Graded on a Curve: Budgie, Budgie

There are lots of reasons you should own the 1971 LP Budgie. There’s the cool cover with its fierce-looking budgerigar in samurai garb riding a mighty steed across a lavender sky. Then there are the three guys in the band, who are Welsh and scruffy and look like they enjoy heading down to the tafarn to drink cwrw like everybody in Wales. And let us not forget (who could?) song titles like “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman,” which not even a consortium of French surrealist poets could come up with. But the real reason to own Budgie’s debut LP is its 1,280 HP riffage, which has made Budgie heavy metal legends amongst both fans and subsequent bands like Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, and Metallica, the last of whom have covered a pair of Budgie’s songs.

The Cardiff power trio featured singer and bass player Berke Shelley, whose high-register vocals bring to mind Robert Plant or a less annoying Geddy Lee, who has over the course of his long career mastered the daunting feat of sounding like a parody of himself. Shelley and drummer Ray Phillips put the heavy in the metal, but it’s guitarist Tony Bourge’s Stonehenge-sized riffs that make Budgie one of the finest of metal pioneers.

Aside from drippy fifty-second acoustic throwaway “Everything in My Heart” and the quite pretty acoustic love song “You and I,” Budgie is one kick-ass, high-octane, stick-to-the-basics metal mover. The obvious point of comparison is Led You Know Who, cut with Black Sabbath, but Budgie aren’t as eclectic as the former (no California hippie rock) or as heavy as the latter. Still there’s no denying Zep’s influence on “The Author,” with its acoustic guitar intro and (once the song kicks into gear) guitar riff that is pure “Immigrant Song.”

Meanwhile, “The Rape of the Locks” is all Bourge, from the opening squall of feedback to the fire sale of a guitar solo that dominates the proceedings. But what really makes the song indispensable is its storyline, which has some cretin (the unmitigated gall!”) out to give Berke’s a haircut, which ain’t going to happen because Shelley needs his long hair the way Popeye the Sailor Man needs his spinach (“I grow my mind inside my head/I grow my hair to keep it fed”)!

Budgie didn’t, blessedly, adopt any of the fancy progressive rock mannerisms of fellow metal bands Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and their ilk—they preferred to sweat it out in the boiler room, faced caked with coal dust, keeping a steady course through metal seas. On mid-tempo opener “Guts”—which should not be confused with the song of the same name by fellow Welshman John Cale—Shelley comes across like Bob Plant’s scungier brother, while Bourge’s bank safe drill guitar produces a monster riff and his solos prove the shortest distance between two points is just plain loud.

The riff that powers the wonderfully titled “Homicidal Suicidal” bears an uncanny resemblance to the one on Krautrockers Amon Düül II’s “Archangel Thunderbird,” but who’s keeping score? “All Night Petrol” is a big-bottom crawl to the nearest off-the-interstate gas station, and comes complete with an exploding fuel tank of a guitar solo as well as (Shelley comes through again!) the reeking of motor oil lines: “So you think you’re foolish playing hell/All night petrol beats you with its smell.” Nobody can accuse Shelley of being a romantic. A certified auto mechanic, different story.

It strikes me as downright inexplicable that “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” is devoid of a single memorable line, but you have to dig the knock-knock drumming at the beginning and the way the song kicks and keeps kicking until it explodes and keeps on exploding, increasing the tension until the song goes all jazzy, and if you let your mind wander you could almost be listening to “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.

Which leaves us with “Crash Course in Brain Surgery,” which Metallica loved so much they covered it on 1987’s The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited. It’s a proto-speed metal boogie and lends credence to my theory that Metallica doesn’t taste good (I’ve never liked ‘em) but have good taste, even if the nondescript lyrics give you the distinct impression that the crash course might have been a mistake because it seems to have resulted in an accidental lobotomy.

Jimmy Buffett fans are called Parrotheads but Budgie fans are not called Budgieheads, which is too bad because it would be nice if they had a way to announce themselves—and in turn Budgie—to the world. But metal fans aren’t much for Hawaiian shirts which is a real pity, because they’re really ironic and would brighten up your average Pig Destroyer gig.

All of this is complete nonsense, of course, but what else am I supposed to say except that Budgie and by association Budgie embody the best metal has to offer—long hair, fantastic song titles, Conan the Barbarian riffs, and long guitar blowouts, and the stench of all-night petrol. You should own this album if only for the lines “I grow my mind inside my head/I grow my hair to keep it fed,” because they prove long hair is brain food and vital to increasing brain power, and who doesn’t want more brain power? Answer me that one if you can.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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