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|Genres||Parody, comedy rock, pop rock|
|Years active||1975–1978, 1996–1997, 2002|
|Labels||Warner Bros., Rhino, Virgin|
|Associated acts||The Beatles, Monty Python,|
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
|Past members||Eric Idle|
|Genres||Parody, comedy rock, pop rock|
|Years active||1975–1978, 1996–1997, 2002|
|Labels||Warner Bros., Rhino, Virgin|
|Associated acts||The Beatles, Monty Python,|
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
|Past members||Eric Idle|
The Rutles (The Prefab Four) are a band known for their visual and aural pastiches and parodies of The Beatles. This originally fictional band, created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes for 1970s television programming, became an actual group (while remaining a parody of The Beatles) and toured and recorded, releasing many songs and albums that included two U.K. chart hits.
Created as a short sketch in Idle's UK television comedy series Rutland Weekend Television, the Rutles gained fame after being the focus of the 1978 mockumentary television film, All You Need Is Cash (The Rutles). Actual Beatle George Harrison notably appeared in the film and assisted in its creation. Encouraged by the positive public reaction to the sketch, featuring Beatles' music pastiches by Neil Innes, the film was written by Idle, who co-directed it with Gary Weis. It had 20 songs written by Innes, which he performed with three musicians as "The Rutles". A soundtrack album in 1978 was followed in 1996 by Archaeology, which spoofed the Beatles' Anthology series which had recently been released.
A second film, The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch — modelled on the 2000 TV special The Beatles Revolution — was made in 2002 and released in the US on DVD in 2003.
The Rutles first appeared in 1975 as a sketch on Idle's BBC television series Rutland Weekend Television. The sketch presented a mini-documentary about the 1960s band "The Rutles", and featured Neil Innes (ex-Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) fronting The Rutles singing "I Must Be In Love", a pastiche of a 1964 Lennon-McCartney tune.
The sketch was the work of Innes and Idle. Innes conceived parodying the film A Hard Day's Night, after writing "I Must Be In Love" which he realised sounded very "Beatley". Innes was the musician and composer for the series, and routinely created songs and ideas about how those songs could be presented on the show. He passed the idea along of a Beatles spoof to Idle, who had a separate idea about a boring TV documentary maker. They then merged the ideas into one extended film shot for the TV show. The band name was a continuation of the regional premise of the TV show, which was presented as a programme by a fictional TV network in Rutland, the smallest county in England. One running joke was that it would use names derivative of "Rutland". The initial idea was a parody of The Rolling Stones called "The Rutland Stones" but became a parody of the Beatles, and Idle suggested "The Rutles". 'The Prefab Four' is a pun on the Beatles' nickname 'The Fab Four' but with ironic overtones: a prefab was a cheap postwar form of British housing, intended to be temporary, often poorly constructed, draughty and leaky, and not well regarded by those who had to live in them.
The Rutles had connections with The Beatles aside from the parody. The Beatles were fans of Neil Innes's previous band, the Bonzo Dog Band; they featured them in the 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour, and Paul McCartney (working with Gus Dudgeon under the collective alias Apollo C. Vermouth) had produced the Bonzos 1968 hit single "I'm the Urban Spaceman". Later, George Harrison would be involved in the Rutles film.
In merchandising for the TV series, references were made to a Rutles album (Finchley Road) and a single ("Ticket To Rut"). In 1976, BBC Records produced The Rutland Weekend Songbook, an album containing 23 tracks including the Rutles songs "I Must Be In Love" and "The Children Of Rock And Roll" (later reworked as "Good Times Roll").
One year after their initial BBC appearance, on 2 October 1976, Idle appeared on the American NBC show Saturday Night (later Saturday Night Live), and showed videotape extracts from Rutland Weekend Television — including the Rutles clip. That led to a suggestion by SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels to extend the skit into a one-hour mock documentary. This proposal led to the 1978 mockumentary All You Need Is Cash, directed by SNL film director Gary Weis, though Idle was credited as co-director.
On 23 April 1977, Idle made another appearance on Saturday Night Live, bringing along Neil Innes as a musical guest. A running theme for this episode is the "Save Great Britain Telethon," and at one point there is an appearance by "The Rutle who lives in New York, Nasty". Innes appeared as Nasty with a lone white piano, singing a short version of "Cheese & Onions". Later in the episode, as Neil Innes, he performed "Shangri-La", a song that The Rutles would much later record.
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All You Need Is Cash documented the rise and fall of the Rutles, paralleling much of the history of The Beatles.
