Friday, April 19, 2013

Rutles 1: The Rutles

Beatle parodies are often tributes at heart, and vice versa. Whether you’re Todd Rundgren or Oasis, the more successful attempts have qualities of their own, without resting solely on the novelty of aping the familiar. And it’s not always easy to write/record a Beatlesque song/record without coming dangerously close to copyright infringement.
Such was the case of The Rutles, which grew out of a sketch on Eric Idle’s first series after Monty Python. After a couple of teasers on Saturday Night Live, their “mockumentary” was aired on a Wednesday night at 9:30 to a miniscule audience (including this correspondent, who didn’t get most of the jokes). Hindsight has brought forward most of the sources of the humor—hailed by George Harrison as highly accurate—especially when viewed in conjunction with the Anthology episodes.
The songs came from Neil Innes, who had already bridged the musical and comedy fields by appearing with the Bonzo Dog Band in Magical Mystery Tour and then on his own in Monty Python & The Holy Grail. Besides having a knack for writing catchy pop, he could pull off an excellent Lennon impression (such as “world” pronounced “weld”, and “girl” rhyming with “yell”). The George equivalent (“Stig”) was visually portrayed by Rikki Fatarr, who was and is predominantly a drummer, while the Ringo role went to the comically non-telegenic John Halsey. (Idle appeared on-screen as the Paul replicant Dirk McQuickly, gamely playing a Hofner bass left-handed, but using his fingers instead of a pick.)
The soundtrack LP included 14 of the 20 songs used in the film. Part of the fun of the album is spotting all the references, so we’re not going to reveal all of them here, but some are just too priceless to hide. “Hold My Hand” (with the “yeah yeah” tag in its chorus) is fairly obvious, while the call-and-response in “Ouch!” perfectly apes that of “Help!” “I Must Be In Love” is just great pop, with a guitar part that sounds a lot like The Searchers’ “When You Walk In The Room”. “Love Life” manages to stumble around like its inspiration, and “Piggy In The Middle” has some wonderful surprises in the mix. The best track is “Cheese And Onions”, which originally aped “Imagine” (right down to the headphones and gum) but gets a big surprise ending here. John himself didn’t object to “Let’s Be Natural” in the face of “Dear Prudence”, but allegedly said “Get Up And Go” sounded too much like “Get Back” to appear on the album (it does appear on the CD, with the other missing songs from the film). And having a song titled “Another Day” in the lineup is just plain cheeky.
Beatle fanatics and Python fans combine for a fairly voracious personality type—the sort that will actually collect Rutles bootlegs. They’d also want to find every international edition of the Archaeology follow-up in 1996, despite its lack of the charm the original still sports.

The Rutles The Rutles (1978)—4
1990 CD reissue, same as 1978, plus 6 extra tracks


  1. I also watched "All You Need is Cash" when it aired, and I understand why a lot of it would fly over people's heads. (For instance, almost no Americans would have seen the "Magical Mystery Tour" movie). Fortunately for me, I had recently read Nicholas Schaffner's excellent "The Beatles Forever", so I was able to get it.

    The music is brilliant. "Spot the Tune" is the game to play, and I didn't identify which Beatles tracks were being skewered by a few songs at first. ("Cheese and Onions" and "Let's Be Natural" threw me off.) Especially silly are the spoofy lyrics in the psychedelic songs, which also make the originals seem rather silly in retrospect! My two favorites are "Piggy in the Middle" and "Get Up and Go". I have to admit that this partially because of their memorable video sequences.

    I agree with your hearty recommendation. I don't think that you should just dismiss "Archaeology", however. Innes takes on more tracks from "The White Album", as well as "Revolver" and "Abbey Road", which were pretty much ignored on the first album.

    1. The Schaffner book was a godsend for those of us younger folks who missed the Beatles the first time around. I still consult it, and I'm constantly impressed by how much he got right, considering the myths that have been debunked in the decades since.