Follow TV Tropes


Music / The Bonzo Dog Band

Go To
In 1969. Standing, from left to right: Dennis Cowan, Neil Innes, Vivian Stanshall, Rodney Slater, "Legs" Larry Smith. Seated: Roger Ruskin Spear. Not pictured: John Wayne, Quasimodo, The Incredible Shrinking Man, et al.
We are normal and we dig Burt Weedon!!

The first popular comedy rock band, in the tradition of The '40s American act Spike Jones And His City Slickers (who covered much the same sort of ground but as a sort of swing band). The Bonzos started out as The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, in reference to Dadaism. Then they became The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band because they got tired of having to explain to everybody what Dadaism is. Finally they settled on The Bonzo Dog Band as they are commonly known.

The Bonzo Dog Band was basically surreal silliness and Vaudeville set to music. Their concerts were zany and people crowded more to laugh at their jokes and odd tricks than the music. Because of their silly antics and Stylistic Suck playing the band were mostly seen as a novelty act throughout their career. They are often overlooked when discussing the great bands of The '60s. Nevertheless both The Beatles and Monty Python have named them as a huge inspiration. For instance, they gained prominence thanks to a One-Scene Wonder in The Beatles' film Magical Mystery Tour. The Beatles enjoyed the group's comedy enough that they actually recorded a song In the Style of the Bonzos called "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" (originally the B-Side of "Let It Be"; currently available on Past Masters and The Beatles Anthology). Paul McCartney also produced their only hit single "I'm The Urban Spaceman" (1968) under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth. Because of this the Bonzos are basically seen as a One-Hit Wonder, although "Canyons Of Your Mind" also gained some notability as their Signature Song. They also performed regularly on the children's show Do Not Adjust Your Set, where Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Jones were regular contributors. They later claimed the Bonzo's surreal antics were very much an inspiration to Monty Python's Flying Circus. Indeed, former Bonzo member Neil Innes regularly collaborated a songwriter for Monty Python, including Eric Idle's project The Rutles. Innes performs his solo song, "How Sweet To Be An Idiot" live on Monty Python Live at Drury Lane and "I'm the Urban Spaceman" in-between sketches during Monty Python: Live At The Hollywood Bowl.


  1. Gorilla (1967)
  2. The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse (released in America as Urban Spaceman) (1968)
  3. Tadpoles (1969)
  4. Keynsham (1969)
  5. Let's Make Up And Be Friendly (1972)
  6. Pour L' Amour Des Chiens (2007)

The Bonzo Dog Band provides examples of:

