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Monty Python Songwriter Neil Innes Dead at 75

Innes also drew acclaim for his work in The Rutles and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

Neil Innes
Neil Innes performing on stage, Victoria Palace, London, 1975.
Dick Barnatt/Redferns
By Tobias Carroll / December 30, 2019 4:24 pm

Among the most memorable aspects of the work of comedy group Monty Python were the songs featured on Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the group’s subsequent forays into film. That was the work of songwriter Neil Innes, who also worked with Monty Python’s Eric Idle as part of The Rutles. Innes’s long and storied career in music came to an end this week: the BBC reports that Innes died on December 29th.

Innes first appeared on the musical scene with The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (also known as The Bonzo Dog Band), whose 1968 song “I’m the Urban Spaceman” was produced by a pseudonymous Paul McCartney. The group recently engaged in a lengthy legal battle for the rights to their name, which would have culminated in a concert scheduled for next year. Among the band’s other notable songs were “Death Cab for Cutie,” which inspired the name of a certain Seattle band; Innes’s solo song “How Sweet to Be an Idiot” was referenced in Oasis’s “Whatever.”

Innes also made more overt forays into comedy: he frequently worked with the members of Monty Python, including on several songs for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He also joined the group as an actor in 1974; the BBC’s obituary notes that Innes was “one of only two non-Pythons to be credited as a writer, alongside The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams.”

Innes and Eric Idle reteamed for the series Rutland Weekend Television in the late 1970s, from which the band The Rutles arose. The group was intended to be a parody of The Beatles, but their music turned out to have a much greater impact than some might have expected.

In 2016, writing at Pitchfork, Simon Reynolds explored the appeal of The Rutles and the 1978 mockumentary All You Need is Cash.

Embarking on the project, Innes decided not to listen to the original records but rely on his memories, expertly simulating the guitar tones, chordings, and vocal traits of the Beatles at every stage of their career. He also formed a proper group to play the songs so that there was a real “vibe” to the music. All You Need Is Cash works simultaneously as a wistful wallow in nostalgia, a satire of ’60s folly, and [an] enjoyable showcase of sheer musical craftsmanship.

The BBC’s obituary features tributes from everyone from Innes’s contemporaries like Idle to those influenced by him, such as director Edgar Wright and Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. The range of Innes’s influence is but one sign of his lasting impact on pop culture, from satire to songwriting and back again.

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