The recent death of Neil Innes, one of the key figures in the Bonzo Dog Band, sent me searching for this 45 (hopefully you know where yours is):
That’s Neil, second from the right, with Vivian Stanshall on his right and Larry “Legs” Smith on his left.
Mr. Apollo was the Bonzo’s attempt at a follow up single to their 1968 hit “I’m the Urban Spaceman”. It’s a sort of cross between David Bowie, in his “The Man Who Sold the World Phase” (think “Width of a Circle”, for those familiar with that album), and a jingle for a household cleaning product, if that makes sense. But then not making sense was a point of pride for the Bonzo’s.
For those unfamiliar with this gem, here it is:
I can’t recall where I picked this up, but it is a Swedish release on Liberty. The back of the sleeve lists a Top 10, which I am guessing is a top 10 for records released by EMI, which apparently distributed many labels, in Sweden, at least. While most of the artists are household names (to one of my age/peer group), many of the songs listed are unknown to me:
Maybe some of my British or European friends (note: I guess you can’t very well call the Brits Europeans anymore) will know these songs.
Succumbing to a Bonzo mood, I took down my copy of Ginger Geezer: The Life of Vivian Stanshall (again, I assume you can lay your hands on your copy to follow along), for some idle browsing:
The book, though a sad tale as his life’s story plays out, is excellent in its depiction of the era and the peculiar way in which the Bonzo’s (did not really) fit into the rock music world of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Because they were not really a rock band.
More on this at some future point, but one item that caught my attention in the book has to do with a fellow who managed them for a while, Gerry Bron: his name appears on this record:
“Bron Music” appears under all the Liberty logo stuff. I believe this means he was also handling the publishing for at least this song, and thus would have a cut of the royalties on sales of this record, and of any recordings or performances of the song done by other artists (or sheet music sales, for that matter). Though typically a canny play by band managers, I’m guessing that Gerry did not make a fortune by enticing Mantovani or Herb Alpert or whoever to record this tune.
The reason Mr. Bron’s name caught my eye was that the book also revealed that his younger sister was the actress Eleanor Bron, famous (to those in the know) for her role in the the 1967 film, Bedazzled, in which she played the unattainable Wimpy’s waitress Margaret Spencer, with whom the short-order cook Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) is infatuated. Stanley gives up his soul to George Spiggot – the Devil – played by Peter Cooke, in return for seven wishes, all (or most, anyway) of which are attempts by Stanley to . . . attain Margaret. It is truly a masterpiece.
Here is Eleanor as Margaret with Dudley Moore as Stanley in the film observing a piece of modern art with which Stanley is hoping to impress the (in this wish-episode) intellectual Margaret:
She has amazing eyebrows. My wife Anne wonders if she’s ever met Eugene Levy.
Here is one of my favorite bits from the movie, where Stanley asks George to make him the adored object of Margaret, with the result that he is cast as a pop music star appearing on a live telecast, only to be eclipsed in Margaret’s eyes by the lead singer of the newest sensation, Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, played of course by Peter Cook:
Eleanor Bron had appeared in Help! and Alfie before Bedazzled, and soon thereafter was cast in Women in Love. She has had a varied career in film and on stage, ranging from serious drama (Chekhov, Shaw, Ronald Harwood) to TV comedy (notably portraying Patsy’s mother on Absolutely Fabulous, who “scattered bastard babies across Europe like a garden sprinkler”). She also was the voice of British Telecom for a period beginning in 1985, her voice being featured in such messages as “The number you have dialed has not been recognized, please check and try again”. Her Wikipedia entry says this message and others can still be heard, which let’s all hope is true.
Bron was memorialized in the song “Tom Courtenay” by Yo La Tengo, the lyrics of which talk of “dreaming about Eleanor Bron/In my room with the curtains drawn”.
And to bring this full circle, Yo La Tengo included “Mr Apollo” in a “Shotgun + Medley” on their album Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics, a collection of cover songs that originated during on-air appearances during fund-raisers for WFMU, a great, eccentric independent radio station out of East Orange, New Jersey. (I swear I was not aware of this when I began this post).
We have now exceeded the minimum (and maximum) daily requirement of silliness and irony.