Lou Christie – EnLightnin’ment: The Best of Lou Christie

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I first heard “Lightnin’ Strikes” maybe in middle school? It struck me as weird – weird good, not weird bad – and while it stuck with me (once you hear that falsetto, you will never forget it), I didn’t really think much more of it for many years. Somehow, I picked up this album and was charmed. I have a predilection for early ‘60s pop, as well as girl group and doo wop, and this fits under that umbrella. Plus, there are fascinating elements to the Lou Christie story. Coming out of rural Pennsylvania (born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco), he somehow – at the age of fifteen – entered into a songwriting partnership with professed psychic Twyla Herbert, who was twice his age. Together, they composed most of his biggest hits. Also, singing backup for Christie on his early songs are the Tammys, known to rock nerds as the act behind the stunning “Egyptian Shumba,” a single from 1964 that features unprecedented, eye-opening, and unmistakably orgiastic shrieking from the trio; Christie and Herbert wrote that song. Singing backup for Christie on his later hits were Jessica James and the Outlaws, a member of which was Peggy Santiglia, who had a hit as a member of the Angels in 1962 with “My Boyfriend’s Back,” a song on which RONNIE JAMES DIO played the trumpet. More? Well, the lead vocalist in Jessica James and the Outlaws had been an original Angel before Santiglia joined that group. Also, the Angels’ recording of “My Boyfriend’s Back” was intended to be a demo to give to the Shirelles, but ended up being released as is. Santiglia also co-wrote the Four Seasons’ hit “Beggin’.” Read all that shit again – it’s amazing, right? Supposedly, Christie became a truck driver and offshore oil driller in the 1970s, but returned to the music business. Herbert died in 2009.

What I Think of This Album

“Lightnin’ Strikes” isn’t even the best song on this collection. And believe me, you’re probably not going to have a lot of use for several of the tracks here – even if you like Lou Christie’s voice. Which you reasonably might not. Annoyingly, the tracks are not sequenced chronologically. Anyway, the best songs are absolute keepers.

Among these is debut hit “The Gypsy Cried” (with the Tammys in the background), with its dramatic tale of an insecure suitor who learns some very bad news. “Two Faces Have I” doesn’t sound too dissimilar from “Gypsy,” frankly, but it adds a nice chugging organ and Twyla Herbert plays the piano on this track. Christie accomplishes some cool vocal gymnastics on “Summer Snow” (with the unmistakable Tammys backing him up). “Mr. Tenor Man” is silly fun (notably, one of the few songs here not written by Herbert and Christie), with handclaps and lots of “ahhhs” in the background.

Suggestive “Rhapsody In the Rain” – it’s about car sex, folks – was banned by several radio stations until Christie re-recorded it with cleaner lyrics. Christie’s opening salvo on the rollicking “Outside the Gates of Heaven” almost reaches the point where only dogs could hear it, with a great drum part and excellent vocals all around elsewhere. “How Many Teardrops” is a fine teenage weeper. “Lightnin’ Strikes” is notable for its fuzz bass solo (this is 1965, remember) and some very retrograde lyrics in which Christie demands fidelity from his partner but gives himself a hall pass without a second thought.

“Cryin’ In the Streets” boasts some very “Egyptian Shumba”-like grunts and shrieks (though I think this was Jessica James and the Outlaws – the liner notes on this album suck). “Du Ronda” I can take or leave, but the horns are cool. Jack Nitzsche (who cowrote “Needles and Pins” with Sonny Bono (and Jackie DeShannon); did arrangements and conducted for Phil Spector; played on several Stones albums and with Neil Young; and produced Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks) produced the wonderful “If My Car Could Only Talk,” a sorry story of a soldier whose girl is NOT true. Christie’s swooping vocal on this is magnificent.

Final track “I’m Going to Make You Mine” – fairly irresistible, to be honest – was written by the impeccably-named Tony Romeo, who also composed the Partridge Family hit “I Think I Love You.” The best laugh comes with “Self Expression (The Kids On the Street Will Never Give In).” If the parenthetical suggests some rebellious, proto-Sham 69-type anthem, the actual song is an absurdly sunny – yet somehow petulant and self-righteous – declaration of independence that immediately jettisons all integrity by being addressed to “mama” and “papa.” Imagine Doris Day in an off-off-Broadway precursor to “Hair.”

Just to give a fuller picture of Nitzsche, he also was arrested for raping his ex-girlfriend in 1979; her injuries included a fracture, cuts, bruises, and required almost 20 stitches.

The Best Thing About This Album

Christie’s impressive falsetto.

Release Date

1988

The Cover Art

This is so bad, it’s amusing. The “Miami Vice” style font; the lightning strike; and is that a fucking trench coat?

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