Thursday, October 20, 2005
The Chakachas: Jungle Fever (Polydor PD 15030)
This one gets my vote for one of the strangest records ever to hit the Top 10. At a time when AM Radio was dominated by the likes of Climax, Beverly Bremers and, of course, The Carpenters (despite T. Rex sneaking in their only US hit), there was absolutely nothing else that sounded like this.
I'm talking about the winter-early spring of 1972 when the Chakachas' only charting 45 would go all the way to the #8 position on the Billboard Hot 100. Who were they, exactly? A sextet of Belgian studio musicians, all middle-aged and married, who got together, recorded some sides and then went their separate ways. Polydor Records then issued those sides stateswide, and, to the surprise of everyone no doubt, "Jungle Fever" became a hit. (For more information, I refer you to Wayne Jancik's superb book "The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders."
1972 was also a year of oddball instrumental hits from Apollo 100's "Joy" to Billy Preston's "Outa Space" to Hot Butter's moog piece "Popcorn." But "Jungle Fever" had to be the oddest of the whole bunch. Also the most sexually explicit, even though it's an instrumental. Because the song is punctuated at various pauses by the sounds of female and male orgiasmic moaning. One has to wonder how, with all that moaning and heavy breathing going on, this record even got played on the radio in 1972, let alone become as big as it did.
The song is characterized by its persuasive percussion, consisting of maraccas, congas and drums, which remain the driving force throughout, backed up by a jerky funky guitar riff and low-key horns. Things pause just enough for a female voice to go something like "Ah...no...no...I..I..." or similar before the funky stuff kicks back in. This happens two more times before we get two french horns blowing a subdued riff over the jerky rhythms.
The structure continues like this until towards the end, the moans get louder, the horns go off, the guitar kicks off, the congas and drums vanish and finally it's just down to the moaning and the soft hum of the maraccas. Then, the band kicks in for the big finish, stopping for one last satisfied moan and a low note on a trambone. End of song.
After "Jungle Fever's" run was over, you hardly ever heard it again. It disappeared from the airwaves and oldies radio hardly ever plays it (at least I've never heard it). But the 1997 film "Boogie Nights" gave it another airing during an early meeting between Heather Graham's Rollergirl and Mark Wahlberg. Yes, it's a sex scene. What else could it be?