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FEATURE: Hey Hey — It’s The Monkees! And the Rutles!

April 12, 2011 by  
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From Reuters/Variety.

FEATURE: Hey Hey — It’s The Monkees! And the Rutles!

By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Reuter) – Two hot rock bands of 60s vintage are releasing their
first new albums in many years — 28 for one, 18 for the other. Fans are
eagerly anticipating them. The musicians are getting along famously.
There’s talk of tours, movies, TV shows. But there’s one glitch: these
aren’t bands aren’t real.

Say what?

The latest additions to the year’s reunion mania — joining Kiss, Journey
and Styx — are the Monkees and the Rutles, two bands whose existence was
more manufactured than musical, and who both share a direct connection with
the Beatles.

The Monkees was put together for a 60s TV show and overcame a reputation as
the pre-Fab Four to score a series of hit singles and enjoy a mid-80s
revival fueled by MTV.

The Rutles, meanwhile, were the brainchild of Monty Python’s Eric Idle and
music veteran Neil Innes for a 1978 Beatles TV parody called “All You Need
is Cash.”

Now they’re back.

The Monkees’ “Justus” is the first recording by the original foursome —
Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork — since 1968. And
the Rutles’ “Archeology,” a play on the Beatles’ “Anthology” series, is
that group’s first new music since the original TV special, though Idle is
no longer part of the ensemble.

Together, the two albums test the notion of reality and fiction in the
music business.

“It’s a subtle and complex issue,” says Nesmith, 53. “All of us have our
own take on this; Mickey’s take is we’re kind of like Spinal Tap. We’re
comfortable in our role as one of the Monkees, but role is an important
word. We’re comfortable with the phenomenon of it, but phenomenon is an
important word.

“There really is no Monkees, is there? It’s really a television show about
a rock ‘n’ roll band … that was called the Monkees. It can never exist
outside the framework of that television show.”

An argument can certainly be made that the Monkees did carve out its own
musical identity. Using some of the Brill Building’s best songwriters, the
group scored nine Top 20 hits between 1966-68, including chart toppers such
as “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer” and “Daydream Believer.”

The TV show was canceled in 1968, and the group splintered in 1969,
following the trippy film “Head.” When MTV began airing episodes of “The
Monkees” in 1986, the group enjoyed a renaissance that put Dolenz, Jones
and Tork back on the road (the trio also released an album , “Pool It!,” in

Nesmith — who became an early music video pioneer — was working on a
movie at the time and pointedly denies the public perception that he viewed
the Monkees were beneath him.

“In my own mind, I’ve always been a part of that,” he says. “If I win the
Nobel prize, I’ll probably thank David and Mickey and Peter. It was a very
important and happy time of my life, so I’m comfortable with it in whatever

It was Nesmith — inspired by a chance listen to the rollicking version of
“Circle Sky” from “Head” — who called the others together to record again.
For the first session, Tork reports, “we just turned up our amps, played as
loud as we wanted, and it was right there. There were no problems. It was
as good as it ever was.”

Unlike the group’s early efforts, “Justus” was written and played entirely
by the Monkees, with Dolenz songs dominating. With the album finished, the
quartet is now considering a variety of projects, including a concert tour
and another movie.

“So far what we’ve done is made a record,” says Nesmith, the father of four
adult children. “From there I don’t have any idea where it will go. It’s
like having a great old car in the garage that you take out on weekends,
and suddenly it dawns on you that ‘Wow, I can drive this thing from New
York to Los Angeles!”‘

The Rutles’ situation is slightly different. The group, which also includes
Ricky Fataar and John Halsey, never established an identity outside of the
Beatles parody. There was a strong connection, though; chief Rutle Innes
was a member of the Bonzo Dog Band, which performed in the Beatles’
“Magical Mystery Tour” film and whose first album was produced by Paul

“All You Need is Cash” was received warmly by the Beatles, and Innes was
shocked when he attended Beatle fan conventions and discovered that “there
were people who knew the words to all (the Rutles) songs.”

So when “The Beatles Anthology” was rolled out, it seemed only natural for
the Rutles to dig into “Archeology.” “I thought it would be fun to clear
out our cupboard,’ too,” says Innes, 51, who’s also involved in children’s
TV and books.

“People were asking for more Rutles songs. I spoke to George (Harrison)
about it, because the last thing I want to do is undermine what he’s doing.
He told me ‘Why not? It’s part of the soup.”‘

But Innes and his mates view “Archeology” as less about the Beatles and
more about establishing their own distinct repertoire. Still, the new album
doesn’t fall too far from the mark set with “All You Need is Cash;” the
album’s 16 songs still draw heavily from the Beatles’ sonic canon, and
songs such as “Major Happy’s Up and Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band” make
fairly direct reference to you-know-who.

“We accept our origins,” says Innes, who uses Ron Nasty as his nom de
Rutles. “We know it’s a fib, but it’s a fun fib. That we feel like playing
this kind of pop music is a homage to the original Fabs. We’re not
pretending they didn’t exist.

“But the last thing we want to do is pretend to be the Beatles again. I
like to write my own songs and produce them in a Rutleish way. Even when we
did ‘All You Need is Cash,’ we were quite determined to put something into
the songs that steered you towards thinking they were good.”

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