By Terence McArdle The Washington Post
Reg Presley, the lead singer of The Troggs, a working-class English band that burst onto the charts in 1966 with the primitive and repetitive rock-and-roll song “Wild Thing,” died Feb. 4 at his home in Andover, England. He was 71.
His agent, Keith Altham, announced the death. Presley had lung cancer.
“Wild Thing,” with its almost childlike declaration of lust — “Wild thing … You make my heart sing … You make everything groovy” — was written by Chip Taylor, a New York-based singer-songwriter and a brother of actor Jon Voight.
A 1965 version of “Wild Thing” by an American band named Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones made little popular impression. It fell to The Troggs, whose name was an abbreviation of troglodyte, a word meaning prehistoric cave man, to infuse the song with a high dose of testosterone.
It was Presley’s maniacal delivery and The Troggs’ simple, insistent guitar riff that transformed the song, for better or worse, into a rock staple.
Guitarist Jimi Hendrix used “Wild Thing” to close his set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, famously setting his guitar aflame and then smashing it. A version of the song also figured prominently in the 1989 movie “Major League,” in which actor Charlie Sheen portrayed a pitcher nicknamed “Wild Thing” who always came onto the ballfield with the crowd roaring the song.
Over two generations, “Wild Thing” easily ranked with the rock song “Louie Louie” as a standard for fledging teenage garage bands and weary bar bands that ran out of repertoire at the end of the night.
The Troggs, regarded by many as precursors to punk rock, had three other Top 50 hits on the Billboard charts, all from Presley’s pen: the 1966 rockers “I Can’t Control Myself” and “With a Girl Like You”; and a ballad inspired by San Francisco’s 1967 Summer of Love, “Love Is All Around” in 1968.
After its initial burst of popularity, the band faded from the charts. They tried to renew their fortunes in later decades, including an unlikely garage-rock version of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and a reggae version of “Wild Thing.” A 1992 collaboration with three members of R.E.M., titled “Athens Andover,” raised their profile slightly.
In 1994, a cover of “Love Is All Around” by the group Wet Wet Wet was used on the soundtrack of the romantic comedy film “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
Reginald Maurice Ball was born June 12, 1941, in Andover, and he worked as a bricklayer until “Wild Thing” charted in 1966. Survivors include his wife, Brenda, and two children.
The stage name Presley was given to him by Altham, then serving as the band’s publicist. Presley wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about it.
“I was at home one day and someone phoned to say, there’s something about you in the New Musical Express,” he told the Independent newspaper in 1992. “So I looked and what do I read? ‘Troggs lead singer, Reg Presley.’ “
“I rang up Altham and said, ‘Why bloody Presley? Why not go the whole hog and call me Crosby, or Sinatra or summat.’ “
With some people, the name Presley never took anyway.
“Paul McCartney,” he once quipped, “would always refer to me as Reg Trogg.”
In later years, Presley developed an obsession with alien abductions and crop circles and used his song royalties to pursue UFO research. In 2004, he published a book on the subject, “Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us.”
“I looked at my first crop formation in 1990 and after that I was hooked,” he told the Independent newspaper. “When I was young and studying to be a bricklayer, with all the arches and things that we had to draw at college, that gave me an insight to know that this was no ordinary wind damage. I knew there was something more technical there.”
He was renowned in Andover for his 12-hour vigils to watch the local cornfields for crop circles. He was once questioned by the police after he attempted to build an antenna on a hilltop to purportedly communicate with aliens.
The singer believed the crop circles were warning Earthlings of an impending disaster, or perhaps served as refueling sites for spacecraft.
“For them, it’s like going from Southampton to Wick, in Scotland,” he told the Observer newspaper. “You have to fill up at Glasgow, else you ain’t going to make it.”