Songfacts®: You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.
This was written by Rupert Holmes, who in addition to his hit "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," has written a novel called Where The Truth Lies, an Emmy-winning TV series called Remember WENN, and several plays, including The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, which won 5 Tony awards.
Rupert was 20 years old and had been in the record business for about a year. He was struggling and willing to do just about anything in the music business. He arranged the Charlie Pride song folio, wrote lead sheets for The 5 Blind Boys Of Alabama, wrote the marching band arrangement for "Jingle Bell Rock
" and the high school arrangement of "Oye Como Va
" by Santana. He was the voice of studio groups and wrote shampoo commercials for Dorothy Hamill. His friend, Michael Wright, was a junior engineer at Scepter Records recording studio, which was at 254 W. 54th, in the same building that Studio 54 was later in. Michael had the keys to a recording studio on the weekend when it wasn't in use and would go in and record songs with Rupert. He found a group out of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania named The Buoys, and somehow Scepter Records, which was the label of Dionne Warwick and BJ Thomas, agreed to release one single that they would record. Michael knew the label would not promote the song, but wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Rupert suggested they record a song that would get banned. That way, there would at least be some controversy about the group and another label might sign them and promote them. So Rupert tried to write a song that would get banned.
Holmes: "At the time, I was working on an arrangement of '16 Tons,' the Tennessee Ernie Ford hit from the '50s, for an artist named Andy Kim. While I was working on the arrangement, there was a cooking show on the TV in the kitchen. It was called The Galloping Gourmet with Graham Kerr
. It's on in the background and I'm singing the lyrics to '16 Tons,' playing it to a kind of vamp sort of like 'Proud Mary
,' and I sing 'Some people say a man is made out of mud, a coal man's made out of muscle and blood. Muscle and blood and skin and bones, a mind that's weak and a back that's...' and I think, you know, that almost sounds like a recipe - muscle and blood and skin and bones, bake in a moderate oven for 2 hours, top with Miracle Whip. I had seen the movie Suddenly Last Summer
about a week earlier on TV, and it had a revelation about cannibalism in it, and I thought, If it's good enough for Tennessee Williams, it's good enough for The Buoys. So I thought, Cannibalism during a mining disaster, that'll get banned. It's not like I'm really telling people to go out and eat someone, this is just this dark, horrible thing that happened in this story. So I write this lyric: 'Timothy, Timothy, where on Earth did you go?' It's about three boys who are trapped in a mine with water but no food for maybe a week. When they're pulled free, they don't remember what happened, but they know they're not hungry. One of them is missing, and that's Timothy. We record this on the weekend and I don't think about it again."
When this was released, some little radio stations played it and kids would hear it and figure out what it was about. They would call and request the song, and the radio stations, surprised by the phone response, would then listen to the song to find out what it was about. Says Holmes: "They played the song originally because it had a nice rhythm, kind of like a Creedence Clearwater Revival feel. It was catchy enough, but then they'd hear what the song was about and say 'We can't be playing this, it's about cannibalism!' and they'd pull the song off the air. The kids would call in and say 'Why'd you pull the song off the air,' and they'd say, 'Because it's disgusting, you shouldn't be listening to stuff like that.' Well, all you have to do is tell a teenage kid that he shouldn't be listening to something because it's disgusting and vile and loathsome, and he'll demand it. So the record, unlike "Pina Colada," which vaulted up the charts, went up like one or two digits every week. It was on the charts forever. Stations were playing it, kids were clamoring for it, it would move up the charts, then the station would pull it, the kids would clamor more and some other station would go on it to satisfy that demand. It just kept going up the charts."
Holmes: "Scepter Records in the beginning did not even know it was on their label. The promotion men for Scepter Records, who were trying to break a Beverly Bremers single, would say, 'We couldn't get it on that station, they went with this stupid song called Timothy.' Finally, someone said, 'You idiot, it's on our label.' Now they have a problem, because now they're getting up towards the top 20, and they know there are some big stations that are simply not going to play this record. WABC-AM, the biggest station at the time, they never played it. Scepter Records started a rumor that Timothy was a mule to try to get the taint of cannibalism out of the picture and try to make it a Top-10 record. Someone called me and said, 'Was Timothy a mule? You wrote it.' And I said 'No, what can I tell you, they ate him.'
Holmes: "It did better than we intended it to do. It was supposed to just start the controversy, instead it actually was a hit. I was a 20 year old kid hungry not for human flesh, but hungry to do something successful in the music business. I think I diagnosed a dilemma that a friend of mine had and found an effective way of solving his problem."
This was the only Top 40 hit for the Buoys. They did get an LP deal from Scepter Records out of it, they had a couple of other records that placed in the Top-100.
Holmes: "Whenever people talk about Timothy, I always say, 'Where did you come from?' Because that always lets me know. If they were from Florida, it was big there, if they were from Pennsylvania, very big. Texas, they know it. But if you're from New York you've never heard of it." (Thanks to Rupert Holmes for speaking with us about this song. To learn more about Rupert, check out rupertholmes.com.)
There are two known edited versions of this song released as white label promo 45s on Scepter. The A-side of both promos feature the unedited version. The B-side of SDR-12275 indicates "REVISED LYRIC" under the song title. The "My stomach was full" lyric is changed to "Both of us fine as we could be." The B-side of the other promo (SDJ-12275) indicates "EDITED, BLEEPED OUT" under the song title. While the "My stomach..." lyric is kept in this one, the word "hell" in the second verse is covered up with a quick bleep. Unless confirmed, there is no known "third edited version" with both edits combined into one mix. (thanks, DENNY - Pittsburgh, PA)
Brad Smith of Blind Melon
The Blind Melon bassist/songwriter tells the story of "No Rain," which he wrote before the band was formed.
Mark Arm of Mudhoney
When he was asked to write a song for the Singles
soundtrack, Mark thought the Seattle grunge scene was already overblown, so that's what he wrote about.
Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
Their frontman (Chris Cornell) started out as their drummer, so Soundgarden takes a linear approach when it comes to songwriting. Kim explains how they do it.