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There's literally never been, and never will be, another band like Primus. The trio, helmed by the mad bass genius Les Claypool (along with former Possessed guitarist Ler LaLonde), play a type of funky, jazzy, proggy, outlandishly punky alt-rock that, for the last 30 years, has managed to reside on the fringes of heavy music while still harboring a rabid, and sizable, cult following.
To like Primus is to be one of rock's true blue outsiders, so we went right to the source and asked our initiated readers to pick the group's five best songs spanning their entire career. Some of the band's ubiquitous fan favorites didn't end up making the cut, but the quintet of weirdass tunes that racked up the most votes are each fantastic in their own right, and together serve as a venerable introduction to the wacky world of Primus.
Someone in the YouTube comments for this song put it nicely — "how the hell do you come up with a song like this?" The minimalism of the instrumentation, the simultaneous simplicity and quirkiness of the bassline, the peculiar, nonlinear ramble of the vocal delivery, the absurdist concept of a song about a guy whose name is Mud and who can't stop repeating that fact over and over. That's Primus, baby.
Primus' debut single is, naturally, a song about fishing. "John the Fisherman" was the lead cut from 1989's live LP Suck on This, and while its video featured Metallica's Kirk Hammett, and the track actually made it onto 1990's Frizzle Fry, it wasn't widely considered a Primus staple until the early 2000s when that latter LP was reissued. That said, any fan listening today can immediately pick up on the magic of its sprightly, jerky rhythm and Claypool's catchy staccato vocal mew.
Not all of Primus' lyrics are completely nonsensical. This live staple from the band's 1991 opus, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, is an ode to working class laborers who turn to the mighty powers of speed-inducing substances to get their jobs done. Its four-verse format, each ending with a hailing of the titular subjects, is structured like a classic folk narrative and would read like a good ol' union anthem if it wasn't being hollered over washes of alt-metal guitars and Claypool's clickity-clackin' bass wobbles.
"Harold of the Rocks" is another Primus song in which Claypool employs his charmingly quirky way of humanizing drug users rather than treating substance abuse as a kind of narrative spectacle. Over some of their funkiest guitar riffs and most danceably ramshackle rhythms, Claypool sings of a wacky figure called Harold — who has a penchant for rock-shaped narcotics. A weird character portrait, Primus-ified.
While not the universal consensus pick, it's hard to deny the brilliance of "Too Many Puppies." Claypool's protest song about sending soldiers (who he refers to as "puppies") off to war to die begins with rattling cymbals and a rickety bassline, foreshadowing the build-up that Primus acolytes Korn would employ on their explosive 1994 single "Blind." The track never balloons to the maximalist funk heights of "Harold of the Rocks," but Claypool's bizarre, accented singing style on here manages to worm its way into your ear holes nonetheless.