Hooks ‘N’ You: The Rutles, “The Rutles”/”Archaeology”

hooksnyou.jpgOn March 8, 2008, the Rutland Times reported the breathtaking news that the world and elsewhere would soon be privy to something quite remarkable: “Rutlemania! The Tribute Concert.” Even more impressive to fans of the Prefab Four, however, was the announcement that the famed Mods & Rockers Film Festival would be handling the official 30th-anniversary celebration of the Rutles on March 17, with Dirk (Eric Idle), Nasty (Neil Innes), Ricky Fataar (Stig), and John Halsey (Barry) all in attendance for a screening of the original 1978 version of The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, the 1975 British TV skit that inspired the film, Rutles-related footage from Saturday Night Live, and highlights from the 2003 film The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch.

Damn. I really wish I could’ve been there for that.

Fortunately, David Haber from WhatGoesOn.com was there, and provided two separate reports over at his website, one a general summary and the other focusing specifically on the Rutles’ first full reunion performance ever. Better you should go there yourself rather than allow me to cannibalize all the good stuff here, but let’s just say that any event that can draw an audience that includes Andy Summers, Jeff Lynne, Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, Stephen Bishop, Howard Kaylan of the Turtles, producer extraordinaire Peter Asher (who was also half of Peter & Gordon), Emo Phillips, Marcia Strassman, and Dan Castellaneta was clearly the place to be that night.

hooksnyou.jpg

If you’re a Beatles fan who’s never heard the genius parody that is the Rutles, you’re really missing out. It’s a fair assessment to suggest that 90 percent of all power pop is unabashedly derivative of the works of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and plenty of comedians have taken the world’s most famous Liverpudlians and had a laugh at their expense, but few have done such an exquisite job of it and gotten the blessing of the members themselves to boot — well, three-quarters of them, anyway. George actually made a cameo in the original film; as for the others (if we can trust Wikipedia’s word on the matter), Ringo liked the happier scenes but felt the ones that mimicked the sadder times in the band’s career hit too close to home, while John loved the film so much that he refused to return the videotape and soundtrack he was given for his approval, warning Neil Innes that “Get Up and Go” was too close to “Get Back” and to be careful so as not to be sued by Paul. This might explain why Macca always said “no comment” when asked of the film at the time of its release, as well as Innes’s remark that Sir Paul “had a dinner at some awards thing at the same table as Eric one night, and Eric said it was a little frosty.”

Well, fair enough, you can kind of understand that. It’s fine and well for us to have a laugh at it all, but then, we didn’t live it. George was around for much of the planning of the original film, but according to producer Gary Weis, even the Quiet One got a bit testy at one point, snapping, “We were the Beatles, you know!” Moments later, however, he shook his head and said, “Aw, never mind.”

The original soundtrack album for the film was filled with the kind of parodies where you need look no further than their title to know what’s being made fun of, with prime examples being “Hold My Hand” and “Ouch!” Innes and company were less obvious on some of the songs, borrowing bits and pieces of lyrics, riffs, and melodies to come within spitting (or suing) distance of certain tracks without actually being completely spot-on — “Another Day,” for example, perfectly captures the typical McCartney song circa “The White Album” without matching up precisely to an actual composition from the era — but those who know their Beatles only need a second or two to confirm their suspicions that “Doubleback Alley” is indeed a takeoff on “Penny Lane,” or that “Piggy in the Middle” is a straight-up “I Am the Walrus” rewrite.

hooksnyou.jpg

In 1996, Innes reunited with Fataar and Halsey to do a new Rutles album to coincide with the release of the Beatles’ Anthology, but Idle declined to participate. (Later, however, Idle would produce the aforementioned The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch without any assistance from his three bandmates, so it’s clear that there are two distinctly separate creative forces at work within the group.) The resulting effort, Archaeology, took parodic shots at songs that hadn’t previously been tackled. Although it might’ve struck a bit of a duff chord with those who fondly remember the album entitled Sgt. Rutter’s Only Darts Club Band, there’s still a great “Sgt. Pepper”/”With a Little Help From My Friends” equivalent in the opening tracks, “Major Happy’s Up and Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band” and “Rendezvous,” with the latter finding John Halsey doing as solid a Ringo parody as we’ve seen or heard since Rings appeared on “Lee A. Iacocca’s Rock Concert.” There’s only one song that sounds like it might actually be an outtake — “We’ve Arrived! (And to Prove It We’re Here)” — but most of the tracks are still just as entertaining as Innes’s compositions from 20 years earlier. I’ve never understood why “The Knicker Elastic King” wasn’t released as a single, but at least they did release a single: “Shangri-La,” which even warranted a video, albeit one that received almost no airplay.

I don’t know if the Rutles will ever get back together and do a follow-up to Archaeology, but it’s just nice to know that the four of them can actually coexist in the same room together to celebrate 30 years’ worth of accomplishments.

But dammit, I still wish I could’ve been there!!!




  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com Rob

    Actually, the word is that Paul came around after he learned that Idle was from the same neck of the woods as he was.

    Also (again, based on rumors): Eric didn't like the fact that so much of the credit for the original movie went to Neil's songs, rather than his writing. And the two have been on the outs ever since.

    And thanks for giving me a kick in the butt to feature the original “All You Need Is Cash” movie on an upcoming Soundtrack Sunday on my blog. All too easily forgotten by most folks – especially all the cool SNL cameos (and George, of course)

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    It's easy to do a parody that smacks of a slight snarky contempt: I recall one of my own from 1987 entitled “I Just Called To Say 'Eat Pork Chops'” (Odd, I don't even like pork chops…) Yet these parodies not only serve a twisted alternate universe as fodder, they work as songs in and of themselves.

