Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ron Nasty's Hard Day's Rut

Is it wrong to love a fictional band?

If the band is the Archies or Milli Vanilli, it's very wrong. But if the band is the Rutles, it couldn't be more right.

In 1975, Monty Python's Eric Idle was doing a BBC sketch comedy show called Rutland Weekend Television and wrote a sketch about a Beatlesesque band called the Rutles. Idle hauled in Neil Innes (the former Bonzo Dog Band member who wrote and performed most of the songs for Monty Python) to write and sing a song parodying the Beatles' style (circa 1964). A year later, Idle played those BBC Rutles clips when he hosted Saturday Night Live.

SNL producer Lorne Michaels was already a huge Beatles fan; in April 1976 he offered the Beatles $3000 to reunite and perform on SNL (an offer raised to $3,200 -- an extra 50 bucks each! -- a few weeks later). (Ironically, Paul McCartney and John Lennon were watching that episode of SNL together in the Dakota and discussed getting a cab and going down to Rockefeller Center to collect the check. They ultimately decided against it.)

Idle then talked Michaels into producing All You Need is Cash, a full-length mock rocumentary on the Rutles, written by Idle and directed by Gary Weis (who made a series of short comedy films in the early years of SNL). Idle again turned to Neil Innes, who wrote 20 songs (parodying various musical styles associated with the Beatles) for the project.

All You Need is Cash is arguably the best rock 'n' roll comedy in history (its only serious rival is This is Spinal Tap). The movie, a history of the rise and fall of the Rutles that lovingly mocks the Beatles through different eras and moods, features Innes (as John Lennon-ish Rutle Ron Nasty), two Pythons (Idle and Michael Palin, both in multiple roles), two Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger and Ron Wood), one actual Beatle (George Harrison), as well as Paul Simon, David Frost, and six SNL'ers (John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Lorne Michaels and new Minnesota Senator Al Franken). (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

If you've never seen it (or you haven't seen it lately), buy or rent it immediately. (I'll wait.)

But the best part of the Rutles is the music. Innes channels Beatles songs, then twists them through an alternate-universe prism that warps them into off-kilter creations that are simultaneously familiar and completely new and unique.

Ironically, the Beatles themselves loved the Rutles music, but their publishing company sued Innes, so he never made any money off the first Rutles album. In addition, Idle reportedly demanded payment for having "created" the idea (and name) of the Rutles. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

I bought the vinyl soundtrack (which had 14 songs). I bought the soundtrack again when it came out on CD (I needed the 6 songs from the movie that were left off of the original vinyl). A few years ago, I saw Neil Innes perform at McCabe's. The packed house loved his Python songs, but there was something magical about 250 people singing along to all the Rutles songs (and even knowing all the backing vocal parts to "I Must Be in Love"). After the show, I got him to sign my vinyl copy of The Rutles (which was great) and got to thank him for all the amazing music he's made in his love (which was even better).

Bonus Trivia: Both Neil Innes and Ron Nasty are credited on the Aimee Mann album I'm With Stupid.


Anonymous said...

Don't be knocking the Archies... I got one of their records on the back of a cereal box once! (Wish I still had it, that'd be worth beaucoup bucks these days!)

Anonymous said...

The Rutles - best pop music spoof ever. And the music is actually fun. I love "Cheese And Onions" and "Piggy In The Middle".