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Budgie - Budgie: Album Of The Week Club Review

A Zeppelin covers band? A Sabbath tribute act? The Welsh Rush? Or genius proto-metal pioneers? Our readers examine Budgie's debut

Budgie - Budgie
Foreigner - 4

Budgie - Budgie

Guts
Everything in My Heart
The Author
Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman
Rape of the Locks
All Night Petrol
You and I
Homicidal Suicidal

Throughout the 70s, the unfashionable Budgie were as oddball as their name. Although specialising in heads-down, no-nonsense riffage, their albums all included acoustic interludes and softer songs which, by accident or design, made everything else sound even heavier. Additionally, they wrote the most ridiculous song titles ever. (Don’t waste your time looking for a better trio than You’re The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk, In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Hand, and their debut's Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman).

Frontman Burke Shelley (hair and bass, a template for Maiden’s Steve Harris, aviator spectacles rarely copied) sang in a higher-than-average register but better than Geddy Lee, with whom he is often unfairly compared. Alongside him the band’s other unique selling point was Tony Bourge, an exceptional guitarist of many stripes but seemingly happiest inventing riffs that have inspired everyone from nascent NWOBHM heroes to Josh Homme.

Lovingly covered by Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth and Soundgarden, these three Cardiff scruffbags riffed as hard as any band in metal’s early years. Perhaps their cerebral eccentricity, silly name and stylistic versatility mitigated against worldwide megastardom, but for generations Budgie have remained Cymru’s most universally respected rock band

The debut album, released in June 1971 has become something of a classic. As AllMusic say, "For those seriously interested in metal's development, bombastic treasures like Homicidal Suicidal, and Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman are essential listening." 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Background

Formed in 1968, Budgie had busted their way out of South Wales with barely a backward glance. Bourge remembers: “We were going for it – so much so that we’d even have arguments with agents over money. A lot of bands wouldn’t stand their ground, thinking they didn’t want to blow gigs, but we’d go for their throat and tell them to stuff their clubs, we could get our own gigs. And we did.

“Everything was a challenge to us; we were totally dedicated. Like the Three Musketeers. One hundred per cent full on. A bit like the punks in attitude. We wanted to do well, we wanted to make albums. We had no back seat about that. We knew we’d get into a studio at some time, it was just a question of when.”

The man to help them take that step was Rodger Bain, Black Sabbath’s first producer, who later also discovered Judas Priest. He was down at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, South Wales, on a talent spotting mission when Shelley was tipped off by an agent: “They said go there, do your best but do not play any of that stuff you’ve written. Play all the hits, Yummy Yummy Yummy [a 1968 bubblegum-pop hit for Ohio Express] or whatever. So we said: ‘Yeah, yeah’. And when the others asked what we were gonna play I said: ‘All our own stuff!’”

Curiously, a fresh-faced David ‘Kid’ Jensen was the first DJ to be attracted by Budgie’s charms. “Radio Luxembourg launched us,” Shelley confirms. “Kid heard our first album, thought it was fantastic and played it and played it. He had us over there and the album took off. He was the kid with all the money, taking his mates to the fairground. That’s when I went on one of those cylinder things: you start spinning around and they take the floor away. You gotta watch it, though, when it slows down.”

Other albums released in June 1971

  • Tarkus - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • Golden Bisquits - Three Dog Night
  • Blue - Joni Mitchell
  • Byrdmaniax - The Byrds
  • Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren - Todd Rundgren
  • Indelibly Stamped - Supertramp
  • Stephen Stills - Stephen Stills
  • Aerial Pandemonium Ballet - Harry Nilsson
  • Angel Delight - Fairport Convention
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 - Blood, Sweat & Tears
  • First Pull Up, Then Pull Down - Hot Tuna
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers - The Flying Burrito Brothers
  • Grin - Grin
  • Historic Dead - Grateful Dead
  • It Ain't Easy - Long John Baldry
  • Link Wray - Link Wray
  • Live at Carnegie Hall/What You Hear is What You Get - Ike & Tina Turner
  • Mick Abrahams - Mick Abrahams
  • New York City (You're a Woman) - Al Kooper
  • One World - Rare Earth
  • Randy Newman Live - Randy Newman
  • San Francisco Dues - Chuck Berry

What they said...

