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'Wild Thing': Making Hearts Sing For 50 Years

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We now observe an important historical milestone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE WILD ONES: (Singing) Wild thing...

SIMON: You were expecting another anniversary of the Magna Carta?

"Wild Thing" was released 50 years ago this month. Originally performed by a New York band called The Wild Ones, the song's publisher has issued 7,500 licenses for recordings. There are versions by Jimi Hendrix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

JIMI HENDRIX: (Singing) Wild thing...

SIMON: Hank Williams, Jr. -

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

HANK WILLIAMS, JR.: (Singing) You make my heart sing...

SIMON: And a famous frog -

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Kermit the Frog, singing) Wild thing, bum, bow, bom...

SIMON: Although most people these days consider the classic version to be the 1966 recording by The Troggs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) You make everything groovy...

CHIP TAYLOR: My name is Chip Taylor, originally James Wesley Voight. Back in 1964, somewhere around there, I wrote a song called "Wild Thing."

SIMON: At the time, he was best known for country songs, but he got a call from a record producer who wanted some rock 'n' roll. The deadline was near, so he called his engineer Ron Johnson.

TAYLOR: I said, Ron, I'm coming over. Have my stool set up. And as soon as I sit down, have the microphone ready. Put it in record. Turn the lights out. And so he did, and I sang whatever came to me, and there it was, "Wild Thing."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) Wild thing, I think I love you. But I want to know for sure.

TAYLOR: Now this is where I think the magic of the song is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) Come on, hold me tight.

TAYLOR: After I say, come on, hold me tight...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) I love you.

TAYLOR: ...There's silence. Less is more sometimes. For that song, it certainly was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) Wild thing...

SIMON: The Troggs version of "Wild Thing" features what is undoubtedly the most famous ocarina solo in rock history.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE TROGGS SONG, "WILD THING")

SIMON: But the original demo - that fluty sound - came from a man's bare hands, Ron Johnson's hands.

TAYLOR: It was a little open section I had, and I wasn't sure what to put in it. It would be an instrumental. And Ron started doing something with his hands, but he did this little whistling sound. And I thought it sounded really cool. I said, if I hum you something, can you try to match that? And he said, yeah, I can try. So we overdubbed his whistle with his hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

RON JOHNSON: (Whistling).

TAYLOR: And everybody who heard that demo thought it was an ocarina and so did The Troggs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

JOHNSON: (Whistling).

SIMON: Chip Taylor was no one-hit wonder. He wrote the million-selling, 1981 Juice Newton single, "Angel In The Morning" and other tunes for Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare and Emmylou Harris. But "Wild Thing" holds a special place in his heart.

TAYLOR: I was sitting on the banks of Lake Maggiore in Italy and saw two little kids with their mothers, and I just started playing a little bit of "Wild Thing." And they left their mothers and came over to me and just started moving and feeling good. And I think that's what it does. When everybody shouts out, I want to know for sure, it's a nice - it's a nice feeling, you know? I think the Lord will let me skate with that one for that feeling.

SIMON: Chip Taylor, talking about "Wild Thing," released 50 years ago by The Wild Ones.

Our theme music was written by our wild thing, B.J. Leiderman. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD THING")

THE TROGGS: (Singing) You make my heart sing, you make everything groovy, wild thing, come on, come on, wild thing, shake it, shake it, wild thing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.