A lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1961, when I first saw the Rutles’ shockingly profound act at Hamburg’s nearly respectable Rat Keller. Instantly aware that the “Pre-Fab Four” would become a legend to last a lunchtime, I spent the next 17 years pining for their autographs, chasing after their trousers and awaiting their debut album.
Meanwhile, as everyone knows by now, their consummate live musicianship inspired enough imitators to count on the fingers of one only slightly deformed hand. As such, the Rutles understandably decided to postpone their LP’s release for a couple of decades while the copycats prepared the public for their revolutionary sound.
Foremost among the imitators were the Beatles—John, George, Paul and Ringo—who shamelessly and awkwardly aped such Rutles classics as “Hello Get Lost” and “W.C. Fields Forever.” Younger rock fans may know that outfit only in terms of solo projects (I’ve surprised several with the news that Paul had a group before Wings), but the Beatles indeed made their mark. Thanks to Broadway’s Beatlemania, as a matter of fact, they now have imitators of their own. There’s even a group of brain-damaged Canadians, Klaatu, who let people think that they are the Beatles and, inevitably, some have suggested that Klaatu tolerates this rumor only to mask their true identity as the beloved Rutles.
In the midst of all this confusion, it’s no wonder that fans now mistake the Rutles themselves for a Monty Python spinoff group that seeks to satirize the Beatles. But of course that’s hogwash. The Rutles are the real thing. As the liner notes on their debut LP point out, theirs is the music that made the 60s what they are today.
You want lyrics? How about “Time goes by / As we all know / Naturally / People come and go / Naturally.” (If that sounds wise now, wait’ll you hear it on acid!) You want melodies? Try “Ouch!” (a song the Beatles stole for their second movie), which will send shivers up and down your spine. You want a bargain? Consider that this long-awaited LP is being offered free to all takers; you merely agree to purchase the accompanying 20-page booklet for a modest $7.98.
In other words, the Rutles’ debut has it all—lyric, melody and price tag, not to mention jacket, vinyl and hole in the middle. Whether it will prompt the outfit to return to live performances remains to be seen but, to borrow one of their titles, I’m “living in hope.” As George Harrison recently told reporters, “I was under the impression that it was the Rutles getting back together, not the Beatles, and I think that’s pretty exciting.”
Just “pretty” exciting? Well, maybe George is a bit jealous. And who can blame him? He didn’t write “Tragical History Tour,” “The Fool on the Pill” or “Your Mother Should Go.” He didn’t have the services of famed accountant Ron Decline, nor did he rub shoulders with esteemed bluesmen Blind Lemon Pie and Rambling Orange Peel. Only the Rutles did all that—and more—which should explain to any skeptics why their record is guaranteed unbreakable.