Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #5: "I Got Your Number" by The Sonics (2015)

In early 1988, I owned exactly two songs by the Sonics in my music collection, which was then mostly comprised of LPs, 45s, and a good-sized stack of audiocassettes. Far more meager than my collection now, but still pretty decent for the time. I strived to collect what I loved but also to push the boundaries of the collection so that it always remained eclectic and even surprising to me anytime that I dug through it. 

Rhino Records, then mostly known as purveyors of poor taste (which meant they were right up my alley), had put out a wonderful archival collection titled The Best of Louie Louie Volume 1, which was loaded with cover versions of Richard Berry's doggedly insistent anthem. Somewhere between The Kingsmen's notorious, chart-topping, FBI-involving version, Berry's original cut, and a goofy but pleasing one by a marching band, came a blistering, rampaging crack at the tune by a Tacoma, Washington band called the Sonics. It took a single play of the album for that version to become the most played one on my turntable forever, even above the Kingsmen.

Elsewhere in my collection, a random mix of songs that I had pulled together from a variety of radio shows and other sources (including Dr. Demento) turned into my first attempt at a Halloween mixtape (years before I began sharing them with friends). Somewhere in the mix, pulled off a Halloween oldies hour that I had recorded circa 1978 off radio directly from a scratchy stereo speaker into a handheld microphone, was The Witch by the very same Sonics. Equally as revved up as their Louie Louie, The Witch sounded like a meaner, rougher Little Richard to me, with the growls and whoops of the lead singer mystifying me for years.

And then...

...came the summer of 1988. Garage sale season in most places, and especially in Anchorage, Alaska, where break-up/fake-up and the smell of months of unfreezing dog crap can often make springtime-designated garage sales a little difficult and unappetizing to both hold and attend. But summer is just right, and the ex and I were out and about to find some good deals and even possibly some cheap furniture for the apartment.

What I ran into were the Sonics.

Reissue cover of Here Are the Sonics!!! from 1984,
 which it turns out was the version that I purchased
from that garage sale. That didn't matter at all;
it was the music that counted. And still does...
In a stack of LPs that were going for the price of 75 cents each, I found a few interesting titles and had checked their condition (all excellent) and set them aside. Near the back of the stack, almost like it was hidden there in the hopes that no one would dare crawl their fingers spider-like that far back along the tops of the discs, was a copy of an album that declared, in bold lettering across its breadth, HERE ARE THE SONICS!!!

Over the previous couple of years, I had done some research on the band in the library. (Remember those days when it was the only true source the common man had for these affairs?) In their heyday, the Sonics had regional hits, but never really broke through to the big time. The Sonics had only put out a trio of official albums before breaking up and had a spotty recording career since, though they have toured on and off since the 1960s, in various permutations of the band. I had tried to order one of those early albums from the local record stores but was told they were long out of print. I had pretty much given up on finding their stuff, and the freewheeling days of CD remastered versions of just about every band in history had not really gotten rolling yet.

And so there I was, standing at a garage sale off Jewel Lake Road holding an actual copy of Here Are the Sonics!!! in my hands. I was kind of dumb-founded in that way I get when I discover anything that had eluded me to that point in my life. Mouth gaping open and just plain numb, but shivering with anticipation. The ex knew what was up because I only got that look in certain instances and this was one of them. I knew that I had to get away from that garage sale before someone stopped me from claiming my prize. As I swooped up the pile of other discs I was going to purchase and headed to the nice lady sitting at a folding table on the lawn, a blonde teenage girl came out of the house and ran up to us.

"Are you buying the Sonics?" she asked in a voice that sounded somewhat tentative, while having a worried look on her face. I told her that I hoped to, because I had been looking for one of their albums for years. The girl, who was only fifteen or sixteen, expressed concern that the album would be going to a good home, almost as if she were handing her puppy over to new owners. She had happened upon the album a couple years earlier and fell immediately in love with it, but her father was being relocated for business purposes across the country, and they were basically getting rid of everything, including her entire record collection. I told her how in love I was already with a pair of songs by the Sonics but had been longing to find more of their music, and my ex told her not to worry, because if anyone was going to take care of this album, I would. I paid her a few extra dollars for the album to placate her as well, so that she understood it wasn't just a spur of the moment thing for me.

As I left the garage sale and the sad teenage girl, there was that midway feeling that once I got that record home, I was either going to find myself in a state of musical euphoria or be profoundly disappointed that their other music didn't live up to the promise of those first two tracks I found. I needn't have worried. Released in 1965 by Etiquette Records, Here Are The Sonics!!! was light years beyond anything else from its time in speed, power, and execution (as in, having your head chopped off musically) including the Kinks and the Who. As I mentioned, the album went nowhere on the charts, being a regional hit only, but as for influence, that's another story.

The Sonics are just one of those bands that you hear about – like the Velvet Underground or the Pixies or Big Star – where they may not have killed the world with record sales, but damn, their shadows stood tall. For the Sonics, it definitely had to do with their peculiar sound. Punk before punk existed, no garage was secure enough to contain this sound. Screaming vocals, wild sax solos, flashy guitar solos, and manic drumming. Loud and abrasive, their basic structure was pretty much the same party rock 'n' roll everyone else was doing at the time... but different. Faster, meaner, cooler than anything, and downright scarier... even some of their subject matter was darker than most bands of the time. And all in MONO!

