Pepper

Album: Electriclarryland (1996)
Charted: 59 26

Songfacts®:

  • The song tells a sort-of story of 10 characters (Marky, Sharon, Cherie, Mikey, Bobby, Tommy, "Another Mikey," Flipper, an unnamed "football player-rapist," and Paulie) and the fates they meet. But really, the lyrics are kind of impenetrable after that. "Pepper" doesn't even mention or refer to pepper, unless it's a Tex-Mex cuisine reference since they're "doing it in Texas."
  • "Pepper" is an intense psychedelic song, harkening back to the Beatles at the height of their White Album noise, the Velvet Underground at their most incomprehensibly noisy, and to the '60s flower-child scene in general. Tricky ear-candy here includes an electric bass being played with a bow and a portion of the chorus being played backwards. There's also a stark contrast between the rapped verses in a distorted voice and the chorus opening up louder and flashier with each refrain.
  • After the band pulled a short tour with Nirvana to end 1993 and usher in 1994, Jeff Pinkus, the Buttholes longtime bass player, quit the band. Gibby Haynes was in the depths of a pretty nasty speedball habit, and would check himself into Exodus Recovery Center in LA, where he'd meet up with Kurt Cobain.

    The Butthole Surfers had been drifting apart, but still had four more albums left on their record deal. Though they were barely a band anymore, whittled down to just Gibby, Paul Leary and King Coffey, they fought their way to record Electriclarryland, which ironically, scored them their first Top 40 hit.

    "Pepper" recounts, in a sort of dream-like fashion, the old Texas punk scene Gibby experienced while still a fresh-faced college kid. The names in the song are of real people: Chit Cherie; Bobby Soxx, and others are all mused upon. It was sort of a nostalgia for the simpler days of old, before the Butthole Surfers got bogged down with the regimented, and litigious days of being major label denizens.

    The band and their label (Capitol) were already experiencing rocky times, and despite "Pepper"'s meteoric success, Capitol didn't even bother to release a follow-up single from the LP domestically. By the time the band tried to release its follow-up LP, Capitol was done, and the record they recorded was left to languish unreleased... which it remains to this day.

    "Pepper" is often compared to Beck's "Loser," which obviously had an affect on Gibby and the band, and certainly explains how the song became a hit, but the Buttholes were making trippy hip-hop records long before Beck - listen to their version of "American Woman."

    "Pepper" was pretty much the end of the band. They eventually remixed and recorded some new tracks for the album Capitol refused to release, and released it as Weird Revolution, but even those newer recordings were done by passing around CDs to each other, not by a functional band. (Thanks to James Burns, author of Let's Go To Hell: Scattered Memories Of The Butthole Surfers. Read the first chapter here.)
  • The Butthole Surfers had been at it since the early '80s, but the '90s "Alternative" scene brought them into vogue. This was a time when acts that eschewed mainstream success were celebrated for that attitude, and radio stations were on the lookout for songs that would make their listeners feel edgy without alienating them. It was in this environment that "Pepper" became a hit.

    The song wasn't sold as a single, so it wasn't eligible for the Hot 100, but it was a #1 Modern Rock hit and remarkably, make #26 on Billboard's Airplay chart, indicating a huge number of radio stations playing the track and presumably saying "butthole surfers" on the air.
  • You probably missed it, so be aware that the title of Electriclarryland is a parody of Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland just as their previous album Hairway to Steven was a parody of Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven.
  • The Butthole Surfers got their break when Jello Biafra caught their act in San Francisco and became a fan, shortly thereafter inviting them to open for the Dead Kennedys and T.S.O.L. at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. You don't get any more of a hardcore-punk blessing than this, unless Sid Vicious personally flies down from heaven to anoint you with vodka or something.

Comments: 2

  • Rico from ColoradoThis was (if memory serves) released the week of lead singer Gibby Haynes' 20-year high school reunion, in 1996. Several of the characters mentioned in the song are either high school acquaintances (from Lake Highlands High School, Dallas, Texas in the mid-70s) or others in, or on the periphery of, his social orbit in high school. The song talks about what happened to a number of these people, in the years between graduation and 1996. The character referred to as "Flipper"..."Flipper died a natural death, he caught a nasty virus", was Philip Dunevant (who died of AIDS, in I believe, 1986). The "Tommy" who "played piano like a kid out in the rain", is I believe, Tom Dixon.

    It's a story of the things that happen to people by chance, or by their own actions, good and bad (mostly bad, in this case) here on the 3rd rock from the sun.

    That's my take, anyway. I knew most of these people.
  • Ad828321 from SwanseaIt was released as a single in the UK and the US, the fact stating it was ineligible for the Hot 100 is incorrect. It simply didn't sell enough.

    UK commercial release was on 7" (cat# CL 778) and CD single (cat# CDCL 778)
    US commercial release was on cassette (cat# 4KM 7243 8 58578 4 3) and CD single (cat# C2 7243 8 58578 2 9).
    It was also commercially released in Europe, Australia and separately in France.

    https://www.discogs.com/Butthole-Surfers-Pepper/master/38843
    http://www.officialcharts.com/search/singles/pepper/
    (editor's note: It appears the song was only issued as a promotional single in the US, so you couldn't buy it.)
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