The dedication on the back of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band Gorilla (an LP with a picture of an unconvincingly huge gorilla towering over the band) reads, ‘Dedicated to Kong who must have been a great bloke’, which tells you all you need to know about how serious an LP this is. The fact that the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band* are one of my favourite acts ever tells you all you need to know about how serious an adult I am. This was in fact my first ever LP, a friend of our family noticing how much the 5 or 6 year-old me loved it when he played it gave me a copy of it – lord knows what happened to it so my copy is a cheap Sunset reissue I picked up in 2002.
Gorilla, despite being released in 1967 owes far more to the TV comedy that pre-figured Monty Python** and more trad-jazz and vaudeville bands like The Alberts and The Temperence Seven than it ever did to Sgt Pepper’s, if there were echoes of the same English whimsy that informed British psychedelia at the time then it was through a shared love of very silly comedy; there were of course plenty of links to the Beatles and the Rutles later on. It’s a wonderful pile-up of mismatched styles and stylings right from the off with ‘Cool Brittania’s uproarious ska take on Rule Britannia, propelled by Vivian Stanshall’s exceedingly plummy tones (the result of elocution lessons from an early age). Within the space of another 20 minutes we’ve hurtled through hilariously cliched jazz (Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold), 1920’s music hall (Jollity Farm), louche lounge singing (I Left my Heart in San Francisco) and mournful Elvis (Death-cab for Cutie).
Whether you find it funny or not is up to you, I’m not very objective here I love every last second of it and so do my kids. I just love the strangeness inherent in ‘Look Out there’s a Monster Coming’ and the sheer sweetness of ‘The Equestrian Statue’, as well as the unsettling menace in ‘Death-cab for Cutie’. What I am certain of though is that to earn the right to make fun and parody like this you have to first be really brilliant musicians in your own right and the Bonzos were.
The big hitters on Gorilla are on the second side, ‘The Intro and the Outro’ and ‘Big Shot’. The former being a parody of a schmaltzy band leader introducing a band one by one, this being the Bonzos things rapidly head off piste after the actual band members do their turn, Count Basie orchestra on triangle, John Wayne on xylophone and Eric Clapton on ukulele are just some of my favourites. ‘Big Shot’ being a rock-solid pastiche of all those tough-talking PI’s who take the hits and get the dames and any song which contains the line, ‘I studied the swell of her enormous boobs and said ‘baby you’re so far ahead it’s beautiful!”, qualifies for massive 1537 bonus points. Equally good though are the sing-a-long kids song ‘Mickey’s Son and Daughter’, the strange ‘Music for the Head Ballet’ and the purposefully twee ‘Piggy Bank Love’.
I just love the outright silliness of Gorilla, this isn’t smart-arse political satire, or a pointed parody of contemporary social mores, although it does tilt at those particular windmills occasionally. This is the sound of a bunch of arty musicians just being fantastically childish, having a whale of a time and sending up anything that crosses their path. I love everything they did (and have tracked most of it down on lovely vinyl too) and they did make better records than this, but this one is special for me because it’s where I came in and it’s what I listen to when I’m happy, or when I want to get that way I just whack it on and turn it up.
All together now:
Britannia you are cool (take a trip!)
Britains ever ever ever shall be hip
(Hit me, hit me)
P.S – Do you know what? I agree, Kong was a decent bloke!
*I know the Bonzos lost their ‘Doo Dah’ later on, but it’s how I always think of them – even though the cheat reissue copy of Gorilla I have (boo!!) brands them as the ‘Bonzo Dog Band’.
**the direct forerunner to Monty Python being Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69) which featured musical interludes from none other than The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band; Python started in 1969.