Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 31st 2019
Because all you need is cash
On December 29, 2019, at the age of 75, Neil Innes passed away of a sudden heart attack. I was struck by a feeling of emptiness. It feels like so much of my youth is dying, and this is just another part of that.
Now, I cannot say I was the biggest fan; like many people, I first came to know of Innes' work through his association with Monty Python. However, I was given a cassette tape of Rutland Weekend Television, which we never got in Australia and found it strange and hilarious. The 'Gibberish' sketch in particular just struck me. That was when I went out and discovered who he was.
In terms of Monty Python, he played the lead of Robin's minstrels in Monty Python And The Holy Grail and did some of the musical interludes in Live At The Hollywood Bowl, including 'The Idiot Song' and 'I'm The Urban Spaceman' which he originally performed with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. I also saw him on one or two of the early Secret Policeman's Ball charity shows, again singing songs. When it came to British musical comedy of the 1970s, it seemed that Neil Innes was always there somewhere.
But the one thing that I remember and enjoy most of all that Neil Innes was heavily involved in is the film The Rutles (1978) (also known as All You Need Is Cash).
This film is one of the most perfect parody films ever written and produced. Based on the documentary format, it takes the overly familiar story of the Beatles and just makes complete fun of it. All the incidents in the lives and life of the Beatles are here, only taken in weird, bizarre and really funny directions. More than that, former Beatle George Harrison was a producer, helped bring it to the screen and played a reporter in the film.
On a side-note. I thought this was a parody of the documentary The Compleat Beatles. It seemed to follow a lot of that documentary's formats and story-telling style. However, it turns out that film was made in 1982… Did they copy The Rutles to make a Beatles documentary?
Sorry. I digress.
There are so many little gags in this movie that might only make sense to fans of the Beatles, but there are more than enough other jokes to keep everyone happy. Neil Innes plays the John Lennon type of character (Ron Nasty), with Eric Idle in the Paul McCartney type (Dirk McQuickly), Ricky Fataar as a sort of George Harrison (Stig O'Hara) and John Halsey as a sort of Ringo (Barrington Womble, known as Barry Wom). They are all brilliant. Idle, for what it's worth, also plays the narrator and a number of other roles.
The film also features Michael Palin, Ronnie Wood, Bianca Jagger, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Rita Rudner… so many! And – and! – Paul Simon, Roger McGough and Mick Jagger play themselves, being interviewed about this fake band! It is so superbly done.
As well as playing Ron Nasty, Innes also wrote the songs and performed them. While not many are funny per se, they are brilliant pastiches and ripoffs of the songs of the Beatles, mimicking perfectly the styles of the times represented, the sound, the lyrical stylings, the whole lot. Not cover versions of Beatles songs, but originals done to represent them. He has the Beatles down, spot on. A song like 'Please Please Hold My Hand' sounds so much like an early era Beatles song you have to check twice, and something like 'Cheese And Onions' could so easily have come from the Yellow Submarine time. Speaking of which, the brief send-up of that film is visually perfect in every way… as is the awesome 'Piggy In The Middle' scene so wonderfully mimicking 'I Am The Walrus'. I could just go on like this all day. But I won't.
No… I won't.
But this song is so awesome, and looks like the original!
The whole collapse of the Beatles/Rutles is done hilariously, and the way they take on the "Paul Is Dead" conspiracy theory with a "Stig Is Dead" one, and the evidence for believing such, is one of my favourite bits of the film. There are so many little jokes and gags throughout. Interviewing the blues player who claims to have invented all popular music, the queen falling asleep during a Royal Variety Performance, the Leppo (the 5th Rutle, who just stood at the back) allusion… there is so much to love and enjoy here.
And some of the jokes are a little more cerebral, as well ("I'm standing in front of the banks of the Mississippi, the First National…"), especially with the narrator being run over by the camera, being forced to run with the camera, moving away from a location with the camera – subtle, but so well done. Again, I could just detail all the jokes, but that would take away the fun of this film.
Look, I know it may be of its time, and it could well be that modern-day audiences (i.e. people born after, say, 1985) will not get a lot of what is in this film, the allusions, the sources of the humour, but that's okay. Not everything has to be for the newer generations. But for people who do understand the Beatles and what they are about and what they meant to the world, this film is just so, so good.
But the Rutles were not just here in this film. When the Beatles released the Anthology set, the Rutles released Archaeology, which was okay, but it struggled to maintain its humour for so long. I have not yet seen the 2002 sequel. Innes went on to release a Ron Nasty song in 2009 called 'Imitation Song', a parody of Lennon's 'Imagine'.
And so, I think as a fine tribute to Neil Innes, under-rated musician, multi-instrumentalist, fine singer and quite a good actor, The Rutles/All You Need Is Cash is a fine place to go.
Otherwise, how about…
And, on that note, vale, Neil Innes. Thank-you for the laughter and the joy you brought the world.
I wonder which way he would have preferred to be remembered?