There are only four original songs on Here Are The Sonics!!! – the other eight being the expected Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Berry Gordy, Jr. covers, for examples – but they sure maximized their personal time in the studio. Besides the arcane material in The Witch, their song Psycho is punctuated by blood-curdling screams from lead vocalist and keyboardist *Gerry Roslie as he yells about "losing his mind" and wishing he were dead, as the band pumps along. The effect on a live crowd in a small, sweaty club must have been astounding. Boss Hoss is surely one of the coolest car songs ever written, and if you ever wondered for which song the phrase "driving beat" was invented, it had to be this one. And then there is the spooky, nerve-wracking wonder that is their song Strychnine, that starts with Roslie's keyboard playing a snippet of Mysterious Mose before kicking hard into a song about the joys of drinking poison: "Some folks like water / Some folks like wine / but I like the taste / of straight strychnine." [I was not aware that I already had three different cover versions of this song in my collection at home until I listened to the full album.]

If there was a time in my life where I have listened to an album thirty-five times straight through in one weekend, it was that first weekend with Here Are the Sonics!!! They became part of my very makeup at that point. I sucked them fully into my being, and my head has never been the same.

Jump Cut to 2015...

In the 27 years since finding that album at the garage sale, most of the Sonics' old material has been reissued on CD, all of which I have collected in that span. I have also heard various bootlegs of live shows, and so I have not been hurting for Sonics fixes in quite a while. Their songs even get used in car commercials (Have Love Will Travel), TV shows, and films. But then came news in 2015 that the original Sonics – or at least three of them: Roslie, saxophonist Rob Lind, and lead guitarist Larry Parypa – were back in the studio and cutting a new full album of Sonics material for the first time 40 years. While the band had been touring for eons, I had my doubts that they could maintain the same sound, the same power, or even the same vitality given that the guys were all in their mid-to-late '60s by now.

Once again, I needn't have worried. The Sonics had my back again. The new release, This Is the Sonics, sounded as if the boys had entered the studio following their disappointment in 1967 recording Introducing the Sonics (though actually their third album) when they jumped to Jerden Records from Etiquette, and said, "Let's do it right." Once more, a handful of originals are mixed in with some very smart choices of cover songs (Willie Dixon's You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover, Marty Robbins' Sugaree, and The Kinks' The Hard Way are standouts for me), and the album is as brash and loud as one expects from the Sonics brand. And one more, it is recorded, as is stated right on the cover, "in Earth-Shaking MONO!" (This is a band that once ripped the soundproofing out of a studio's walls to get a sound that seemed more live.)

For my selection for Mr. Mixtape-ptlk's Track #5, I have chosen the Sonics' version of Bob Halligan, Jr.'s song, I Got Your Number. It's not the first time that the Sonics have tackled the devil in one of their tracks. Their original song, He's Waitin', is one of their most iconic pieces in their catalogue, but I guess one song about Satan wasn't enough for these guys. Bob Halligan, Jr. is a successful songwriter who has been working with the likes of Judas Priest, Kix, Kiss, and Blue Öyster Cult, and many others since the 1980s. Halligan also leads Christian Celtic-rock band, Celli Rain.

Now, lest you think there has been a big change in Your Friendly Neighborhood Boogieman's life that perhaps I haven't shared, fear not (or fear more, depending on the direction you choose to take). I was basing my selection of the song based on its theme first, and then how cool it sounded. Who wrote it didn't matter, and neither did their religious affiliation. Don't care either way. Having never heard Guitar Shorty's previous version of it from about a decade ago, I thought the song might be a Sonics original until I dug into the songwriting credits. So, this is not me finding religion all of a sudden because I like a song by a Christian rock guy. This is just me liking a song, and also just me saying this Christian rock guy wrote a cool song.



I Got Your Number
(Bob Halligan, Jr.)


"You're sick in your mind
You're sick in your heart
Everything you touch
Just falls apart
There's a name for what you are
With your devilish tricks
Let's just say I've got your number
And it's 666

Hey, I treated you with kindness
I treated you with class
Just to find out
You're a snake in the grass
It's a shame how you played me
With your red hot lips
Let's just say if I need to call ya
I'll dial 666

[Sax Solo]

I heard a lot about you
I said it wasn't true
But your bad reputation
Kept shining through
There's a name for what you are
It's lyin' Luce
'Cause everybody's got your number
And it's 666

[Guitar Solo]


You're sick in your mind
You're sick in your heart
Everything you touch
Just falls apart
There's a name for what you are
With your devilish tricks
Let's just say I've got your number
And it's 666
Woah! Let's just say I've got your number
And it's 666
Ah! Say I got your number, baby
And it's 666"

Now, devils don't really frighten me, because I don't believe in them, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying stories (or even songs) about ghosts or other supernatural beings, because I believe in them equally as little. What I am able to do is believe in them for the duration of the story or song, that ol' willing suspension of disbelief that allows us to enjoy monster movies, stupid romances, and detective novels alike. Removing the religious aspect altogether, I can just accept that a devil or demon is just another monster, and the elements of any story involving one are pure horror themes anyway. Spooky is spooky as far as I am concerned.

And the Sonics, even the much older Sonics, are still the Sonics. Somehow, even after years out of the game, or only sporadically touring, they managed to get back into a studio and sound like their teenaged selves again: cool, loud, mean, brash... and scary. Spooky is spooky.

RTJ

[*I have always known Roslie to spell his first name with a "G," but a lot of recent press has it as "J" as in "Jerry". I am sticking with "G".]

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