As I am sure you’re aware, I am a sophisticated man of the world, who derives no pleasure from rummaging through the trashcan of popular culture. But still, I bravely troll through the filth on your behalf. I like to think of it as a public service. After all, who would you rather hear about sleazy subcultures from? Permission to Kill, or some old geezer in a mac!
Today we enter the secret world of the ecdysiast – or if you prefer Burlesque Queen, Show Girls, Bump and Grinders, Stripteasers, Strippers, Exotic Dancers, Erotic Dancers or Lap Dancers. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to to it!
I am now at an age where going to a Strip Show doesn’t hold the lure that it once did. I am no longer the pimply youth attracted by bright lights and sins of the flesh. Now, most likely, I would be considered the ‘dirty old man’ in the corner. A figure to be scorned, pitied and ridiculed. However when I was younger, on the odd occasion I was known to frequent such establishments. My years at art-school encouraged me to admire and appreciate the female form, and if that’s a crime I’m sorry!
But the shows I went to back then, were positively primitive to the big clubs they have in the city these days. The shows I went to were mostly in hotels and pubs, with the blinds drawn down and doors locked, while an anemic girl would writhe around on the pool table (usually armed with a bottle of baby oil and shaving cream). If she was the fearless type, she may launch herself onto the bar and strut around from on high, allowing the punters ample opportunity to see the goods on display. It was nothing like a Paul Verhoeven film. Despite the rustic and slightly seedy setting, rest assured, I was dressed immaculately in a dinner suit, sipping a ‘Creole Scream’ (with one olive), because then, as now, I am a complete gentleman and a class act. The music back then, in these venues was always the same – a mixture of cock rock, Billy Idol and Prince. And of course let’s not forget Berlin – their song Sex (I’m a…) was a classic.
But times have changed. Strip Shows are big business these days, with lavish glittering establishments, with rock-concert standard lighting, and powerful sound systems blasting out the music at levels that make conversation impossible. Smoke machines spew out coloured plumes, keeping the atmosphere hazy enough to make sure that you cannot focus on the naughty bits – the actual ‘naughty bits’ that you paid good money to see. And furthermore, adding insult to injury, you have to take out a small loan just to buy a drink. Strangely enough, although the setting has changed, the music these days (in the fair city of Melbourne at least), still seems to rely heavily on 80’s cock rock. Bon Jovi’s Bed of Roses and Poison’s Every Rose Has its Thorns are still routinely given a good workout. But poor Billy Idol and Prince seem to have gone by the wayside.
But Strip Shows had a life long before my days (well, duh?), and pre-recorded music was not the norm. Often they had bands playing alongside the girls. That’s how the Beatles started! Of course the punters weren’t interested in the music, they came to see the girls, however many of these bands were tight little units. Admittedly the environment they were in, and the backing they were expected to provide, didn’t allow for too much variation, with most of the numbers not too far removed from the standard twelve bar blues. But to make their tunes just that bit more exotic – and strippin’s all about exoticism as much as eroticism – the performers would throw in a crazy organ solo, a fevered sax break, or even a bongo rhythm that made the tracks sound Middle Eastern or Tribal African. The soundscapes they created were attempting to conjure up visions of the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, ‘Primitive Jungle Love Rites’ or any other secret sexual fantasy world, including B & D – which gives us songs like The Whip, by The Creeps. But I am getting ahead of myself. Allow me to introduce you to Las Vegas Grind.
I first discovered the Las Vegas Grind series many years ago, very, very late at night, on vinyl, owned by a friend who had an absolutely staggering record collection. And as you have no doubt you’ve guessed, this series is devoted to old time stripper music. Bluesy, swingin’, wild stripper music! The albums are compilations featuring some underground nuggets and obscure performers. I doubt that you’d have heard of any of the artists presented (I hadn’t), but don’t let that dissuade you.
This review looks at Volume Six, the last in the series (but it could easily apply to all the albums), and this one is available on CD. The availability of the series does tend to fluctuate a bit, and finding some of the early albums is hard, but to be honest, unless you really, really love dirty stripping sounds (and I can appreciate that), then you probably only need to hunt down one album in the series to fill that seedy void in your music collection.
Let’s get down to brass tacks then shall we. Las Vegas Grind: Volume Six has twenty-six tracks – almost all killer, no filler. Highlights include Ray Gee and his Orchestra, with The Slouch, which features a cheesy slice of organ (imagine being at a baseball game), with suggestive ooohs and aaahs over the top, which fade into smooth harmonies. Bowlegs dish up One More Time, Part Two which is a piano (or should that be ‘Piana’) blues with a scat narrative over the top and some mean tenor saxophone. Johnny Little John & Guitar presents Johnny’s Jive which is a jangly guitar driven rocker, with some wild sax running alongside, and hammond organ spiraling along under the surface. The El-Capris get all primitive on our ass with Safari which is a rumbling tribal number with a hip shakin’ bongo beat. Omay Kay’s Turkish Coffee could come straight out of the Arabian Nights with a sound so familiar you’ll think you’ve heard it before – but can’t remember where. Freddy Scott and the 4 Steps take a page from the Wilson Picket handbook (via early James Brown) with Same Ole Beat, and The Ramrocks On the Rocks is Tequila in all but name. The Jaguars track, entitled, er… Jaguar taps into The Batman sound, and Ronnie Isle’s Wicked is straight ahead fifties, greased hair rock and roll. Of course I could mention a lot more, but music is not really an literal medium. It really needs to be heard to be appreciated.
As you can imagine, lyrics aren’t really are big part of this music. It is more about the musicians hitting a regular go-go groove and riding it. But many of the songs have lyrics of a sort. Sometimes they simply have a phrase repeated at the end of each twelve bars (such as ‘Tequila’). Here we have phrases such as ‘Cold Slaw’, ‘Spunky Onions Boy’, ‘Kaput’ and ‘Jaguar’. Bowlegs attempts a running commentary during his number, The Slouch, with ‘Holey-moley look at that over there’, and Johhny Little John reassures the listener that ‘It ain’t nothin’ but a titty’. With such silly lyrics, or I think ‘vocal stylings’ may be a better phrase, sometimes these numbers come close to being novelty songs, but as I have suggested, it really is all about the groove, and creating a mood and beat to which the girls can ply their trade.
Somehow listening to this music makes the strip shows of the past seem innocent and fun. I am sure that they weren’t and it was still about making money, and fleecing the customers. However, there is a sense of energy and spontaneity in these recordings that make it seem that a visit to a strip club was a visceral heart pounding adventure, rather than a soul sapping, mechanised money extraction system, like today’s clubs. I guess that’s a sad reflection on our times and how homogenised it has become.
Las Vegas Grind: Volume Six was released by Strip Records, Germany in 2000.