  • Adolf Hitlarious: "The Intro and the Outro":
    Viv: And looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes. Nice!
  • Affectionate Parody: "Bad Blood" is an affectionate parody of Johnny Cash's story songs.
  • Arc Words: "Rhino"/"rhinoceros" is mentioned in several titles and lyrics.
  • Badass Boast: "I'm The Urban Spaceman" is one big badass boast, but with a twist.
  • Blackface: One episode of Do Not Adjust Your Set features the band performing "Look Out There's a Monster Coming" in blackface. This included rather large examples of exaggerated lips, even as far as blackface is concerned!
  • Camp Gay: The lead vocal on "Trouser Press" is an affectedly gay spoken word.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Tadpoles was mostly a compilation of Cover Versions of older novelty songs they'd performed on Do Not Adjust Your Set, thrown together by their record company. As a result, the band didn't really consider it a proper studio album.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: While it still has lots of funny moments, Keynsham is slightly more serious than their earlier albums.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Where to begin??
    • The band's front man Vivian Stanshall was quite eccentric.
    • Also drummer "Legs" Larry Smith, whose eccentricity inspired the George Harrison song "His Name is Legs".
  • Color Motif: "Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?", a pun on "Can White Men Sing The Blues?" note 
  • Concept Album: Keynsham, maybe. The liner notes suggest that it's a fully-constructed Rock Opera, but more recently Neil Innes has said that other than sharing a loose theme (insane people who think they're normal), the songs weren't really connected.
  • Cover Version: A large chunk of their repertoire were covers of old 1910s, 1920s and 1930s music hall songs with bizarre titles. Vivian Stanshall also did a solo cover of "Suspicion", a song originally written for and recorded by Elvis Presley which was also a hit for Terry Stafford.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In "Death Cab for Cutie", the cab driver is so busy ogling Cutie in his rearview mirror he misses the traffic light turning red, which causes the fatal collision.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The band split up after Keynsham, but after their label claimed they owed another album (and threatened legal action), they reunited for Let's Make Up and Be Friendly. But it wasn't really a full reunion: it was largely a Neil Innes-Vivian Stanshall collaboration, with "Legs" Larry Smith and Roger Ruskin Spear contributing their own separately recorded songs.
  • Elvis Impersonator: Vivian Stanshall's lead vocal on "Death Cab for Cutie" is an exaggerated (but actually pretty good) Elvis imitation.
  • Everything Is an Instrument:
    • "Shirt"
      New horizons in sound now as Roger plays a solo on the electric shirt collar!
    • "The Intro and the Outro"
      Billy Butlin, spoons.
      Drop out with Peter Scott on duck call.
    • Roger Ruskin Spear plays an actual clothes press on "Trouser Press".
    • The weird sproingy sound at the end of "I'm the Urban Spaceman" is a garden hose with a funnel stuck inside one end, which Vivian Stanshall swung around the studio. Paul McCartney figured out how to set up a group of microphones to capture the sound.
  • Evil Laugh: At the start of "I'm The Urban Spaceman" and at the end of their cover of "Monster Mash".
  • Flock of Wolves: "Rhinocratic Oaths" sees a disguised police sergeant carrying out a sting operation at a gay bar (homosexuality being illegal in Britain before 1966), only to find that all the other patrons are policemen... who beat him up.
  • French Accordion:
    • Their "meet-the-band" parody The Intro and the Outro introduces a succession of increasingly unlikely guest artists - a snatch of musette introduces
    Digging General de Gaulle on accordion. Really wild, General. Thank you, sir.
    • "My Pink Half of the Drainpipe" doesn't mention France in the lyrics, but has an accordion played in this style.
  • Great White Hunter: Subverted by the singer in "Hunting Tigers Out In Indiah", who is clearly a coward.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: "Beautiful Zelda".
  • Groupie Brigade: "The Sound Of Music".
    Life's like that, isn't it? Only the other day I was walking down the West End and suddenly I was set upon by hordes of fans and admirers who wanted to...touch my clothes. So I took sanctuary in a nearby cinema, normally, of course, I wouldn't go in, but that day I saw something that really moved me. I'd like to share this wonderful experience with you, it was... the Sound of Music.
  • His and Hers: Mentioned in "Piggy Bank Love".
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Jazz: Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold. To play this apparently badly, you have to be a good musician. Homage to Spike Jones here.
  • "I Am" Song: "I'm The Urban Spaceman".
  • I Am What I Am: "What Do You Do".
    I do what I do,
    I am what I am,
    We are what we are
    We do what we can!
  • I Have Many Names: They changed their name three times in the course of their career and went from the Bonzo Dog Dada Band, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band to shortly The Bonzo Dog Band. People also often shorten them to "the Bonzos", when referring to them.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe" ends with Vivian Stanshall hitting a dramatic high note that goes on and on and on (and is clearly a looped tape), after the band itself has stopped, and cuts off abruptly at songs' end.
  • "King Kong" Climb: Their debut album, Gorilla, is dedicated to "King Kong".
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Slush" is a gentle instrumental, halfway through interrupted by a manic laugh. This laugh then repeats at precise intervals for the rest of the tune to the fade-out, and beyond...and beyond...and BEYOND. Genuinely un-nerving.
    • There's an uncredited track on Gorilla in between Cool Britannia and Equestrian Statue that has the same un-nerving effect. It consists of a repeated loop of something plopping, possibly into water, a low sigh of relief, and a girl breaking out into mocking unkind laughter. Very un-nerving and completely inexplicable - the listener gets the impression something nasty but unspecified is happening.
