Clearly, I’m a big Monty Python fan. I have all their shows, their albums, their books and even much of the work that the various troupe members did before and since Python. But their songs have always been the weakest link for me. Although it diversifies their material, certainly a great thing, they’re not always a tremendous success; sometimes, even excellent ideas don’t always work musically.
Personally, I was quite happy with the notion of finding an odd tune here and there as a form of entr’acte between skits, to change things up. Even if the song wasn’t stellar, it was always brief enough to remain pleasant. More Python skits would follow. But to compile all of them together into one non-stop collection smacks to me of grand overkill; it hurts my brain just thinking about it.
And then there are my ears. My poor ears. My poor, poor, poor ears.
But ‘Monty Python Sings’ does exactly that: it takes most of the Python songs from throughout their career, including some new recordings and alternate mixes, throws in a couple of previously unavailable ones in to reel in the completists and serves up nearly an hour of musical madness. There are more Python songs on here than you can eat – much to the delight of fans and the dismay of their neighbours.
1. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: This first appeared at the tail end of ‘Life of Brian‘, as its closer; it feels strange as an opener. In any case, I really love this song: not only is the melody infectious (as is the whistling), but the lyrics are inspired. I take it with an ironic twist, to be honest, as opposed to enjoying it in a sappy, idealistic way, so it bothers that it’s become a bit of a cheerful chorus for some – including the Pythons. On that basis alone, I think it’s been overplayed some. 9.5
2. Sit on My Face: This is one of the first Python songs I ever heard, as it was the opening salvo on the first album of theirs that I bought, ‘Contractual Obligation Album’. I love the orally-fixated lyrics combined with the men’s choir – it’s a hilarious mix. I didn’t know at the time that it was a parody of “Sing As We Go” by Gracie Fields, but I loved it anyway. Now I love it even more. And, at 46 seconds, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. 9.5
3. Lumberjack Song: The album version is different from the original: Palin is a weatherman before going into the song, it’s extended, and the arrangement is different. I know everyone loves this song, but I’ve heard too often. Plus which it works better as a skit because the infectious enthusiasm written all over Palin’s face is essential in order to appreciate the moment of freedom his character feels. As a stand-alone song, it’s not nearly as comical (i.e. I’d rate it higher as a skit). 7.0
4. Penis Song (Not the Noel Coward Song): This one is original from ‘The Meaning of Life’. I love the opening, with Jones announcing that he did this one in the Caribbean, because then you expect a classy little number. Instead, you get 40 seconds of penis jokes hammered out playfully on a piano instead. Nice. 8.5
5. Oliver Cromwell: I don’t get this one. The Pythons basically recite historical facts about Oliver Cromwell or sing in a nasal voice to the sounds of piano. Maybe if I had an understanding of the material I’d appreciate it. But I don’t. As is, it’s a massive fail to me. It should be noted that this song was never released up until this point; it’s an out-take. Ahem… there may be a reason why. 2.0
6. Money Song: This song really makes me laugh; its melody and beat are infectious, and the lyrics are ironic (although, all told, I wonder how ironic it is coming from Eric Idle). Anyway, I’ve used it as an opening number for my radio show when I did a money-related one. It’s terrific. 7.5
7. Accountancy Shanty: This one’s not as catchy as many Python songs, but it’s a clever lyric and it’s hilarious in the context of a pirate song. It loses its meaning when removed from the original skit, “The Crimson Permanent Assurance”, however, as it’s all about the old accountants raiding new companies with their pirate ship/building. Without the visual, it’s totally nonsensical – in that bad way. Context is everything, so I’d rate it higher in the film than on album. 7.0
8. Finland: Also from the ‘Contractual Obligation Album’, this one is slightly funny because of its enthusiasm for Finland, but I don’t find the lyrics that amusing or the melody that inspiring. If anything, I like it because it’s grating; playing it or singing it for someone would be amusing torture. 5.5
9. Medical Love Song: I love this song. Clearly, Graham Chapman must have opened up his medical books to write this, because it’s a list of various sexual health issues wrapped up in a lovely ode to a loved one. This album features the full version, which was edited down for the original album. Nice. 8.0
10. I’m So Worried: Kind of annoying, mostly due to Terry Jones’ vocals, but that’s the point – it is, after all, being sung by someone worried about everything happening in the world, on TV, in his life, and even the most mundane things. Great idea, but frustrating to listen to after a minute or so – despite the lush orchestration. 7.5
