Natural Exuberance: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s “I’m the Urban Spaceman”

(This article has been updated and expanded in the book Song Book; it originally appeared in Shindig! issue #52)

At the start of 1968, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band were described by their manager/producer Gerry Bron as “a cult band with a huge following, deservedly”. Their live shows were chaotic sets of sardonic original tunes mixed with obscure novelty songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s, all performed amidst “horror masks, weird instruments, explosions, and a life-size rag doll named Alma”. Led by the eccentric charisma of frontman Viv Stanshall, the Bonzos were a popular live act everywhere from the Northern club circuit to premiere London venues such as UFO and The Marquee. The band had also acquired fans of all ages through regular appearances on the ITV children’s series Do Not Adjust Your Set.

But the Dadaist anarchy that made the Bonzos such entertaining performers did not translate into chart-friendly records. Their album sales were so poor that Liberty, their UK record company, only pressed 2000 copies of their LP Gorilla. According to singer/guitarist Neil Innes, “The record company was saying, ‘Well, what about a single?  What about a single?’ And we couldn’t care less. We were just still being silly art students.”

As it happened, when the band went into the studio in autumn ’68, Innes brought along a catchy ditty he had titled ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’. Continue reading