The Piltdown Men




I was down in Atlanta earlier this year on my first big-city record buying spree in way too long.  There are records you see there that I have to order by mail, and others that just don’t get here at all; plus it is a real treat to see every single album in mint condition, even the ones that I only paid $1 for.  One of the albums that caught my eye was The Piltdown Men by THE PILTDOWN MEN, an instrumental rock band from a full half-century ago.  Hallmarks of their recordings are twin saxophones, booming kettle drums, and real nice guitar figures that range from Duane Eddy-style “twang” to early surf guitar a la Dick Dale.  The recordings are still highly enjoyable, having a playful flavor without being juvenile at all. 
As was common back then with instrumental bands, the musicians in the Piltdown Men were anonymous.  On sax was Scott Gordon, while the guitar and sometimes bass were often handled by Tommy TedescoTedesco has been described by Guitar Player magazine as the most recorded guitarist in history and is part of a beyond-legendary group of session musicians that were behind many of the biggest hits of the 1960’s and 1970’s who became known as the Wrecking Crew.  Denny Tedesco, Tommy’s son created a 95-minute documentary on these unsung heroes of rock and roll called The Wrecking Crew that has been shown at several film festivals and received a glowing tribute on National Public Radio, yet still criminally languishes without commercial distribution. 
The Piltdown Men released a series of singles from 1960 to 1962, and many had titles with prehistoric themes:  Brontosaurus Stomp, “Mac Donald’s Cave”, “Bubbles in the Tar”, “Goodnight, Mrs. Flintstone”, “Big Lizzard”, etc.  (These are their spellings on the record album, not mine).  Over half of the songs are original compositions, but they also innovatively reworked old standards:  “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” became Mac Donald’s Cave, and The William Tell Overture – universally associated with The Lone Ranger in that time period – was released as “Piltdown Rides Again”.  They also covered Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” and Henry Mancini’s The Great Impostor”.  One of their coolest is “Tequila Bossa Nova”, a redo of the 1958 hit “Tequila” by the Champs with (you guessed it) “Tequila Bossa Nova” replacing “Tequila” as the occasional calls during the mostly instrumental song. 
Their first single was Brontosaurus Stomp b/w Mac Donald’s Cave, and the band had the good fortune to release the song just as America’s first prime-time animated television show, The Flintstones was being launched, almost exactly 50 years ago today.  Brontosaurus Stomp made it to #75 on the U. S. charts, and Mac Donald’s Cave did even better in Britain, reaching #14, despite having competition from a Top 20 version of “Ol’ Mac Donald” in a completely different style that was recorded by Frank Sinatra, of all people.  (Those fancy singers do love their nursery rhymes:  Barbra Streisand put “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” on her debut album, The Barbra Streisand AlbumI picked that one up for a buck in mint condition not long ago, though that was local, not in Atlanta).  While they had no more chart action on this side of the AtlanticBubbles in the Tar and Goodnight, Mrs. Flintstone were both Top 20 hits in the U.K. 
The Piltdown Men fast became one of my favorite band names, and how could it not?  “The Piltdown Man” is one of the most famous and most successful paleontological hoaxes in history.  From its “discovery” in 1912 in an English gravel pit, the skull fragments were accepted as genuine – though not unanimously in the scientific community – until ultimately proved conclusively in 1953 (more than 40 years later, and just 7 years before the Piltdown Men were formed) as being a fraudulent amalgamation of a modern human skull and the jaw of an orangutan with chimpanzee teeth hammered into it. 
Interestingly enough, the iconic dinosaur Brontosaurus referenced in their biggest American hit Brontosaurus Stomp is also a mixed-up fossil, though in this case, it was unintentional.  The largest dinosaur skeleton found up to that point in time (1879) became the first mounted sauropod (in 1905 at the Peabody Museum at Yale University) and was described as being Brontosaurus.  Despite being nearly complete, the skeleton was missing the skull, so one was provided from another dinosaur called Camarasaurus (the actual head turned out to be more like that of Brontosaurus’ cousin, Diplodocus).  However, subsequent scientific investigation very early in the 20th Century revealed that this skeleton (sans the wrong head) was actually an adult example of the Apatosaurus, which had been discovered and described two years earlier using a juvenile example; “Brontosaurus” was then demoted to a synonym.  Still, every dinosaur book I looked through as a kid had the thunder lizard pictured and described along with Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and all the rest.  (See below). 
Besides the darling cover showing an r&r band of cave men and women plus dinosaurs, I spotted the name “E. Cobb” in the songwriting credits and wondered if that could possibly be Ed Cobb.  And sure enough it was:  As their producer and songwriter, Ed Cobb greatly influenced the musical direction of what had up until then been a conventional rock band called the Standells.  The song that he wrote for the band called “Dirty Water” made it to #11 on the national charts and changed the Standells into true punk rock heroes:  Not for nothing was this landmark garage rock song placed on Nuggets (the very first garage rock/psychedelic rock compilation album, released in 1972) as the second track, right after “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” by the Electric Prunes.  Ed Cobb also wrote several more of the Standells’ most memorable songs, including the even fiercer “Barracuda” plus “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” and “Why Pick on Me”.  As a celebration of Boston and its River CharlesDirty Water might seem like an odd choice for a Los Angeles band like the Standells; but Ed Cobb was from New England, so it was home to him. 
