Highly Bonzos-esque piece of likeable daftness with darker flipside
Year of Release: 1969
The mainstream reputation of the Bonzo Dog Band in the UK - if indeed they have much of a "mainstream" reputation these days - is probably that they were a bunch of funster one-hit wonders. More knowledgable music and comedy lovers might point to their work in "Do Not Adjust Your Set" and how it helped to launch the Python team, and also the gentle subversion and genuinely great songwriting on their LPs.
Depressingly few would probably rank them as counter-cultural satirists these days, but nonetheless that's almost certainly where they often sat. Behind the slapstick, the gurning and the gentle farces on display in their work lay some pretty savage wrecking of societal norms, as well as the gleeful dismantling of the fragile webs most pop songs and pop careers are spun with. When I first heard a bootleg recording of "The Craig Torso Show" in a second hand record shop in the nineties, I was blown away by how playful and skewering it was simultaneously, giving UK pirate radio - the template for all pop radio that followed - a playful poke in the ribs while also giving it a fair warning. "Look," it seemed to say, "We can boil down the basic essence of one of your ridiculous shows in under four minutes. This isn't something you should be able to build a career on." "The Pink Half Of The Drainpipe" too is clearly Stanshall railing against suburban normality and who people expected him to be and who he wanted the freedom to be. (Others have also pointed out that Stanshall's on-the-street vox pops predated other satirists use of the gullible public by many years, but we're in danger of digressing out of control now and need to talk about this record...)
The point I was coming to, dear readers, is that while the Bonzos influenced other groups such as (most famously) the New Vaudeville Band, all of those bands tended to grasp at the cosy, the nostalgic and the faintly daffy elements of their output rather than the tough stuff to emulate. Most, of course, contented themselves with quick careers on the pub, student union and cabaret circuit before naffing off to the next session job once demand died down.
I don't think I'm being unfair when I suggest that Levity Lancers were probably a very short-lived proposition who came and went very quickly. So far as I can tell, this was their only single, but despite the fact that it cosies up to the 78rpm era with pie-eyed nostalgia, it manages to be sweet and relatable too; toytown, psychedelic era observational lyricisms come through here. The A-side "Oh Play That Thing" is about the adventures of a woman and her brass instrument which is both silly and enjoyable, while the B-side "Too Late" owes a debt to Ray Davies, highlighting broken-down bungalows and lives spent in old age, loneliness, waste and dull routine. If Dukes of Stratosphear/ XTC had taken on the Bonzos, this might have been the end result (key reference points here for that band might be "Bungalow" or "Dying") Jollity, merry melodies and casual observations seem to be masking something much sadder and more regrettable.