I am tempted to call The Bonzo Dog Band (or the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, take your pick) the greatest group in the history of rock. And this despite the fact that they only occasionally got around to playing what could be called a rock song. They were too far too busy cracking themselves up with their hilarious, brilliantly surreal, and utterly deranged wit. If Monty Python had turned to music full-time, they might—although I honestly doubt it—have been as funny as The Bonzo Dog Band.
The genre-hopping mobile insane asylum that was The Bonzo Dog Band might throw anything at you: trad jazz, oldies covers, bizarre street interviews with perplexed normals, and parodies, heaps of parodies—of thirties songs, music hall songs, fifties songs, blues songs, hard-rock songs, psychedelic songs—you name it. And they were excellent musicians—when they wanted to be—with a genius for arranging songs. Your average Bonzo tune may sound anarchic, but you can be certain it was put together with an exacting eye for detail, and every detail is in its right place.
There’s really no one to compare The Bonzo Dog Band with except Frank Zappa, and the comparison is a poor one. Zappa’s humor was sneering and juvenile; his Brit counterparts favored an intelligent and good-natured Dadaism. Just check out “The Intro and the Outro,” a parody of a band introduction that grows stranger and stranger as it goes on, with the announcer snazzily saying, “And looking very relaxed on vibes, Adolf Hitler… niiiice” and “Representing the flower people, Quasimodo, on bells.” No yellow snow here.
Formed in London in 1962 as a trad jazz band, The Bonzo Dog Band’s core line-up included the mad and brilliant Vivian “Ginger Geezer” Stanshall on trumpet and lead vocals; the equally demented Neil Innes on piano, guitar, and lead vocals; Rodney “Rhino” Desborough Slater on saxophone; Roger Ruskin Spear on tenor saxophone and assorted mad sound-producing contraptions, including the trouser press and “Theremin leg”; Dennis Cowan on drums and vocals; and the legendary “Legs” Larry Smith—the tap dancer extraordinaire who played one of rock’s few tap solos on Elton John’s “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself”—on drums.