"Though not nearly as celebrated as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, or Deep Purple, Budgie was one of the finest heavy metal bands of the early to mid-'70s. The British power trio, formed in 1968, was influenced by Cream in the beginning, but by the time this self-titled debut album was released in 1971, Budgie was obviously paying close attention to Sabbath and Zep. In fact, it's hard to miss the impact that Robert Plant had on Budgie lead singer/bassist Burke Shelley." (AllMusic)

"Formed in Wales in 1968 as Six Ton Budgie, this is the first and (in my opinion) best album by one of the greatest Unsung proto-metal bands of all time. They have a telepathic tightness while playing absurdly complicated music that sounds totally unique. Except for the fact that there are so many hard rock bands that have come after them that seem to have based large swathes of their respective muses on a particular Budgie tune here or there (that QOTSA jukebox hit of the past year made me say "Budgie!" out loud the first time I heard it.)" (Head Heritage)

"There are plenty of people around more qualified than I am to comment on Budgie‘s enduring legacy or their effect on heavy rock and metal, but one doesn’t exactly need a masterful knowledge of the form to hear the roll of Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman and have a lot of things subsequently make more sense. The Welsh trio’s self-titled 1971 debut is one of those albums you hear and recognize pieces of from the work of other bands who’ve snagged a riff here, a melody there, and really you can take your pick from among their first three full-lengths — this, 1972’s Squawk and 1973’s Never Turn Your Back on a Friend — for supremacy. (The Obelisk)

What you said...

Roland Bearne: Well just listened on the tube to and from a job and this is splendid. Totally passed my by first time and back then I think I may not have appreciated them. With the big sounds of Van Halen, Journey et al buzzing around my brain my young self may have found them a bit "old fashioned" but coming in now they sound great and are brimming with ideas. Album of the Week strikes again. A hit, a very palpable hit!! Thank you.

Mike Knoop: A friend once described Budgie as "Rush with better song titles." As proof, I offer Nude Disintegrating Parachute Woman. Speaking of NDPW, I have had the Budgie anthology Ecstasy of Fumbling for years - not to be confused with Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy - and never knew I was only getting half the song! Now that I know what I was missing, extra soloing and Burke Shelley's wordless harmonizing with said solo, I can't go back. The whole album is fantastic proto-metal. It's like finding out the first Black Sabbath album had a just as tough - if not as scary - little brother.

Carl Black: You know its all about the bass , 'bout the bass, no treble. Bass bass and bass. And just when you thought there was enough bass on one album, they but more bass on it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy bass as much as the next man. Immigrant Song. The bass on that is a work of art. But this is way too much. And because of that the other instruments don't get a look in. Which makes the songs sound half finished. Which is probably why when other bands cover them, they sound more complete. Not totally unenjoyable. I'll wait for the tribute album by various artists, that way, the songs will sound finished.

Maxwell Marco Martello: I go guts... err I mean nuts for Budgie!

Their first is a great one, but production complaints are definitely legit. It’s quite a raw impersonation of Led Zeppelin. Burke never made a mystery of such influence. There is no overt plagiarism on this one (there will be on later albums), but let’s say it is not exactly groundbreaking. 

I can understand the Rush-comparisons, but the virtuosity here is just not on par. Talent abounds, but not in a proggy way. The feel is certainly there. I relate to Burke when he sings.

I totally recommend most of their catalogue, but if I were forced to single out just one record, it’d be Never Turn Your Back on a Friend, because it has the best combination of songs, sound and Roger Dean cover artwork.

Actually they almost did no wrong up until and including Nightflight.

Please do check out Melt The Ice Away from Impeckable. It’s been covered by Megadeth in 2016 and it’s an amazing early example of speed metal.

Bandolier is also an excellent record that sounds fairly close to the early Judas Priest records. You know that thin guitar tone you can hear on Stained Class, for instance.

One last suggestion... I Turned To Stone. It’s possibly the greatest relatively unknown rock/ballad epic this side of Foghat’s Dreamer.

