Invented Long Hair
It is, of course, difficult to assess the impact of the Rutles on modern life, much less condense it into a tight nut for these pages, but it can be said with little fear of contradiction that their two most significant contributions to this society were an indirect influence on a spate of difficult-to-decipher Dylan album annotations, and the initiation of long hair as a trend which would keep many from being able to find jobs. The last, of course, may be seen as having worked against the group, since, without jobs and money it was difficult for Rutle fans to purchase Rutle albums (see Sultan D'Swat's All You Need Is Cash). In the end, though, this worked out rather nicely, in that there were no Rutle albums to be purchased anyway.
However, as surely as Rolling Stone's tenth anniversary issue reminded us that there really was a "Sixties," there now is a Rutles album to, if not actually prove, at least make a good argument for there having been a Rutles after all. If there are those who still doubt, just remember that a band from Liverpool (quite near the Rutles beloved Rutland) made a very decent living for some years by releasing parody albums of Rutles songs. In fact, so rich is Rutles music that this other band was able to release more than one album per Rutles' song they were parodying at the time-this, in spite of there being no Rutles songs until now.
Yes, well...but how is it really?
The Rutles are the creation of one Eric Idle and yet another Neil Innes-both refugees from Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Innes prior to that a loon-in-residence with the beloved Bonzo Dog Boo Dah Band, and pub faves Grimms and Fatso. Originally, the band was no more than a two minute fill for Idle's "Rutland Weekend News" series which had been airing in Britain, but the inevitability of Fame held sway and a Saturday Night Live appearance by Rutle Nasty (Innes) led to the soon-to-be-aired NBC special. One supposes that were the Real Thing to be done, in the absence of Ed Sullivan, things would go about the same way.
What is interesting,though, is that in spite of both the special and the accompanying sound track companion being an obvious Beatles send-up, Idle and Innes (with the help of most of the Saturday Night crew and some interesting cameo guests) manage to capture most of the real Fab Four's initial ace-in-the-hole.
Unlike the '50s, which seemed to beg nostalgic reexamination once everyone forgot that it wasn't much fun being beaten up by the actual Fonzies of the era, the Sixties have pretty well resisted most dewy-eyed looks-back, probably because everything, including humor, was Very Serious and survival-oriented. But, hell, you know all that. The point here is that I & I have succeeded with their parody of a particular part of the Sixties by going to the mat with the subject on the time's own terms. To be anything other than inane, as opposed to the insane we've come to expect from Monty members, a Rutles record would have to be as complex and onion-layered as the time to which it referred. It turned out quite well indeed.
While on first face, The Rutles is but a clever pastiche of Beatles melodies and themes, it must also be heard as an expert skewering of both the letter and spirit of those songs as they related to their particular moment of that decade. There's something vaguely chilling about "Love is the meaning of life/Life is the meaning of love," the ending to "Love Life," and as for "Piggy In The Middle"...And yet, to crown excellence with excellence, Innes manages to slip in his own observations on all the goings on, without distracting from the "Beatle-ness" of everything. It's difficult to dismiss lines like:
The children of rock and roll
never grow old;
They just fade away *
within the framework of either the production...or the other side of the t.v....It all works astoundingly, even unnervingly well.
But, of course, in the end, there remains The Question: "Will the Rutles ever reform, or at least re-group?" What with both the offers of cash (some upwards of fifteen dollars) and the assurance that the whole thing would be staged somewhere where no one would see them, Dirk, Barry, Nasty and Stig remain firm in their "We haven't heard anything about it.. what?" commitment to let the past, if not die, at least atrophy. There'll never be another band like them-we all can be thankful for that.