The Cramps: A Date With Elvis - Album Of The Week Club review

A Date With Elvis continued The Cramps' fascination with lust, obsession, and the darker side of rock'n'roll culture

The Cramps - A Date With Elvis cover art
(Image: © Big Beat)

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The Cramps - A Date With Elvis

The Cramps - A Date With Elvis cover art

(Image credit: Big Beat)

How Far Can Too Far Go?
The Hot Pearl Snatch
People Ain't No Good
What's Inside a Girl?
Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?
Cornfed Dames
(Hot Pool Of) Womanneed
Aloha from Hell
It's Just That Song

Released in 1986 – originally only in The UK – A Date With Elvis was the fourth studio album by The Cramps, and solidified their particular take on psychobilly, mixing the and's usual influences from early rock'n'roll, rhythm and blues, surf music, horror movies and vintage Americana to frequently macabre effect. 

Tracks like How Far Can Too Far Go?, People Ain't No Good and Kizmiaz captured The Cramps' untamed spirit, with trademark twangy guitar riffs and pounding drums providing a suitably gritty backing for Lux Interior's distinctive, primal vocals.

A Date With Elvis maintained the band's fascination with all things taboo and subversive, with songs exploring themes of lust, obsession, and the darker side of rock'n'roll culture, while the questioning Can Your Pussy Do the Dog? and What's Inside A Girl? showcased the band's irreverent and frequently unhinged approach to songwriting.

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Other albums released in February 1986

  • War Games - Grave Digger
  • Mean Business - The Firm
  • The Ultimate Sinn - Ozzy Osbourne
  • Clairvoyance - Screaming Trees
  • Balance of Power - Electric Light Orchestra
  • Fatal Portrait - King Diamond
  • Lives in the Balance - Jackson Browne
  • King of America - Elvis Costello
  • Cinema - Nazareth
  • Greed - Swans
  • Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire - Samhain


What they said...

"Kizmiaz is unique in the band's oeuvre, being a smarmy parody of 1960s hippie feel-good music; Ivy joins Interior on vocals here. Intonation is off in a few numbers (notably on Kizmiaz, The Hot Pearl Snatch, and Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?), but this is not enough to detract from the overall excellence. This rollicking and energetic platter in particular is the equal of any in their canon, and an essential listen." (AllMusic)

"A Date With Elvis, originally released in 1986, opens with How Far Can Too Far Go?, as good a representation of psychobilly as you’ll find. Poison Ivy’s stinging guitar and Nick Knox’s steadfast drums work in simplistic tandem, there’s a wicked bassline for additional menace, and vocalist Lux Interior hogs the spotlight with manic glee." (No Depression)

"The Cramps' rampant gurning and soft-focus sleaze has been shaped into an institution of sorts. Transcending and fusing tribal instincts – goth's dumb brooding and cheap mystery, punk's phoney rebel stance and the 'billy faithfuls' love of the primal bellow and manic judders – they are a trans-Atlantic, 20th century medicine show." (NME)


What you said...

Iain Macaulay: Psychedelic? Psychobilly, Rockabilly, Gothabilly ? Who cares, c’mon everybody !

When Kirsty Wallace and Erick Purkhiser met and fell in love at college in Sacramento in 1972 they changed their names to Poison Ivy Rorschach and Lux Interior and moved to New York in 1975 to catch the start of the CBGB punk scene and welcomed into the dirty, steam-filled, night time streets, the screaming monster that was The Cramps.

You either get the 50s kitschy, B-movie, fetish-inspired aesthetic they created or you don’t, it’s that simple. Primitive rock'n'roll stripped back to its bare sexy voodoo bones with the addition of some X-rated sci-fi and horror imagery, and of course, a good risqué double-entendre lyric.

For some, the band and their music may have more in tune with The Rocky Horror Picture Show than Spinal Tap, and that’s fine, there is a connection. But a large number of metal heads and classic rockers do get it. However, it was the alternative kids, the punks and the goths, and the outsiders, that ran with it and were inspired to bring the Cramps influence into the bands they formed across numerous underground genres. Even the band themselves unintentionally created the ‘psychobilly’ scene by using the phrase from a Johnny Cash song on early fliers, simply to draw in an audience.