Innes wrote and produced the music. He relied on his memory of Beatles music, and not careful later analysis, to create soundalike songs. Innes assembled a band (himself, John Halsey, Ollie Halsall, Andy Brown, and Ricky Fataar) and the group played in a London pub to gel. During Rutles performances and studio recordings, Innes took lead on the songs that resembled Lennon's; Halsall sang on most McCartney-esque tunes; Fataar sang the Harrison songs; and Halsey sang a Ringo Starr-type song. Idle mimed to Halsall's singing and Brown's bass playing in the completed film. Halsall appeared in the film as "Leppo", the fifth Rutle who in the earliest years "mainly stood at the back". Brown did not appear in the film.
The film is a series of skits and gags that illustrate the Rutles story, following the chronology of The Beatles. The glue of the film is the soundtrack by Innes, who created 19 more songs for the film, each a pastiche of a Beatles song or genre. Fourteen songs were on a soundtrack album. The CD version added the six songs omitted from the original vinyl album. The album was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Comedy Recording of the year. The orchestrations and arrangements were by film composer John Altman.
All You Need Is Cash was not a success on American television on its first showing on 22 March 1978 and finished at the bottom of all programmes that week. The show fared better on BBC television when it was premiered a week later, on 27 March 1978.
A 66-minute version edited for TV was released on video and DVD but it has been superseded by the restored 72-minute version.
Additional actors in the special included Dan Aykroyd as the man who turned down The Rutles, John Belushi as Allen Klein parody Ron Decline, Bill Murray as "Bill Murray the K", Gilda Radner as a reluctant street interviewee, George Harrison as a TV interviewer, Mick Jagger as himself, Paul Simon as himself, Michael Palin as a member of Rutle Corps, Ron Wood as a biker, Lorne Michaels as a man who wants to merchandise The Rutles, Al Franken and Tom Davis as Ron Decline employees, and many others. It included actual footage of David Frost and Ed Sullivan taken from Beatles TV appearances.
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George Harrison was involved in the project from the beginning. Producer Gary Weis said, "We were sitting around in Eric's kitchen one day, planning a sequence that really ripped into the mythology and George looked up and said, 'We were the Beatles, you know!' Then he shook his head and said 'Aw, never mind.' I think he was the only one of the Beatles who really could see the irony of it all."
Harrison said "the Rutles sort of liberated me from the Beatles in a way. It was the only thing I saw of those Beatles television shows they made. It was actually the best, funniest and most scathing. But at the same time, it was done with the most love." Harrison showed Innes and Idle the Beatles unreleased official documentary The Long and Winding Road, made by Neil Aspinall. (Aspinall's documentary would be resurrected as The Beatles Anthology.)
Idle claims on the All You Need Is Cash DVD commentary track that Harrison and Starr at one point discussed starting a band with Innes and Idle, based on the Beatles' and Rutles' shared and imaginary histories. This never came to pass. Harrison and Starr also surprised him and Innes one day by singing a version of "Ouch"; two of The Beatles singing a Rutles song to two of The Rutles.
In 1979 Idle and Fataar issued a single as 'Dirk and Stig' - "Ging Gang Goolie" backed with "Mr. Sheene". This was Idle's only appearance on a Rutles-related disc.  Throughout the 1980s The Rutles did not exist.
In 1982, The Rutles were involved in a record scandal reminiscent of the one surrounding the Beatles Yesterday and Today album. Rhino Records, at the time a small Los Angeles label specializing in off-beat releases, put out an album called Beatlesongs, purportedly a collection of Beatles novelty songs (it was actually a weird catch-all of assorted Beatles-related tunes). For the collection, Rhino licensed The Rutles' "Hold My Hand" from Warner Bros Records. The cover of the album was done by well-known commercial artist William Stout (who had made a name for himself drawing the cover artwork for some of the best-looking Beatles bootleg records in the seventies). His cover drawing included a representation of the man who killed John Lennon, which generated an immense backlash. Rhino responded by recalling the album and reissuing it with a new, innocuous cover, which they announced in this press release.
A clip from All You Need Is Cash appeared on this compilation of comedy videos put out by the now-defunct Vestron Home Video in 1985. The clip is simply the Tragical History Tour part of All You Need Is Cash, with the sound clunkily muted out during the segment's narration in order to leave just the music. This home video release was put out on both VHS and Laserdisk.
