After an incongruous bagpipe aptly wailing ‘Hava Nagila’ and Eric Idle’s dogged record producer cheerfully introducing the cast of “70 camels, 48 goats, 16 chickens, 12 pigs, 2 dromedaries and, of course, those wacky Monty Python boys”, its straight into a false start of ‘Brian Song’ and the Three Wise Men.
‘Brian Song’ was always conceived as a big, ballsy ballad to start off the film. Terry Gilliam, designing the title sequence in the style of a grand religious epic, was determined to give real weight to Michael Palin’s silly lyrics concerning an ordinary chap growing up in an ordinary way. The words were teenage kicks, the imagery misunderstood prophet. Although the visual was ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’, the sound was decidedly ‘Goldfinger’.
In contrast to the ‘Holy Grail’ album, this soundtrack is almost completely dedicated to classic scenes from ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’. The simple and inspired style that ‘Life of Brian’ album producers Graham Chapman and Eric Idle came up with was to treat it as a fly-on-the-wall recording of the actual recording of the linking material. Eric is the calm but tentative producer, Graham the naïve and rather out-of-his-depth actor employed to read the links.
There is a real sense of freedom, almost improvisation, within the newly recorded banter. Eric has the opportunity to poke gentle fun at the executives at Warner Bros. Records and even the loyal Python sound engineer gets a mention, when Eric checks into the booth with “I think that’s fine, isn’t it Andre?” Best of all is the sheer joy that Graham and Eric seem to be having with the session. During the section of linking material continually affected by lobster intrusion, there are distinct signs of corpsing between the two. An immediate and intimate way of showcasing the best bits of the film, the album is pitch perfect.
The closing track is, of course, Python’s Greatest Hit ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. It has now become a standard but when he first heard it the film’s director, Terry Jones, was uncertain: “I didn’t like it at all really. Eric had written it as this Walt Disney kind of song. Lots of whistling and cheerful singalong bits. To be honest I had thought of writing a closing song myself. I don’t have a clue what that song might have been but, in the end, I warmed to Eric’s song.” John Cleese agrees: “None of us thought much of it at first. We were not enthusiastic about it for the finale of the film at all. It’s in all the books. All the diaries. We changed our minds though. Thank God! I now think it’s as near a perfect end to a comedy film as you can get.”
“It’s obvious to me now”, explains Terry J. “How else could you possibly round off the crucifixion scene? It was as upbeat and positive about a decidedly downbeat and negative ending as one could possibly wish for. And we (+i)were(-i)making a comedy. If the audience file out of the screening whistling that song then I’m pleased”.
It is a song that has been very kind to its composer. Eric has fond memories of: “The Royal Variety Show before the Queen, where we did a fake out of Madame Butterfly with English National Opera star Ann Howard”. As well as: “the finale of Prince Charles’ 60th where I did a fake out of Swan Lake, dressed as a Swan in a tutu with the English National Ballet”.
Although Otto’s suicide squad nips in just at the last minute for Brian’s crucifixion scene, the majority of his material was cut from the film. Here’s the Little Hitler in action, along with a demo recording of his song. The alternative version of ‘Brian Song’ ably illustrates the powerful vocals of Sonia Jones as well as her amazing ability to run through a load of anagrams of Brian. The selection concludes with two radio advertisements for the soundtrack album recorded during a break in the sessions by producers Graham Chapman and Eric Idle.