Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Psychotic Reactions & the Oogum Boogum Man

by Ariella Stok

I want to say a few words to all you young girls out there
Yeah, you’re too much!

First you try casting your spell on a guy with a little Oogum Boogum Boogum.
And if that don’t do. You try a little Ooga-ga-oosay Ooga-ga-oosay Ooga-gapoo.
And if that don’t do it, you give him a Psychotic Reaction.
It goes something like this…

In 1967, the mantle of top breadwinner at LA-based independent record label, Double Shot, was changing hands from The Count Five—the Dracula cape-wearing teenage quintet from San Jose who made it to #5 on the national charts in 1966 with their garage rock rave-up, "Psychotic Reaction"—over to Compton-by-way-of-Louisiana R&B singer and songwriter, Brenton Wood (born Alfred Smith) who was charting with his top-10 hit "Gimme Little Sign," and "The Oogum Boogum Song." Wood had diligently studied the popular hits of the day and approached the craft of songwriting as a code to be cracked, teaching himself what made people want to buy records. His answer, in the form of "The Oogum Boogum Song," was to write a song about "current events." Unlike other topical songwriters of his day, for him, this didn’t mean writing about politics or the war in Vietnam, but rather the news he could see on the street: "There were bell bottom pants coming into view, hot pants, mini skirts, stylish stuff that young people were getting into," he told me in a recent interview. "I just packaged it all and gave it back to them." He made this magic-themed song catchy by replacing words like 'abracadabra' and 'hocus pocus' with his own made-up, African-inspired slang, "oogum boogum" and "ooga-ga-oosay," prefiguring the Michael Jackson-quoted "Soul Makossa" chant by 5 years. That same year of ‘67, the two Double Shot hitmakers would come together, if not in person (Wood says he never met The Count Five), then on wax, when Brenton Wood recorded a remake of "Psychotic Reaction," released as a single and on his LP, The Oogum Boogum Man.

Brenton Wood starts his version of “Psychotic Reaction” by reminding his audience ("all you young girls out there") that he was the one who gave them "The Oogum Boogum Song." But if that self-penned hit just wasn’t enough, he offers this cover of someone else’s hit—a decision that had been imposed on Wood, who had no affinity for the song, by label boss, Steve Winn. Double Shot owned the rights to "Psychotic Reaction," and presumably wanted to milk the known hit at a time when its original artist, The Count Five, was already beginning to fall from view, while padding out a planned long-player compilation of Woods’s singles. "It was just a song they gave me to sing," Wood told me. "I don’t need to sing everybody’s song. Nobody wrote a song for me. I wrote my own songs. When you start giving me songs and asking me to sing them, what do you want me to do with this? I don’t know; I just do what I’m told."

To save costs for the session, the label had Wood add his new vocal and an organ part played by The Candidates’ Maurice Rodgers (who also played Farfisa on "Gimme Little Sign") on top of The Count Five’s original backing track. The distance between the original song’s grungy, fuzzed-out rock sound and Wood’s effortlessly smooth and soulful style was made literal when The Count Five’s backing track was mixed so low under Wood’s overdubs as to sound in the finished product like it was being pumped in from another, far-away room. "I would have preferred to cut it over again," Wood says, "but if you’re gonna do a cheap session, you use what you have in the can."

Despite it not being his choice to record "Psychotic Reaction," Wood did his best to make the song his own. "I didn’t want to just copy the same thing that was already out. So what I did was add a little bit to it to make it my story. I had to consume the story that The Count Five was singing and reproduce it as being me." In addition to personalizing the song’s introduction, Wood also added an impassioned vocal performance over the original’s instrumental centerpiece in which he attempted to fully realize the song’s theme by having a psychotic reaction of his own—a rapid-fire recitation of the opening lyric, which degenerates into a frenzied stream of falsetto pleas: "Gimme gimme gimme gimme!" Of the final result, Wood says, "I love the way it came out. I just did a psychotic reaction on it!"


"Psychotic Reaction" mp3
by Brenton Wood, 1967.
available on Baby You Got It: 1960's Anthology

"The Oogum Boogum Song" mp3
by Brenton Wood, 1967.
available on Baby You Got It: 1960's Anthology

"Psychotic Reaction" mp3
by Count Five, 1966.
available on Psychotic Reaction

"Interview" (edit)
by Brenton Wood, 2010.

"The Oogum Boogum Song" mp3
by Alex Chilton, 2000.
available on Set


Anonymous said...

Ooga-ga-oosay? I always thought it sounded like "stick out ya poosay", what a revelation!

Ted Barron said...

The jury is still out on what the hell he's saying...

ariella said...

i had always thought he was saying something dirty too. but he spelled it out letter-by-letter when i spoke to him. as it appears here is straight from the horse's mouth!

Retreat From Oblivion said...

Good one! I hadn't heard this in quite some time. I recall being pretty excited when I scored a copy of the album, as I was a fan of both artists, so of course I was dying to hear what Brenton Wood did with the song. Holy moley, nothing could have prepared me for what was waiting. For years, I'd break that out at parties just for the wtf factor.

Fine Wine said...

I've always wanted to think it was "Check out the poo-say" and in fact usually do my best to perpetuate that myth....But close listening reveals he's singing "Check out the boots, hey!"

Lily Turner said...

the whole day, at the grocery store and driving to the beach and sitting in a meeting, all I heard in my head was oogum oogum boogum.

Anonymous said...

I'm 61 yrs old, i never heard this - fucking genius -ec

Anonymous said...

Hi Ted, You might want to remove Catch That Train's link. I'm reviving both blogs, but they'll be private. If you're interested, I'd be happy to send you an invitation to either or both. Thanks, Marie

Donna Lethal said...

Good one! I sang "The Oogum Boogum" song to someone (who should be old enough to remember) not long ago and they had no idea what I was talking about. I thought everyone knew that one. "Psychotic Reaction," however, is a different story. Amazing.

Scott said...

At the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans a few years back, Brenton played a magnificent set, accompanied by a pickup band led by Alex Chilton on guitar, that climaxed with an amazing version of "Psychotic Reaction." I gather that he doesn't normally perform it when he does oldies shows, but he did at the request of the Stomp's organizers, and it was totally fab. I don't think Mr. Wood performs that often these days, but he was really terrific, so by all means catch him if you get the chance.

Naz Nomad said...

"Psychotic Reaction" clearly uses the backing track from the Count Five's version, same drums, same guitar, with an organ and his vocal rather clumsily overdubbed. One take. "Sorry I missed the break!" "It's good enough for a b-side."