    • They also had "11 Mustachioed Daughters", rather unnerving all the way through, but ending with some...extremely creepy dialogue accompanied by instrumentals, creepy because it's just so strange and leaves you the impression something's really seriously wrong with the talkers. "Worship for Satan! (giggle) Glad that's over with..." "I don't remember too good, but I think John Wayne is in it." "Oh yeah?" "I don't remember too good, but I think John Wayne is in it." "Oh no." "I don't remember too good, but I think John Wayne is in it..." "Oh my..."note 
    • The Stylistic Suck version of "The Sound of Music" that closes Gorilla is album example.
  • List Song: "The Intro and the Outro" has Vivian Stanshall introduce all the band members, but also several celebrities who are apparently all gathered together in the studio, including John Wayne on the xylophone and Adolf Hitler on vibes.
  • Lounge Lizard: A running gag in their music, most memorably satirized in "Look at Me, I'm Wonderful".
  • Miniscule Rocking: Did several under-one-minute songs.
  • New Sound Album: After their vaudeville/jazz-sounding debut album Gorilla, the follow-up The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse had them doing music in more contemporary rock vein, plus lots of Genre Roulette. They stayed with that style for the rest of their career.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Give Booze a Chance", a parody of "Give Peace a Chance" they did live and on the radio, but never recorded for an album.
  • One-Man Song: "I'm The Urban Spaceman".
  • Overly Long Gag: "The Intro and the Outro" starts by introducing each of the actual band members before going on to a long list of random celebrities and historical figures as the other "band members."
  • The Power of Love: "Canyons Of Your Mind" is a love song where Stanshall sings about how he explores the inside of his lover's body.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: "The Intro and the Outro" is three minutes of lampshading this, endlessly introducing one ridiculous instrument after another.
  • Revolving Door Band: In the 60s Viv Stanshall, Neil Innes, Roger Ruskin Spear and "Legs" Larry Smith were constant presences, but other members came and went.
    • Former Bonzos founded other bands in a similar vein, who had very limited success. The New Vaudeville Band were formed around ex-Bonzos and played the same sort of trad-jazz retro music - but were pretty much a One-Hit Wonder with an ode to Winchester Cathedral. The parent act wasn't troubled too much by the competition. The New Vaudeville Band were, in Britain, a two-hit wonder ("Peek-A-Boo" was the other hit). Another offshoot of the Bonzos was long-running vaudevillian cult group Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band.
  • Sex Signals Death: "Death Cab for Cutie". Girl cheats on her boyfriend, takes a cab home, driver jumps a red light, splat. (Bit unfair on the driver, though, unless he was the one she was cheating with.)
  • Shout-Out:
    • The band was named after the comic strip character Bonzo the Dog. There's a picture of him on the cover of Let's Make Up and Be Friendly.
    • "We Are Normal" name-checks Bert Weedon, a British guitarist and teacher who was a formative influence on Keith Richards and three of The Beatles.note 
    • Eleven Mustachioed Daughters with its undertones of Satanic goings-on in sinister places, is a send-up of emerging bands such as Arthur Brown/Atomic Rooster, Black Sabbath and - yes - early Fleetwood Mac, who all incorporated similar obsessions in their work.
    • The title "The Bride Stripped Bare by 'Bachelors'" alludes to a famous artwork by Marcel Duchamp.
  • Sound Defect: The song "My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies" (a cover of a 1931 song) contains a reference:
    The only time he made a bungle
    was when a tiger in the jungle
    With a mighty roar, dropped dead
    With bullets in its head
    And Rob mooed like a cow instead.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Shirt" with a lengthy man-on-the-street interview, and "Rhinocratic Oaths", as Vivian Stanshall narrates four very odd slice-of-life stories. "Rockaliser Baby" has spoken character bits by Neil, Viv and Roger.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Viv's character in "My Pink Half of the Drainpipe" clearly sees his neighborhood as this.
    • The song Piggy Bank Love on the Gorilla album is also a hymn to Stepford Suburbia.
  • Stylistic Suck: The musicians liked to give the impression they weren't skilled in any way, which added to the comedy. (As noted above, you have to be a good musician to play badly in a genuinely funny way).
    • "Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold", which made fun of the band's roots in trad jazz. Has to be heard to be properly appreciated. (Apparently they all switched instruments before recording.)
    • Not to mention the hilariously awful guitar solo on "Canyons of your Mind". The New Musical Express, which for a long time was Britain's music trendsetting publication, appreciated the joke and made this their Guitar Solo of the Year.
    • Neil Innes has also used this trope deftly in his solo career, especially with the delightfully terrible Bob Dylan send-up "Protest Song." It's even better/worse on the Live at City Center album.
      "I've suffered for my music and now it's your turn."
  • Take That!: Pour L' Amour Des Chiens (French: "For the Love of Dogs") is a send up of Damien Hirst's sculpture consisting of a human skull encrusted with diamonds, "For the Love of God". The cover art is a dog skull covered with icing sugar and sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands (multicoloured sugar sprinkles).
  • There Are No Coincidences: "Keynsham"
    It's tragic magic
    There are no coincidences
    But sometimes the pattern is more obvious
  • Theremin: Roger Ruskin Spear built one housed inside a mannequin's leg, and played it on "Noises for the Leg" and a few other songs.
  • Twist Ending: "I'm The Urban Spaceman"
    I'm the urban spaceman, baby, here comes the twist
    I don't exist.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Viv Stanshall and Neil Innes split lead vocal duties, with occasional Step Up to the Microphone contributions from Roger Ruskin Spear.
  • Was Once a Man: The protagonist of "Look Out, There's a Monster Coming" spends the whole song constantly altering his appearance and personality in an attempt to find love, then resorts to several cosmetic prodecures to the point that by the end he has essentially become Frankenstein's Monster.
  • Word Salad Title: Most of their songs are quite nonsensical and surreal.