We all “knew” who Budgie was thanks to Metallica. Their cover of “Breadfan” was better than many of Metallica’s originals. Then, I came across Martin Popoff’s debut tome Riff Kills Man. The praise thrown at the Welsh trio got all our attention.
I always thought Budgie had elements of all the classic metal bands. Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Priest, Maiden, with a vocal vibe reminiscent of Geddy Lee.
Burke Shelley was the voice, the vision, and the rumble. He made basslines into hooks and had a knack for a long, twisted song title. “I’m Compressing the Comb on a Cockerel’s Head”. “Nude Disintegrating Parachute Woman”. “In the Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand”. Unforgettable! Metallica covered “Crash Course in Brain Surgery”. Maiden covered “I Can’t See My Feelings”. But not all the song titles were labyrinthine. “Guts” from the debut LP packed just as much punch in just four letters!
Budgie’s first album soared in 1971. They broke up in the 80s, but flew once more with 2006’s You’re All Living in Cuckooland and a new lineup. Now Burke has left us in Cuckooland, but at least we have a rich back catalogue of albums and singles to enjoy.
In the early 1970’s, a new young band was rumbling out of Europe with a fresh, sludgy heavy rock sound. With a debut album produced by Rodger Bain under their belts, they peddled that new style of music often called “heavy metal”, known for its loud distorted guitars and long-haired musicians.
Black Sabbath? Not this time. Let’s not forget Cardiff’s own Budgie.
Budgie’s 1971 self-titled debut album demonstrates that the band had already found their own niche. Lead throat Burke Shelley had the looks and the voice of a young Geddy Lee, but three full years before Rush’s first album in 1974. They had obvious Sabbathy elements, but without the doom and evil overtones. They wrote long, groove oriented songs unlike anything Ozzy & co. were writing. Shelley’s lyrics and song titles ran from unusual to bizarre. The opener “Guts” is a great example of the strangeness and groove coming together in one addictive sludgy confection.
Budgie were also known for soft acoustic interludes. “Everything in My Heart” is one, clocking in at less than a minute. (According to the liner notes, Shelley recalls he wrote this for some girl he liked.) This acts as a sort of prelude to “The Author” which combines the quiet side with the sludge. The droning heavy riffage, switching lanes with softer sections, make for a pretty epic Budgie track. As a power trio, Shelley’s bass becomes the deliverer of many hooks. However on “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” the bass joins forces with Tony Bourge’s distorted axe to build a wall of riff. Both the album and single versions are included on the 2004 deluxe CD edition. One is over twice as long as the other! The album cut contains a long Purple-like instrumental section.
“Rape of the Locks” (a satire about a hair cut, get it?) commences with a very Blackmore guitar freakout. The riffs are more Sabbath, while its jammy aspects remind of the first album by the Scorpions. Burke Shelley continues the groove on “All Night Petrol”, both punishing and catchy. “You and I” is another acoustic interlude, 1:42 of Burke trying to be lovey-dovey. It acts as a reset before the final onslaught: “Homicidal Suicidal”. Soundgarden covered this one in 1991 on an obscure B-side. Perhaps it is the definitive example of the early Budgie sound. Almost seven minutes of heavy Budgie, drums hammering at the walls while Burke rumbles the foundation. Meanwhile there’s Tony Bourge with the riff of riffs.
The bonus tracks on this edition are well worth seeking. In addition to the above mentioned single edit of “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” there is its B-side “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” which Metallica covered. This is an unreleased alternate mix of one of Budgie’s best known metal thrashers. Finally there are 2003 re-recordings by the reformed Budgie composed of Shelley, Steve Williams and Simon Lees. “Parachutist Woman” and “Guts” are very different from the originals, although the arrangements are pretty much the same. It’s just a matter of different musicians and 32 years!
The Budgie remasters can be expensive to track down, but well worth it. May as well get all the extra tracks if you’re going to hunt for some Budgie.
