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Main Category: Meta-Rock
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Jazz Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Bonzo Dog Band fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Bonzo Dog Band fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Postponed until the page is more comprehensive.




Year Of Release: 1967
Overall rating = 11

This ain't rock, it's music hall... but don't tell me you didn't expect that.


Track listing: 1) Cool Brittannia; 2) The Equestrian Statue; 3) Jollity Farm; 4) I Left My Heart In San Francisco; 5) Look Out, There's A Monster Coming; 6) Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold!; 7) Death Cab For Cutie; 8) Narcissus; 9) The Intro And The Outro; 10) Mickey's Son And Daughter; 11) Big Shot; 12) Music For Head Ballet; 13) Piggy Bank Love; 14) I'm Bored; 15) The Sound Of Music.

It would be swell to review a Sesame Street record some day, but until that moment arrived, you're just gonna get some Gorilla from me. The Bonzos' debut has always been an official cult classic - not because it was the Bonzo Dog Band at their best (it wasn't), but because it politely informed the world that the Bonzo Dog Band is here and that the world can fuck itself if it wants, but it would be much more groovy if the world actually preferred to have some absurdist fun with the Bonzo Dog Band.

Upon its release, Gorilla naturally evoked comparisons with concurrent Zappa material, and the Bonzos were seen by some as the British answer to the Mothers of Invention. Indeed, Gorilla has a lot in common with Freak Out! It's equally absurd, colourful, diverse, hilarious, and unpredictable. But this is where the similarities end. Oh, wait, actually, there is one more important similarities: both of these records have absolutely nothing to do with drugs, psychedelia, the Summer of Love and all the hippie fashion of the era. Yes, the Bonzos may have starred in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, but, err, their performance there was just about the least psychedelic thing about the entire movie (remember? remember?).

But other than that, Gorilla is not at all like Freak Out! - for the simple reason that where Zappa builds upon traditionally American elements (jazz, blues, doo-wop), the Bonzos, of course, embody everything traditionally British (folk, music hall, occasional Benny Hill-like humor), even if jazz influences are also prominent. Gorilla bites - but it bites in English coat-and-tails-gentlemanly fashion, and... well, I don't think that's really worth explaining, since those familiar with the Monty Python ideology already know where I'm heading to, and those unfamiliar with the Monty Python ideology should probably postpone their involvement with the Bonzos until after watching Holy Grail five times in a row.

Without a doubt, Gorilla as a whole is much more than the sum of its parts. As far as full-fledged songs go, there's only about five or six of them, all the other tracks being instrumentals, gimmicky "musical jokes", bits and pieces of spontaneous ideas (either dumb or brilliant), and stuff like that. Dissect the record, and it will fade away and merge with the dust on your floor in a matter of moments; as long as all the little experiments are gripping each other by their warped, mutilated little hands, though, it works. There's not a whole lot of brilliant musicality on display (although the musicianship cannot be questioned), and certainly the songs are way more straightforward and simple than the average Zappa material, but, of course, that's hardly the point. At this place in their career the Bonzos were still only establishing themselves as a vital force, and they were more concerned about winning the loving hearts of their potential audience than with really pushing forward the boundaries.

Nevertheless, most of the actual songs are awesomealicious! The one most people know is, of course, the one they set to the infamous strip show in Magical Mystery Tour, and the one that even gave the name to an underground Nineties' band - 'Death Cab For Cutie'. But it's actually the most simplistic and straightforward (if fun as hell, with Viv Stanshall's Elvis impersonation ) music hall sendup on the record. Of more value is Neil Innes' 'The Equestrian Statue', which is... well, just a classic British classic! With a little harpsichord-driven Zombies/Kinks flavour in the verses and a typical redcoat martial punch in the bombastic chorus and Edward Lear-style lyrics. As they sing, 'it's guaranteed to brighten up your day, if it's gray'. Maybe of even more value is the ridiculous bossanova of 'Look Out, There's A Monster Coming', about the protagonist getting a Japanese wife mail order, no less.

