Music News & Reviews

Critic's Pick: 'Los Straitjackets/Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits!!!!!!'

Critic's Pick

Los Straitjackets and Deke Dickerson

Los Straitjackets/Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits!!!!!!

It just wouldn't be Halloween without a new recording by the masked men (Mexican wrestling masked men, that is) of instrumental rock 'n' roll, Los Straitjackets. But the title of the band's newest platter tips us off that the seasonal party this year is especially askew.

On Los Straitjackets/Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits!!!!!!, the band does pretty much the impossible — or pretty much what ought to be impossible. It takes the great vintage instrumental fare that has long formed the backbone of its well-intentioned and expertly executed repertoire (with emphasis on surf and twang) and sets words to it.

That might seem like novelty to some (it is) and outright blasphemy to others. But the overall feel of Sings the Great Instrumental Hits!!!!!! is one of good-natured fun. That's largely because the five Straitjackets members are such schooled instrumentalists and treat the material with such reverence that if they want to set lyrics to Walk Don't Run, Sleepwalk and Pipeline, well, why not?

The Straitjackets' co-billed accomplice in this undertaking is Deke Dickerson, a veteran roots-rock stylist known for his work with the Missouri band Untamed Youth and several fine solo records. A nimble picker himself, Dickerson leaves the guitar duties to Los Straitjackets' front line of Eddie Angel, Danny Amis and Greg Townsen. He operates exclusively as a vocalist on the album.

That assignment includes a coarse growl for Fury, a bit of disco hustling during a bongo-happy Apache, and choirmaster crooning on Theme from A Summer Place. All of it is sung with (mostly) straight-faced humility, which enhances the campy atmosphere.

Dickerson refers in the liner notes to "Bill Murray's classic lounge singer character on Saturday Night Live belting out drunken made-up lyrics to the Star Wars theme" as a kind of central theme for Sings the Great Instrumental Hits!!!!!!. Truth to tell, the only time the record succumbs to such purposeful schmaltz is when the assembled forces take on Sleepwalk, and that's only because the arrangement and aloof lyrics seem precisely modeled after the vintage Murray shtick.

But the lyrics added to Telstar (redone as Magic Star), the Hawaii-Five-O theme (first cut by Sammy Davis Jr. as You Can Count on Me) and the 1972 percolating pop hit Popcorn are wondrous examples of commercial pop gleefully lowered to its lowest common denominator. You can almost hear the 1960s record industry board meetings with executives going, "Imagine what a hit Miserlou could be if it just had lyrics."

Sound ghastly? It is. But isn't that what Halloween is all about?

Walter Tunis, Contributing Music Critic