Sunday, April 6, 2014

Monks -- "Cuckoo" (1966)


Someone played a joke on me
That ain't very hard to see
Did you take my-y-y-y
Cuckoo, cuckoo
Who's got the cuckoo?

The Monks were formed by American GIs who were stationed in Gelnhausen, Germany in the mid-sixties.


Monks bassist Eddie Shaw talked about the varied musical backgrounds of the band's members in a recent interview:

[Drummer] Roger [Johnston] served as a clerk in a tank company.  He was from Texas and had played drums with local groups who played Texas swing music. He was influenced by big band drummers like Gene Krupa.  

[Organist] Larry [Clark] was a clerk in an infantry company.  He was from Chicago and had some classical training as a legitimate pianist.  He enjoyed the music of various blues organ players.  

[Rhythm guitarist and banjo player] Dave [Day] was an infantryman from Jim Hendrix’s hometown of Renton, Washington.  The first time he heard Elvis Presley, he knew that he had to get a guitar and do the same music.  Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and all those players from Sun Records Studios were also his heroes.  



[Lead guitarist and lead vocalist] Gary [Burger] was a truck driver for an artillery battery.  He grew up in a rural area of north Minnesota and learned to play guitar, influenced by a neighbor who played country music in a local band.  In the army he quickly adapted his playing to the Ventures and people like that.  [NOTE:  Burger died from pancreatic cancer last month, aged 72.]  

I was [assigned to] an artillery battery.  I had recorded my first LP in 1956 when I was 15 years old, playing trumpet in a Dixieland band.  My first job was at the Nugget Casino in Carson City, Nevada. Wayne Newton (about 14 years old at the time) was the headliner on the main stage and I played in the back room.  I was a jazz player, having played drums before trumpet, copying everything I could from Miles Davis. 

The Monks initially called themselves the Torquays.  One of the places they played was The Top Ten Club in Hamburg, where the Beatles had played between March and July 1961.

The Top Ten Club in Hamburg
But when the Torquays met Karl Remy and Walther Niemann, two German ad agency execs who have been described as "agent provocateurs" and "loopy existentialist visionaries," they changed their name to the Monks, and became the anti-Beatles.

Instead of playing Chuck Berry and Merseybeat songs, the Monks played primitive, noisy, pre-punk music, with simple lyrics -- not a bad tactic when you're singing in English before German audiences -- and lots of feedback.

And instead of wearing natty suits and ties like the Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and others of their ilk, the Monks dressed like demented monks -- black robes, nooses around their necks (instead of ties), and tonsured hair.


To say that the Monks were not always well-received by audiences is an understatement.  One attendee at a show in Hamburg attempted to strangle lead singer Gary Burger (who is currently the mayor of Turtel River, Minnesota -- population 77) for what the fan perceived as the band's blasphemy.

The Monks' one and only studio album -- Black Monk Time (1966) -- sold just 3000 or so copies in Germany.  (It wasn't released in the U.S. until years later.)

But today it is widely acclaimed by rock music critics, and is viewed as a very significant protopunk album.  The influential musicians who have praised it include Jack White (White Stripes) and Colin Greenwood (Radiohead).

Julian Cope (who is not only a major rock star but also an archaeologist who is an authority on Neolithic culture) wrote that "no one ever came up with a whole album of such dementia."  

Here's what London's Daily Telegraph newspaper had to say about that album when it was rereleased in 2009:

Listening to it now, finally, in full, remastered glory, it's hard to imagine how this primitive and often nightmarish music could have been allowed to be made at that particular time and place. . . . It may not be to every taste but, lurching according to its own sublimely clueless logic, it has a purity and heedlessness which can never be repeated.


You'd be hard-pressed to find another song on the album that lurches along more cluelessly and heedlessly than "Cuckoo."  

Maybe "Drunken Maria," which features these lyrics:

Sleepy Maria don't drink!
Drunken Maria don't sleep!

That's pretty much the whole song.  Click here if you'd like to hear it.

Here's "Cuckoo":



Here are the Monks performing "Cuckoo" live on German television.  Note especially the tonsures and the crazy banjo playing:



In 2006, a tribute album titled Silver Monk Time was released.  Click here to hear a cover of "Cuckoo" by the 5.6.7.8.s, an all-female Japanese rock trio.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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