Monday, January 11, 2021

From cannabalism to pina coladas

Cannibalism made The Buoys a one-hit wonder '70s pop band.

And the creator of this macabre piece of Top 40 flotsam went on to pen a hit song so saccharine that dentists across the nation worshipped him for the tooth-decay business it generated.

I first heard “Timothy,” the 1971 hit single by Pennsylvania’s The Buoys, on the radio. It seemed a typical pop song of that era, replete with a bouncy melody and a catchy chorus just made for singing along. As such, I didn’t really pay much attention to the song’s lyric content because it was just background noise to me.

Several years later I stumbled across the album in a used record bin. I recalled the single and decided I would waste a buck on the disc. I discovered, when actually paying attention to the song, that this jaunty little pop number told the saga of three miners -- Joe, Timothy and the unnamed narrator -- trapped underground by a mining accident. When the miners are eventually rescued, though, only two are alive.

In that spirited earwig chorus the narrator asks, “Timothy, oh, Timothy, where did you go?” Later in the song the chorus changes to, “Timothy, oh, Timothy, my god, I think I know.” In between those two choruses, the narrator sings about his desperate yearning for “just a piece of meat” and that his stomach “was full as it could be” upon eventual rescue. So, yeah, we all know the answer to where Timothy went.

The song is the brainchild of Rupert Holmes, who at the time was a 20-year-old arranger for Scepter Records. Holmes had pushed Scepter to sign The Buoys; the record company agreed to release a single but with the stipulation that the band would be responsible for its own publicity. Reportedly, Holmes penned the song with the idea of generating controversy, and possibly even the banning of the song, as a way to generate publicity for the fledgling group. (There’s no such thing as bad PR, there’s just PR.)

The gimmick worked. The song became a hit, eventually rising to No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart even though some radio stations did ban the tune from their playlists. Record company executives initially had paid no attention to the song, but as controversy brewed and the song slowly climbed up the charts, Scepter tried to put a positive spin on the issue by claiming that the doomed Timothy was a mule, not a miner. Holmes contradicted this. And, not wanting to miss an opportunity to make a buck, Scepter, in an effort to lure back the stations that banned the song, produced two promotional singles that watered down the offensive content. The original song was on the A-side and one of two differently edited versions was on the B-side. One alteration changed the lyric "My stomach was full as it could be" to "Both of us fine as we could be." The "stomach" lyric was included in the second version but the word "hell" was bleeped out in the second verse.

Scepter subsequently allowed The Buoys to record a full album, with “Timothy” as the centerpiece. The album cover poses the five-piece group in front of a building with the word “Timothy” emblazoned on an awning above the musicians. Sadly for The Buoys the rest of the album material was fairly bland and they never had another shot at fame and fortune. Holmes penned several other songs for The Buoys, but only “Give Up You Guns” had any success, peaking at 84 on the charts.

Now, as the late Paul Harvey would intone, for the rest of the story.

Holmes went on to a lengthy and successful career as a composer, singer-songwriter, musician, dramatist and author. He released several albums that generated quite a few hit singles, including “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” on his fifth album, 1979’s Partners In Crime. The single peaked in December of that year and became the last No. 1 single of the 1970s.

The song is about a man who is bored with the routine sameness of his current relationship and is looking for some strange. He spots a personal ad from a woman looking for a man who, among other qualities, must like pina coladas. He replies and arranges to meet the woman, only to discover she is actually his current partner. The song ends on a storybook note as the two lovers realize they have more in common than they had suspected. Love blossoms anew between the two.

If you listened to pop radio in 1979, you know the chorus:

“If you like pina coladas
And gettin' caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga
If you have half a brain
If you like makin' love at midnight
In the dunes on the cape
Then I'm the love that you've looked for
Write to me and escape”

So, Rupert Holmes began the 1970s writing about cannibalism in a mine disaster and ended it crooning about rediscovering love in a song as sickeningly sweet as the drink it popularized. What a long, strange trip it was. Watch Holmes and The Village People on The Midnight Special.

Opening act for Queen: Two members of The Buoys, Bill Kelly and Jerry Hludzik, in 1979 formed a band called Dakota, which in 1980-81 toured the country as the opening act for Queen’s 35-date The Game Tour. Danny Seraphine, original drummer and founding member of Chicago, produced several albums for them. Watch a video interview with Dakota's founders.

Fifth-worst song ever: "Timothy" is listed as the fifth-worst song ever in humorist Dave Barry’s 1997 Book Of Bad Songs.


  1. I remember this song well and still have the 45. I don't feel the need to ever listen to it again.

  2. Are you talking about pina coladas or cannibals? I could live without ever hearing either song again. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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