BUDGIE – The Definitive Anthology: An Ecstasy of Fumbling (1996 Repertoire)
Dear young and old, far and wide:
This 2 CD compilation is an excellent starting point for digging into the monumental sound of Budgie, formerly Six Ton Budgie. (That’s a really heavy bird!) Helmed by the Geddy Lee lookalike Burke Shelley and his shifting cast of players, Budgie is a power trio and the prototype for the sound of bands as diverse as Rush, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Metallica, and Iron Maiden. Formed in ’67, Budgie predate them all.
Want some proto-Sabbath sludge? It’s here. AC/DC-type fast riff rockers with simple beats? Also here. Songs driven by catchy, eloquent basslines? Look no further. Metallic gallops? These guys were doing it while Steve Harris was still struggling away in Gypsy’s Kiss! Everything good that happened with heavy metal had already been done by Budgie before those sounds hit the mainstream. All with a singer who could have been Geddy Lee’s long lost brother (and look at those glasses too)!
This album includes some of the best tracks from their albums 1971-1982. It also includes B-sides, single versions, and EP tracks. Burke Shelley stopped gigging with Budgie in the late 80’s but returned with some serious thunder and a 2006 comeback album. This stuff, however, is some of the creme de la creme of the initial phase of Budgie.
Highlights for me included:
“Homicidal Suicidal” – a 6 minute exercise in bass-driven groove.
“Whiskey River” – a shorty; killer bassline, catchy as hell.
“In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Hand” – another one with a catchy as hell bassline.
“Breadfan” – you already know Metallica’s version of this proto-thrash number.
“Wildfire” – very much like Maiden’s “2 Minutes To Midnight” riff.
“Time To Remember” – Spacey, echoey, epic.
“I Turn To Stone” – the gallop at the end is pure Iron Maiden with some Blackmore type soloing.
“Superstar” – great fast rocker.
“She Used Me Up” – another one that AC/DC fans will love.
“Panzer Division Destroyed” – pure proto-thrash brilliance.
That list is very incomplete, because I think every one of these 29 songs are really good. Some go beyond that into “great” territory, and others one step further to “fucking awesome.”
Truly, Budgie were way ahead of their time. Chances are the kids on your street have never heard any of these songs, except when covered by Metallica and Iron Maiden. Now it’s time to prove to them who knows their rock music. Pick this, or any Budgie album, up today. If you go with this one, you’ll also get a gigantic booklet with ample liner notes about the band and every single track. I consider it a great stroke of luck, the day that one of my customers sold this one to me. (His name was Dan and he’s the same guy who sold me tons of great stuff before.) I was aware of Budgie because of Maiden and Metallica, but mostly because Martin Popoff raved about them in his first book, Riff Kills Man! I had to have it. I’m glad I bought it.
If I Were Britannia I’d Waive The Rules, but I would also make sure that everybody knew who Budgie was!
I love this album. Nightflight sounds like the kind of music I was exposed to, when I was growing in Kitchener, Ontario in the early 80’s. I was surrounded by new and exciting music, thanks to stations like MuchMusic, and friends who would let me tape their records. If I had been aware of Budgie in the 80’s, I absolutely would have been a fan.
In their early days, similarly to Thin Lizzy, Budgie started out with a prototypical sound and eventually evolved into a more metallic beast. Nightflight is Budgie’s Thunder and Lightning, perhaps. It has that vibe, and it’s awesome. Of the records I own, this is my favourite Budgie album. Burke’s voice is as nasal as ever, in the best possible way. The band has metamorphosed into something more mainstream metal, which still sounding like classic Budgie. That anchoring bass, the unstoppable grooves, and the simple and smoking solos: it’s still there.
The opening track “I Turned To Stone” is a major highlight. It takes balls to open an album with a song this soft, but eventually the ballad-like tune transforms into an Iron Maiden-gallup with this killer off-kilter guitar solo. “Keeping a Rendezvous” is more accessible; Budgie plundering hard rock with equal success. The organ-infested “Reaper of the Glory” is a brief step back in quality. It lacks the memorable melodies of the first two songs.
“She Used Me Up” kicks ass with a steady AC/DC beat and a choppy Priest-ly riff (circa Point of Entry). “Don’t Lay Down and Die” continues this overall direction. You can hear the organ once again, and the guitar solo is catchy as hell. It is very much in an 80’s metal mold.
