If there is one song that has been played more times by more bands in more garages than any ever written, it is probably “Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen’s classic 1966 hit. But if any other song warrants a place in the conversation, it would be “Wild Thing,” the three-chord masterpiece that became a #1 hit for The Troggs on this day in 1966 and instantly took its rightful place in the rock-and-roll canon.
“Wild Thing” was written in 1965 by a New York songwriter named Chip Taylor (born James Voight, brother of the actor Jon Voight and uncle of actress Angelina Jolie). After an unsuccessful version of the song was recorded and released by a group called The Wild Ones, Taylor’s demo made its way to England, where Reg Presley (born Reginald Ball), lead singer of The Troggs, fell in love with it. Like Taylor himself, who never took his biggest hit very seriously, Presley initially found “Wild Thing” to be a ridiculous trifle, but that didn’t stop him from having his then-hitless band take it into the studio. In a single take of “Wild Thing,” The Troggs captured a raw and thrilling sound that not only gave them a #1 hit, but also served as a formative influence on some of the key figures in the development of punk rock, including Iggy Pop, the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, all of whom credited The Troggs as forerunners.
There were other hits for The Troggs, including “With A Girl Like You” (1966) and “Love Is All Around” (1967)—but nothing to match “Wild Thing” in terms of success or influence. In fact, the most influential recording they made after 1968 was not of a song at all, but of an intra-band argument during a troubled 1972 recording session that was bootlegged out of the studio and passed around as “The Troggs Tapes.” On it, various Troggs can be heard bickering and cursing (137 times in 10+ minutes) in accents and language that served as the direct inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s 1984 seminal “mockumentary.”
“Wild Thing” was memorably performed by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, complete with burning guitar, and it was covered with some success by the L.A. punk band X in 1989, but it’s the Troggs’ version that has become a staple of movie and television soundtracks. With royalties earned from his band’s signature hit, Trogg frontman Reg Presley emerged as one of the world’s foremost experts on and largest sources of funding of research into the mysterious phenomenon of crop circles. He died in 2013.