Category Archives: Music

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

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”.

Bonus Material

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.

See Also

 
“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” – Feature film
By Robert Ross, 2014
AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE HERE

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Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

With the simplest of linking threads, ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ was mostly shot at Elstree Studios. Terry Jones, who directed the film, confirms that: “unlike the previous two films we could actually go home after each day’s filming. It was like being back at the BBC. Only with much more money and more control”. Of course, this also meant that the camaraderie of a location shoot was fragmented to some extent.

However, in the recording studio the opposite was true. Andre Jacquemin remembers that: “it was Mike and Terry Gilliam who produced the soundtrack album”. As with the ‘Life of Brian’ album, the Pythons on production duty were naturally the Pythons who recorded the linking material. Michael Palin recorded the lion’s share of links, including a curtailed piece on Martin Luther, the sketch of which was cut from the film. Indeed, some dialogue missing from the final cut actually makes it onto the album. Terry G.’s contribution was limited by the explanation that, by its very nature, his stuff is mainly visual. He also plugged his accompanying short film of “pirate clerks”, ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’, as an introduction to Accountancy Shanty.

The spirit of Python had never looked more lavish than in ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’. It was clear that the musical numbers were going to be key to the soundtrack album. From the smallest salute to every euphemism for the penis to a three-minute ditty tackling the sheer vastness of all known space and time, it really was a case of the history of everything…put to music.

Terry J. reflects: “when I think of the very best bits of Python, most of it comes from ‘The Meaning of Life’. I was pleased with how Christmas in Heaven worked. I’d written that song and I thought Graham was wonderful”. Even better is Every Sperm is Sacred, one of the most ambitious and sustained pieces of Python comedy and every bit as grand and impressive as the Oscar scooping musicals in whose footsteps it so faithfully followed. Says Terry J. ” We just took the recognised framework of the ‘Oliver!’ production numbers, with hundreds of extras, and put it into the context of Python.”

Every Sperm is Sacred was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Original Song in a Film. There is a real case for seeing ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ as the team’s first musical.

Bonus Material

The demo version and Jazz Club version of the proposed title song, written and sung by Terry Jones, is a knowing comment on the film industry. A delight but certainly less powerful than the song that was ultimately used. The very brief Fat Song was written as an introduction for Mr. Creosote but was dropped from the film, while the alternative Fishmas in Heaven version of Christmas in Heaven features unused Terry J. lyrics. Classics like: “and all the clips on ‘Disney Time’ have never been seen before…” are sung in a more Big Band, Frank Sinatra style than the familiar take. A bumper collection of radio adverts include the always welcome resurrection of Graham’s “Stop that, it’s silly!” Colonel, although far from being absent since 1973 he had been a stock character in the Python live shows, and had most recently been seen in ‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’, released just the previous Summer!

See Also

“Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” – Feature Film

By Robert Ross, 2014

AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE HERE

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Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album (1980)

The Pythons entered the 1980s with no firm plans to do anything as a group. They certainly hadn’t broken-up but the last thing on their minds was another studio album. That was until Tony Stratton-Smith of Charisma Records pulled out his contract with the boys.

In the wake of the huge box office success of ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’, he was canny enough to realise that the Monty Python team still owed him one final recording on their contract. Hence ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ was just that, as Michael Palin testifies: “yes, we had to do it. There was no real problem with Charisma. Stratt had been brilliant for us, but we were quite forcefully told that we had a commitment to record one last album with them. None of us really wanted to do it, if I were to be completely honest. I felt like it was stepping back a bit. We were thinking about another film so the group were still together but we would never had thought about doing another album. Anyway, we sat around discussing it and trying to think of a title. I think it was Terry J. who suggested ‘Contractual Obligation’ because that’s exactly what it was”. It was very Python, so everyone was happy.

Eric, who was producing it, had quite a lot of songs he wanted to record. Terry Jones also had some songs he was keen to record:. “Never Be Rude to an Arab came about as a result of the controversy surrounding ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’. “Even when we were writing the film I was the only one worried about religious maniacs taking potshots at us”, says Terry. “I can only think I was past caring when I wrote the song!” According to Andre Jacquemin: “There was a definite shift towards a comedy song album rather than a comedy sketch album. They were certainly not just throwing something together to wrap up the contract “.

If anything, it could have simply been called ‘The Pythons’ for it really is their equivalent of ‘The Beatles’. Like the legendary White Album, in the main ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ showcases each group member as an individual talent.

Michael Palin says: “The record came along at a time we were all busy on separate projects so John would come straight from ‘Fawlty Towers’ or something with a couple of things he wanted to record. In a way it exposed what our real character within the group was, both to ourselves and the people who heard it. Finland and Decomposing Composers must tell you something about what sort of a person I am. If you work it out, please let me know!”. For Terry J.: “the only thing I think my songs tell you about me is that I worry too much!”.