My favourite track is “Apparatus”. The lyrics are pretty strange, but this ballad is irresistible. Burke’s earnest lead vocal is high pitched nasal perfection. But if you didn’t like “Apparatus”, that’s OK because “Superstar” is likely to blow you away. Budgie again stray into AC/DC territory. This song anticipates Blow Up Your Video by several years. Steve Williams keeps it simple on the drums and that’s what makes it cool.
The mid-tempo and melodic “Change Your Ways” is just as likable. You’ll dig the gang-of-Burke lead vocal technique on the verses. You have to admire a singer who has his own voice, and doesn’t resemble anyone else. It’s easy to compare Burke to Geddy Lee, but that’s really not doing it justice. Both singers have their own techniques. Burke is more soulful.
“Untitled Lullaby” is pretty much what it sounds like it would be. It’s one of Burke’s acoustic ditties, only 1:16 so really it’s just a coda. It’s lovely and it ends the album on an upbeat note. Nightflight is a short but enjoyable ride.
Upon review, I found seven of Nightflight‘s nine tracks to be indispensable to me. Based on that math and rounding up:
METALLICA – “One” (1989 Sony Japan 5 track single)
While there is no doubt that this single is indeed rare, when T-Rev and I shared an apartment together in the late 90’s, we both owned a copy. We figured we must have had the only living room in the country with two Japanese copies of the “One” single by Metallica. I believe both of us acquired our copies via the record store. (Unfortunately, neither of us had the obi strip.)
Along with the full 7 1/2 minute version of “One”, this single presents Metallica’s excellent cover of Budgie’s “Breadfan”. Metallica’s take, which emphasizes the heavy parts, is awesome. It was “Breadfan” that inspired me to check out Budgie, and then discover yet another one of my favourite bands. “Breadfan” was always a monster; Metallica simply turned it up. It is a song that they were born to cover anyway. The unusual thing is that “Breadfan” is one of Budgie’s most notably bass-heavy tracks (from a bass-heavy band anyway), but Metallica’s cover comes from Metallica’s least bass-y period. I’m sure Newsted must be digging in deep to play those Burke Shelley bass rolls, but you can’t hear him clearly enough.
Next are two live bonus tracks: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” from Dallas, Texas, February 5 1989. (The 7″ and 12″ singles contained different live tracks: “Seek & Destroy” and “Creeping Death” respectively.) I think this period of live Metallica is among their best. Hetfield’s voice had filled out to max out on the menacing scale. Newsted was an able replacement for the late Cliff Burton, and I enjoyed his backing growls on “Sanitarium”.
Last and rarest is the original demo version of “One”. It was recorded to four-track tape: drums, James’ guitar, vocals, Kirk’s guitar. That’s right – because it’s only four tracks, there’s no bass! (Insert jokes about the …And Justice For All album right here: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .) This demo was recorded in November 1987, and unlike many Metallica demos, this one has lyrics. “One” was a fully-formed song in the demo stage, with only a couple parts unfinished. It’s remarkable and I’m sure Metallica had no idea in 1987 that what they were writing was going to become a rock classic. As confident as they probably were, I’m sure nobody in Metallica said, “In 25 years we’ll be playing this at the Grammy awards.” Yet it’s all there; 95% of the very song that would be played at the 2014 Grammys, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
This is a great little treasure and I’m sure “one” day (stinky pun) I’ll add the 7″ and 12″ singles to my collection to get the other two live tracks.
There were some pretty awesome picks this year. I have to give Scottie props for “Coming Home” by Iron Maiden, from the excellent Final Frontier album. I found some things a bit surprising, such as the overplayed-on-radio “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, placing so high.
“Thick As A Brick” was the live version, so just over 10 minutes. Other long bombers included all of “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis, which resulted in a tirade by Phil for just as long, about how much he thinks it sucks! (And he’s an old-school Marillion fan…surprising.) And of course there were several Maiden tunes that clock in well over 5 minutes.
