Neil Innes on Timeless Songcraft

September 1, 2010

gp0910_riffs_NI_nrNEIL INNES IS BEST KNOWN FOR HIS PORTRAYAL OF RON Nasty in the “Prefab Four,” the Rutles, a band that brilliantly spoofed and paid tribute to the Beatles. He’s also a gifted songwriter and comedian who was in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and worked with Monty Python, writing “Sir Robin’s Song” for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. His latest release is Innes Own World, Best Bits Part One, which features his music and comedy sketches. Innes took time before his San Francisco gig to talk Rutles, Beatles, and songwriting.

Some of your Rutles tunes are fairly straightforward takeoffs, like “Number One,” but some, like “Double Back Alley” and “Love Life” are deep and layered. “Love Life” has the oddmeter feel from the original, as well as some similar wordplay, which elevates it beyond simple parody. Did you see it as a tribute or was it all a joke?
It was absolutely a tribute. I was determined not to trivialize what they had done. I wanted it to have meaning. There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment of “All You Need Is Love.” I wanted to do something that was almost like a mirror image of it.







GP0910_Riffs_Rut1_nrThe Rutles (left to right)—Dirk McQuickly, Barry Wom, Stig O’Hara, and Ron Nasty.


George is in the movie, so obviously he was in on the joke, but what did the others say to you about the Rutles?
I never talked to John directly about it but he was very supportive. He said, “Watch out for ‘Get Up and Go.’ I think you’ll get into trouble with that one.” So, we took it off the album and just left it in the film. Paul is fine with the music. I think he’s not too happy with Eric Idle’s portrayal of him, but Paul and I are fine. And Ringo’s just so easy going.

What advice would you give someone who wants to write original but familiar melodies and chord progressions?
Don’t do it deliberately. If you write a good song, it’s going to have some of the best songs ever written in it. It can’t help it. It’s best not to look.

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