Monty Python will give their farewell performances July 15-20 at the O2 Arena in London, performing together for the final time on the 20th and simulcasting it in cinemas around the world. For many of their fans, it will be a sad day in addition to a celebration of their career. Through their movies and the iconic “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” TV show, they have become beloved by fans all around the world, and I count myself among them. If you’re like me, and can’t ever get enough of them, this is a perfect time get to know (or revisit) the Monty Python discography a brilliant set of albums that every Python fan should know.
The members of Monty Python were brilliant, highly educated, and held advanced degrees in fields like history, english and medicine. Graham Chapman and John Cleese met at Cambridge and were writing partners, Eric Idle also attended Cambridge and wrote most of his material by himself. Michael Palin and Terry Jones were together at Oxford and continued their writing collaboration all through their career. The only non-British member is animator Terry Gilliam, who worked with Cleese early on pre-Python projects. And it didn’t hurt that some of them were pretty cute.
Like many, I discovered Monty Python when my sense of humor was still being refined. The first-ever Python I ever saw was the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. It was life changing. Suddenly a whole new world opened up with a different style of humor, crazy caricatures and subtle inside jokes. I couldn’t get enough of them! I actually got tears in my eyes at how much I loved what I was seeing. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was also showing on local PBS at the time, opening that world even further for me.
But their classic sketches as presented on TV were only a piece of the total. To truly appreciate the intelligence, the comedy brilliance and the silliness that is Monty Python, you have to go audio only, and check out a few of their iconic albums. They are the sketches you know and love, but they are different. Bits on the albums were performed EXACTLY as originally scripted, and were usually performed by the actual sketch writers, and so the lines and the humor were presented exactly as the writer originally intended. On the tv series, the performances were sometimes given to someone other than the writer, who may or may not have performed with the same knowledge and passion.
The Python discography is extensive and early releases coincided with the television shows original air time frames on BBC. Now on the eve of their final performance is a perfect time to listen to some of the highlights from these albums. You could easily close your eyes and point at a stack of albums and find gold, but here are some of my personal recommendations:
Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1970). This first album was actually recorded in front of a studio audience, so it has a “live” sounds. It is separate from the television show and not just pick-ups of sketches. Some of the treasures include “Nudge Nudge” – say no more! an Eric Idle triumph; the silly yet gruesome “Barber Shop” culminating in the Lumberjack Song; and the classic …”Pet Shop” (also known as Dead Parrot), a glimpse into the brilliance to come when Michael Palin and John Cleese perform ANYTHING together. “It’s not dead, it’s just tired and shagged out from a long squawk.”
Another Monty Python Record (1971). This album cover looks like they found an old classical concert album and scribbled over it to “reuse” it. First and foremost, this album contains “The Spanish Inquisition”. This sketch, although funny on TV, is completely over the top and wonderful on the album. And you wont expect it when it suddenly breaks in all throughout the album. This device became a standard on the shows and surprisingly works well in the album format. The “running gag” as it were. It also has the longer form of the Piranha Brothers “He Nailed My Head to the Floor”. You may remember the giant hedgehog Spiny Norman. And then side two of the album is one piece of brilliance after another. Opening with the cross dressing ladies Cleese and Chapman asking “What’s on the television, then? Looks like a penguin! No no no, I meant what PROGRAMME?” then continuing right on through “Spam”, another sketch that loses some of its power on TV because of audience involvement and live performance. Listen to a sample of the spam sketch and the spam song on amazon.com.
Monty Python’s Previous Record (1972). Dennis Moore runs throughout the record. The Argument Sketch with John Cleese and Michael Palin is a classic – “This isn’t an argument. Yes it is. No it isn’t!!” And the “Erick the Half A Bee” is a must listen. On TV, they edited the sketch and left out the song, which is another John Cleese “out there” character. Listen to a sample from the Argument here, and the Erick the Half a Bee sketch here.
Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (1972). Highlights include Bruce’s/Philosopher’s Song – on TV they didn’t do the song, on the record, it’s a brilliant way to end the sketch. Plus it’s educational! Learn all about the philosophers that you never heard about before. “Immanual Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable.” Another highlight is The Cheese Shop – once again, a brilliant Michael Palin and John Cleese sketch. You can listen to a sample from Bruce’s song here, and Bruce’s sketch here. Buy the album on Amazon.com. Listen to a big of The Cheese Shop, here.
The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). This album includes snippets, sketches and songs from the film plus original material. The track listings don’t do that justice, but the entire album is worth listening to from beginning to end. A personal favorite is the “Lesson in Logic” (hear the sample here, and order it from Amazon) a sketch about a professional logician who breaks into the film to explain the “If it weighs the same as a duck, then it’s a witch” logic in the film, the scene where we meet Sir Bedevere. Listen here to a sample from the “witch” sketch from the Holy Grail, and order it from Amazon.
For anyone who enjoys Python, but hasn’t devoured and memorized these classic albums, then run right out and get them, download them, borrow them, listen on YouTube, whatever you can do to listen to them over and over again. In addition to the ones mentioned here, there are numerous live albums, notably Live at City Center April 1976, and later sketch and movie compilations, but if you just listen to these five, you will have a pretty complete understanding of the brilliance and wackiness and total intelligent humor that was and still is Monty Python.
Good bye Monty Python and thanks for the memories. I will treasure them and quote them forever.
The box Monty Python’s Total Rubbish: Super Deluxe drops on August 19th but you can preorder it now, on Amazon.com. The set includes all nine Monty Python UK albums, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Another Monty Python Record, Monty Python’s Previous Record, Matching Tie and Handkerchief, Live at Drury Lane, Holy Grail, Life of Brian, Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album, and The Meaning Of Life and more. You can also purchase it from montypythononlinestore.com now.