11. Every Sperm is Sacred: This one boasts amazing lyrics and a funny commentary on the Catholic religion’s view of sexuality. It’s naturally better in ‘The Meaning of Life’, because it has the whole musical number to go along with it (and it’s a tremendous part of the appeal; without it, all they’re doing is repeating the chorus over and over with different voices). 8.5
12. Never Be Rude to an Arab: It’s hard to see the satire here because the racist words the Pythons use are so offensive to me, but it certainly makes its point. But, man, is it ever an explosively-charged song. It’s thankfully brief enough to make its point and no more. 7.5
13. I Like Chinese: I love this song. I’m surprised it’s not considered racist, given that used outdated terms all too liberally, but it’s delightfully cheery and it’s hard to not sing along to it. It’s repetitive and a bit long, but it works anyway. I can’t think of going out to a Chinese restaurant without the chorus popping into my head. 8.0
14. Eric the Half-a-Bee: I know that John Cleese loves this song (likely because he wrote it), but I hate it. I hate the nasal vocals, and don’t see the point of the lyrics. I like the men’s barbershop quartet-style background vocals, but that’s about it. 4.0
15. Brian Song: This is a terrific song, but again mostly in context, with the opening credits to ‘Life of Brian”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek telling of Brian’s story between his birth and his adult life. It’s so brilliantly told, plus which it’s arranged and performed as a James Bond movie theme (complete with John Barry-esque horn section), with Sonia Jones providing a superb Shirley Bassey-type performance. Nice. 8.25
16. Bruces’ Philosophers Song (Bruces’ Song): I find the notion of mixing drinking and philosophy together droll because it seems discrepant. But, being a non-drinker and a non-philosopher, I just don’t get much of the references. Thankfully, the song is less than a minute long, so it’s okay. And most people like it because it’s got beer in it. Doesn’t take much. 6.75
17. The Meaning of Life: As with the movie it’s meant to introduce, this song is so-so. It’s meant to be epic, perhaps in the same way that “Brian’s Song” was, but it doesn’t quite work for me – something about the arrangements and Eric’s vocals, I’m thinking. Although, had the lyrics been hilarious, I might still have enjoyed it. Oh well. 6.0
18. Knights of the Round Table (Camelot Song): I love the exuberance of this track and the ridiculous rhymes. This recording is ported over straight from the picture with sound effects and background noise included. It’s obviously much funnier accompanied by the absurd choreography, but it’s still zany on its own. 7.5
19. All Things Dull and Ugly: Hahaha! This is a brilliant parody of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and other lovely hymns to God’s grandeur (complete with boy’s choir!). This song does the same thing, but it strikes a balance by saying that God also created the crappy, nasty things around us too. To me, that’s hilarious because it sticks it to those who would only like to see one side of the coin. 8.0
20. Decomposing Composers: I like the play on words, but the title only goes so far to making a song: Palin goes through a series of composers and explains (in various terms) that they are no longer around. It’s somewhat inspired, but a bit bland. 6.75
21. Henry Kissinger: This is basically a satirical ode to Henry Kissinger, done in a ’20s jazz vibe. This is the full-length version, as opposed to the one found on ‘Contractual Obligation Album’. Since I know very little about Kissinger, it’s lost on me. 6.5
22. I’ve Got Two Legs: I like this because it’s so meaningless. It’s Gilliam just singing about having two legs – so stupid, in that good way. It’s better during the live show, because it’s a brief, ridiculous interruption (in fact, it’s not available on any other album – it’s mostly a live fixture). 7.0
23. Christmas in Heaven: Gosh… I really loathe Chapman’s “American” variety show host vocal on this one. It’s appropriate, but I hate the real thing, so I hate it here too. I love the song’s satire of the holiday season à l’Américaine, but the song is really grating. That’s likely the point, but I just can’t do it, no matter how brilliantly execrable it is. 6.5
24. Galaxy Song: Strangely, when I think about this song, I don’t have a fond memory of it – perhaps because of the skit in ‘The Meaning of Life’. But it’s a terrific song, discussing the expansiveness of the universe and taking a pot shot at much of humanity’s egocentric belief that it’s the only intelligent life out there. The final lines are some of my favourites of their whole oeuvre. 7.75
25. Spam Song: This is such a stupid song, but it’s so catchy. I prefer the original TV show version, because context is everything – having a bunch of people dressed as vikings singing this every time that people say “Spam” is so weird that it’s funny. In any event, this song makes for a strange way to close the album. 7.0
‘Monty Python Sings’ was re-released in 2014 as ‘Monty Python Sings (Again)’ with a half dozen previously unheard tracks (including three new ones by Eric Idle) incorporated into the compilation. I’m not quite sure that it would be enough for me to revisit this hodge-podge set, however. As much as I’m a HUGE fan, I really don’t see Python as a musical act – even if that’s what they’ve become in recent years.
But anyone who likes their songs could do worse than to pick this up.