The Morlocks Play Chess
The Morlocks are a garage rock band that has been at it for more than a quarter century in the Los Angeles area. You would be forgiven for not being able to place them, however. The band reportedly enjoys their cult-act relative anonymity. While their name may not ring a bell though, their sound and the songs on this record will be instantly familiar.
The title The Morlocks Play Chess refers not to the game but to Chess Records, the Chicago-based label that put out lots of the all-time great blues, R&B, gospel, and early rock and roll recordings. You’ll recognize songs here made famous by the likes of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. In the hands of The Morlocks though, these familiar tunes become chips from the Nuggets box set. You know the formula: a gruff, slightly psychotic-sounding singer (in this case Leighton Koizumi), fuzzy, proto-rock three-chord guitar (Bobby Bones), lo-fi mono recording. Think The Animals, The Troggs, and The Kingsmen as filtered through The Stooges and you’ll get the idea.
Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” becomes a rock stomper while his “Who Do You Love” gets a dash of surf guitar. Berry’s “Promised Land” gets the Ramones treatment. The band also covers Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A,” and “You Never Can Tell” to good (if less recognizable) effect.
In case you didn’t already have an idea where the band is coming from, they add a little bit of The Who’s “My Generation” to the top of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” There’s a touch of deranged harmonica on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” Other highlights include Little Milton’s “Feel So Bad” with Koizumi doing his best Iggy Pop, the well-trod Mississippi Sheiks number “Sitting on Top of the World,” and “You Can’t Sit Down,” which was a 1963 hit for The Dovells.
Did the world really need more versions of these songs? Probably not. Is there anything on here you’ve never heard before? Not really. But The Morlocks Play Chess is a fun record worthy of a few spins nonetheless, if only for the music history lesson it provides. And with no song clocking in longer than 3:20, it’s over before you know it. So turn your brain off for a bit and crank it up.