Album: Heavy Metal Memories
. . .
1970 was truly a historic year for British Heavy Metal. Not only was it the year Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep released their first albums, it was also the year that a pair of British bands stopped fucking around and started kicking out the jams. The first of those bands was Deep Purple, who had made their name with with heavyish covers of Joe South & Neil Diamond songs, as well as long arty suites, and had even released a collab with the London Symphony Orchestra before solidifying with a new bassist and Jesus from Jesus Christ Superstar to release the immortal Deep Purple In Rock. The other was Spinal Tap, who, to put it frankly, were a bit of a mess.
Spinal Tap had come out of the gate with a U.K. #1 hit single, “(Listen to The) Flower People,” which by the time of the 1984 hackumentary This is Spinal Tap — I mean, it’s hilarious, but has a movie ever been so obviously edited to make the band seem like fools? — seemed totally out of date, but all these years later has come back around to sound pretty good, actually,
The subsequent album, Spinal Tap Sings “(Listen to the) Flower People and Other Favorites,” was a bit of a mess: side two has an epic song with a drum solo called “Have a Nice Death” followed by two cuts by lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel and lead singer & lead vocalist David St. Hubbins previous band, The Thamesmen. Combine that with the baroque title track and you get a record that had its moments, but not much else. Even worse was the follow-up, the obviously running out of gas We Are All Flower People to which the record-buying public responded, “no, we really aren’t.” Even worse: except for the title track, that second album was a concept record about a guy named Icarus P. Anybody, who dreams of being a jet airliner. Calling Steve Miller!!
This was followed by a holding action: their first live album, Silent But Deadly, which featured the 18:37 “Short ‘n’ Sweet,” which was cut down from a two-hour take, much to the delight of the bootleggers who released the whole thing.
And so, once again looking at the prevailing winds, Tap finally said “fuck it, we’re metal now, we guess” and the resulting album, Brainhammer, was their most consistent to date, and pointed the way for their next decade or so. Metal! Back in the mid-70s, Craig from across the street and I used to have discussions as to what constituted metal, and his insistence — and his favorite band was Black Sabbath — was that the reason that Sabbath and Purple were metal and Aerosmith and Kiss weren’t was that the former bands had huge, doninatig basslines and the latter didn’t.
Which is why, despite having no guitars whatsoever, “Big Bottom” is a quintessential metal song. At least on the Craig scale. Because just as Nigel Tufnel had an amp that went one louder, “Big Bottom” has not one, not two, but three bass parts, as Derek Smalls is joined by Tufnel & St. Hubbins — plus a tom-heavy beat from drummer Peter “James” Bond — creating a 12-string crawl of death over which St. Hubbins sings:
The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’
That’s what I said
The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand
Or so I have read
Now, I understand this is slightly problematic, especially in those pre-Sir-Mix-a-Lot days, but St. Hubbins wasn’t worried about all you woke cancellers, because he continues with an entendre that couldn’t be defined as a double, or even a single. More like a half entendre.
My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo
I’d like to sink her with my pink torpedo
This is followed by a very catchy chorus, the whole thing totally drenched by a massive organ, which fills in the cracks of “Big Bottom.”
Big bottom, big bottom
Talk about bum cakes, my girl’s got ’em
Big bottom drive me out of my mind
How could I leave this behind?
This is where I have to make a confession: the only Spinal Tap album I’ve ever actually owned is the 1982 best-of Heavy Metal Memories, which I bought in when it came out — chasing memories of when Craig would play his 8-tracks of Brainhammer, Nerve Damage and especially Intravenus DeMilo (we would just belt out the chorus of “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” while driving around in his VW Beetle) — and apparently the Heavy Metal Memories version of “Big Bottom” had a synth added to it that wasn’t on the original Brainhammer version, which is why I’m crediting the song to 1982 and not 1970.
Which is also why I have no idea when the massive organ was put in “Big Bottom.” Could be 1970. Could be 1982. Could be both! Normally, I’d just YouTube it, but apparently those early 1970s Spinal Tap records have gone so completely out of print it’s almost as if they never existed in the first place!
Either way, “Big Bottom” remains an absolutely classic metal masterpiece.
“Big Bottom” Live from This is Spinal Tap, 1984
“Big Bottom” Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1992
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