A line can even be drawn from The Cramps through the Gun Club, to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and The Sisters of Mercy. From punk to Alternative to Goth. Without Bryan Gregory, their founding guitarist, there may have been no original 80s Batcave goth image as we know it. And in turn, a lot of what gets called alternative rock music that followed.

Strictly speaking, this is not the Cramps best album. It is a great album, but it’s not their best. They have darker, rawer, and more dangerous sounding material. And were a more dangerous band before this album was released. Go and watch early videos. It is however their most accessible, and highest charting album. And it contains two of their more notorious and well know song titles in Can Your Pussy Do The Dog? and What’s Inside A girl? Well, at least they were until the inclusion of Goo Goo Muck on Wednesday. It’s not a perfect album, or without its faults, but it is definitely a fun album with a unique feel and a great fitting DIY production that still stands up today.

A lot of bands have covered Cramps tracks, which is ironic considering a lot of The Cramps material is covers of old rockabilly, blues, doo wop and chicken-fried country songs. Although this, their third album (or fourth if you count the early singles compilation Off The Bone) is where they started to release albums with more original songs than covers, all written by Lux and Ivy.

From Ivy’s squawky, twangy, more Scotty Moore than Chet Atkins, with a bit of Bo Diddley thrown in, rocking guitar, in conjunction with Lux’s best reverb soaked, Elvis stuttering hiccup, on the most salacious of lyrics, The Cramps did nothing new, but they made it sound new by reviving the original underground elements of rock'n'roll, which had a lot more in common with punk than people would like to admit.

Yes, there is a lot of humour and sex in the music and image, as there was in that original underground rock and roll sound, but the band couldn’t have done the music justice if they hadn’t been serious about it. And they were. All driven by Ivy, musically and business wise. The uncrowned queen of rock'nroll who had all the gum-chewing, ice queen, dominatrix outfit-wearing moves, and riffs, but watched as all the guys in the band got the credit for it.

There will never be another band like them.

Steve Pereira: I've heard of The Cramps, but to the best of my knowledge had not heard anything by them. So I thought this would be interesting. However, I've now played the album, and I want that part of my life back!

This is very poor stuff. I get it's a joke, but it all feels so dated, and it's so badly done, it remind me of sixties gimmick bands like Screaming Lord Such. Tedious stuff. Poor songs, poorly played, and poorly produced. Not even as good/bad as Lord Such!

A Date With Elvis is genuinely bad: dull gimmicky trivia devoid of talent. It did, however, get me to play the original A Date With Elvis, which is a compilation album of Elvis's Sun recordings. Wow! What a great album that is!

Chris Elliott: This is an interesting choice. Probably not where I'd begin with The Cramps but equally its not quite as raw and the edges have been smoothed off a little compared to their first two albums. Not to be taken seriously - played loud and enjoy. Gloriously primitive surf/rockabilly played by punks. My reservation is they're a band who pretty much nailed their "thing" on the first album and never really went anywhere better afterwards. Equally a Cramps record is a Cramps record - you won't forget it - whether you get it is a seperate thing.

Mark Russell: Saw them on this tour. Brilliant album.

Mike Canoe: I loved the Cramps long before I heard them: the weird hip cadaver look of singer Lux Interior and original second guitarist Bryan Gregory, the flaming red hair and menacing stare of guitarist Poison Ivy, the plentiful B-movie references, their scandalous album covers and/or titles, their live performances which I really only knew from breathless descriptions by friends.

For me, A Date With Elvis is the Cramps' most fun and consistent album and has them walking the fine line (in stiletto heels) between campy, vampy rock'nroll and novelty act. Conventional wisdom describes the Cramps sound as rockabilly infused with the energy and outrageousness of punk. But rockabilly was already pretty energetic and outrageous to begin with. The Cramps just took the music they loved and repackaged it for a modern (if niche) audience.

Singer Lux Interior is a howling, yowling, spitting feral cat with the occasional bad case of the hiccups. As I wrote when I suggested this album, he rants and raves like an evangelist who has stepped down from the pulpit to embrace a more worldly god. His delivery sells dozens of double entendres that would make Bon Scott blush. It's not every singer that can pull off a question like Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?

I don't speak guitar but I know I like the sounds that Poison Ivy wrings out of hers. Plenty of reverb and sustain, howling in the right places. In particular, I like the noisy breakdown in Cornfed Dames where she essentially squares off against herself on bass. She can rumble like Link Wray on (Hot Pool of) Womanneed or play slinky seductive lines on What's Inside a Girl?

