LOS ANGELES — Reg Presley, lead singer of the Troggs, who made hearts sing with the primal-scream, proto-garage-rock anthem “Wild Thing,” has died at age 71.
The BBC reported that the band’s frontman succumbed after “a succession of recent strokes and a losing battle with cancer.”
Presley died at his home in Andover, England, 70 miles west of London, surrounded by family and friends, his agent Keith Altham announced on Facebook late Monday night.
The Troggs were one of the more notable British Invasion bands that were popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the early and mid-1960s, riding the wave of Beatlemania.
“Wild Thing” – ranked No. 257 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time – was a growling, slow-burning, guitar-fired come-on to a girl who made “everything groovy,” and it inspired generations of punk rockers to come.
The song was written by accomplished American songwriter Chip Taylor, whose real name is James Voight. He turned to his brother, the actor Jon Voight, for an assessment.
Jon Voight said in 2007 that he fell on the floor laughing when he first heard “Wild Thing.”
“I came up saying, ‘It’s a hit! They won’t be able to get it off their tongues.’ It was such a fun song.”
However, the original recording by Jordan Christopher & The Wild Ones in 1965 was quickly forgotten. It took the Troggs’ cover, released the following year, to make it a classic.
With its basic three-chord approach and driving beat, “Wild Thing” became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and has been covered by literally hundreds of bands ever since.
The song was picked up not only by semi-skilled garage bands the world over – the lead guitar lines were easily copied – but also by masters like Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen who treasured the song’s raw energy. Pete Townshend has identified the song as one of the rock era’s defining tracks.
It even led to a successful novelty song, with a singer pretending to be Sen. Robert Kennedy “singing” the lyrics in Kennedy’s distinctive voice.
The Troggs, all from the Andover area, had several other big hits, including “Love is All Around” and “With a Girl Like You.”
They faded in the 1970s, but their songs were revived in the 1990s when REM and Wet Wet Wet released covers of the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.”
Presley, also a prolific songwriter, helped found the Troggs in the 1960s while he was working as a bricklayer.
Born Reg Ball, he took the stage name “Presley” at his manager’s suggestion.
He announced his retirement in January 2012 in an open letter to his fans thanking them for their support. He said at the time that he was receiving chemotherapy and not feeling “too bad.”
He had a strong interest in crop circles, paranormal activity and UFOs.
His daughter Karen told the music website WENN that she, her brother and her mother were with Presley when he died.
“We’re absolutely heartbroken,” she said.
– The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.