John Davidson: File under good but not great. There are hints of Black Sabbath and Zep, and musically they were ahead of their time, but for the most part they just didn't have the songs. 

They didn't sing about girls (in obvious ways), or the joys of the road or the trials and tribulations of touring, nor did they sing about dragons or witches or far flung futures. 

Odd lyrics, strange song titles and a lack of obvious charisma can only take you so far, even if you can play as well as these guys.

Lyn John: A much loved and respected band here in their native South Wales. I was introduced to them by a work colleague around the time of their Power Supply album early 80s. Much of their early material I don't know as well. Enjoyed it I do wonder though if the fact that their style changed somewhat over the albums though commendable prevented them from hitting the real heights that they no doubt deserved.

Brian Carr: I imagine this line has been used to describe other albums, but Budgie’s debut is so drenched in smoke I feel like I got a contact high listening to it.

Budgie sounds to me like a Zeppelin/Sabbath cover band that decided to write some original tunes and record them in their garage. Extremely lo-fi. Good players, but not sure about the Rush comparisons. I might have to check out subsequent releases (as others have suggested) to see if they grew as songwriters.

Tom Cöle: A classic, and one which set the template for the light-and-shade approach Budgie would take on most of their early albums: showcasing bludgeoning proto-metal alongside delicate acoustic numbers (Compare Everything in my Heart and You and I to the powerhouse riffage of The Author and Rape of the Locks). A refreshing brend of pastoral, gentle beauty, titanic heaviness and whacked-out humour, Budgie's debut's a smashing album indeed.

Murray Timms: Budgie, the Welsh power trio with the weird half man-half budgie mascot, arrived on the UK scene in 1971 but from an Aussie's perspective, they went completely unnoticed and didn't even tour here until 2008. I'm more familiar with Budgie the little helicopter than Budgie the band. Now, some people will tell you that Budgie was an early proponent of Heavy Metal but I don't really subscribe to that at all. I will agree they played a form of bass heavy Hard Rock but I think they were hardly alone there, even in 1971.

This debut album is rather poorly produced in my opinion. The guitar riffs are great but are too often buried beneath Burke Shelley's bass and vocals. Speaking of vocals, Shelley is pretty shite and this reminds me of another trio that came to prominence in Canada a few year later, also with a shite lead singer. To be fair, Shelley is not shite all the time. He actually sounds completely different on the couple of short acoustic tracks thrown in here and these tracks are also completely different to everything else on here. 'You and I' is kind of Beatlesque. Whilst not terrible, I'm a little baffled why they had a propensity to include these acoustic tracks (some of which are no more than an interlude) on their early albums but they did, so there you go.

The best track here is probably Nude Disintegrating Parachute Woman. The bass line reminds me of Radar Love but I also hear some similarities with the longer tracks that Quo was pumping out around this time.

Jim Linning: Only ever having heard Breadfan I was never that struck by the track and by definition the band and therefore never listened to anything else by them. However, if you need any more proof that this album of the week thing is justified, then look no further. I've now listened to the album three times and it has grown on me with every listen. Rocky, folky and even a bit prog, the track titles also suggest an impish sense of humour so put me down for a convert and I'm off to listen to the back catalogue.

Kev Moore: Oh hell yes! Proper music! Like Judas Priest, who I saw supporting Budgie, they were not NWOBHM. This album came out in 1971, when the likes of Biff Byford were still chasing whippets. Megadeth and Maiden also dipped into their catalogue. They began their penchant for daft titles on day one: Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman being a stunningly titled debut. Budgie, before Rush came along, did add some interest to the power trio format. Tony Bourge's SG, and his style gave them a unique sound. That, and Burke's castrato vocal, prompted me to label Rush a 'Budgie rip-off' when they first came on the scene! They could always chuck in a nice ballad too, amid the rifferama. It was a solid debut, Squawk was better, and by the time they recorded Never Turn Your Back On A Friend they were bloody brilliant, a Welsh National treasure really, and three albums in, NWOBHM was still a mere twinkle in Geoff Barton's eye, and a good five years away.

Graham Tarry: Interesting that you've chosen their debut album, as it wasn't until their third, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend, that their career took off. This is just wonderful, full of great riffs, along with their standard slow acoustic song interludes. Highly recommended.

