Singer, songwriter, writer, actor and Monty Python contributor Neil Innes, died unexpectedly at age 75 last week.
I never followed Monty Python all that much because for the most part I found their brand of humor just a wee bit too silly for my taste — the famous black knight scene, for example.
Ah, but on the other hand, there’s The Rutles, the PreFab Four — a musical legend to last a lunchtime — and their 1978 made-for-television mockumentary, “All You Need Is Cash,” a parody of The Beatles’ story, that included Innes as Ron Nasty (playing John Lennon), Monty Python’s Eric Idle as Dirk McQuickly (playing Paul McCartney), Ricky Fataar as Stig O’Hara (playing George Harrison) and John Halsey as Barrington Womble (playing Ringo Starr).
So who else appeared in that movie? Well, let me tell you: Michael Palin, George Harrison, Bianca Jagger, Mick Jagger, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Gwen Taylor, Ron Wood, Paul Simon and others.
TV Guide wrote, The Rutles resemblance to The Beatles is “purely — and satirically — intentional.”
As one might expect, the TV movie follows The Rutles’ career from their early days in Liverpool and Hamburg through their rise to international stardom appearing in the films “A Hard Day’s Rut,” “Ouch!” “Tragical History Tour,” “Yellow Submarine Sandwich” and “Let It Rot.”
Sure, “All You Need Is Cash” has its moments, but I guess I’m just not Brit enough to really appreciate such a thing as I should.
But then again, there’s that soundtrack, written and performed by Innes (as guitarist and Scouser-voiced lead singer) that just blew my mind and ripped my eardrums wide open. Of course, as much as I like The Rutles, it’s hard to take them too seriously. It is good-hearted parody, after all, but frankly, I find their musical pastiches delightful, and in some cases I think Innes actually embellishes some of The Beatles’ musical ideas. Along the way, he and his bandmates faithfully and skillfully inhabit The Beatles’ sound — the quirky chord progressions, the jangly Rickenbacker guitar, the unusual tonal center shifts, the three-part harmony and all that.
In fact, some of the tongue-in-cheek songs are so Beatlesque some fans actually mistook them for Beatles’ bootlegs. One of those — an early version of the song, “Cheese And Onions” — actually turned out in the end to be Innes’ original demo, not an undiscovered Lennon masterpiece.
It didn’t stop there. Innes found himself in court defending a copyright infringement lawsuit because some of his melodies run ever so close to The Beatles’ songs. Lennon himself even suggested The Rutles not release “Get Up And Go” because he felt it was too close to The Beatles’ “Get Back.” Thankfully Innes won in court.
One of my personal favorites is “Let’s Be Natural,” a tune that deeply nicks the guitar lick from “Dear Prudence.” And then there’s “Piggy In The Middle,” a great send off of the musical idea underneath the opening chord progression of “I Am The Walrus.”
However, due to my ever-graying majority, and the fact we’re more than 40 years out on the release of The Rutles, I just don’t listen to that CD much anymore. I can say it was one of the first CDs I bought when I begrudgingly stumbled into the digital age, and I really can’t tell you the last time I listened to it.
But I can promise you this. As soon as I unbury my copy of that dusty gem, I’m gonna put it on, turn it up, have another good old belly laugh and say, “Thank you, Neil,” right out loud. It’s good fun and a simply delightful parody of the first boy band that conquered America and the world in 1964.
If you don’t have the CD (or the original vinyl), you can check out The Rutles on YouTube if you want to discover for yourself exactly what I’m gushing about.