Tuesday, May 02, 2006


The Jayhawks, Stranded in the Jungle.
The Cadets, Stranded in the Jungle.

"Meanwhile, back in the jungle..."

The pop cultural grandfather of all sorts of things, from the TV show Lost to the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away."

An axiom of '50s pop: If you had a hit, a half-dozen other labels would try to steal it. The game for the copycat labels was to A) make a record that so impeccably mimicked the original it would confuse the record buyer enough that she would buy the inferior disc; B) take a "black" record and smooth it out enough so white people would buy it (viz. Pat Boone); or C) make a record that was so much hotter than the original, that people would forget the original.

In this case, it's option C. Putting the Jayhawks' "Stranded in the Jungle" against the Cadets' version isn't much of a fight. The Jayhawks' main problem is that the lead singer just can't get it together--the guy sings in a half-mumble and can barely deliver his lines. The clammy stink of the cut-rate permeates the disc. After all, the poor Jayhawks' first record, "Counting My Teardrops," was so badly produced that you could hear a phone ringing in the studio in the background. "Stranded in the Jungle", the B-side to "My Only Darling," is almost as cruddy, its best feature being the solid rhythm the nameless studio musicians lay down during the "jungle" verses.

When the Jayhawks' "Stranded" began to get some regional airplay, the Cadets smelled blood. They were already sharks in the cover game, having rushed out versions of Nappy Brown's "Don't Be Angry," the Marigolds' "Rolling Stone" (which outsold the original) and had contributed to the never-ending "Annie" series with a single called "Annie Met Henry." So by 1956, the Cadets were R&B pros, and, led by the great lead vocal of William "Dub"Jones, they turn "Stranded in the Jungle" into the sort of Mad Magazine-meets-the-Robins bit of genius it was always intended to be.

But what do I know? As far as I'm concerned, this is a New York Dolls song.

The Jayhawks' version was released as Flash 109 (find here); the Cadets' was released as Modern 994 (find here). The Dolls' is on 1974's Too Much Too Soon (which is out of print?).

Top sketch: John Bratby, Self-Portrait.

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