The following is my contribution to my Beatles Film Blogathon, being held on July 5-7, 2015 in honor of Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday (on July 7) and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies starring the Beatles and of Beatles-related movies and videos!
“Nobody knew it then…but 1943 was a good year for rock and roll.”
This was a tagline used to promote the 1976 album Thirty-Three and a Third — in my humble opinion, one of George Harrison’s best-ever albums. For this blogathon, I have chosen to discuss music videos based on two songs from that album: “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace.” (I regret only that Harrison did not create a video for the album’s “Dear One,” one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life. Click on the song’s title to listen to it on YouTube.)
While these videos might seem obscure choices for a Beatles film blogathon, they contain a number of elements that are dear to my heart. As I mentioned, both songs come from one of my favorite Beatle solo albums; they both reflect Harrison’s dry sense of humor; and each one even has a trace of Monty Python in them. (Both videos were premiered on the Nov. 20, 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live, on which Harrison served as a musical guest.)
In November of 1970, Harrison released the song “My Sweet Lord” as a single from his smash triple album All Things Must Pass. The song charted at # 1, and shortly thereafter, Harrison and his publishing company were sued by Bright Tunes, the publisher of the song “He’s So Fine.” That song was recorded by The Chiffons in 1962, and Bright Tunes accused Harrison of plagiarizing their song due to similarities in the melody. After years of legal back-and-forth, the suit went to trial in a New York courtroom in 1976.
According to Harrison, the plaintiff went to such elaborate lengths to show how the musical notes in question belonged solely to “He’s So Fine” that Harrison “started to believe that maybe they did own those notes.” In any case, Harrison lost the lawsuit.
When life gives lemons to an ex-Beatle, he squeezes musical lemonade out of them. “This Song” was Harrison’s satirical take-off on his own litigious mess, with Harrison singing that the song “has nothing [B]right about it” and “as far as I know, don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright, so…” At one point in the song, Monty Python’s Eric Idle (a close friend of Harrison’s) does a riff as the voice of two Pepperpot women arguing about the song’s tune: “Could be ‘Sugar Pie Honey Bunch’!” – “Naah, sounds more like ‘Rescue Me’!”
The hilarious video milks every last bit of humorous potential from the already parodic song. Look for Harrison’s drummer friend Jim Keltner as the judge, and Rolling Stones veteran Ron Wood as the second “Pepperpot” who mouths Idle’s aforementioned musical critique.
At the 1975 Midem Music Festival, Harrison happened to meet a man named George Greif. Harrison remarked to Greif how much he resembled one of Harrison’s idols, the late comic Lord Buckley. As it happened, Greif was Buckley’s former manager, and he invited Harrison to visit Buckley’s old Los Angeles home, which Greif called — you guessed it — “Crackerbox Palace.” Harrison scribbled down the name and later wrote the song, which contains references to Greif and “the Lord.” Other than those inside references, the song is a cheery, thoughtful tune about the span of one’s life.
Left to right: George Greif; Lord Buckley; Harrison and a friend on the set of “Crackerbox Palace.”
Here’s where the Monty Python references get really thick. The video for the song was directed by Eric Idle, and it begins with erstwhile Python member Neil Innes pushing George in a baby carriage (don’t ask, just watch). The video also has a John Cleese look-alike (Wikipedia says it’s really him, but I wouldn’t swear to it), as well as appearances by look-alikes from the Pythons’ Pantomime Queen and Graham Chapman’s “This is getting too silly” Colonel.
(Other trivia: The video was shot in and around the grounds of Harrison’s home, Friar Park. Also, blink and you’ll miss an appearance by Harrison’s future wife, Olivia Arias, in the video.)
In any case, the video is a souffle-weight piece that does perfect justice to the song’s philosophy-lite motif.