The Bonzo Dog Band – Gorilla

Gorilla-bonzo-dog-doo-dah-band-15383680-500-500

Part I: The Background

When you think of the greatest albums released in 1967, you’ll probably think of albums like Sgt. Pepper’s, Are You Experienced, The Doors, or even less-known masterpieces like Forever Changes. Well here’s one that doesn’t get a lot of mention. Gorilla is the debut album by the Bonzo Dog Band, known at the time as The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. For those not in the know, the Bonzos were known for their unquestionably British sense of humour. They also happen to have succeeded more than anyone else at capturing the essence of the “Beatlesque” sound (unless you count The Rutles, of which Bonzo Neil Innes was a key member). But they were so much more than a parody band. Their music is quirky, eccentric, and downright hilarious. And who doesn’t love late-sixties mock music hall?

Part II: The Music

Cool Britannia: We’re going to break out the alternate rating scale here. The album kicks off this odd but irresistibly catchy assertion that Britain is “hip,” set to a jazzy rendition of “Rule, Britannia.” Bonzo Vivian Stanshall puts on his best posh accent here, delivering the lyrics with a healthy dose of smarm. Honestly, what isn’t to love? This is the kind of piece that stands on its own, regardless of its length. RATING: 3/3

The Equestrian Statue: A Beatlesque psychedelic ditty about a statue of a horse. No, really. This is a recurring theme with the Bonzos; their lyrics revolve around the most absurd of ideas, regardless of whether the music is an artful pastiche or a tongue-in-cheek mockery. In this case, we get the former. This song perfectly sums up Neil Innes’ songwriting; he’s a master of disguise, seamlessly adapting whatever musical visage he fancies at the time, leaving his stamp on each piece with his ludicrous lyrics and peculiar sense of humour. RATING: 10/10

Jollity Farm: This one’s a cover, but the music-hall flavoured arrangement is just absolutely captivating. The track is kept fresh with a number of comical animal sound effects, a lot of which are produced by the voices and instruments of the band members. This is a jollity song indeed. RATING: 8/10

(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco: A comedy piece. The joke here is that the audience applauds after every single mockingly-sung line of this classic tune. It doesn’t last long enough to overstay its welcome, and the humour is quite effective, but it’s a bit of a curio that doesn’t really work without the context of the album. RATING: 2/3

Look Out, There’s A Monster Coming: I absolutely love this one. From what I can gather, it’s a song about a man placing an ad in the personals, although the song gets more and more surreal as it progresses. By the end of the song, he’s become this Frankenstein’s monster–like abomination. The song even quotes Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor! RATING: 9.5/10

Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold): I’m not really sure what to make of this one. It’s a musical joke that drags on for a little too long. The joke is that the Bonzos (who were actually a jazz band prior to trying their handy at comedy) couldn’t carry a jazz tune if their lives depended on it. Their playing is awful (on purpose, of course), and it’s hilarious. At first. With repeat listens, the song, which lasts for over 3 minutes, becomes a little tedious. I’m being quite generous with my scores because of how much I love this album, so to balance things out we’re going to stick with the standard rating scale for this song. RATING: 5.5/10

Death Cab for Cutie: You either know this as the song played during the strip club sequence in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour or as the song the band Death Cab for Cutie named themselves after. What you should know it for is the fact that it’s a spot-on Elvis parody that manages to be an excellent song in its own right. As for what it’s about, well it’s kind of all there in the title. You’ll just have to give this one a listen. RATING: 9/10

Narcissus: The Bonzos interrupt the album to let us know that a lot of it’s rubbish. This very brief interlude doesn’t really add anything to the album. It’s a relic of the vinyl record age, since it serves as an outro for the first side of the album. But it’s really nothing more than that. RATING: 1/3

