Album: Kim Fowley

Impossible But True: The Kim Fowley Story
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The Independent Culture

Kim Fowley is one of rock'n'roll's great cult figures, a legendary scene-maker whose Zelig-like presence seemed to shadow the musical developments of the Sixties and Seventies, engendering all manner of pop curiosities and turning up in the strangest of places. Fowley is a one-man volume of intriguing footnotes to rock history: he appeared on the first Mothers Of Invention album; produced The Soft Machine's first record; co-wrote the B-side of Cat Stevens' first single; helped effect Gene Vincent's move from rock'n'roll to country; and he was the Svengali behind the Seventies teen popstrels The Runaways. Apart from the first and the last, all are represented on this highly entertaining account of his career, which began back in the Fifties, when the teenage Fowley stole his dad's car and moved to Holly- wood, where he would sleep in the car by night and hustle for openings by day.

His first success came in 1960 with The Holly- wood Argyles' "Alley-Oop", a corny, caveman-themed R&B number with dumb lyrics and an infectious hook that pulled the song to the top of the charts. The following year Fowley recorded Paul Revere & The Raiders' "Like Long Hair", a piano rocker based on a Rachmaninov prelude. It only just scraped into the Top 40, but Fowley knew there was more chart mileage to be had from desecrating classical favourites, and in 1962 he proved it with B Bumble & The Stingers' "Nut Rocker", one of the all-time great novelty pop classics. The Rivingtons' proto-psychobilly masterpiece "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" followed swiftly.

Having established his forte for novelty-pop oddities, Fowley set about chasing every fad that came along, pastiching British Invasion pop, Ventures-style guitar instrumentals, electric-era Dylan, and every stripe of bubblegum, garage-rock and psychedelia. Though he managed to make several records under his own name, Fowley's efforts were generally better expended on production and promotion, for which he demonstrated a rare drive.

Despite all his industry connections and his ear for a saleable gimmick, Fowley remained one of pop's supporting players, a loose cannon condemned to a fringe role. His biggest problem - which was also his greatest gift - was that his ears were more finely attuned to outrage than art, an aptitude that could only carry him so far, and which could backfire badly. It doubtless seemed like a good idea in 1968 when he recorded the homicidal garage-rock song "Animal Man", with its promise to "butcher all the girls on the floor of my living-room". A year later, after the Manson Family murders, it probably didn't seem so funny.