For the country and western rendition of Terry’s Here Comes Another One, the team were joined by a guest in the studio when Mike Berry recorded the lead vocal. Even the cover artwork of Terry Gilliam has the bare minimalism of ‘The Beatles’. As Terry G. hopes, it was done: “with irony and wit”. The complete lack of cover artwork at all speaks volumes. This really is an obligation. It’s just the plain, inner sleeve with the familiar Mad Hatter logo of Charisma Records showing through the hole in the middle. Even the tracks listed are a comment on the possible legal consequences of the Pythons not making the record.

Of course, the ultimate comparison to ‘The Beatles’ should have been the breadth of material included. For ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ could easily have been a double album. Andre Jacquemin admits that: “we recorded hours and hours of material for ‘Contractual Obligation’. For something none of them really wanted to do, we all put a great deal of effort into it. I know John was quite angry when we had to drop his ‘Oliver Cromwell’ but we just couldn’t include everything”.

Thankfully, over the years lots of these discarded tracks have been released. Oliver Cromwell first appeared on ‘Monty Python Sings’ in 1989, while the 2014 reissue ‘Monty Python Sings (Again)’ salvaged three more tracks. Moreover, most of the bonus material featured on the first three Charisma Records in this collection also come from the ‘Contractual Obligation’ sessions.

Bonus Material

Take one of what would eventually became the Medical Love Song is really Eric Idle’s guide track demo with Graham Chapman warbling along as best he can. And what fun it is. There’s an alternative country & western performance of I’m So Worried by Terry Jones, as well as a nicely undersold radio advertisement for the album by John Cleese. Best of all is a lengthy and fascinating interview with Graham and Terry J. who discuss the album with silly humour and great candid. Contrary to what Terry says, John Denver didn’t take kindly to being strangled. It may have had something to do with Rutle ‘Ollie’ Halsall singing “You came on my pillow…” to the tune of Annie’s Song! Thus, A Farewell to John Denver was replaced by Terry’s apology on later pressings of the album. He also cheekily alludes to the sketches being “jolly old”, notably Bookshop in which Graham Chapman takes on the role of his old cohort Marty Feldman. The piratical adventure comedy that Graham mentions was in fact filmed in the Winter of 1982. It proved to be the final hurrah for Marty, who died on location. John Cleese and Eric Idle were also aboard. They had already shot the Python film discussed here that Summer, but that’s another album…

By Robert Ross, 2014
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Monty Python Sings (again) (2014)

“Monty Python Sings (again)”
Released by Virgin Records
Producers: Eric Idle, Andre Jacquemin
CD release: 9th June, 2014
Also available as digital download

On the 25th anniversary of the release of “Monty Python Sings,” the compilation was reissued with a longer title, re-mastered and re-sequence tracks and six previously-unreleased songs, including “The Silly Walk Song” (written for the O2 Reunion Show).
 

The 1CD & 2CD deluxe albums feature songs and ditties drawn from across Monty Python’s illustrious recording, TV and film career (1971-1983), and include brand new tracks specially recorded by Eric Idle, long-forgotten gems from the Python archives, remixed Terry Gilliam cover artwork and a 32-page booklet with lyrics and notes by Robert Ross from new interviews with the Pythons. 


The 2CD deluxe edition’s bonus disc features Monty Python’s debut album, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ (recorded live at Camden Town Hall in May 1970).


One of the archive tracks on the album is ‘Lousy Song’. Originally recorded during sessions for the ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ in 1980, it was conceived and performed by Eric Idle and the late Graham Chapman. In the words of Eric Idle: – “It is the only totally improvised sketch I can remember Python doing. Graham enters the recording studio when I’m listening back to a song I have recorded. I think it is very funny.”
There were also additional tracks which were newly recorded and featured in the group’s live reunion shows at The O2, London in July 2014.

 

Music videos were produced for two of the new tracks:  ‘The Silly Walk Song’  and ‘Lousy Song’

See Also

 

“Monty Python Sings” – Original Album released 1989


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Monty Python’s Total Rubbish – The Complete Collection (2014)

Released on 30 June 2014, ‘Monty Python’s Total Rubbish – The Complete Collection’ united, for the first time, Monty Python’s nine UK albums – ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, ‘Another Monty Python Record’, ‘Monty Python’s Previous Record’, ‘The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief’, ‘Monty Python Live at Drury Lane’, ‘The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’, ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ and ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life’.

The two career-spanning boxed sets created the ultimate Monty Python collector’s edition.

· Deluxe 9-CD & 9-Vinyl Box Sets all re-mastered from the original ¼” master tapes, plus seven inch single of the 1974 flexi-disc ‘Monty Python’s Tiny Black      Round Thing’
· Case bound book with new liner notes and foreword by Michael Palin
· Original Monty Python artwork and archive photos
· Housed in full-colour rigid slipcase, designed by Terry Gilliam

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