The Rutles

The Rutles (Rhino ’78, '90) Rating: A-
I’ve never seen the movie, a “mockumentary” about The Beatles called All You Need Is Cash, but this 20-song soundtrack album is endlessly entertaining. The brainchild of the “Pre-Fab Four” movie was Monty Python’s Eric Idle, but the musical brains behind The Rutles belonged to Neil Innes (ex Bonzo Dog Band), who recreates every period of the band’s career, seemingly in chronological order! Of course, part of the fun here is in playing spot-the-influences (I can spot “Twist and Shout,” “If I Fell,” “Help!,” “Penny Lane,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “All You Need Is Love,” “I am The Walrus,” “A Day In The Life,” and “Get Back” without so much as blinking an eye), and though sometimes these are overly obvious (I’m sure there could’ve been a lawsuit were these songs not such obvious homages), Innes changes things up just enough to keep things sounding fresh. I have to laugh when I find myself singing “Ouch!” instead of “Help!,” and I can’t help but admire Innes’ catchy songcraft when merging two Beatles songs such as “I Wanna Hold You Hand/All My Loving,” or when he transforms a facsimile of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” into a totally different yet equally engaging pop melody. There’s even an obligatory “Ringo song” (“Living In Hope”), but Lennon gets the most songs, probably in part because Innes’ voice bears such an uncanny resemblance to John's. Really, discovering this album is almost like finding a lost Beatles album of instantly familiar material that they simply forgot to write. Of course, it’s not as good as The Beatles, and the ironic lyrics ensure that there are limitations to what you’ll get out of these songs on an emotional level. Still, the brilliant concept alone almost makes me want to assign this an essential album rating; that it's expertly executed as well is a bonus. Plus, the Rhino reissue adds 6 worthy songs to the original album, and The Rutles even pulled off an improbable "comeback" in the ‘90s by successfully parodying The Beatles’ Anthology series on Archaeology (1996).

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