Crazed rockabilly-tinged remakes of “Psychotic Reaction” and two Yardbirds classics isn’t a bad idea, especially if gonzo guitar and drums like those on The Dawn of Shockabilly are brought to bear on ’em. Taking the same tack on “A Hard Day’s Night” and a country oldie, adding silly organ also makes a funny kind of sense. But guitarist Eugene Chadbourne’s nonsense vocals (stupidly muffled, or in silly cartoon character styles, with at least two or three different voices per track) ruin the whole thing. Eugene shouldn’t be careful with his axe, but with his mouth.
Greatest Hits takes one track each from the two preceding English records and adds a quartet of stunning live cuts, including the amphetaminized “Bluegrass Breakdown” and a nearly unrecognizable version of the Doors’ “People Are Strange.” The Ghost of Shockabilly CD combines Earth and Colosseum, the album on which the writing team of Chadbourne and Mark Kramer (bass/organ/production) began to flourish, with the Kramer musically embellishing Eugene’s political and instrumental rants, parodies and white-trash obsessions. (The Shimmy-Disc cassette of Earth contains The Dawn of Shockabilly.)
Vietnam is a relatively grand affair, with a huge tour-diary poster and material by Arthur Lee, John Fogerty, John Lee Hooker and the Beatles mercilessly savaged by Chadbourne, Kramer and drummer David Licht.
Heaven takes the terrible trio further into the realms of the truly weird. Only three covers (Bolan, Lennon and a mystery), but such inspired originals as Eugene’s “How Can You Kill Me, I’m Already Dead” and “She Was a Living Breathing Piece of Dirt” more than make up the difference. On that (bum) note, Shockabilly ceased to exist. (Shimmy-Disc later paired Vietnam and Heaven on CD and cassette.)
The posthumous live CD, Just Beautiful, is a generous 27-track plunge into the group’s hyperkinetic non-stop electric vaudeville: Chadbourne wreaks havoc on an electrified rake and birdcage while Kramer and mutant-percussionist Licht fall apart in the background. Almost entirely comprised of covers, the CD includes five remixed tracks from Dawn of Shockabilly sutured in the middle. The cassette version has a dozen live tracks (from ’84 and ’85), the entire Colosseum LP and the five Dawn remixes.
Occasionally listenable, often more stupid than funny, Shockabilly was, if nothing else, absolutely unique.