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Troggs lead singer Reg Presley dies of lung cancer at 71; sang 'Wild Thing,' other hits

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LONDON - The structure is simple, the guitar riffs basic, the lyrics at best inane, but the Troggs' "Wild Thing" remains a garage rock classic more than 45 years after its release made The Troggs and lead singer Reg Presley international stars.

Presley, whose raunchy, suggestive voice powers this paean to teenage lust, died Monday after a year-long struggle with lung cancer that had forced him and the band into reluctant retirement, his agent Keith Altham announced on Facebook late Monday night. He was 71.

"My dear old pal Reg Presley of The Troggs died today," he said, calling Presley "one very real person in a sometimes very unreal world." He said the singer had suffered a number of strokes recently and died at his home in Andover (70 miles west of London) surrounded by his family and friends.

The Troggs, part of the British invasion spurred by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, perfected a simple, hard-driving approach to the three-minute rock song that was miles away from the lyrical art-rock of the Beatles or the poetic songs of Bob Dylan.

This was rock music at its "boy meets girl" basics, with a caveman's approach to romance — and it created such a powerful image that Presley and the band played these songs to appreciative (if smaller) audiences until illness intervened.

"Wild Thing" 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.

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.

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