Cannibalism is one of those subjects that makes people uncomfortable.¹ As a general rule, humans don’t like to think about consuming the raw flesh of other humans. It’s considered poor form to raise the topic at a dinner party or job interview. Plot device for a horror movie? Sure. Sci-fi novel? No problem. Bubblegum pop song? Abso—wait, what?
The year was 1971. Rupert Holmes had discovered a band called the Buoys and had managed to get them a one-single deal with Scepter Records. They didn’t offer to provide any promotional assistance. But Holmes had an interesting idea. Using the old adage that there’s “no such thing as bad press,” he suggested that they intentionally record a song that would get banned.
Holmes penned a tune about three coal miners trapped after a cave-in – Joe, Timothy, and the unnamed miner singing the song. The lyrics never explicitly state what happened to Timothy, but it’s pretty clear with lines like these:
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 have a swig
And then there’s some for you.”
Timothy, Timothy, Joe was looking at you
Timothy, Timothy, God what did we do?
Only two miners were found by rescuers. As you might guess, Timothy was not among them. The singer freely admits his “stomach was as full as it could be.” And I’m not buying his blackout defense. The song was only 2 minutes and 45 seconds long! Don’t you think that’s a little early to resort to cannibalism?
The song is actually pretty catchy. It has a driving beat, decent vocals, and features a horn and string accompaniment typical of early ’70s pop. You be the judge:
Their gambit paid off. “Timothy” ultimately reached # 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, thanks largely to the radio station bans. As stations banned the song, competing stations would start playing it to meet the demand (“Timothy” had managed to gain a foothold in the public consciousness before the bans started.) The Buoys signed a deal with Scepter to produce a full album, but they were unable to match the success of “Timothy.”
Rupert Holmes fared a bit better. He hit # 1 in 1979 with “Escape (The Piña Colada Song.)”
¹Especially the victims.