In honour of the birthday of Legs Larry Smith, the man who manned the drumstool in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, it only seems right that we should write about how brilliant Britain’s funniest band are.
Comedy and music? Does it make something awful run icily through your veins? Worry not, because the Bonzos were more than simple jesters.
Emerging in the stupid ’60s, the Bonzos were hip enough to ‘get it’ and smart enough to lampoon it, taking influence from the big groups of the time as well as tapping into the world’s penchant for the absurd and the archaic. Step forward, Britain’s finest Victorian Idiots Psychedelicists.
In the group, we could find the might Neil Innes – unofficial Monty Python member and Rutle extraordinaire – who was the achingly cool face of the group. He was joined by maverick nutter Vivian Stanshall, along with bug-eyed pranksters Rodney ‘Rhino’ Desborough Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear and the aforementioned ‘Legs’ Larry Smith.
In addition to this, at points in the band’s career, they were joined by Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Elton John. Not bad for a supposed ‘novelty act’.
The group’s most famous hit is the instantly recognisable pop-smash, ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’, which you can listen to here.
However, the Bonzos weren’t always so pop-friendly. Riding the wave of a nostalgia that swept through the counter-culture of the 1960s, bands like The Temperance Seven found modest fame. The Bonzos were quick to capitalise on the sense of the absurd. Here’s the Temperance Seven…
…and here’s the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, tackling a similar sound. However, it wasn’t a tribute. The Bonzos were famously dubbed a ‘ballet for the vulgar’, with Neil Innes adding:
“We’re not doing a Temperance Seven, we’re murdering them.”
However, where most comedic musical outfits are one-trick ponies, the Bonzos could ape, lampoon and attack anything! They were clearly fans of a broad spectrum of music, able to convincing take-off anything they lay their mischievous hands on.
They quickly spotted how much of the psychedelic music of the time was ludicrous in tone and even worse in message… yet they clearly enjoyed it. So, taking the nonsense lyrics of those pretending to have taken LSD and marrying it with a convincing pastiche, behold, The Equestrian Statue which could fool the most hardy psychedelic nut at the time.
In the ‘Canyons Of Your Mind’, they slapped Elvis, with ‘Can Blue Men Sings The Whites?’ they cut down the boogie enthusiasts, with ‘We Were Wrong’, ridiculed bobby soxers and with ‘We Are Normal’, they tore apart the alternative rock music coming over from the States. No stone was left unturned. Elsewhere, they made the relentless (ly funny) The Intro & The Outro, which takes a joke and draws it out ’til you feel like the inside of your head was going to rupture.
And of course, they found time to poke fun at the whole notion that Britain was the most hip place to be on Earth with the sarcastic ‘Cool Britannia’, a phrase that would be later taken incredibly seriously by sour-faced indie guitarists and politicians in the ’90s.
Amongst all the musical tomfoolery, the group also managed to pre-date the spoof interview that was popularised by the likes of Chris Morris and various members of The 11 O’Clock show (Ali G, Daisy Donovan et al) by decades with the wonderfully ridiculous ‘Shirt’.
Naturally, it wasn’t all nonsense. Some of it was only partial nonsense, with killer slices of choogle like ‘You Done My Brain In’ and ‘Humanoid Boogie’.
Alas, with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, you were never far away from a song called ‘Bride Stripped Bare By Bachelors’, ‘Jazz – Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold’ and ‘Noises For The Leg’.
In essence, the Bonzos are some of the finest tunesmiths that Britain has ever produced and, like most things comedic, they won’t ever be taken as seriously as the pop-culture they dissected.