those of you who are wondering, "What the hell is he talking
about?" Well, I'm talking about the brainchild of Eric Idle
and songwriter/performer Neil Innes, best-known for their work
with Monty Python's Flying Circus. In 1978, Innes and Idle made
a TV Special and album spoofing the meteoric career of The Beatles.
I say "spoof,"but it was never mean-spirited. How could
it be? After all, Innes maintained a close friendship with George
Harrison, who himself appeared in the special as a TV interviewer.
"All You Need Is Cash" received critical acclaim-- if
not high ratings (they finished last for their week)-- and The
Rutles went on to become a cult classic.
Rutles memorabilia can be found at every Beatles convention, which
Innes found out, much to his surprise. It was however, a factor
in his decision to revive The Rutles.
"In '94, I went to America," says Innes with his familiar
British accent. "I was invited by the people who run the
Beatle-fests there. I was amazed to discover that The Rutles music
has survived the test of time with all The Beatles fans. And then
the news came out that The Beatles were going to release Anthology,
and people started ringing me up, saying, 'Why aren't The Rutles
doing anything?' So I asked George (Harrison) what he thought
and he said, 'Why not? It's all part of the soup.'" Innes
listened to his old friend and his fans and has released, Archeology,
a collection of new songs as well as three "archival"
songs featuring all four original musical members, including singer/
guitarist Ollie Halsall, known as the "fifth Rutle."
Halsall, who was key to the recording and film projects the first
time around (Eric Idle mimed his parts), passed away in 1992 at
the age of 43.
Although The Rutles were in fact conceived by Eric Idle as a skit
for his short-lived British TV show, Rutland Weekend TV, it was
Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels who brought The Rutles
to American TV. Idle is not involved with the new project. According
to Innes, "We asked Eric if he wanted to get involved and
he declined. But it's understandable because Eric. . . really
didn't have anything to do with the music the first time around."
The music on Archeology is surprisingly good, to the point of
where it stands up quite well on it's own. These songs are not
the wacky parodies of Weird Al Yankovic or the irreverent comedy
of Monty Python. The recording has a subtle humor that is best
appreciated by Beatles fans. Innes, like all good comedians, sees
truth as being at the heart of good humor. That said, it's hard
for many people to take this music seriously. "I went through
this with the Bonzos" says Innes, speaking of his first big
Bonzo Dog Band. "There's a fine line between stupidity and
comedy. (Laughter) There is a serious side to comedy that you
really can't extract from it. I'm getting a bit facetious now--
because I've done a lot of interviews-- but it popped into my
head the other day to describe the album as being like Shakespeare,
but with better songs. Because Shakespeare never had a hit song,
you know? And Shakespeare was able to go from drama to comedy."
"All You Need Is Cash" was a star-studded affair boasting
cameos from former Python alum Michael Palin and SNL legends,
Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Gilda Radner. Mick Jagger
and Paul Simon played themselves, discussing their memories and
feelings about the mythical band. Innes was pleased to find that
the star power translated to fans as well. "I did an impromptu
type of show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and loads of people
came down. Julian Lennon came down, Seal came down. You know,
doing all these interviews. . . somebody said, 'have you still
got your sex appeal? ' And I said, 'Yeah, women love The Rutles
because we all do our own ironing."
is what Innes is best-known for and his role as the principle
songwriter in Monty Python's Flying Circus suited him well. His
first love though, will always be The Bonzo Dog Band. "That
was just so anarchic" laughs Innes. "The Bonzos had
a kind of cross-fertilization with people like Eric Idle and Michael
Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. We had all worked on a children's
television program called, Do Not Adjust Your Set. It was pure
embryonic Python, mixed with Bonzo madness."
Python's impact, although minimized by Innes' genuine humility,
is not lost on the British comedian. "The Pythons did take
television and stand it on it's head" says Innes thoughtfully.
"But like The Beatles, they wrote some brilliant sketches.
It's really great to be in a group where the chemistry's going,
you know. Nobody necessarily sees eye-to-eye or likes one another,
but it's really sort of like, fighting to make the thing better.
And that's very stimulating to be near. I imagine it was the same
with The Beatles. "
Performing with the Pythons was certainly a highlight of Innes'
career, but when you're working with a group of guys like that,
you know there's gonna be trouble. . . "Having done one-man
shows, it's a lot better to do a show with a lot of other people.
. . even if they are bastards like John Cleese. You know, his
idea of a practical joke. . . You know the rule about timing in
comedy? Make the right timing entrance. So, you're just about
to make an entrance in a sketch, and he creeps up behind you and
holds you by the arms! So you're going (makes struggling noises
mixed with British expletives). Then he lets you go and you have
to go on and pull it all back. There's a lot of that, a lot of
It is frankly impossible to talk to this man without bringing
up Monty Python. Innes is very accommodating and shared this story;
"When we did Drury Lane, we did it for four weeks. We were
only supposed to do two but the promoter kept prevailing upon
us. But we said, 'Four weeks. That is it.' So it was the last
night and they had a mobile outside recording it. For four weeks,
on this "election" sketch-- we all had to do different
things-- but the bit I hated was. . . I had to put on these frogman's
flippers and this raincoat and appear as the candidate for the
City Party. And Eric would say, "Are you at all downhearted?"
And all I had to say was, 'No, not at all. Try again next time.'
So, on the last night, Eric said, 'Are you at all downhearted?'
I looked him in the eye and I snatched the microphone from him.
He was grinning, wondering what was going to happen. I said, 'No,
not at all. Try again next time. As I always say, climb every
mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, (Innes begins
to sing) until you find your dream.' And I was flapping towards
the front of the stage, singing, and I can see Cleese sitiing
there, clutching his head to his desk and groaning, waiting for
the sketch to be over. Then I put the mic back in the stand and
just sort of flapped off. The upshot was, they kept it in on the
album, but they had to pay the publishers of The Sound Of Music.
(Laughter) Cleese said, "You bastard. Your adlib cost us
For fans of The Rutles, Innes delivers a well-executed and surprisingly
"serious" recording with Archeology. In other words,
there are many moments on the record where you feel it's not a
parody at all, but a work of art that deserves to be judged in
it's own light. I'm certain all Neil Innes would say is, "It
was a lot of fun."