Geoff Ringrose: This is exactly why I joined this group. I know of Budgie peripherally... mostly covers like Metallica's version of Breadfan. I just played this album front to back. What a bass groove and volume! They're the Welsh RUSH. Off to the record store now. Keep up the great work!

Gary Claydon: Perennially (and criminally) underrated. One of those bands that produced solid, enjoyable work with the odd smattering of genuine quality, but never quite enough to elevate them to heavy rock's premier league. Yet they are also one of those bands that many of those that did manage to scale the dizzy heights are happy to namecheck as an influence.

Originally a four piece with one of their early monikers being Six Ton Budgie, by the time of their debut album the band had slimmed down both in name and numbers. What hadn't diminished though was their ability to rock. This was a proper power-trio. Inevitably compared to contemporaries Sabbath, Budgie were often dismissed in the press as run-of-the-mill metal merchants which did them a massive disservice. I've also always thought it a bit lazy of people to compare them to Rush simply because of the vocals. Budgie had a breadth well beyond lumbering, sludge-heavy early 70s metal. I've always thought they were more of a heavy blues band. They were also fond of slower, more considered numbers and were happy to experiment with time & tempo changes plus unusual chord sequences to an extent that could pique the interest of the prog fraternity. In other words-much more than 'run-of-the-mill metal'.

The album opens with Guts. I reckon that if this track was sped up, some distortion added and the vocals made gruffer (and a sight deeper!) this could be a Motorhead song from sometime in the future. Have another listen, see what you think. To be honest, I've always thought that the Everything in My Heart interlude is a little pointless. Although I kinda poo-pooed the Rush comparison a little, listen to The Author from about 4.05 to the end. This could easily be early, Zep influenced, Rush with some neat guitar which is, at least a little, early Lifeson-ish. The real heart of this album comes in the shape of three top-notch examples of early 70s metal in Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman, a fine example of Budgie's penchant for humorous and/or unusual song titles, Rape Of The Locks ('I grow my mind inside my head, I grow my hair to keep it fed; You wanna cut my hair, You wanna cut my hair') and Homicidal Suicidal (later covered by Soundgarden). 

Tony Bourge is a very underrated guitarist and displays some superb fretwork here. Having said that, I don't think the production on the album (courtesy of Rodger Bain) does Bourge or drummer Ray Phillips any favours. It's a little thin for my liking although it does give prominence to Burke Shelley's fine bass skills. Mention of Shelley brings us to the vocals. Definitely a 'marmite' voice but, like Geddy Lee, I reckon he is a much more accomplished performer than he's given credit for. Seems to be the way for the 'squeaky voiced' ones. By the way, if you want to hear him at his most helium-inflected then have a listen to the cover of Baby Please Don't Go on Never Turn Your Back On A Friend. It features some excellent guitar work by Bourge but every time dear old Shelley opens his gob to sing , it sounds as if somebody switches the turntable to 78 rpm! Brilliant stuff.

Budgie (the album) isn't the band's best work but it's a pretty good starting point. They were still sharpening their beaks at this point (I resisted the urge to mention cuttlefish. Except I just did. Oh well). The band's first five albums pretty much tell you all you need to know about them. The mid-seventies saw them lose their way during an unsuccessful attempt to make an impact in the States, during which Bourge left the band. They did have a bit of a resurgence in the early 80s with two albums which grazed the lower reaches of the UK charts plus a couple of excellent appearances at Reading festival (with the sadly departed 'Big' John Thomas on six-string duties) as well as becoming rather big in Poland and one of the first western HM bands to play behind the iron curtain! Just to add, Bourge & Phillips also reappeared with worthy but fairly short lived rockers Tredegar in the 80s.

James Praesto: When I write a review on anything (and by “review”, we all know I mean “long-winded rant”), I do my homework first. If I know the album, I still listen to it a few times, just to make sure I am not colored nostalgic - and if I haven’t heard the album, I go deep and listen to the albums before and after, while reading up on the artist trivia.

