The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
"The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" is a song written by Andy Partridge of XTC for their 1992 album Nonsuch. It was their second number one hit on the Modern Rock Tracks chart after "Mayor of Simpleton", and reached number 71 on the UK Singles Chart. The song tells the story of Peter Pumpkinhead, a man who comes to an unspecified town, "spreading wisdom and cash around." He is extremely popular with the public, but extremely unpopular with the government. In the end, he is nailed to wood by his enemies for "being too good".
The song was inspired by a jack o'lantern Partridge had carved and placed on a fence post in his garden for Halloween. Afterward, Partridge walked past the pumpkin each day on the way to his composing shed and, feeling sorry for the increasingly decaying fruity head, decided to write a song about him. He said that he began thinking about "what would happen if there was somebody on Earth who was kind of perfect ... God, they'd make so many enemies!"
Music videoThere are two different versions of the XTC music video, both of which feature a scenario very similar to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, although one is heavily edited for US television broadcast and removes much of the more controversial material. The Kennedy reference is also made explicit by the image of a pig with a map of Cuba superimposed on it—a clear reference to the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. They also briefly feature an actress dressed like Marilyn Monroe during the third verse.
In addition, the uncensored video makes brief reference to Jesus Christ by flashing the words "three nails" and showing a crown of thorns. The lyrics "Peter Pumpkinhead was too good; Had him nailed to a chunk of wood" reinforce this crucifixion reference. It also cross references all three stories by strongly implying that the death of all three were caused by some sort of government conspiracy. It is of note that during the last verse of the uncensored video, there are shots of evidence bags marked with the tags "X" (possibly a reference to Malcolm X), "R" (possibly a reference to Robert F. Kennedy) and (together) "J" and "F".
Crash Test Dummies version
The song was covered by Canadian group Crash Test Dummies in 1994 for the soundtrack to the film Dumb and Dumber. Crash Test Dummies' version is notable in that it was their first of two singles to feature Ellen Reid on lead vocals; it differs slightly from XTC's version, omitting the second verse.
The cover was originally recorded to give Reid another song for live performances, but the creators of Dumb and Dumber approached the band about including it on the film's soundtrack. Reid said of the song, "It's about a person when they try to do good in the world, but people turn against them. Someone who is trying to do good, but is persecuted."
The music video was filmed in Nathan Phillips Square, home to City Hall in Toronto, Ontario; fans of the band were invited to an open casting by VJs on MuchMusic. It features Jeff Daniels reprising his role of "Harry Dunne" from Dumb and Dumber. In the video, Harry falls and gets a Jack-o'-lantern stuck on his head. In his struggle to get it off, he foils a bank robbery and becomes a media sensation. However, he is unfairly found guilty of the bank robbery and narrowly avoids being hanged (he is saved by the pumpkin, which is placed on his head before he's put in the noose). It ends with a spoof of the religious imagery in the original video, as Harry's followers (oblivious to him having survived) venerate him as a martyr and establish the "Church of the Latter-Day Pumpkinheads" where they don Jack-o'-lantern masks, ape Harry's struggle to remove the pumpkin stuck to his head, and take communion of pumpkin seeds and wine sipped from a pumpkin stem.