The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. That’s Spear on the left.
Most biographies of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band seem to champion the two most well-known alumni of this groundbreaking British ensemble (you can’t really call them a rock group) of the 1960s. Neil Innes went on to fame and fortune for his work with Monty Python and for his role in the Rutles mockumentary and records. Vivian Stanshall produced a few notable albums post-Bonzos, and since he was the lead vocalist and a prolific songwriter, he grabbed much of the spotlight when the band was in its heyday. The Bonzos appeared in the Beatles’ Yellow SubmarineMagical Mystery Tour film performing their song “Death Cab For Cutie,” which is where most people first heard of them.
Roger Ruskin Spear is all but forgotten, even by many of those who count themselves fans of the Bonzos, but he wrote and produced two notable solo albums and has been involved in countless musical projects up to the present day.
Spear is best known as a former member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band. He wrote some of their wittiest songs such as ‘Shirt’, ‘Tubas in the Moonlight’ and ‘Trouser Press’.He is also well known for his robot creations,that graced the stage with the Bonzos, creating much hilarity and havoc. He is also famed for his virtuosity on the theremin leg – in ‘Noises for the Leg’, amongst other tunes. Many of his songs have clothing/wardrobe related themes, such as ‘Trouser Freak’, ‘Trouble with my Trousers’ and ‘Waiting for the ‘Wardrobe’, as well as the aforementioned ‘Shirt’ and ‘Trouser Press’. It is not known why. Roger was once quoted as saying, “Trousers. Trousers. It’s such a stumbling word. In America they have pants and jeans, but in England we still have trousers”.
I have recently digitized my vinyl copy of Spear’s 1972 Electric Shocks album in its entirety. Here is a track called “Patrick Moore,” which seems fairly standard until near the end, when aliens make a sudden appearance, which makes me happy.
In the mid 1980s, I read an article in an amazing book entitled The Catalog of Cool. Amongst the entries on beatniks and 1950s cars was an article, “Wrestling From Peru!” which described a program that was aired in Los Angeles on a Hispanic UHF TV station in the 1970s. It sounded like the Mexican lucha libre stuff, but ratcheted up to 11 or 12.
Years later my friend Rod, who grew up in Chile, told me that he and his brothers had gone crazy over this program when he was a kid. Turns out it originated from Argentina, and it was called Titanes En El Ring. He remembered the costumes and characters, such as “El Astronauta,” “Mercenario Joe,” “El Hippie Hair” and the most feared wrestler of all, “La Momia.”
La Momia (the Mummy) was so frightening that many of his opponents would faint or run away rather than face his occult powers. Even the announcers screamed “Oh no! La Momia!!” as he made his deathly entrance. One episode featured not one, but TWO opponents who left the ring and tore through the TV studio meeting with a succession of locked doors in an attempt to escape La Momia’s wrath. They finally entered one room and supposed safety only to have the crap beaten out of them by a horde of partying hippies led by another wrestler called “Hippie Joe.”
Each wrestler had his own theme song, which played over his march from the backstage area to the ring. This of course led to a series of record albums, one of which I found on ebay a few years ago.
The first series of Titanes En El Ring ran from 1962 to 1967. Producer Martín Karadagián also starred as one of the wrestlers. In a later incarnation of the program, he even went up against La dreaded Momia:
Some of the kids in that clip look like they’re going to pee their pants.
A list of the wrestlers (in Spanish) can be found at the Titanes En El Ring website. My current favorite is “El Hacker,” with a photo of some skinny guy in a baseball cap carrying an ancient laptop. What did he do? Hack into the studio server to make himself champion? I doubt he even made it into the ring.
The Tokyo Happy Coats racked up a string of albums and singles on the King Record label in Japan throughout the 1960s. I’m not sure how many albums they released, but the one in my collection is named for one of their hits, “Forevermore.” The Coats toured the U.S. and even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The publicity photo up top was apparently not just a stunt. According to one source, the members actually played 26 different instruments!
The first song posted here, “Uptight,” is of course a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1963 hit, and it’s surprisingly well done. My friend Peter Stenshoel used the other track (“Tea-A-Wanna-Whistle”) as intro music on Little City In Space, his syndicated radio show from the mid-1980s. It’s just a real peppy tune featuring the girls whistling.
Helpful note: Happi (法被, 半被) is a traditional Japanese straight-sleeved coat made of cotton and imprinted with a distinctive crest. Originally, these represented the crest of a family, as happi were worn by house servants. In English, “happi” is most often translated as “happi coat” or “happy coat.”