"Detachable Penis" is a song by avant-garde band King Missile. It was the first single from the band's 1992 album Happy Hour, and became a modest hit, reaching No.25 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
In "Detachable Penis", frontman John S. Hall recites a deadpan monologue in which he portrays the owner of the eponymous penis. After a night of heavy drinking at a party, the narrator awakens at his East Village home and finds that his penis is missing, which has happened to him often on similar occasions. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to recover his penis.
Depressed, he goes to the Kiev Restaurant for breakfast. Afterwards, he serendipitously encounters a street vendor who has possession of the missing penis. After negotiating for a better price, he purchases his penis back. After returning home, he reattaches it, relieving his distress.
The lyrics also discuss the relative merits and disadvantages of having a detachable penis. The narrator concludes that having a detachable penis is advantageous overall.
Besides the general absurdity of the situation described, the lyrics also make use of several puns and other forms of humor.
The music of "Detachable Penis" consists largely of a distorted, delay-treated electric guitar riff backed by organ and drum grooves with brief lead guitar improvisation. For most of the track, the titular phrase is sung with an interval of approximately four seconds, or more accurately two 4/4 bars, the length of the guitar riff. The riff provides a harmonic ground of C# minor - G major - A major, which remains unchanged throughout the song.
The video for "Detachable Penis" was directed by Richard Kern at the suggestion of drummer Roger Murdock. Hall called Kern "the perfect choice." The video consists of a literal visual depiction of the song's narrative, interspersed with shots of the band performing and an anonymous woman simulating attaching and detaching the organ of the title (represented by a dildo complete with artificial scrotum and testicles).
In a 2003 interview, Hall stated that the commercial success of "Detachable Penis" led to a commercial backlash: "[A]fter that CD [Happy Hour], we didn't really get a lot of airplay". A few stations continued to be supportive, but I think that the success of 'Detachable' resulted in a lot of people getting pretty tired of what we were doing. That is one of the bad things about having a 'hit.'"
Moreover, said Hall, the band realized that the song had drawn in many casual fans who did not care about the rest of the group's material; thus, the band began to play the song "early in the set, so that the people who didn't like us could leave, and we could play for the people who cared. That worked out well. People did leave."
"Detachable Penis" has been subject to a wide array of misinterpretations. Some people take the lyrics at face value, while others see the story as an elaborate metaphor. In his review of Happy Hour, Michael C. Harris of Rolling Stone wrote of the song: "A parable of self-emasculation? Who knows? And Hall's not telling."
In a 1998 interview, Hall remarked,
Obviously, there are elements to 'Detachable' about male identity that are there, but not really overtly there. For the person who wants to find it, it's there. I don't know. I don't think... I like to think I'm not obvious about the humor, and I'm not obvious about the feelings, either.