Much to my amazement, Ed Cobb.turned out to be a member of a band from the 1950’s called the Four Preps that could hardly be more different from the Piltdown Men and the Standells – come to think of it, those two later bands don’t have much in common either.  (The other man behind the Piltdown Men, Lincoln Mayorga has had a long musical career, mostly behind the scenes, that began when he assisted his high school friends in that band; he became known as “the fifth Prep”).  While instrumental rock bands like the Piltdown Men are extremely scarce these days – though a fine surf/psychedelic band called the Mermen released a new album this year (their first since 2004) – the musical genre from which the Four Preps arose was considered old-fashioned by the mid-1960’s and is almost completely extinct today.  These all-male, all-white singing groups often had names evocative of bourgeois college days – in addition to the Four Preps, examples include the Lettermen and the Four Freshmenand they sang in precise three- or four-part harmonies with a clean-cut look.  The Four Preps’ big hit was a long-time favorite of mine called “26 Miles (Santa Catalina)”, a paean to Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California:  “the island of romance, romance, romance, romance”. 
And who was responsible for the distinctive growling vocals in Dirty Water that prefigured the snarling, snotty singing in so many 1970’s and 1980’s punk rock bands?  His name is Dick Dodd, who handled lead vocalist duties on most of the Standells records; and he had been one of the original Mouseketeers (and no relation to “Head MouseketeerJimmie Dodd).  You just never know where someone’s life is going to go no matter how they start out, do you? 
As a postscript, I have to confess that the Piltdown Men actually do have a pretty decent write-up in Wikipedia.  Apparently when I looked them up after I got the album and realized what a great article I could do on them, I looked up “Piltdown Men” without the “The” and missed the entry.  Still, I just couldn’t resist! 
(October 2010)
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Items:    The Piltdown Men 
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Flashback:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month for October 2010THE PILTDOWN MEN
This is one of my favorite posts; I simply had a ball writing it.  The idea of naming yourself after a notorious paleontological hoax is too cool for school.  It was a great “get” for me also spotting the name “E. Cobb” on what appeared at first glance to be a children’s album and figuring out who that was.  I was almost through with my piece, only to find out that there was a Wikipedia article on the Piltdown Men after all, but I wasn’t about to pass on posting it just because of that.  
There are several videos on YouTube, though it is certainly not surprising that all are audio-only; the band was anonymous after all.  Their big hit “Brontosaurus Stomp” is available at: ; there is also a slide show with shots of the thunder lizard on display.  A clip of Mac Donald’s Cave – their take on “Old MacDonald Had a Farm – can be heard at: .  And then there is “Piltdown Rides Again, riffing on the Lone Ranger theme (also known as The William Tell Overture):
(October 2012)
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Picture Gallery #1:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month for October 2010THE PILTDOWN MEN 
Here is the album The Piltdown Men that I have: 
This is their first single, “Brontosaurus Stomp”:
This is Piltdown Rides Again”, their take on The William Tell Overture
This item includes their biggest hit, Mac Donald’s Cave” (or “Mc Donald’s Cave”); this is actually a mini-EP with four songs on one 45 single: 
This is from another 45 having four other songs: 
At a later date, another band formed in Britain called the Sons of the Piltdown Men; they released one single called “Mad Goose”: 
This gives a photograph of the later band, though it is hard to tell much: 
Here is a poster from a time when the band shared a bill with the Beatles and other British Invasion groups: 
(November 2013)
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Note:  Research made and published in 2015 suggests that Brontosaurus might be a separate species from Apatosaurus after all. 
(February 2017)
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It was about a year ago that I started my series on Under-Appreciated Rock Bands of the Month (including one Under-Appreciated Rock Artist of the Month), to celebrate the more obscure albums and bands in my record collection that had not yet been profiled in Wikipedia.  The list shows a wide-ranging list of types of music I think: 
December 2009 – BEAST1960’s hippie-flavored rock band (2 albums) 
January 2010 – WENDY WALDMAN, 1970’s singer-songwriter (6 albums) 
February 2010 – CYRUS ERIE1960’s garage rock band (single) 
March 2010 – BANG1970’s hard rock band (4 albums) 
April 2010 – THE BREAKAWAYS1970’s power pop rock band (several singles; retrospective album) 
May 2010 – THE NOT QUITE1980’s psychedelic revival rock band (3 albums) 
June 2010 – WATERLILLIES1990’s electronica rock band (2 albums) 
July 2010 – THE EYES1970’s punk rock band (several singles) 
August 2010 – QUEEN ANNE’S LACE1960’s pop-psychedelic rock band (1 album) 
September 2010 – THE STILLROVEN1960’s garage rock band (several singles; retrospective album) 
October 2010 – THE PILTDOWN MEN1960’s instrumental rock band (several singles; retrospective album) 
November 2010 – SLOVENLY1980’s indie rock band (5 albums) 
(Year 1 Review)
Last edited: April 3, 2021