    The “Free As A Bird” rip from Archaeology, “Don't Know Why” is just beautiful. It's a caricature, but a beautiful one nonetheless. I wholeheartedly endorse this for any diehard Beatles fan. You will NOT be offended. You will probably even outright love these bizarre xeroxes.

  • http://kittysneezes.com revme

    ..well, considering how utterly dire “Can't Buy Me Lunch” was, perhaps they've got a point..8)

    (Particularly since Archaeology was so wonderful…)

  • Breadalbane

    Pretty good ears, there, Will. “We've Arrived” is indeed an outtake from 1978.

    Idle didn't have anything to do with creating the Rutles' music — the fourth Rutle on record was Ollie Halsall, who sang all the McCartney-esque numbers. He died before Archaeology was recorded, but Innes wanted him to be represented on the “reunion” album. Hence, the inclusion of an outtake from the original sessions.

  • Breadalbane

    Oh yeah, and 1000 bonus points for referencing Lee A. Iacocca's Rock Concert, the only rock concert in history to request a 3 billion dollar bailout form the US Government. Thursdays at 9 on SCTV!

  • WHarrisBullzEye

    I knew my instincts were right when they told me I didn't need to explain that reference…! It's probably my all-time favorite “SCTV” sketch, from the Barbra Streisand and Slim Whitman duet to the awesome jab at the very hairy Gino Vannelli. Genius across the board.

  • http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com Beau

    “Yes, sir — I originated the Rutles!”

    I really liked Archaeology, too.

  • l.desmedt

    I saw it on tele then, but didn't understand the parody…I was a Beatles-fan and young , and thought The Ruttles had to be ashamed of themselves.. ..ehehe
    Years later, i regretted that I didn't buy the album.
    It's great to have the opportunity to listen to the songs now.
    Thanks for posting this all.

  • Old_Davy

    I have always thought in the back of my mind….that “Cheese And Onions” was a strong enough track to stand on it's own instead of being just a parody.

  • WHarrisBullzEye

    It was strong enough to turn up on a Beatles bootleg and be called one of THEIR outtakes! :-)

  • soundtrekkie

    Without fail, I put “Cheese and Onions” on every single mix tape I make. (I think I'm funny.) It always makes me crave a patty melt.

    Man, it's nice to be among folks who know who Neil Innes is, and who probably yelped when they caught that he sang on Aimee Mann's cover of “One” in Magnolia's liner notes.

  • side3

    I love the Rutles! However, a check of the BMI site shows why they were never sued by Lennon , McCatney (or Michael jackson!). All the Rutles songs (at least from the first album) show songwriting credits of Neil Innes/John Lennon / Paul McCartney…it's true!

    Example:

    ANOTHER DAY (Legal Title)
    BMI Work #46119
    Alternate Titles:
    ANOTHER DAY IN THE BIG WORLD
    Songwriter/Composer Current Affiliation CAE/IPI #
    INNES NEIL JAMES PRS 58084467
    LENNON JOHN BMI 17798450
    MC CARTNEY PAUL JAMES PRS 18873266

  • Breadalbane

    Yes, these are the BMI credits as they read now. But not as they read when the album was released.

    On the original vinyl LP, of which I am a proud owner, the credits read “all songs by Neil Innes”. Then the Beatles music publishers (not the Beatles themselves) threw a fit. The eventual out-of-court settlement was that all the songs on original version of the first album are now credited to Innes/Lennon/McCartney….even though “Nevertheless” is a pastiche George Harrison tune, and “Number One” is a pastiche of “Twist and Shout”, which wasn't wrtten by any of The Beatles at all.

    The “bonus tracks” on subsequent CD reissues of the first album were not covered by this agreement, so they are all credited to Innes alone. Yup, even “Get Up and Go”, the track John Lennon thought was too close to “Get Back” for comfort.

  • Breadalbane

    Yes, these are the BMI credits as they read now. But not as they read when the album was released.

    On the original vinyl LP, of which I am a proud owner, the credits read “all songs by Neil Innes”. Then the Beatles music publishers (not the Beatles themselves) threw a fit. The eventual out-of-court settlement was that all the songs on original version of the first album are now credited to Innes/Lennon/McCartney….even though “Nevertheless” is a pastiche George Harrison tune, and “Number One” is a pastiche of “Twist and Shout”, which wasn't wrtten by any of The Beatles at all.

    The “bonus tracks” on subsequent CD reissues of the first album were not covered by this agreement, so they are all credited to Innes alone. Yup, even “Get Up and Go”, the track John Lennon thought was too close to “Get Back” for comfort.

  • Breadalbane

    Yes, these are the BMI credits as they read now. But not as they read when the album was released.

    On the original vinyl LP, of which I am a proud owner, the credits read “all songs by Neil Innes”. Then the Beatles music publishers (not the Beatles themselves) threw a fit. The eventual out-of-court settlement was that all the songs on original version of the first album are now credited to Innes/Lennon/McCartney….even though “Nevertheless” is a pastiche George Harrison tune, and “Number One” is a pastiche of “Twist and Shout”, which wasn't wrtten by any of The Beatles at all.

    The “bonus tracks” on subsequent CD reissues of the first album were not covered by this agreement, so they are all credited to Innes alone. Yup, even “Get Up and Go”, the track John Lennon thought was too close to “Get Back” for comfort.