Well, Budgie falls into the category of “never heard a damn note from them”, so much homework was immediately assigned to myself. Unfortunately, due to our American streaming services’ hatred for Budgie (or their licensing deals), I could not find a good source to listen to. I had to subject myself to the shoddiness of YouTube, and I am afraid that probably didn’t do the band any justice. (Please, CR, ensure the albums we get as picks for the week are at least somewhat readily available on most civilized streaming services.) As I also do a majority of my listening in my car, while driving to and from work, YouTube sounded even worse.

I managed to scribble some notes together, so hopefully it makes sense. 

Guts is every single band’s first song. No matter who they are, they all sound just like this on that first week of feeling each other out. When I started playing, and we got our first band together, we landed a space to rent in what used to be the rehearsal room of home town hair band heroes Shotgun Messiah. They had just taken off for the land in the West, and we built a shrine in their honor and worshiped day and night in that rehearsal room, striving to be as awesome as they were. With dreams of following in their footsteps, and with influences ranging from King Diamond to White Lion (yeah, I know), our first song STILL sounded just like Budgie’s first track on their debut album. It’s one of those inevitable formulas: simple enough riff, safe bass and drums, vocal melodies with training wheels, obvious lyrical rhymes, everybody holds their breath during the daring drum fill, and finally, towards the end of the song, everybody is smiling and nodding and feels like the masters of the universe, rowing it home with equal amounts bravado and luck. Don’t get me wrong, Guts is not necessarily a bad song, just one of those things you need to get out of your system so you can get into the real stuff. 

Everything in My Heart is a spooky little ditty that grew on me over the listens. It sounded so out of place the first time through, but I have grown rather fond of the haunting melodies and the creepy atmosphere it delivers. The Author presents the best and worst of this album in one song: the ideas and arrangements are actually very interesting and on par with many contemporary better known bands (yes, those bands); however, the production is awful, and as much as this could be contributed to the garbage quality of the YouTube source, the mix is still awful with no dynamic or greater understanding for how to balance instruments in their respective channels. A real producer may also have reigned in the jam-fest that derails an otherwise pretty inspired song. The parts just don't gel.

In Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman we are back to the charm/plague of many bands’ first efforts. The track is trying to be too many things at once, while not sending one singular memorable message. It’s like a crazy-haired tribute to the bands they probably hated being compared to, but always inevitably will be. It goes from discount Plant-wailing, to pedestrian Iommi-riffing, to southern rock jams (and I think maybe Golden Earring borrowed the pulse in the middle of this song for a bit a couple of years later). Again, it’s not bad, it just needs direction. 

The Rape of the Locks lets Tony Bourge show off some guitar-noodling while Burke and Ray frantically set the pace with some gallops of their own. I realize that the times were different back in the 70’s, and that endless jams were a thing to enjoy while riding a plethora of dragons, but sometimes, on this album in particular, they do not serve the song. They distract, detract and subtract from what could be a pretty decent thing. It irritates me to find myself starting to enjoy a song, only to have it snatched away from me by a three minute foray into crappy inter-plays between pretty average musicians. I just want to grab the three of them and stab them all in their respective hearts with a massive syringe of Ritalin to cure whatever attention deficit syndrome they seem to be suffering from. Stick to the plan, boys. Don’t stray off the path every time you see a bunny or a butterfly. There is so much good music hidden on this album, but it is crammed into a pile of not knowing how to properly write a good tune. 

I have listened to this album a few times now, and I do find myself struggling to maintain focus for the entire listen. Towards the end of the album, I am exhausted from the lack of center in Budgie’s music. I am a huge fan of progressive rock and metal, but Budgie does not fit into that genre – they just pile stuff on top of stuff, with no regard to how it fits with the beginning or the end. In contrast to others, I don't hear Rush here at all. Rush knew perfectly well how to fit the pieces together. There is no flow here, and that hurts this album tremendously. I understand, from reading the comments, that they got their shit together on later outputs, and I will go buy some of their vinyls to educate myself, but this album is probably not one I will re-visit. Other than Everything in My Heart, of course. I find myself humming that at the oddest times, like a deranged serial killer. At least something stuck.

Final Score: 6.66 ⁄10 (129 votes cast, with a total score of 860)

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