The Pulp and Pop Culture Box - Various Artists: CD Review

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The Rockbeat record label have been responsible for some of the coolest reissues I have seen lately. A few recent must-haves from them include Magic Sam's Raw Blues Live, Dickie Goodman's Long Live The King, Jack Kerouac's Blues and Haikus, and the fabulous four-disc Surf-Age Nuggets. The Surf-Age set contains 104 tracks, mostly songs, but also period-perfect bits such as a "Surfing Soft Drink Commercial," and the trailer for the Horror of Beach Party movie. Awesome stuff to be sure, but I think they may have topped it with their new Pulp and Pop Culture Box.

The Pulp and Pop collection is another four-CD affair, with a total of 115 cuts. Each disc has a theme, and comes complete with period-perfect artwork from compiler James Austin. The results are stunning, four individual compilations of some of the wildest and most obscure singles from the 50's and 60's. Although there is not a lot of information about the artists, the year the songs were released is listed. It is really all in the music anyway, and what amazing music it is.

Rock & Roll Invasion

The first disc of the set boasts some of the greatest cover art I have ever seen. Two astronauts are on what appears to be the Moon, one floating along with a Fender Strat in hand. With the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Space Race was officially on, and the Invasion collection celebrates all aspects of it. Sputnik itself is the subject of two songs, "The Sputnik Story," by Bill Thomas and "Rock Old Sputnik," by Nelson Young. Martians are big too, in fact the opener is "Man From Mars," by Butch Paulson.

The novelty aspect of all things outer space is also well represented. My favorite is "X-15," by Johnny Bond. Record geeks may know the name of Johnny Bond from his hit single "Hot Rod Lincoln," which was later covered by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. "X-15" is "Hot Rod Lincoln" with a flying-saucer twist. In keeping with the madcap "Invasion" theme, we also get some classic drive-in movie trailers, such as the one for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Possibly the best of all is the closer "Unknown Preacher Flying Saucer Sermon."

Voodoo Dolls

The cover is a green-tinted vision of disembodied hands pushing straight pins into a voodoo doll. Spooky stuff, and spooky songs here. A lot of the interest in voodoo came from returned G.I.'s who had spent time on South Pacific islands during World War II. There are a lot of great songs here, but a few of my favorites are "Voodoo Doll," by Glenda and Glen; "Watusi Zombi," by Jan Davis; "Voodoo Drums," by Akim; and "Oh Oh Mojo," by The Volcanos. The trailer for Rob Zombie's favorite film White Zombie is also featured.

Teenage Rebels

Slicked back hair, black leather jacket, cuffed Levis, and an ever-present Lucky Strike mark the 17 year-old guy on the cover as Trouble with a capital "T." And that sweet young pony-tailed gal slouching on the stairs with him looks every bit as dangerous as well. The couple who adorn Teenage Rebels were pulled straight from the juvenile delinquent pulp books of the day. With songs like "Rumble Rock," by Kip Tyler; "Betty Lou's Got a New Tattoo," by The Creep; and "Booze Party," by Three Aces & A Joker, the music inside this set is just as provocative as any Ace Books title.

America was both fascinated and revolted by these "juvies," and the movies reflected it as well. Trailers for Damaged Goods, Reform School Girls, and the immortal Jail Bait add to the kicks. For a taste of the truly weird, Austin includes the phenomenal "Sex Education," which is a real "1950's Instruction Record," and a stone gas.

Wild Guitar Instrumentals

King Kong wields the mightiest axe in town of the cover of the final disc. Cut for cut, I have to give it to this collection as the best of an amazing bunch. "Wild Guitar Instrumentals" barely describes the manic music here. I have always considered Dick Dale to be a pretty wild guitarist, and The Ventures and Wailers did some great stuff as well. The artists on this collection hail from that era, but are as obscure as they are fantastic.

In the liner notes, Austin refers to "sorting through the vinyl landfill, looking for buried treasures." Just about everything on this set qualifies. When it comes to novelty records, their very nature is to quickly come and go. These guitar instrumentals are something else entirely though. I recommend every track on this, without reservation. In fact, I am looking into finding full albums by a few of the artists, including The Mustangs and The Corvairs, who knocked my socks off.

After listening to the Pulp and Pop Culture Box, I had the funniest feeling. Those Leave It to Beaver days of "I Like Ike," and Kennedy's Camelot are remembered  as being oh-so innocent. But the stuff on this box set is much more subversive than anything around these days, at least it is to me. I'm sorry, but I just do not feel that the calculated "decadence" of Lady Gaga and her ilk have anything on these crazed teens.

To quote from James Austin's notes one final time, "These recording belong in the Haywire Hall of Fame!" I could not agree more, and they also belong in every discerning record lover's collection.