8 Musicals Primus Should Totally Take On

Ever since Primus’s take on the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack began streaming last week, we’ve been doing pretty much nothing but listening to it and discussing Primus. Les Claypool’s stalwart project has always been nothing if not bizarre and against the grain and their latest album is certainly a natural extension of this ideal.

It also got us discussing the general weirdness of musicals as a form. A universe where people just up and break out into song and dance may look good on stage or screen but it’s a bizarre conceit when you apply that to a world as a whole. The question, then, became obvious: what other musicals could Primus rework in their own unique and Primus-y way?

Over the course of the weekend, arguments were made, discussion was had, and the discourse ran red hot. As the fire of debate died down, we settled upon some basic rules (the musical had to be a movie at some point, it could not be a full on cartoon) and we got down to business. So here it is: in honor of Primus and their new record (review coming soon!) here are 8 musicals we would love to see Les Claypool and company take on for future themed tours….

1. Music Man

Les Claypool has long held the image of being a sort of lovable but demented carnival leader or, more accurately, bandleader. Sure, Les isn’t a con man, but it’s easy to picture him taking on the role of Harold Hill and wooing the gullible folks of Gary, Indiana, as well as leading the Primus boys on a cheerfully demented version of “76 Trombones.” The only plot twist would be when, instead of being outted as a con man, Claypool would get the student band to join him for a face melting (possibly 3-D) Primus performance for all the townspeople.

2. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Written by Roald Dahl – who also penned the book and script for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – this musical is twisted in the best possible way. Anyone who’s ever heard Primus’ “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” will probably agree that Les shares plenty in common with Dick Van Dyke’s Caractacus Potts, being both an oddball inventor and a fan of automobiles. Like Willy Wonka and pretty much everything Primus has ever done, this musical exists in a strange fantasy world with an undercurrent of dark creepiness. One can easily imagine Les jamming out on a candy whistle, flying around in a car with wings, or maybe even posing as the vibrantly perverted Child Catcher. He even mentioned his love of the film in a recent NPR piece , so you never know what could happen.

Toot Sweets:

Child Catcher clip:

3. Mary Poppins

The Disney writers must have been on some high grade LSD when they put together Mary Poppins, which is most notable for combining animation with live action to create a trippy surreal world where hanging out with cartoon characters is an everyday occurrence. It’s a no brainer to picture Les getting along just fine with a magical flying nanny, and perhaps dabbling in her bottomless carpet bag for a spoonful of sugar or whatever else is in there. Lyrically, Claypool has always been a fan of odd wordplay, so it’s by no means a stretch to assume he would happily nail down a version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”


4. Finian’s Rainbow

An Irishman getting chased around by a leprechaun who’s gold he jacked in the fictional Southern town called Rainbow Valley in the mish-mash made up state of Missitucky? What the hell is going on here? Most of you probably don’t know shit about this musical staple, but it’s a jacked up Technicolor dream of a film, thus making it ripe for the Primus picking. Fred Astaire is also old as fuck playing a wee epic Irish fellow. Plus, Francis Ford Coppola directed the most notable film version. Is there anything else to say?

5. West Side Story

Okay, on the surface this musical retelling of the Romeo and Juliet/Tristan and Isolde story isn’t weird. It certainly doesn’t have the creepy, psychedelic atmosphere of Willy Wonka, so maybe it feels wrong. But imagine Les Claypool’s magical walking bass lines throughout his career, like in “The Air is Getting Slippery” or even “HOINFODAMAN” and then apply that same creepy logic to “Gee, Officer Krupke” and extrapolate. Then imagine his nasally twang singing “when you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day” or “I feel pretty and witty and bright.” Let that sink in a little bit and tell me you don’t want to hear that. Because you’re lying if you say you don’t.

6. Sweeney Todd

If there is any band today that could take whimsical songs about a demented barber out for revenge and push the latent weirdness/horror right to the forefront, it’s Primus. I’m imagining the sparse, minimalist production of the Pork Soda era, where the music feels like it’s coming out of a pit of blackness and despair, juxtaposed with the implied and overt thematic darkness of the material. Not to mention the fact that “No Place Like London” feels like it could very well be the next chapter in the Fisherman’s Chronicles.

7. Repo the Genetic Opera

The story of out of control corporations and their murderous ways feels so in line with Primus’s general oeuvre that this pick feels almost perfunctory. Still, the simplicity of the answer in no way negates its appropriateness. The entirety of their career is, at its core, the bucking of trends and expectations to deliver weirdness to their listeners. In that time, they’ve railed against corporatization of music and art. The story of Repo is a cautionary tale warning of giving too much control of your life the corporate powers that be. Primus’s bizarre, post-jam aesthetic would bring a lot to the table and, you know, perhaps make the overall narrative palatable.

8. The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz might be overt, but the late 70’s R&B retelling of the Oz story is ripe for cover. “He’s the Wizard,” for example, already combines elements of funk and weirdness in a way that feels so deliciously Primus. Also, imagine the potential for Claypool to play with the bass line in “You Can’t Win.” The Wiz gets perennially slept on by the masses and that’s kind of a shame. An Oz themed tour using this Quincy Jones/Diana Ross/Michael Jackson project would not only fit with Primus’s general joie de vivre, it would allow Primus to enter the world of Oz in a way that’s unexpected and delightful.

Primus & the Chocolate Factory’ comes out October 21st on ATO Records! You can stream it over at the New York Times. 

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