Not many artists can claim to having a hit single twice with the same song. But the Wailers from Tacoma, Washington accomplished such a rare feat. A snazzy instrumental, “Tall Cool One,” peaked at No. 36 on the national charts in 1959, and nearly duplicated the position, reaching No. 38 five years later.
Although the Wailers never repeated the widespread commercial success they reaped with “Tall Cool One,” they continued producing ultra-cool music and were duly deemed the most influential band throughout the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The group also ran their own label, Etiquette Records, that not only distributed their wares, but other local acts — most notably the Sonics, who proved to be as inspirational as the Wailers.
Containing tracks from 1965 to 1967, Livewire!!! (Norton Records) illustrates how the Wailers seamlessly synthesized their blues and soul roots with a contemporary bent along the lines of the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Seeds. Raw and reckless performances, involving squawking saxophones, thrashing drums, clanging guitars and gritty growls dictate the disc. The Wailers played punk rock and grunge rock before these terms were ever invented, making the band certified godfathers of both genres.
Quaking with stomping rhythms, “Out Of Our Tree” is as raunchy as raunchy gets, rivers of racing piano tinkles charge the greasy “Dirty Robber,” and the finger-wagging “You Weren’t Using Your Head” rattles and rolls to a buzzing blend of intimidating vocals and creaky structures.
Covers of Little Richard’s “Bama Lama Bama Loo” and the Beatles’ “I’m Down” are rehashed with limitless energy and passion, while a treatment of the Motown classic, “Baby Don’t Do It” bristles to a steamy, sludgy groove. Ditching their wild ways for a brief moment, the Wailers turn on the folk rock charm with “It’s You Alone,” which evokes the spirit of Gene Clark of the Byrds. Driven by chiming chords, an aching croon and pristine melodies, the heart-tugging ballad is a real beauty.
Stuffed solid with wickedly loud songs, screaming with urgency and force, Livewire!!! represents authentic garage rock at its best. The Wailers were a great band, and their love for the music they played is evident on their exciting records.
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