Tuesday, 27 May 2008

THE CHAKACHAS: Jungle Fever


I like charts. I know full well that they are manipulated on a whim, don’t really give the full picture of which music actually is most popular in any given week or even on any given day; yet the regular change of order and the placing of disparate artists together appeals to my modest Aspergic desire for the world to make a sort of sense, even if the sense is only apparent to me, and the story they tell over half a century is an endlessly engrossing one, as much for the music which is missing or excluded as that which is included or accepted. Quite often charts are useful tools for debunking received opinion; this week’s featured Capital Gold retrochart, for instance, was the list from 14 December 1961 which pretty determinedly holed the deceiving notion that pop between Buddy and the Beatles was a bland, black hole, while the 24 May 1980 chart featured on Pick Of The Pops – the first chart that Ian Curtis did not live to see or hear – was a startling reminder of nascent apocalypse, from the “drift gently into mental illness” of “Mirror In The Bathroom” to Kate’s increasingly desperate “in, out”s in “Breathing”; it is beyond unsettling that the first post-Curtis number one was “Suicide Is Painless,” the vocal version of the theme from M*A*S*H*.

But there remain under-reported singles which have largely eluded me, buried in this complex mesh of orchestrated commercial history. I recently located “Jungle Fever” on a second hand CD; one of those hugely frustrating Friends Reunited year-by-year compilations (this one being 1972), 99% of which consists of songs you already own half a dozen times over but also includes that one canny curveball of a track which is hard to find elsewhere and thus one has to resign oneself and dig into the petty cash for the pound required to own it. Hugely irritating, but research and pleasure are so subtly intertwined.

I never saw the film Boogie Nights, in which “Jungle Fever” was apparently featured, and had otherwise never previously or knowingly heard the track, even though subsequent exposure reveals that it’s been sampled on a couple of dozen, if not more, rap standards. The Chachakas were a Belgian group who had apparently been going for some time, if their 1962 UK Top 50 entry “Twist Twist” was anything to go by, but “Jungle Fever,” described in I Wanna Be Sedated as a “pre-Donna Summer/Spike Lee/Plastic Bertrand orgasmatron” – so you understand why it was vital for me to hear it – was their big moment; a million-selling top ten hit in the States but only just scraping into the Top 30 in Britain, and its playing on Radio 1 was not exactly encouraged (which no doubt explains its stalling at #29).

It stands as a fairly secure halfway house between “Je T’Aime” and “Love To Love You Baby”; a slow, sneaky groove of modest percussion, crouching dragons of horns and hidden tigers of smack dab funk guitars intermittently interrupted by nearly wordless pre-coital female moans and exhortations (apparently voiced by the wife of Tito Puente!) with the occasional disturbing shriek of “No, no, NO!,” always climaxed by a low blow of flatulence from the trombone. Eventually a male voice joins in this echt-bestiary, and soon they are panting and clambering over each other, particularly in the climactic interlude where everyone drops out except the tambourine player, relentlessly shaking his or her thing while the lovers (if lovers they be) get down to basics. Then it ends with a decisive trombone expiration and a sigh of intense satisfaction. As persuasively cheesy as any of the Vampyros Lesbos-type cult fare from the same period, even though listening to it I am already visualising a 1972 bedroom painted in a singular shade of pink and populated by Derren Nesbitt and Gabrielle Drake, earning the money for (they hope) better things.

4 comments:

david said...

Ah, Gabrielle Drake. I paid close attention to her in 74 because of my devotion to her sibling and was briefly smitten, but after his death I could never quite bring myself to fancy her - she looked too like Nick.

'Boogie Nights' is a fine film - you ought to check it out. Getting 'Jungle Fever', which I don't recall at all, took me a few minutes at the place where approximately seven of the million and a half people online had it in their collection. Not as interesting as finding it in a second hand store but a lot less time and space consuming. It's a bit of a gem, isn't it? Certainly be keeping it in in my iTunes collection.

Enjoyed your recent posts on Eurovision at Popular and, here, on the Portishead album, which has just been displaced by the new Hold Steady in my iPod most played list. But something tells me 'Stay Positive' is not your cup of tea...

Marcello Carlin said...

Not really, I'm afraid; I fully sense why The People go for stalwart and heartfelt irony-free rock and there's clearly a need for the confident and hearfelt likes of the Hold Steady but to me it's a bit like watching a Japanese stand-up comedian when you don't speak Japanese.

My beef with Gabrielle D at the time was: surely she could have done better than Kelly Monteith?

(and I'm sure she did another movie of this type which involved close contact with youthful seventies sex god Richard Wattis but I really don't want to go there...)

david said...

'stalwart and heartfelt irony-free rock' doesn't really describe the Hold Steady. They're more Springsteenesque rock-pop with cynicism tinged songs about drugged up/drunken fuck ups trying to still make sense of the world as they head towards their forties yet still behave like they're students. Actually, you might just like them lyrically. But not musically.

Nigel said...

I have an earlier album by the guy who wrote "Jungle Fever". The cover along should prove a few moments' amusement. What a difference a decade made back then.

See:

http://ortho-bob.livejournal.com/379364.html