Friday, 26 November 2010
News, Views and Music Issue 82 (Top Five): Imaginary Bands
♫ Last week we looked at AAA artists coming up with their own imaginary utopian lands where peace and harmony reigned. This week its AAA members giving themselves alter egos...
5) The Rutles as The Beatles (original show 1977): OK, so the closest we get to an AAA member taking part in this project is George Harrison appearing as a reporter interviewing the drummer from The Beach Boys playing himself (Ricki Fataar is Stig O’Hara is George Harrison...surreal), but we couldn’t avoid adding The Rutles to our list, four young lads from Rutland with long hair and tight trousers, whose legend will last a lunchtime. Or, if you prefer, George’s friends Eric Idle and Neil Innes (the man behind the forgotten but influential and downright psychedelic children’s series ‘East Of The Moon and West Of The Sun’ which is responsible for inspiring the more surreal moments on this website) tacking the mickey out of the Beatles’ story, a tale so famous everyone out there will get the joke even if they barely know about the band (could a TV show like this have been inspired by any other group?) The TV show spin-off was released on DVD as ‘All You Need Is Cash’, although if you’re a fan look out for the two Rutles records – ‘The Rutles’ (1977) and the Anthology-spoofing ‘Archeology’ (1995) which are generally spot-on pastiches of the fab four’s many guises, although personally our favourite Rutles moments are the Beatles album cover spoofs (the slightly altered song titles on ‘Tragical History Tour’ are priceless – ‘Denny Laine’, ‘I Am The Waitress’ and ‘Your Mother Should Go’ indeed!)
4) Grateful Dead as ‘Uncle John’s Band’ (a track from the 1970 album ‘Workingman’s Dead’): In 1970 the Grateful Dead were hugely in debt to record company Warner Brothers thanks to poor sales added to some of the most expensive recording sessions of the whole of the 1960s and, under intense pressure, elected to become a ‘new’ simplified country-rock band with a distinct CSN influence. The resulting albums (one of which, American Beauty, is a classic on our list at no 40) outsold their more expensive cousins by miles. This first track on the first ‘new look’ album of the Dead’s has the band asking the listener to ‘come hear Uncle John’s Band’, a gentle back-porch kind of an outfit that sums up the Dead’s own beginnings as the Mother McCree Uptown Jug Champions and gives the band a whole new persona to play with across the next two or three records. Many fans wish they’d never gone back to being the Dead.
3) Pink Floyd as Pink Floyd (or are they?...) (a concert tour from 1980): While a bunch of roadies build a wall of cardboard bricks across the stage, four figures suddenly emerge from the shadows, cutting across the Emcee’s announcement and plunging straight into the lead of track from the ‘Wall’ album. But at the end of the song – mockingly titled ‘In The Flesh?’ – the four men on stage whip their ‘faces’ off to reveal that they are, in fact, four surrogate musicians with face masks that make them look like The Floyd. The stunned shock on the audience’s face says it all – just why have do they feel disappointed at the revelation? What exactly were they cheering – the song, the performance or their love for the artist? Why should they cheer a ‘real’ band more than a made up one? And why does one of them – Snowy White pretending to be David Gilmour – arguably sound more like a real member of the Floyd than the genuine Floyd did circa 1980? A typically head-scratching moment from the band that likes to confuse...
2) The Monkees as, err, The Monkees (an intermedia phenomenon 1966-70): Oh yeah, there was that little one who kept falling in love, that bossy one with the bobble hat, the quiet one who played stupid but fans knew was really the most intelligent one of the lot and the crazy one who did most of the lead singing while buried behind a massive drum kit. But even though Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz shared the same name and the looks of these four characters they were – get this music critics of the 1960s who still don’t understand this fact today – only acting the part of four men in a band for a television series. The fact that the said band ended up being quite good and releasing their own music away from the TV series has nothing to do with the original concept which was to make a bunch of musicians act the part of a struggling group the kids could identify with. For a kick off, The Monkees were the biggest TV and record phenomenon of the day when the second TV series started airing – and yet the band as seen on television are still trying to scrape together their rent money. The songs naturally only exist alongside the TV series because it was a good platform to plug the spin-off records. So there.
1) The Beatles as ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (an album from 1967): It is now 63 years since Sgt Pepper told the band to play, according to the timelines given in the album’s title track, and 43 years since The Beatles put their music onto record and yet still this alter ego band is the most famous AAA band of the lot. The most famous alternate band of all was an Edwardian combo who gathered together round a, umm, grave (people seem to forget about that aspect when discussing the cover – some fans claim it’s a village band stand but if so it’s the weirdest looking band stand I’ve ever seen!) Strangely enough, they looked a little bit like The Beatles but they couldn’t have been – after all, they were wearing moustaches for the first time in public and were clutching not drums, guitar and bass but classical music instruments. They’ve gathered quite a crowd around them too, featuring several leading figures of the day and yesterday and – just to rub the point home – there are the four moptop Beatles, lifeless replicas from Madam Tussauds borrowed especially for the cover shoot and the vibrancy of the Sgt Peppers band by comparison is one of the more exciting and unnerving aspects of the picture. Alas the record doesn’t live up to the cover (the Sgt Peppers band are only mentioned on tracks 1, 2 and 12 which hardly adds up to a concept album) and the band seemingly return to themselves the following year on The White Album (though quite who they’re supposed to be on the cover of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ is anybody’s guess).
Honorary mentions too to Paul Simon’s un-named backing band in his ‘One Trick Pony’ film and the Jefferson Starship/CSN/Grateful Dead crossover project ‘The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra, a band dedicated to saving planet earth on several projects in the early 1970s.
Well, that’s another week of rocking, writing and arithmetic over and done with (in case you’re wondering, the arithmetic is trying to remember what issue number we’re up to!) There might not be an issue next week so for the next fortnight happy reading and see you in December for our traditional end-of-year extravaganzas.