Tuba's, Urban Spacemen and the Bonzos

Posted by Whitmore, August 2, 2007 10:35am | Post a Comment

I've never met a man I didn't mutilate. I only wish I had said that first.
I might be happier today.

A funny thing happened on the way to listening to some Bonzo Dog Band vinyl. I think I’ve finally found an answer to the ol’ question “When did the attitudes of the free wheelin’ 60’s shift in the 70’s, and is there an exact date when it was nailed into the proverbial American forehead?” I think the answer lies in the sound of a tuba.

Side Note: not only am I something of a record geek, I’m also a closeted history geek, and I kind of believe in what philosopher George Santayana once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to have it shoved up their friggin’ asses!” (Okay, maybe it didn’t go quite like that)

Of course there was a difference between the late 60’s and the early 70’s. Perhaps not a great defining difference (at least not until disco hit big), but let’s say as different as “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” compared to “Blue Bonnet” margarine, or olive oil to canola oil. Actually ignore that part. But there was a slight imperceptible change in attitude somewhere early on in the 70’s and I believe I‘ve uncovered, for my thesis, the linchpin date.

Of course it just dawned on me not everyone knows The Bonzo Dog Band. Created in the early 1960’s by British art-school students (art school, where all great bands begin!) the Bonzos started out playing mostly traditional jazz, early century novelty and British music hall songs.

Later they combined those elements with rock, adding touches of psychedelia and dadaism to confound the public at large. They released about 4 or 5 albums, and toured the US with The Who and The Kinks. Eventually they were aligned with Monty Python's Flying Circus, having met several future members on the set of the children's television show, Do Not Adjust Your Set, where the Bonzo’s were the resident house band. They disbanded in 1970 but had one reunion album released in 1972. There you have it … in a nutshell.

The original 1968 version of  "I'm the Urban Spaceman," a top ten hit in the UK,  (produced by Paul McCartney and Gus Dudgeon under the very appropriate pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth) on Imperial Records has a tuba emphatically pulsing along and, in a way, creating a certain “je ne sais quoi.” The reissued single on United Artists in 1971 (note the date) has the tuba if not completely excised from the recording, at least mixed invisibly and imperceptibly like underwear under chord pants on a man running from a threatening mob. Sad isn’t it. I don’t think I’ll be going there anymore. I found a puzzled sense of infinite loss and sadness, like finding a goblin has snacked on your favorite feral cat, or that steroids actually do work and things like that.

Perhaps I’ve over-stated my actual one idea here but, simply put, things got uglier than usual and not much fun by the early 1970’s. How could you not get serious with things like Kent State, Nixon’s re-election, the bombing of Cambodia, and Watergate?

 The possibility of actually enjoying a bit of tuba in a song about recreational drug use like “Urban Spaceman” (played by none other than the late, great Vivian Stanshall, later the narrator/Master of Ceremonies in Tubular Bells and the creator of the eponymous Sir Henry at Rawlinson End character) took a back seat to seriousness, and probably took a back seat in a Ford Pinto - also introduced in 1971. Ironic, isn’t it? It’s been almost 40 years since the disappearance of the Tuba in our ridiculous art form known as pop music, and there hasn’t been all that much fun since then either.

Yeah, Punk was fun for a moment, but you know it got all in-your-face-serious. Hip Hop was fun for a moment and then it got all extremely serious and like, hip h’opera on us. And country music … what fun is there in re-creating the pop sounds of the 80’s, without synthesizers? Please tell me. I want to know. I think the sign that things will be fun once again will happen when tubas are once more all over the Billboard charts. I hope that the younger generation will learn to pucker, strap on that shiny hunk of metal and bring joy to the airwaves again.

I’ve babbled enough. Or is it blather?

Relevant Tags

Bonzo Dog Band (2), Monty Python (11), History (52), Paul Mccartney (59), Ford Pinto (1), Blather (58), 1960's (84), 45's (53)