Other notable "songlike" stuff includes the boppy 'Jollity Farm' (a cover of a nursery rhyme, no less, unless I got something wrong) and the pseudo-sentimental balladry of 'Piggy Bank Love' - the kind of material which really makes me understand why Paul McCartney developed such a special interest in this band. In fact, although I really have no idea, I gotsta suggest that his 'lapse' into kiddie stuff over the last couple Beatles' years could have indirectly been fueled by his involvement with the Bonzos. Doesn't 'All Together Now' sound like something which directly belongs on Gorilla? Not that I'd mind - being a huge admirer of Macca's kiddie stuff and all. We all need to nurture the kiddie within ourselves, or we'll all end up as boring grown-ups and start our own weapons of mass destruction program or something. So don't forget - a little Bonzo every day keeps weapons of mass destruction away.

On other tunes, the Bonzos are apt to demonstrate their musicianship, as on the pull-out-the-stops frantic pub jazz instrumental 'Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold!' which is just THE kind of jazz that goes right up my alley. Sweat it out! Absolutely no ambition, absolutely no self-indulgence, just a lot of messy (but rhythmic) brass-and-piano fun, with trombone, sax, and ukulele solos alternating with the band in full coordinated swing just as you'd expect in a hot Fifties' movie. In any case, "generic" never really is supposed to mean "unenjoyable", and to hear such a swell, accessible, and well-played instrumental in an era where jazz was already forgetting its roots at giant paces, not to mention an era plagued by lengthy incoherent acid instrumentals, for some people at least must have been just as much of a delight as for me to be hearing it now. Let's not forget 'The Intro And The Outro' either, of course, Stanshall's musical analogy of the Sgt Pepper cover, another jazz instrumental which - this time around - serves as the background for Viv Stanshall to introduce all the members of the band as well as lotsa other people, including Eric Clapton on ukulele ('hello Eric!'), Charles de Gaulle on accordeon ('really wild, General!'), Quasimodo on bells, Brainiac on banjo, and Adolf Hitler on vibes. Long live multi-instrumentalism, by the way.

All of this is interspersed with shorter bits and snippets, some not so good, some absurdly hilarious - WHY exactly does 'Cool Brittannia' end with the sound of a guy chopping wood and a girl madly laughing at him? (oops, caught myself actually asking a teleological question about a Monty Python-related product, baaad baaad George) - all of them eventually joining together in one fuzzy kaleidoscope. In the end, none of this makes any sense, little of this is innovative from a pure musical standpoint, even less of this is eminently memorable, and it manages to still stand up proud as one of the most unique records of the year 1967. Not to mention the thing you already know: as much as people hail Sgt Pepper as the quintessence of that epoch, there are actually very, very few albums that manage to match it in spirit. The Who Sell Out comes somewhat close, yep, but Gorilla comes even closer.



Year Of Release: 1972
Overall rating = 12

An excellent swansong for an eccentric surrealistic band. Hear that, Mr Zappa?

Best song: BAD BLOOD

Track listing: 1) The Strain; 2) Turkeys; 3) King Of Scurf; 4) Waiting For The Wardrobe; 5) Straight From My Heart; 6) Rusty (Champion Thrust); 7) Rawlinson End; 8) Don't Get Me Wrong; 9) Fresh Wound; 10) Bad Blood; 11) Slush; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Suspicion; 13) Trouser Freak.

This album from the Bonzos - their last one - is said to have been mainly released for contractual obligations, and as such, is perhaps one of the most inspired and enjoyable contractual obligation albums ever (too bad I haven't yet been able to get the "regular" stuff). The Bonzos get some good laughs out, as usual, and the songwriting of Viv Stanshall and Neil Innes doesn't suffer none. In fact, the album's level of diversity is incredible, and the jokes, gags, farts and poos don't betray a single trace of weariness or annoyance... then again, perhaps the music wasn't really right for the Seventies? Heaven only knows. Note that most of the tracks were actually recorded in 1970, so the band can be said to have really passed away together with the Beatles. Peculiar lineup note, before I forget it: among the usual legions of Bonzo Dog addicts, the lineup for the album includes none other than ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye in person. Kinda stupid of him to get thrown out of the young 'n' growing Yes to join a "dying" Bonzo Dog Band, but there you are.

