Monday, March 13, 2006
VARIOUS ARTISTS – Rutles Highway Revisited CD (Shimmy Disc)
Sometimes you do the stupidest things. The list is long, but of late I can think of one on my behalf: selling my vinyl copy of Rutles Highway Revisited at the tail-end of the ‘90s. It was stupid because; A) it’s a particularly fine release I traded in for no other reason than my collection needing a serious culling; and B) I just bought this CD version through eBay a couple of weeks back… and ended up paying a good $15 more than I did back in ’91 first time ‘round. I guess that begs the question as to why the urge struck to purchase the thing (again), and I can only say that I’m going through a Shimmy Disc re-run.
Skip back to the years 1990-’93 and you’d see a man possessed by all things Shimmy Disc. Others I know took the bait, and I know there are others who thought all things Shimmy- and Kramer-related blew like the wind. I was in the former camp. Bongwater, Shockabilly, Naked City, Boredoms, Tuli Kupferberg, Daniel Johnston, Tinklers, B.A.L.L., Fly Ashtray, Dogbowl, Lida Husik… you name it, I had it. In interviews at the time, Kramer noted that he modelled the label on Folkways: an eclectic, free-form mixture of anything which took his fancy. For a good 5-6 years, I believe he succeeded in that aim. The label bit the dust in the mid ‘90s after a nasty lawsuit from Bongwater’s Ann Magnuson (NYC Downtown performance-artist blowhard extraordinaire) against Kramer, and has since been resurrected on and off by the Knitting Factory label, to mixed results. Stick to the first 50 or so releases and you’re on a winner. After that, it’s a gamble. But this…
Saw the Rutles movie once as a teen. A Beatles parody w/ various Monty Python folks, I think I laughed once, maybe twice. Up against Spinal Tap or even Bad News, it couldn’t compete. Maybe it’s a killer and needs revisiting, but for now it’s this Shimmy tribute which I’m happily giving a rebirth. With all the original songs penned by Neil Innes (of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band), you may get a gist of the sheer levels of unbridled “zaniness” on display here, but the mostly straight rendering of otherwise nyuk-nyuk material is what makes this work.
You get a smattering of Shimmy regulars here: Dogbowl, When People Were Shorter And Lived Near The Water (with a remarkably straight p-rock number), the Tinklers, Tuli Kupferberg (one of the best tracks, a demented piano/vocal take on “Living In Hope”), Daniel Johnston, Jellyfish Kiss (long-forgotten UK garage act signed to the label for a few LPs; total Stoogeoid thug-rock which puts to rest the myth the label was merely a haven for sub-hippie noodleheads), King Missile (I stated this when starting this very blog a couple of years back: their Shimmy-era recordings are really good, no matter what depths of crud their latter material may’ve plundered) and, of course, Bongwater.
Throw in the mix a strange brew comprising of Galaxie 500, Das Damen (I guess I must be the only man alive still willing to admit his fondness for a couple of their albums), Unrest and the Holy Modal Rounders’ Pete Stampfel and you’ve got one of the best tribute albums you probably don’t own. Of course, you have a slight diversion into bogusness with Shonen Knife (come on, just admit it: back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, you kinda liked them, too. Their schtick worked for a good 2-3 years, or at least until you came to the ultimate conclusion they were a one-trick pony w/ the musical lifespan of a carton of milk).
Since this is, in essence, a tribute to a tribute, if you hate the Beatles you’d better skip this review altogether and go do some gardening. Every track is a rip-off of a Beatles “hit” (“Strawberry Fields”, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “Help!”, etc.), firstly reinterpreted by Innes and then spat out again by the artist in question. Stew it up w/ that patented Kramer bong-haze production he mastered at the time and there you have a winner I really do intend on hanging onto this time. For good. Great cover art, hilarious liner notes, I hope this review doesn’t fall on deaf ears.