Drummer Nick Knox, their only other consistent member at this point, provides a solid backbeat for the loving couple to go crazy over. And it helped that Lux and Ivy were a couple. What could be irredeemably icky in another band's hands became playful and fun.

I was admittedly surprised when I saw A Date With Elvis was this week's pick. Even though I suggested the album, it was a little like waking up hungover in Vegas and realizing you got married the night before. Whoops! I guess, to quote Lux Interior, I was wondering how far can too far go? It's an album I love and will continue to love. I hope it nets some fans, new or old, and those that don't like it can hang on until next week.

Gary Claydon: Rollicking. That's the best word I can think of to describe A Date With Elvis. It's as if Lux and Ivy dropped a load of speed then sat down to write the album while watching a 'Best of The Carry On Films' reel. " How do you take your double-entendres sir?" "In an Elvis-rockabilly stylee, if you please, my good man, with a side order of twangy guitar thrown in." "Coming right up, sir. Hot Pearl Snatch?" Oo-er, matron, Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?" Fnar-Fnar. Maybe it veers a little too close to self-parody at times and maybe the rough edges have been rounded off a bit too much, plus I do miss the b-movie horror/sci-fi schtick but this is fun - rollickingly-good fun, even.

Greg Schwepe: In listening to The Cramps A Date With Elvis I kept coming back to two thoughts; “Too Much” and “Not Enough.” After going through a few of the 15 tracks I’d think “yeah, that’s too much…” and then a few songs later “darn, just not enough.” And in this case the “Too Much” is the “twang" in the song and the “Not Enough” is the distortion level in guitars. Let’s get down to the details…

I’m not what you’d call a rockabilly purist by any means, and I don’t think you’d call The Cramps pure rockabilly either. Yes, music of this genre is that crazy hybrid of rockabilly, country, blues, punk, rock, roots, Americana, and so on. A pretty tasty musical stew made by throwing a whole bunch of stuff in the pot and letting it boil.

Over the years I’ve seen and bought albums of bands with styles similar to The Cramps. Orange County, CA favourites Social Distortion, Reverend Horton Heat, The Stray Cats and solo Brian Setzer. MTV one hit wonders The Georgia Satellites and Jason and the Scorchers. Heck, even some of Robert Plant’s music with Alison Krauss sounds like some of the songs on this album.

But with a lot of these other bands, none really busted the dial on my “ATL” (Acceptable Twang Level) meter. Many times on A Date With Elvis I redlined on that ATL level. “Too twangy, need more distortion.” A lot of other bands might have had more of a punk edge and the same Cramps riff played with a cranked Marshall probably wouldn’t bother me so much. All a matter of perspective.

Now, a number of songs did stick with me; Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?, Chicken, and (Hot Pool Of) Womanneed. And to be fair, if The Cramps were playing at a small bar or early in the day at a roots/Americana/blues type festival, I’d listen to their set and give them a big round of applause after every song. I just don’t think I’ll be streaming anything else by them. Not enough to keep me interested. Was slightly disappointed I wasn’t that into them after learning several members hail from my home state of Ohio. “Awww, darn…fellow Buckeyes. Oh well.”

Colin Bonney: Since buying Songs The Lord Taught Us when it first came out I have loved The Cramps, their distinctive sound and style and of course the humour. Enjoyed every album they have released since including A Date With Elvis. Yes, the Songs album was their masterpiece, but all were good.

Peter Barron: Definitely a band that has grown on me over the years, and if every song was as good as Human Fly they'd be as good as the Stones or Zep or something. As it is, there's always something great on all their albums, and on this one for me it's What's Inside A Girl?. You have to be in the mood, but when you are it's killer.

John Davidson: I've given this a good old go but it's just not for me. I've always felt that the B-movie, horror pastiche should appeal, but the rockabilly, swamp-punk music just leaves me cold.

Mark Herrington: Bands like the Cramps that inhabit this crazy, comic book, rock world have always appealed to me. The B52’s, the Rezillo’s, Talking Heads, Split Enz and newer bands like Wet Leg. As much a manic grin, and an attitude, as a shared musical groove. Fun, frantic and totally nuts, this is a good time album that doesn’t take itself too seriously. An easy 8/10 for me.


Final score: 6.30 (41 votes cast, total score 265)

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