Innes, with a group called The Moptops backed by the Rutland Symphony Orchestra, performed as "Ron Nasty and The New Rutles" at a convention honouring the 25th anniversary of Monty Python in 1994. This led to a Rutles reunion album in 1996, featuring Innes, Fataar and Halsey. Halsall died in 1992, but the reunion album, entitled Archaeology (a play on the Beatles' Anthology series), featured several tracks recorded in 1978 that included his contributions. The Japanese version included 4 bonus tracks.
In 2002, Idle made The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch, but it remained unreleased for a year. The film features an even bigger number of celebrity interviewees discussing the band's influence. This was met with mixed reactions from fans, particularly because no new footage of the Rutles was filmed. The DVD has yet to be released in the UK.
In 2007, a reissue of Archaeology included a new Rutles track called "Rut-a-lot" (a jab at Eric Idle's stage show "Spamalot") which was simply a live medley of songs from the first Rutles album.
On 17 March 2008, all four movie Rutles (i.e., Innes, Idle, Fataar and Halsey) reunited for the first time at a 30th anniversary screening of All You Need Is Cash at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The event included a question and answer session and performance by members of the tribute show "Rutlemania" which ran for a week at the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood before doing a week in NYC at The Blender Gramercy Theater. The "Rutlemania" live show was conceived and written by Eric Idle which starred The Beatles tribute group "The Fab Four" as "The Pre-fab Four" Rutles.
In February 2009 on his website "InnesBookOfRecords.Com", Neil Innes released what he refers to as "Ron Nasty's Final Song", titled "Imitation Song" - a parody of "Imagine". This was also Innes' first and only entry in the Masters of Song-Fu competition run by Quick Stop Entertainment.
In the original skit "Stig" is the Paul McCartney character and was portrayed by Battley, with Idle portraying the George Harrison character as "Dirk". The John Lennon character is named "Nasty". The Ringo Starr character was originally named Barry, although in the series spin-off book "The Rutland Weekend Songbook", this character is mistakenly identified as "Kevin"—the only appearance of this name in the entire Rutles canon. In the original sketch, the characters are given only the singular names Stig, Dirk, Barry and Nasty.
Some actors lip-synching the Rutles music on-screen were not musicians, and did not participate in the recording process. Rutles music for Rutland Weekend Television and the spin-off album The Rutland Weekend Songbook was recorded by Neil Innes' own band Fatso, which consisted of:
In adapting the characters for a full-length TV feature, several changes were made. Idle continued to play "Dirk", but Dirk was now modelled after Paul McCartney, not George Harrison. Battley was replaced as Stig by Ricky Fataar, and Stig became the George Harrison-inspired character. Additionally, the characters now all had first and last names.
The Rutles members in All You Need Is Cash were:
Also, in tracing the fictional history of the band, one other member was mentioned:
The band that recorded the actual music was slightly different to the band that appeared on camera, as Idle did not take part in the recording process. On the soundtrack release of the music from All You Need Is Cash, The Rutles were officially:
While the Rutles are often thought of as a four-piece band, the credits of the original LP release of their first album make it quite clear they were a five-piece band. Brown, however, did not appear in any role in All You Need Is Cash, and was not part of any Rutles reunion.
After an 18-year hiatus, The Rutles (Innes, Halsey and Fataar) reconvened to record the 1996 album Archaeology (parody of the Beatles Anthology). Halsall had died in 1992, but appears on several tracks that were outtakes from the original 1978 album, and is credited as a band member (similar to the Beatles' "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love").
On record the band was augmented by keyboardist Mickey Simmonds, who would go on to play with the band live. Also appearing on the record was bassist Malcolm Foster (ex-Pretenders), as The Rutles had no bass player. Guitarists Doug Boyle and Bernie Holland were featured.
Innes and Halsey toured as The Rutles in the UK, augmented by other musicians. The touring group performs songs from the Rutles repertoire and from Innes's solo career.
The touring version:
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Ron Nasty first met Dirk McQuickly in January 1959, at the now-historical address of 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool. Having joined up with Stig O'Hara (a guitarist of no fixed hairstyle), they started playing as a trio. After 18 months, they discovered drummer Barrington Womble (whom they persuaded to change his name to Barry Wom to save time, and his hairstyle to save Brylcreem) hiding in their van, and the classic line-up of the Rutles was completed.
In 1960, at the suggestion of then-manager Arthur Scouse, the group went to Hamburg where, with fifth member Leppo, who mainly stood at the back, they played all the clubs on the Reeperbahn, particularly The Rat Keller. It was there that Leppo crawled inside a trunk with a small German fräulein and was never heard from again. Luckily, he had no talent for playing anyway.
