On 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.
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.
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!!!