Friday, 4 April 2008

THE GOONS: Bluebottle Blues


1956, and a number four hit (kept off the top by, in descending order, Pat Boone's ten-years-too-late-for-the-war weepie "I'll Be Home," an eight-track various British Decca artists EP entitled All-Star Hit Parade and something called "Heartbreak Hotel") which is already paving the way for intertextuality. Indeed, explicit two-part singles (e.g. Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well Parts I & II") instrumental versions, remixes and suchlike aside, I can't think of another hit single so inter-referential 'twixt A and B sides (although "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane" represents two sides of the same dream, there is no direct musical or lyrical correspondence between the two songs). "Bluebottle Blues" ends with Sellers' overgrown Boy Scout vanishing through the hole in the middle of the record, to be succeeded by Milligan sombrely stepping up to the microphone to begin "I'm Walking Backwards For Christmas" before realising he's on the wrong side; similarly, the recording of the latter ends with Bluebottle returning to make dubious comments ("'Ere, I thought my side was better") and immediately being chased out of the studio by Milligan.

The Goons' fifties records generally remain undervalued, even if reunion-fuelled nostalgia ensured a second visit to the top ten for "The Ying Tong Song" in the late summer of 1973, bang in the middle of the glam boom; they are of historical importance in view of the tricks producer George Martin learned and redeployed for the benefit of the kite-like imaginations of the Beatles in the sixties, and also for their complete debunking of the concept of the pop record and indeed the pop song (whereas Stan Freberg's contemporaneous satires, say, always come across as straight sketch routines, albeit brilliant ones). There are always rogue or straight elements seeking to undermine their romps: the cod-opera on "The Ying Tong Song" itself, or the inexplicable blasts of the Ted Heath Orchestra cut and paste into the fabric of "I'm Walking Backwards." 1957's "A Russian Love Song" finally collapses into itself with a startling and prophetic passage of free improvisation, particularly audible from the direction of the session's guitarist, one Derek Bailey.

"Bluebottle Blues" likewise begins with some Straussian orchestral waltz flourishes which abruptly give way to Sellers and Secombe walking into the studio to set up a nihilistic scenario where Secombe's beaming protagonist encourages Bluebottle to drown or blow himself up. "There's no way of manifesting/How much I'd prefer you dead...Fred," chirps Secombe eagerly, answered by a flatulent tuba, before he proceeds to call him "Jim" and "Pet" all the better to rhyme with whatever psychopathic scheme he has in mind. Bluebottle, thick but obliging and enthusiastic, goes along with Secombe's demented scenarios and manages to die twice within the record's span, breaking off midway to deliver the only passage in the record which has any palpable relevance to the notion of a song; though this too is quickly derailed after the line "I do not want to be nutted by Eiffel or Blackpool Towers" as Sellers breaks the boundaries of scansion into indistinct murmurs (a quieter forerunner of the second half of the Pistols' "Holidays In The Sun"). Secombe returns, quizzical - "Still alive?"

Finally, after the cigarette ("pet") has blown Bluebottle to pieces, he howls "YouuuuuUUUUUU rotten swine you! You've deaded me again" before giving up on the record altogether ("Picks up fractured kneecap, replaces lug in lughole..."). A war, of course, where nobody is really killed, but still an extraordinary record in the homely context of 1956 Britain; other explosions were forthcoming, but along with the aforementioned "Heartbreak Hotel," we could pick out a clear map through the next fifty years of pop with both records.