In October 1961, fate intervened in the shape and other attributes of one-legged retail chemist from Bolton, Leggy Mountbatten (a parody of Brian Epstein), who, after falling into "The Cavern" one night, decided he hated the boys' music, but liked the cut of their jib (and especially the cut of their trousers). He became their manager, cleaned up their image, and touted them around the major record companies. Eventually, they signed to Parlourphone, and their debut album, which was recorded in 20 minutes (their second took even longer), became an enormous success. By December 1963, they were the biggest thing ever to hit the music business, with 19 out of the top 20 singles in the UK.
In 1964, Rutlemania went worldwide, and then some. The group swiftly conquered the US thanks to the promotion of Bill Murray the K, while Nasty's book of comic prose, Out Of Me Head, dominated the best-seller lists. In July of that year, the group's first film, A Hard Day's Rut, was released. This was followed in 1965 by Ouch! By this time, Rutlemania had reached such a fever pitch that crowd control was a serious problem. In August 1965, the Prefab Four played a sell-out concert at New York's Ché Stadium (named for famed Cuban guerilla leader Che Stadium), arriving a day early in order to get away before the audience arrived.
In 1966, controversy hit the Rutles when Nasty was quoted as saying that the group were 'bigger than God'. Nasty, however, insisted that he had been misquoted by a slightly deaf journalist, and had actually said they were bigger than Rod, referring to Rod Stewart, then a relative unknown. The band bounced back with their 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Rutter's Only Darts Club Band, though this too was misted over in controversy when the group claimed they wrote it under the influence of tea, to which they had been introduced by Bob Dylan. When Nasty was arrested for possession of tea, there was a national outcry and a full-page advertisement in The Times calling for it to be legalised. All five members of The Rolling Stones had been arrested already, and an MP had been caught nude with a teapot. Shortly afterwards, Nasty visited an art exhibit at The Pretentious Gallery in Soho, and it was here that he met a German-born Nazi artist named Chastity whose father had invented World War II. After spending a whole night together, Nasty and Chastity announced their engagement the next day at a press conference, during which they sat in a shower to promote world peace.
While staying with the mystic Arthur Sultan at his retreat in Bognor Regis, the band heard that Mountbatten had tragically emigrated to Australia, where he had accepted a teaching post. Some critics argue that the band lost their direction at this point. Tragical History Tour, their self-indulgent TV movie about four Oxford history professors on a tour around Rutland tea-shops, was regarded as a failure. They then made their first animated film, Yellow Submarine Sandwich .
In April 1968, the group launched their record company, Rutle Corps. Despite signing up some promising talent (notably Arthur Hodgson and the Kneecaps and the 'French Beach Boys,' Les Garçons de la Plage), poor financial management (mainly on the part of Stig O'Hara's financial planner, Ron Decline) finally led to the label's ultimate failure. Around this time, a 'Stig is Dead' rumour, prompted by both many obscure clues within the band's songs and album covers (including a track which, when played backwards, reportedly said 'Stig has been dead for ages, honestly') and the fact that Stig had not spoken publicly in five years began to circulate, prompting Barry to stay in bed for a year. Whether this was intended as a tax dodge or as an attempt to start his own 'Barry is Also Dead' rumour never became clear.
It was in this atmosphere that the group's final release, Let It Rot, was recorded. Soon afterwards, the band fell apart amid much legal wrangling; McQuickly sued Nasty and O'Hara, Wom sued McQuickly, Nasty sued O'Hara and Wom and - in all the confusion - O'Hara ended up accidentally suing himself. Wom had some success with his solo LP, When You Find The Girl Of Your Dreams In The Arms Of Some Scotsmen From Hull, but like the other members, soon drifted into obscurity, punctuated only by the making of a 1978 retrospective documentary, All You Need Is Cash. McQuickly formed the punk rock group Punk Floyd with his French wife, Martini (he sang; she did not); Nasty turned his back on the world; Wom became two hairdressers, as per a joke once made to the press; and O'Hara found work for Air India as an air hostess.
It is rumoured that The Rutles acquired all their music from others. Many people said that they stole it from New Orleans blues legend Blind Lemon Pye, but he said that the Rutles' music came from his next-door neighbour Ruttling Orange Peel. Ruttling claimed that he did write the music, but his wife claims that he is always lying. She said that he also claimed to have started the Everly Brothers, Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Welk. There is a small-time group named The Beatles who patterned their career after the legendary Rutles.
