Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Jimmy Castor Bunch – Troglodyte (Cave Man)
PEAK CHART POSITION: #6 in June 1972
Bad funk can depress as deeply as a bad comedy. Wanting escape, we find the dreariness and missed notes in which life specializes; in a hunt for an adventure with a good groove, we move in place, syncopating like the track can’t. I don’t care how often the intro “What we’re gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time” has been sampled in the last forty years: Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” is a hilarious, depressing glimpse into caveman politics — another example of male artists overcompensating in reaction to women’s lib with Cro-Magnon attitudes. I mean, “troglodyte” is too kind.
A R&B second tier artist who hung around long enough to join The Teenagers in their late eighties revival tour incarnation, Jimmy Castor did come up with a rather good album of deep funk in It’s Just Begun, the peak of which is the title track, a terrific use of timbales and hi-hat, with a dense bass line and guitar solo as the meringue. Had “It’s Just Begun” topped the 1972 chart, we’d be acclaiming it as a Great Lost Single except that it wouldn’t be lost: listeners would recognize it for decades. But it never charted anywhere in America (if it got R&B play I don’t know). Almost as solid is 1966’s “Hey, Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You”, graced with more fabulous percussion and a merengue piano line that doesn’t quit. I also dig their cover of the Joe Cuba Sextet’s “Bang Bang,” ruined by savvy eighties fans by David Sanborn in 1992.
So why on earth did Castor record “Troglodyte”? I haven’t wanted to Google interviews — it would horrify me to read explanations. After the famous spoken word opening mentioned earlier, Castor croaks, “Let’s take the average caveman at home listenin’ to his STEREEOOOO,” a preface to the mildest sort of jittery funk track: the guitar, mixed as low as Paleolithic mud, is the star. This is mildly enjoyable. But Castor speak-sings the vocal — a devastating decision. Every time I want to concentrate on the backing track, he burps recidivist nonsense that H.R. Haldeman and Richard Nixon discussed over a cottage cheese in 1972. Castor’s Cro-Magnon man watches girls washing clothes (“or somethin'”) before grabbing them by the hair, only don’t do that cuz their hair might come off — because modern girls wear wigs? because feminism has loosened the hold of hair on women’s heads?
It doesn’t get funnier or funkier, often synonymous. Neneh Cherry, N.W.A, and Kool Moe Dee appreciated it, though. So did Jimmy Castor himself, whose 1976 sequel “The Bertha Butt Boogie,” about a woman for whom the world moves on her hips. E.U. and Sir Mix-a-Lot nodded, took notes.