By: William G. Muir
If you are a progressive rock in 1971 and the record label you are signed to has no interest in promoting your work what do you do? You could strive to write the greatest rock and roll song ever. But seeing how your label is paying you no attention whatsoever you probably are not the kind of band that writes top 40 songs. In all honesty you probably aren’t writing songs that break into the Top 100 on the charts.
Since writing the greatest song to ever hit the airwaves is out you need a different strategy. If you can’t be famous, then why not try to be infamous? That is exactly what The Buoys did! In 1971 they set out to record a song that would hopefully get banned on every rock station in the United States. As we have all heard, there is no such thing as bad publicity!
Having a contract for just one single with Scepter Records, Rupert Holmes decided he would deliberately write a song that was too taboo for the radio stations of the 1970s. What he came up with was Timothy. What is the big deal about a song called Timothy you might ask? Isn’t that the song about kid who is really good at playing pinball?
No it is not! That is Pinball Wizard by The Who.
Timothy is about two guys that get trapped in a mine when it caves in. Not knowing if and when they might get rescued they decide to eat the mule (Timothy) that is trapped with them. Wait a minute I hear you saying, there is no reason this song should be banned by the radio station. There really is nothing all that offensive about this song. It actually sounds like a topic for a folk song.
My fellow readers you would be right in questioning a song about why song a mule would be so taboo. In reality the song wasn’t about two miners being trap in a cave-in and having to eat a mule to survive. That is a statement the record company put out after the song started getting heavy airtime. The executives at Scepter Records originally had no clue what the song was about when it was recorded.
Basically what the song is really about is three miners trapped in mine. One of the miners (Joe) convinces a second unnamed miner that they should eat the third miner, Timothy. Yes dear readers you read that right, this is a song about cannibalism.
Now I wasn’t around in 1971 to be witness to how this whole thing played out. I wasn’t born till 1975 and wouldn’t discover this song existed until the mid-90s. What I have gathered from reading about the song’s history, it was a hit. After its release it was a big hit among the young male listeners. But soon radio stations realized what the song was about and some of them started to ban it from their rotation.
As the song’s popularity grew, Specter Records put out the statement about the song being about a mule. But the stations that had removed the song did not buy it. Nobody bought it. Even though the song was not being played on most radio station, it managed to slowly climb the Billboard Top 100 charts. Timothy peaked at number 17, quite an accomplishment for a song with so little initial backing.
Like I said I didn’t discover this song until the mid-90s; and I found it in a very unlikely place. For my twentieth birthday my mother gave me Dr. Demento’s 25th anniversary CD. Hold on I can hear you saying, Dr. Demento didn’t he use to have a weekly syndicate radio show were he played all kinds of wacky songs? It’s he the one that introduced “Weird Al” Yankovic to the American public? He’s the guy who use to platy that Fish Head song, right. Yes that is the guy. So why was this song on a comedy CD?
I just don’t know!
What I do know is that at first I had no clue about what this song was even about. That is probably because I didn’t pay all that much attention to the song. It wasn’t until one I was playing the Dr. Demento on my truck’s CD player and my mom heard this song. She was the one that told me the song was about cannibalism. I had to relisten to the song when I was alone to realize that she was right. My mom was also the one that told me about the the claims the song was about a mule.
I have to say this song doesn’t bother me at all. Maybe that has something to do with me hearing it for the first time when I was twenty. Maybe the fact that I had seen so many horror movies by that time I just think a song about cannibalism was all that taboo. Heck it could of had something to do with the fact that it was the mid-90’s and all kind of weird things were going on. Whatever it might have been, this song has become one that I will listen to it on occasion.
Do you want to know if I think other people should listen to Timothy? I think that is for each individual to decide. If taboo subject do not make you squeamish, or if this song doesn’t violate a tenant of your personal belief system, I say go for it.
The Buoys Timothy
And everyone knows the only ones left
Were Joe and me and Tim
When they broke through to pull us free
The only ones left to tell the tale
Was Joe and me
Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go
Timothy, Timothy, God why don’t I know
Hungry as hell, no food to eat
And Joe said that he would sell his soul
For just a piece of meat
Water enough to drink for two
And Joe said to me, I’ll take a swig
And then there’s some for you
Timothy, Timothy, Joe was looking at you
Timothy, Timothy, God what did we do
I must have blacked out just ’round then
‘Cause the very next thing that I could see
Was the light of the day again
My stomach was full as it could be
And nobody ever got around to finding Timothy
Timothy, Timothy where on earth did you go
Timothy, Timothy god why don’t I know