How Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” became a hit and a middle finger to Warner Bros

In the summer of 1991, Al Jourgensen of the industrial band Ministry had a song that he was convinced could be a hit. But he wasn’t happy with his lyrics and vocals on it. A chance backstage meeting with Gibby Haynes from The Butthole Surfers became an invitation for Haynes to come to the studio and try his hand at a vocal.

In a similar situation to George Clinton showing up pie-faced to record Atomic Dog and spouting gibberish, Haynes showed up drunk and could barely stay put on the studio stool. In between barfs and stumbles, Haynes would come up with the mumbo jumbo that became the song’s lyrics. “Gibby threw up, spit up some gibberish, and left,” remembers Uncle Al.

The band was in a tense situation with their label, Warner Brothers, and hearing a demo of “Hotrod” only spooked the label further:

“Warner Brothers had given us a lot of money to do this album, and we really didn’t have any songs yet,” says Jourgensen. “And they were adamant about hearing something that we’d done. I refused to send them any demos, because these people really didn’t know anything about music, they were clueless. But they kept putting the pressure on. So I decided to send them Jesus Built My Hotrod. They were crestfallen, they were absolutely horrified: ‘This is not Ministry, this is the worst piece of shit song we’ve ever heard in our lives.’ But I told them that’s all I had.”

Never one to shrink from confrontation, Jourgensen gave the label an ultimatum: either cancel Ministry’s contract, or send more money to complete the album. Sire chose the second option. Mindful of recouping their losses, and despite reservations, they released Jesus Built My Hotrod as a single that November.

To Sire’s amazement, it proved to be a tearaway success. The track quickly became a fixture on college radio and alternative rock charts. By early summer of 1992, at which point Ministry were finally ready to release its parent album, Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs, the single had sold 130,000 copies. And it kept on selling.

Read the rest of the story on Louder.

Thumbnail: Selbymay, CC BY-SA 4.0

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