"The Rutland Weekend Songbook" / Eric Idle & Neil Innes
BBC Records (UK) / Passport Records (US)
Saturday: (Side 1 )
Sunday: (Side 2)
A soundtrack album entitled The Rutles containing 14 tongue-in-cheek pastiches of Beatles songs was also released. The CD reissue included the 6 other songs featured on the soundtrack that were not included in the vinyl LP.
The cover art of the album suggested the existence of a number of other Rutles albums including Tragical History Tour and Let It Rot.
The album contains some obvious send-ups of Beatles numbers such as "Ouch!" ("Help!"), "Good Times Roll" ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), "Love Life" ("All You Need is Love"), "Cheese and Onions" ("A Day in the Life"), "Piggy in the Middle" ("I Am the Walrus"), "Doubleback Alley" ("Penny Lane") and "Get Up And Go" (CD reissue only — "Get Back"). However, its real tribute is in its subtly layered blending of elements from Lennon-McCartney tunes.
"I Must Be In Love" + "Cheese And Onions " / "A Girl Like You"
WEA Records / UK only release / 1978 / K17125
Side 1: "I Must Be In Love"
Side 2: "Cheese And Onions" / "A Girl Like You"
"Let's Be Natural" b/w "Piggy In the Middle"
WEA Records / UK only release / 1978 / K17180
Side 1: "Let's Be Natural"
Side 2: "Piggy In the Middle"
"I Must Be In Love" b/w "Doubleback Alley"
WEA Records / Japan / 1978 / P-200-W
Warner Bros. Records / US / 1978 / WBS 8560
Side 1: "I Must Be In Love"
Side 2: "Doubleback Alley"
Promotional Warner Bros. faux-Beatles Rutles five-song 331⁄3 RPM 12-inch (PRO-E-723) complete with recreated Lads-in-Nehru-suits portrait in the same fashion and pose as the real Beatles' portrait released on the sleeve of the Capitol 45 rpm release "I Want to Hold Your Hand" b/w "I Saw Her Standing There" (Capitol 5112). The unnamed Rutle Corps Records label (peeled banana in the centre) boasted five tracks and was pressed in translucent yellow vinyl:
Three of the five musicians who had created the soundtrack for the 1978 film — Innes, Halsey and Fataar — reunited in 1996 and recorded a second album, Archaeology, a send-up of The Beatles Anthology albums. The fourth 'real' Rutle, Ollie Halsall, died in Spain in 1992. Original Rutles bassist Andy Brown did not participate in the reunion. Eric Idle was invited to participate, but he declined. Accordingly, photos of the three 'surviving' Rutles parodied those of the then three surviving Beatles in the Anthology series.
Like the Anthology project that it lampooned, it featured tracks ostensibly from all periods of the Rutles career, sequenced to reflect the fictional band's chronology. Several of the songs were actually old Innes standards that were dusted off and given the 'Rutles' treatment. The reunion was blessed by George Harrison, who encouraged The Pre-Fab Four to proceed. When approached, he told Innes, 'Sure. It's all part of the "soup"' Innes related that encounter in interviews he gave in 1996.
"Eric Idle Sings Monty Python" (Live) / Eric Idle
Restless Records / C.D. only release / 01877-73730-2
A 20-track album of Rutles covers released by Shimmy Disc on 8 December 1993.
Bootlegs include Hard Days Rut, Rehearsal, Sweet Rutle Tracks, Rutles To Let, Sgt. Rutters Only Darts Club Band, and Rutland's Rare Rutles Revisited. Much of the material on these releases comes from 1978 rehearsal tapes, or from the Rutland Weekend Television soundtrack LP.
Following the release of the 1978 The Rutles album, ATV Music, the then-owner of the publishing rights to the Beatles catalog, sued Innes for copyright infringement. Though Innes hired a musicologist to defend the originality of his songs, he settled with ATV out of court for 50% of the royalties and shared songwriting credit on the 14 songs included on the album. As of early 2006, these six songs from the first Rutles CD (which were not on the original LP release, but some of which were included in the television film) are credited solely to Neil Innes: "Baby Let Me Be", "Between Us", "Blue Suede Schubert", "Get Up And Go", "Goose Step Mama", and "It's Looking Good". The other 14 songs from the CD (all songs from the original LP release) have all had John Lennon and Paul McCartney added to the songwriting credits along with Neil Innes. However, the booklet accompanying a 2007 reissue of the album on Rhino/Warner Brothers credits all 20 songs solely to Innes.