The Stray Cats

The Stray Cats

Synopsis of Pop Music

“We’re gonna rock this town,
Rock it inside out,
We’re gonna rock this town,
Make ‘em scream and shout.”

At a time when pop music was striving to sound as futuristic as possible, The Stray Cats provided a breath of fresh air with their decidedly retro sound. Drawing their inspiration from rockabilly idols like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, the Cats created modern rock that had a 50’s-style twang to it. They also backed up their sound with an equally retro ‘pompadours and leather jackets’ image that made them teen-magazine pinups and helped push their nouveau-rockabilly songs into the upper levels of the pop charts.

The Stray Cats were known as the ‘Tom Cats’ when they began playing bars in Long Island during their teenage years. They moved to England to become part of that country’s thriving rockabilly scene and soon hooked up with producer/musician Dave Edmunds, who became their producer. The result was string of U.K. Top-10 hits like “Runaway Boys,” “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut,” which effectively recreated the sound of classic rockabilly music. On the strength of these hits, they were invited to tour with The Rolling Stones and thus got their first international exposure.

In 1982, The Stray Cats landed a U.S. recording contract after making a big impression via a performance on the television show Fridays. They soon released Built For Speed, a compilation of songs from their two U.K. albums plus the brand-new title track. The group also made videos for “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” that played up their strong visual image, which combined massive, slicked-up pompadours with authentic 50’s rocker clothes like bowling shirts and jeans with rolled-up cuffs. “Rock This Town” was released as the first U.S. single and promptly went Top-10.

Built For Speed became a big hit on the strength of “Rock This Town” and had sold 2 million copies by early 1983. That spring, The Stray Cats released Rant ‘N’ Rave With The Stray Cats and promptly scored another Top-10 hit with “She’s Sexy + 17.” This frantic rave-up was released as a double-single with three non-album songs and sold quite well. A sweetly-harmonized ballad called “I Won’t Stand In Your Way” also got a lot of radio play. However, the world would soon receive a shock when The Stray Cats quietly disbanded in September of 1984.

Throughout the early 1980’s, Brian Setzer pursued a solo career, while Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker teamed up with journeyman guitarist Earl Slick to form Phantom, Rocker and Slick. The Stray Cats reformed in 1986 and recorded a string of three albums before disbanding once more. Since then, Brian Setzer turned his passion for swing-jazz into a career with the Brian Setzer Orchestra and scored a top hit at the end of the 90’s with “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail.” Like his work with The Stray Cats, Setzer’s new success shows there is plenty of life left in so-called ‘old’ musical styles.

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Essential Music Albums

Runaway Boys: Retrospective ‘81-‘92 (Capitol)

Band Members

Brian Setzer lead vocals, guitar
Lee Rocker double bass
Slim Jim Phantom drums

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