Anyway, since every track on here is like a minor universe of its own, it's only fair for me to try and describe the material song after song. See if you like this here kind of approach, now! And prepare to get offended, as 'The Strain' is one of the bluntest and most gross odes to constipation ever written. (Not that I ever heard of any others, but I wouldn't want to present the Bonzo Dog Band's best claim at originality as being the first to celebrate the process of relieving oneself via a piece of rock'n'roll music!). Not only are the lyrics hilarious - 'we're gonna e-e-e-e-e-e-ase it out, we're gonna sque-e-e-e-e-ze it out', not to mention Stanshall's vocal imitation of the process itself - but the piece has got a drive of its own, and it's replete with a classy guitar solo.

This beautiful, gorgeous, hope-inspiring introduction to the album is a bit spoiled with the stupid dissonant interlude 'Turkeys', but it ain't seriously offensive, and perhaps the little bit of information that it is supposed to be 'music to cross London Bridge by' is supposed to aid. Then it leads into the Zappa-esque doo-wop standard 'King Of Scurf', sung in a ridiculous falsetto and telling the story of - naturally - a, uhm, dandruff addict, with proper backing vocals and a violin line to help support the eccentricity. I, however, much prefer the blistering nonsense of 'Waiting For The Wardrobe', a googly-moogly pseudo-psychedelic rave-up that's actually structured as a pretty rocking, aggressive R'n'B standard, except that the lead vocals guy is rabidly shouting 'waiting for the wardrobe, baby!' during 'verse time'. Shit, this sounds so bleak and stupid on paper (er... on the screen, actually) compared to the paranoid original I just feel a bit down.

Time to get up with 'Straight From My Heart', the band's take on sentimental Elvis - 'one song to tell you, and one song to smell you', it starts - and if not for the lyrics and also the obviously exaggerated bass vocals (and the weird scuffling noises in the instrumental section), you'd never have guessed these guys' intent. Then there's the two big epics. 'Rusty (Champion Thrust)' is a rare one, actually contributed by Larry 'Legs' Smith (the band's drummer, who hadn't actually been suspected that much of being able to write something before that) and Tony Kaye - I don't think this "soul" number actually deserves the seven-minute length, but heck, it ain't bad. Just listen to the song's description: 'Two chaps of like percussion, outlawed by society, in my pompous swelling opinion, carry out their clandestine correspondences in public before an audience of dissenting adults'. Sounds like it. And it's immediately followed by 'Rawlinson End', a typical "Bonzo Dog epic", a lengthy absurdist narrative that I'll just keep shut about - it's totally enthralling upon first listen, but becomes rather novel upon second, and nowadays I just tend to skip it, plus, it's totally non-reviewable.

Fortunately, if the two epics were lengthy for you, the remaining four songs will fully compensate. 'Don't Get Me Wrong' is another 'soul' track, but this time with actual singing and actual harmonies (unlike 'Rusty', I mean); and 'Fresh Wound' is a magnificent early Beatles stylization, with such an unbelievably sincere Lennon imitation you could easily pass it for another one of those clumsy early-John-attempts-at-songwriting like 'Ask Me Why'... heck, it's even got all of the typical John 'oh-oh' in their right places. 'Bad Blood' is my absolute favourite, though, a terrific stab at the entire country-western genre with authentic banjo parts, tasty country rock guitar, and a nifty "storyline" that I'm really too spent to be retelling at the time. And, of course, only the Bonzo Dog Band could be smart enough to lead the song, once the story has ended, into an absurd a minute-and-a-half-or-so coda of Eastern melodicism, Spanish acoustic guitar, and ragtime piano! And then end the record with 'Slush', a two-minute "atmospheric" organ-and-piano-and-synth ambient piece with a repeated chunk of horror movie laughter played over and over again until everything dies down... Monty Python, in short.

Plus, the CD re-issue adds two bonus tracks from contemporary singles, out of which 'Trouser Freak' in particular is absolutely indispensable. (And adds a lot to the general flavour of the album - one thing it sorely lacked was a decent Brit-pop send-up a la Ray Davies. And there it is!). In short, the very fact that this review sucks so badly is proof enough that it's hard to come up with a testimony suitable enough for this last burst of unmatchable eccentricity from these weird dudes. Probably not suitable for your first BDB buy (well, then again, I had to suit myself by buying it first!), but what do I know?


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