1978’s All You Need Is Cash, the NBC special that introduced America to The Rutles (sort of…they’d been on Saturday Night Live a year earlier), changed my life. Before seeing it, I was a comedy nerd who would automatically devour anything even remotely related to Monty Python.
The Rutles resonated so deeply with me that, the next weekend, I got a ride to Budget Tapes and Reocrds and found the soundtrack album (in the cut-out bin, for $2.99) and started listening to it incessantly. This parody of The Beatles was so brilliantly done that it made me want to learn everything I could about the source material.
And that’s how I became a fan of The Beatles. I’d grown up hearing The Beatles and watching the cartoons, and the design of Yellow Submarine had a huge influence on me as an artist, but it wasn’t until The Rutles awakened my passion for music that I got turned on to The Beatles, and then branched out to Progressive Rock, New Wave and more. It changed me from being a comedy nerd into being a music nerd (except that I’m still a comedy nerd, too).
The original documentary was sheer comic brilliance that succeeded largely due to the incredible work of Neil Innes, who created the music of the Rutles as such an amazing pastiche of The Beatles that it took the work of his collaborator, Eric Idle, to new heights.
Years later, in the wake of The Beatles Anthology, Innes got the idea to create a new album of Rutles music, using some leftover material from the original sessions (and “Beatle-izing some of his previously-published compositions to fend off any pesky copyright claims) and everything was going hunky-dory until Idle started making legal trouble and claiming full ownership of The Rutles. 1996 saw the release of The Rutles Archeology. With the threat of legal issues looming, Virgin records pulled their promotional support, dooming the album and killing any chance it had of succeeding.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Idle then proceeded to create what he called a “remake supplement” of the original documentary, without the participation of Innes or any of the other suviving band members, and using tons of outtakes from the original documentary.
At the time I was excited by the news of a new Rutles mockumentary because I was not privvy to the ugliness going on behind the scenes. I waited for more news of the new Rutles film, but never heard of it again until 2002, when to my shock, I discovered The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch on DVD at Kroger in a bin of remaindered titles for four bucks.
It was…a major disappointment. It’s not that it was bad, but it was just a re-tread of the original, in watered-down form. I remember at the time thinking that, rather than a stand-alone release, this would have been perfectly adequate as a DVD bonus for the original Rutles film. Surprisingly, it includes music from The Rutles Acheology, reportedly used without permission.
Since that time, Innes has toured a couple of times with various forms of surviving Rutles, and I think there’s even a new song or two floating around out there that I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. I don’t know if things between Idle and Innes are civil again or not. It’s a shame that Idle’s greed and ego torpedoes a friendship that had begun in the 1960s.
The irony is that The Rutles’ end turned out to be even messier and more acrimonious than The Beatles’.
Our video this week is the second Rutles movie. Treat it like bonus material on a DVD, and it’s not so bad.
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