For your edification, here is the official Sausagefest XII Countdown: 75 tracks, plus 35 tributes. One tribute for each person that submitted a list! 110 songs over one weekend! Awesome.
I don’t wanna die, I’m a god, why can’t I live on?
How much did I love Powerslave, especially after taking Ancient Egypt in highschool? Finally I knew what the Eye of Horus was, and what the hell the lyrics were about! When I was growing up and first getting into Maiden, Powerslave was the current album. The neighbor kid had it. We literally stared at that album cover for hours.
Derek Riggs outdid himself on the artwork this time, really outdid himself. The Egyptian theme of the artwork allowed him to weave all sorts of hidden messages into the hyroglyphs. I don’t have the LP, but I could swear that somewhere on the cover (front or back) it says “Indiana Jones was here”!
I taped the album from that neighbor, unfortunately on one of the worst sounding Scotch blanks I ever heard. It was unlistenable. Then my dad bought me the tape from the local music store, but even it sounded terrible — warbly. I found that many Capitol Records releases in the mid-80’s in Canada had awful cassette quality. From my Maidens to my Helix, they were mostly unplayable.
It was a long while before I got a listenable version of the album. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks — holy crap, this is GOOD!
“Aces High” and “2 Minutes To Midnight” are the two singles, and of course they lead the album. I only wish “Churchill’s Speech” was included as it was in the “Aces High” video! As kids we always preferred “Aces High”. It combines the manic speed of early Maiden, with the anthemic Dickinson choruses. Just great.
“Aces High” was yet another song that my dad didn’t mind me listening to out loud, since it was about one his favourite historical subjects: the Battle of Britain.
“2 Minutes”, a reference to the Doomsday Clock,was a Dickinson/Smith composition. At 6 minutes long, it wasn’t an obvious single. Vocally, it’s a lot less catchy than “Aces High”. Bruce doesn’t so much sing a melody as he does spit the words out like a furious machine gun! Musically, the riff seems lifted directly from later Budgie, and early Diamond Head. See if you can spot it.
Up next is an instrumental, the first since Killers! “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)” is really the only weak song on the album. As an instrumental, it’s not as exciting as something like “The Ides of March”. The riff is rather simple and it sounds like an unfinished song, like Bruce didn’t show up that day or something. The guitar playing (well, all the playing) is of course stellar, there’s always that!
Then comes “Flash of the Blade”, a fucking awesome track, and one of my favourites. I remember trying to learn that riff as a kid, as it’s catchy but uncomplicated. This one’s penned by Dickinson alone, and is about…of course…fencing. Like Steve Harris was on the exact same wavelength, his song, “The Duelists” is up next. Yet another song incorporating fencing, this one was my personal pick for a third single. I remember even drawing my own cover art, with Eddie dueling the Devil! The middle section is an intricate dance of delicate guitars, you can almost picture the men parrying and feinting.
And that ended side one. Side two opened with “Back In The Village”. This would be the only other song beside “Losfer Words” that doesn’t make my road tapes. Another Smith/Dickinson song, it’s got a cool signiture Adrian riff, but up against the rest of these songs, it just doesn’t stand out to me.
But “Powerslave” does! This is another solo Bruce writing credit, and a powerful song it is! Bruce metalizes Ancient Egypt with that cool riff, and his lyrics are a labyrinth of Egyptian mythology. Very cool. The best part of the song however is the middle section. The song slows down at roughly 3 minutes, and there’s some pretty amazing soloing (sounds like Dave). Then things pick up at 3:52, and Adrian plays my favourite Iron Maiden guitar solo of all time! (Of all time, Kanye!) Damn I love that solo! I always have, even when all I had were those crappy cassettes. And as if that wasn’t enough, then there’s a harmony part with Dave and Adrian together, and then Dave’s off on another amazing solo of his own!
(For the record: if there was a second favourite Maiden guitar solo for me, it’s “The Wicker Man”, also performed by Adrian.)
