Needle Droppings:
The Buoys, “Timothy”

You’ve got to hand it to the Buoys. Upon scoring a one-single deal with Scepter Records back in 1971, the Wilkes Barre-Scranton, PA band decided to use their one shot at a Top 40 hit and pop stardom by recording a perky and cheerfully upbeat-sounding little ditty about—cannibalism. That’s right, cannibalism. As in, “People/People who eat people/Are the loneliest people in the world.” Written by Rupert “The Pina Colada Song” Holmes, no less!

The idea was so seemingly mad, so bizarrely ill-advised and self-defeating, that it had to be a shuck. And it was. It was Holmes’ devious notion that “Timothy”—which was recorded in Scepter Studios in Manhattan, in the same space that would later become Studio 54—would so appall everybody it would be banned from every Top 40 station in the land. In turn generating such publicity—negative granted, but like they say, any publicity is good publicity—that the Buoys would quickly become a household name.

But the ruse backfired forwards, as your average ghoulish teen couldn’t get enough of it, and while plenty of radio stations did ban “Timothy,” every time one did another one picked it up. Until in the end the song—about three miners trapped in a cave-in, only two of whom emerge, patting their bellies and belching contentedly, at the end—actually rose to #17.

My favorite part of the story involves the Scepter Record honchos who grew squeamish at the idea of a song about two guys eating another guy and wanted it put about that Timothy wasn’t, like, a person—he was a mule. But Holmes, who wasn’t stupid, wouldn’t have it. The kids liked the song because it was cool, and it was cool because it was about murder and cannibalism, not making burgers out of Francis the Talking Mule.

As for the song, it really is kinda cool, opening with a neat guitar riff and bopping along with horns and strings kicking in everywhere. Then you listen to the words and a profound psychic disconnect occurs, as it’s simply impossible to reconcile the cheery music and the queasy-making lyrical content. You’re bopping your head and along come a couple of lines that go: “My stomach was full as it could be/And nobody ever got around/To finding Timothy.” Or my personal faves: “Timothy, Timothy/Joe was looking at you/Timothy, Timothy/God what did we do?”

But my chief problem with the song is the singer’s dubious and very convenient claim that he “must have blacked out” just before they did the foul deed and didn’t remember any of it. Granted, this lack of certainty about Timothy’s fate is the song’s hinge and lends it its sense of mystery, but I simply don’t buy it. I don’t know about you, but I can remember every friend I’ve ever eaten.

Still, I will always admire the Buoys and Rupert Holmes for attempting the unthinkable by singing about the unpalatable—and pulling it off. Well, they don’t totally pull it off, because the song is less likely to induce horror, as intended, than mirth. In fact I listen to it whenever I need a laugh. Still, they aimed high, the Buoys did, and they deserve our respect.

As for Timothy, where on Earth did he go? I’d be inclined to ask Joe. He’s the one who said he would sell his soul for a piece of meat, and kept gazing at Timothy with a lean and hungry look. And the police did find a nearly empty bottle of Heinz 57 sauce in his pockets afterward, along with a recipe for Timothy tartar.

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