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.
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
AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE HERE