Exclusive Video Premiere: Peggy Sue, 'Hit The Road Jack,' from Peggy Sue Play The Songs of Scorpio Rising
By Peter Zimmerman
August 06, 2012
Earlier this summer, UK-based band Peggy Sue was asked to partake in the summer art series at a pop-up, temporary cinema space in the Hackney Wick area of London called “Folly for a Flyover.” Taking the underside of the A12 Flyover, local architects, art teams, builders and volunteers conceptualized and hand-built a canal-side cinema space in a way that revitalized the fairly dilapidated locale while providing a fascinating and compelling area for artists to mingle, get inspired and create.
Originally asked to score a silent film, the band offered to play a reworked version of the soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s classic cult film Scorpio Rising (1963), which features twelve iconic songs from the early 1960’s, all of which have entered the pop music canon and had major impact on the cultural zeitgeist. Anger’s film was a major turning point in American underground cinema, and has been hugely influential in questioning the authenticity of the American myth via a culture obsessed with image and iconography. Merging homoeroticism with biker culture, Scorpio Rising is a subversive look at the ways in which the 1950’s tried to streamline what it meant to be American and the subsequent cultural icons, like James Dean and Marlon Brando, that sought to undermine that false innocence.
Anger’s film includes no dialogue, so in a way it is somewhat of a silent film, but there’s a constant stream of music to complement the visuals. Peggy Sue member Katy Klaw mentions, “I had seen Scorpio Rising during my film degree and thought it would be an amazing project to perform the soundtrack live. The music is so much a part of the film-- it tells the story as much as the pictures and the imagery is so strong and immediate.”
Still, the choice to perform these songs wasn’t a light choice to make, as they’ve already been covered again and again over the last fifty years, and hold an enormous amount of nostalgia for music-lovers. Katy remarks, “Some songs are so ‘big’ that it was a bit scary to do them -- ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Hit The Road Jack,’ for example. I think these tended to be the ones we changed the most. We naturally lean towards darker music as a band, both in what we listen to and what we produce, but we have a huge amount of love for this 50’s/60’s pop/soul music.” And certainly, in their twelve revisions of these tracks, Peggy Sue dually celebrates the original work while still placing their distinctive mark, which is a balance that’s incredibly hard to achieve without sounding conventional or trite.
“I think there’s a lot of sadness in these songs, and in the lyrics particularly, that comes out when they are grouped together and sung by two female vocalists,” says Klaw. A song like “Heatwave,” for example, still maintains the rollicking, dance-inducing pop sensation like when it first debuted in July 1963, but Klaw and other vocalist Rosa Rex sing “It’s tearing me apart” at the end of the chorus with a weight and sincerity that reveals the underside of the track. They continue this process of deconstruction across the record, which makes these songs come back alive with a palpable energy.
But don’t by misled in thinking that they only exist in a more sorrowful state-- there are still plenty of uptempo rockers. Klaw mentions, “Some songs it was just great to have an excuse to sing and play something we would never write -- like the pure pop of ‘Party Lights’ or the country balled ‘Torture.’” So while this collection is without a doubt the excellent work of Peggy Sue, there’s still a lot of sonic diversity across the twelve tracks.
Sadly, US audiences won’t likely get the chance to hear this collection played live. Klaw writes, “We really want to perform the soundtrack with the film but sadly Mr. [Kenneth] Anger is not so keen on the idea.” But, there’s still some hope, as she mentions that they’re working to create some original visuals that would allow them to keep performing the collection in its entirety. But, if you have the chance to catch them live soon, you’ll no doubt hear some of these songs, like “Hit The Road Jack,” pop up in their setlist.
So, what’s next for Peggy Sue? The band is currently working on new material, but the question of doing more film work continues to be an intriguing one. “We would love to do our own score. I think we were always pretty intimidated by the idea, but this Scorpio Rising project has shown us we could. The album is having quite a big effect on the new Peggy Sue material we are working on too, so the songs will be there in spirit even when they aren't in the set list.”
In the meantime, enjoy the exclusive US premiere of Peggy Sue’s new video for “Hit The Road Jack” via Glide Magazine. More information about the band can be found on Facebook. Be sure to check out Peggy Sue Play The Songs of Scorpio Rising, out September 18 via Yep Roc Records, where the songs will be available in a limited run of CDs, in addition to a digital release.
Peggy Sue Play the Songs of Scorpio Rising Track Listing:
1. Fools Rush In 2. Wind-Up Doll 3. My Boyfriend's Back 4. Blue Velvet 5. Hit the Road Jack 6. (Love Is Like a) Heat Wave 7. He's a Rebel 8. Party Lights 9. Torture 10. Point of No Return 11. I Will Follow Him 12. Wipeout