Welcome to the Weird with the Butthole Surfers

It’s 1994, I’m at Reading Festival, my first ever festival and we’re all sat round the fire outside the tents getting caned and listening to people’s compilation tapes when on comes one of the strangest, surreal yet compelling pieces of music I’d ever heard, “what the HELL is this??” I asked, “this is the Butthole Surfers” came the reply.

The guy who’s tape it was worked with me at the time and from about 1993 until I moved in 1997 was pretty much single handed in getting me into a vast array of new music and changing my listening habits for evermore (thank you Steve Cimelli if you ever happen to read this!). Following the Reading weekend I seem to remember him bringing another bag of vinyl into work for me to listen to, including, I think, three Butthole Surfer albums, “Hairway To Steven” (whose first track was the one I’d heard at Reading), “Locust Abortion Technician” and “Rembrandt Pussyhorse”. Man, you don’t get many albums with names such as those eh?!

To say I was unprepared for what these three albums were going to do to my poor little ears and brain would be a massive understatement! I can’t remember in which order I listened to them but I probably started with “Hairway To Steven” due to my familiarity with the first track. “Jimi” (I only know that’s what it is called now thanks to iTunes, as on the album each track is not named but is given a small crude drawing, this one is two naked guys playing baseball while defecating!) starts with massive drum beats and vocalist Gibby Haynes spouting bizarre, dark and disturbing yet funny lyrics through heavy vocal distortion alternating between ultra-deep growl to helium infused squeals. This then shifts gear halfway through to become a gentle ditty with the sound of birdsong and bowling! The rest of the album took me completely by surprise, nothing else on there was anything like the first track, there was the Johnny Cash style “John E Smokes” to the hard rocking “Ricky”. This album also contains, imho, the best titled track ever, “I Saw an X-ray of a Girl Passing Gas”, by the way did I mention the Buttholes were very fond of the recreational psychedelics?!

However, although as mad as a box of frogs the titles and lyrics might be on H2S, most of the music was relatively unchallenging, and in hindsight I’m glad I listened to this first as this is not something that can be said of “Rembrandt Pussyhorse” and “Locust Abortion Technician”! In fact on first listen to the acid-fried weirdness of these two I was not keen, but I persevered, and eventually these two are pretty much my favourites of theirs now. I have to say though, despite repeated attempts over the years, I’ve never fully come around to their debut “Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac”, it’s just so out there, I think there’s still some listening work to be done here.

“Locust Abortion Technician” starts off with what is probably one of my favourite Buttholes tracks “Sweat Loaf”, a twisted take on Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”. The bit of speech it kicks off with is probably more well known than either the album or the band themselves as it was also used by Orbital years later on their track “Satan”;

“Daddy?”
“Yes son?”
“What does regret mean?”
“Well son, a funny thing about regret is it’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t done. And by the way, if you see your mom this weekend would you be sure and tell her……SATAN! SATAN! SATAN!”

The only thing barley recognisable from Black Sabbath’s original is a fuzzed up warped version of the guitar riff;

Arguably their heaviest and most disturbing album, the nightmare is briefly relaxed on the one track on the album that is not theirs, “Kuntz”, a remixing of an original recording by an unknown Thai artist, edited so that the title word seems to be chanted, sounding more than a bit rude! As Beavis would no doubt say “You said kuntz, huh huh huh!”

“Rembrandt Pussyhorse” is less heavy but no less weird (possibly more!) and contains one of my favourite cover versions, their version of “American Woman” (original by The Guess Who here)

It also contains the very strange “Waiting For Jimmy To Kick”, I’m not sure I want to know what this is about!

Their album “Piouhgd” (according to the record label it’s pronounced “pee-owed” a in “pissed off” but the band state they just picked an unpronounceable word!) has an electrified cover of Donovan’s “The Hurdy Gurdy Man”, I remember seeing the video for it on MTV and being quite freaked out by it;

The following album “Independent Worm Saloon” released in 1993 is seen by a lot of fans as their last great experimental album, although it contained indicators as to where they were headed being less experimental and using more straightforward heavy rock. Following this they went into relatively more mainstream rock territory. Remaining albums, “Electriclarryland” and “Weird Revolution”, although filled with odd lyrics and themes and definitely worth a listen, never really reached the downright musical and vocal oddness of previous albums.

I have a certain soft spot for the Buttholes, they were the first truly “alternative” band I got into, the first I had to actually work at to get the rewards! Bear in mind that prior to 1993 my music taste was limited to whatever I heard on mainstream radio and old stuff like Led Zep, Thin Lizzy, Queen etc.

So, thanks Steve, I am forever in your debt for opening my mind and ears!

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