Before you know it, we are at the end. But not quite, for the final song on Powerslave is 14 minutes long! “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, based of course on Coleridge, is the latest and perhaps the greatest so far of Steve’s epics. I don’t know if I want to even think about ranking his epics anymore, but “Rime” is certainly a favourite. That opening riff alone would have made a song on its own. But this is a complex song, and it twists and turns and goes through all sorts of different adventures before we’re done. As kids I remember were all blown away that this whole song was written by just one guy!
Talking about “Rime” in words is tough. Lyrically I loved it. Suddenly I understood Coleridge, and it wasn’t at all painful! But musically this is just about perfect. Bruce’s delivery is flawless, and the guitars are woven into epic and amazing solos once again. Just about every section of this song is memorable. It lags a bit in the atmospheric middle section, but this is soon replaced by a triumphant vocal with bright bass guitar melodies.
This 2 CD deluxe edition includes a bonus disc with all the B-side goodies. Didn’t you always love that cover for “Aces High”? Eddie in the Spitfire, flying on, even with a bullet in his head? The B-sides include a live version of “Number of the Beast” that used to annoy us as kids, since Bruce only sings “six!” and gets the audience to finish with “six six!”. With hindsight, who cares, it’s a great live version. It’s just funny how I have that memory so very distinctly!
“King of Twilight”, a cover from a band called Nektar, isn’t a standout though. I like that “Ahh, ahhh, ahh” section and I love the pounding drums. Otherwise it’s not a road tape classic.
“2 Minutes To Midnight” had two excellent B-sides: “Rainbow’s Gold” and “Mission From ‘Arry”. The riff that kicks off “Rainbow’s Gold” is just really catchy, as is that vocal melody. This is a cover from somebody called Beckett. Gotta give Maiden credit for trying obscure covers! Love this song.
And…”Mission From ‘Arry”. Not a song at all, here’s the story. One night, Nicko was asked to extend his drum solo while Harris (‘Arry) got his bass rig up and running. ‘Arry sent his roadie to tell Nicko, who was distracted by the roadie and fucked up his drum solo. Furious he launched into said roadie and gave him a good solid dressing down. After the show, Steve in turn told Nicko that he was out of line and to apologize. In walked Bruce Dickinson with a hidden tape recorder and a mischievous grin! The rest is history, as released on this B-side!
Now, I’m from Canada and I don’t know my British slang that well. Do you guys often use phrases like “Fuck my old boots!”?
I don’t think Powerslave was the album that Piece Of Mind was, but maybe I like it a fraction better than Beast. I dunno. It’s so hard to rank, we’re really splitting hairs here. Powerslave was a little colder sounding, a little brittle compared to the past. Steve’s bass is a little rinky, not warm and deep enough. But that’s the sound of the LP, the songs still rise above.
BUDGIE – “You’re All Living In Cuckooland” (2006 Noteworthy Productions)
24 years passed between this and the last Budgie studio album. Not that you can tell, as “You’re All Living In Cuckooland” sounds like classic Budgie to the last detail. The cover art even looks like classic Budgie! No computer generated images here, and the classic Budgie logo is intact! Drummer Steve Williams has returned, and the guitar slot was filled by the excellent Simon Lees (although I understand Craig Goldy of Dio toured with them a lot).
Right from the first track, “Justice”, you know that Budgie are back. Burke Shelley’s unmistakable voice is as vintage-Geddy as ever, and the sound of this band has hardly changed at all. Maybe there are some slicker effects on the guitars, but the style is 100% Budgie. The songwriting is still idiosyncratic Budgie, except for some unaccompanied acoustic tracks which Burke wrote alone. Musicianship is in the forefront and production is sharp, although I can’t hear enough bass for my tastes. To me, early Budgie was all about Burke’s slinky bass lines, and I want to hear them!
The solidly heavy “Justice”.
“Dead Men Don’t Talk” and its positively squirrly solos.
The psuedo-title track, “We’re All Living In Cuckooland”, an acoustic number that remained lodged firmly in my skull for days.
“I’m Compressing The Comb On A Cockerel’s Head”, the 8 minute closer with its stuttering tremelo guitar solos. Yet another oddball Budgie song title too. I love it!