The Record
3:38 pm
Tue February 5, 2013

Reg Presley, The Voice Of 'Wild Thing,' Dies

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 5:36 pm

Reg Presley, the founder and lead singer of The Troggs, the rock group best known for the performing the original version of the song "Wild Thing," has died. Presley was 71. He died of lung cancer yesterday at his home in England.

Presley was not the only person to memorably sing "Wild Thing," but his version launched literally hundreds of covers. It was just the most famous of a string of hits released by the band — in one span of 18 months, it had seven hit singles.

"We were sounding pretty potent at that time," Presley said in a 1995 documentary by the BBC.

Born Reginald Maurice Ball, Presley — a publicist changed his last name as a joke — worked as a bricklayer in his hometown of Andover, England. His group, which was originally called The Troglodytes, was signed by the manager of The Kinks in 1965. He didn't quit work until after "Wild Thing" became a hit, something his new wife didn't think would happen even after she heard the song.

"We were really struggling in those days. Money was tight," Brenda Presley said in that same BBC documentary. "I just broke down and cried. I said it would 'never be a hit. It's bloody awful.' "

Legend has it that the guitars on The Troggs' recording were slightly out of tune, driving generations of imitators crazy as they tried to duplicate the sound.

Despite the hits, which included "With A Girl Like You" and "Love Is All Around," the group was mocked by The Beatles, among others. But it were also revered by one of rock's most important critics, Lester Bangs, who called the band the progenitors of punk.

The Troggs' career took a twist in the late '60s when a studio engineer secretly taped the band members arguing during a recording session. The (extremely profane) leaked tapes became such an underground sensation that they were eventually released with the band's permission and even inspired a scene in the movie Spinal Tap.

Generally, the movies were kind to The Troggs. Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral made use of the song "Love Is All Around," and 27 years after it was recorded, a cover of the song went back to No. 1 on the British charts and stayed there for months.

The royalties Presley earned helped finance his fascination, later in life, with aliens, and his certainty that they were trying to talk to us through crop circles. Presley wrote a book about his belief called Wild Things They Don't Tell Us. But by every account he was a modest, unassuming guy. He stayed married to his wife for nearly 50 years and never moved from the town where he'd grown up.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Reg Presley, the founder and lead singer of The Troggs has died.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) Wild thing, you make my heart sing. You make everything groovy.

CORNISH: Presley wasn't the only person to memorably sing that song, but his version has inspired countless garage bands in the almost half century since The Troggs recorded it. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, Presley died of lung cancer yesterday at his home in England. He was 71 years old.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Reg Presley was working as a bricklayer in his hometown Andover, England, when he put together a band he called, at first, The Troglodytes. He had just gotten married.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC DOCUMENTARY)

BRENDA PRESLEY: We were really struggling in those days and money was tight.

ULABY: That's Presley's wife Brenda Presley in a 1995 BBC documentary. She remembered the first time she heard what would be The Troggs most famous song.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC DOCUMENTARY)

PRESLEY: And I just broke down and cried. I said that will never be a hit. It's bloody awful.

ULABY: Legend has it the guitars were slightly out of tune, driving generations of imitators crazy as they tried to duplicate the sound. It was one of seven hits The Troggs would record in only 18 months.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITH A GIRL LIKE YOU")

TROGGS: (Singing) I want to spend my life with a girl like you. Pa-ba-ba-pa-ba...

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC DOCUMENTARY)

REG PRESLEY: We were sounding pretty potent at that time.

ULABY: That's Reg Presley in that BBC documentary. He was born Reginald Maurice Ball; a publicist changed his last name to Presley as a joke. And The Troggs were mocked by The Beatles, among others. But it were also revered by one of rock's most important critics. Lester Bangs called them the progenitors of punk. Their career had more than a few twists.

In the late 1960s, a studio engineer secretly taped The Troggs arguing during a recording session.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I agree, it is a good song (bleep).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: But it won't be unless we spend a little bit of (bleep) thought and imagination to (bleep) make it (bleep) number one. You got to put a little bit of (bleep) fairy dust over the (bleep), you know...

ULABY: The leaked tapes became such an underground sensation, they were eventually released with the band's permission. They even inspired a scene in the movie "Spinal Tap."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "SPINAL TAP")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Do ya think, there's one (bleep) in this room, and the last time I heard, it was (bleep) me...

ULABY: The movies were generally kind to The Troggs. "Love Actually" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" made use of one of their songs.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "LOVE IS ALL AROUND")

TROGGS: (Singing) I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes...

ULABY: Twenty-seven years after it was recorded, it went back to No. 1 on the British charts and stayed there for months.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "LOVE IS ALL AROUND")

TROGGS: (Singing) Love is all around you, and so the feeling grows...

ULABY: Steep royalties Presley earned helped finance his later-in-life fascination with aliens, and his certainty they were trying to talk to us through crop circles, as he explained to a Channel 4 interviewer in 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPED INTERVIEW)

PRESLEY: No, it's the diatomic tums that come from the shapes and the relationships between each circle.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, maybe they'll give you some more ideas for some hit songs.

ULABY: Presley wrote a book about his beliefs called "Wild Things They Don't Tell Us." He was, by every account, a modest, unassuming guy. He stayed married to his wife for nearly 50 years and never moved from the town where he'd grown up. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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