealbreaker, though, would have to be Bryan Gregory’s solos. The studio version thoroughly castrates him, burying his anarchic licks way, way down in the mix. But not so in the demo: this is weaponized guitar, big lacerating phrases that are barely content to keep contained within the song’s suddenly too-frail rhythm.

This is “TV Set” the way it was meant to be heard, in all its gruesome, assaultive glory. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to go back to the album version. It’s just a shame old Lux isn’t around to give it to us live anymore.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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