The Intro And The Outro: The other song they’re known for. I’m not even sure I want to spoil this one for people who haven’t heard it already. You know how during a concert bands will vamp while somebody introduces each member by name? And each member will join in the playing once they’ve been introduced? Well that’s what this is, only the song takes a rather unexpected dive into ridiculousness after the actual band members are introduces. I will say no more—go and give this a listen if you haven’t already. RATING: 8.5/10

Mickey’s Son And Daughter: We’ve got another cover song here, and you could pretty much copy-paste my review of Jollity Farm here. I’m not going to do that, but I will copy-paste the score. RATING: 8/10

Big Shot: The Bonzos’ take on film noir. I could listen to the evocative narration over that smooth, jazzy beat all day. There are even little instrumental breaks after some of the stronger punch lines to accentuate the humour. This song has so much… attitude. Not just in the vocals, but in the playing as well. How could you not love it? RATING: 9/10

Music For The Head Ballet: Time for some bias. But this is my site, and these are my personal reviews after all, so that’s kind of the whole point. This is an energetic, psychedelic, and simultaneously cheery and disturbing harpsichord piece, with some of the neatest sounding chords I’ve ever heard in my life (perhaps because the instrument is slightly out of tune). The carnivalesque melody is absolutely mesmerizing. By the way, if you’re confused about the name, try and look up a video of the Bonzos performing the titular Ballet. I promise you, even if you’re a terrible dancer, you’ll be able to pull it off. RATING: 10/10

Piggy Bank Love: Perhaps the best song on the album? This bubblegum pop piece has all the making of a smash hit: an abundance of hooks, sappy lyrics, a bouncy rhythm, and… okay I guess the falsetto vocals won’t appeal to everyone. But the melodies here are just infectious. I don’t really have any music-critic buzzwords for you this time. It’s just damn good. RATING: 10/10

I’m Bored: The lyrics revolve around an individual who really just can’t be bothered with modern life; he finds just about everything in existence to be insufferably boring. Once again, Stanshall’s accent is what makes this track. We also get hit with a barrage of bored-related puns (including A-bore-iginals and mortar bored), and there’s even an interpolation of Frère Jacques sung in a round (though the lyrics, of course, have been changed to “I Am Bored”). The lyrics also set us up for the next song by referencing The Sound of Music—that’s just about the only time there’s really any sense of cohesion on this album. RATING: 8.5/10

The Sound of Music: The album concludes with another joke track. Only it’s a joke we’ve already heard before; the highlight of this song is the same blatant disregard for musicality featured on Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold). Only, somehow, it’s funnier this time. RATING: 2/3

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: The production is spot on—as I said, this album rivals the best of what was coming out in the late sixties in terms of its sound. The album is full of vibrant instrumentation and top-notch sound effects. The album cover is a little bizarre, and I’m not really sure why the album is titled Gorilla anyway. After all, a true Bonzo Dog Band fan knows that the Bonzos were all about rhinos. But bizarre is what the Bonzos do best. SCORE: 4/5

Artistic Merit: I mean, this isn’t an album that pushed the boundaries of recorded music—at least I don’t think so. But it’s an album that used all those cutting-edge techniques to make something that managed to be both derivative and unique at the same time. I guess that’s what the Bonzos are: a paradox. And the songwriting, particularly Neil Innes’ contributions, is top-notch. SCORE: 3.5/5

Flow: There is none, really. It’s a chaotic collection of comic cacophony. It’s cohesive in the way that The White Album is cohesive: it isn’t. But the Bonzos’ trademark humour shines throughout. And the songs really do reflect everything that was going on in pop music at the time. It’s definitely a satisfying listen start to finish, so that has to count for something. SCORE: 6.5/10

 CLOSING REMARKS: Gorilla is a strong debut, and I’d place it right up there with some of the best albums to come out in 1967. While the Bonzos would go on to release 4 more equally charming albums, there’s something magical about this one that they were never really quite able to recapture. Anyway, come for the humour, stay for the music.

FINAL SCORE: 82

 

 

 

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