Originally released in 1974, two years after the greatest comedy rock band in history discovered that, contrary to the title of their reunion album, they couldn't make up and be friendly, The History of the Bonzos has long been one of the most fondly remembered compilations of the age. Like the Beatles' red and blue collections, the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks, and the Who's Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, albums that so effortlessly absorbed the oeuvre that a discography seems
incomplete without them, the two-album History of the Bonzos was conceived, designed, and universally lauded for delivering precisely what it promised, a seamless history and a priceless artifact. Drawn from (but not restricted to) across the Bonzos' years with Liberty, which in turn sums up their entire career bar three odd singles at the beginning, History runs from the psycho-sleaze drama of "Big Shot" to the compelling inanity of "Jollity Farm," from the turbo-charged psychedelia of "Mr Apollo" to the fey denouement of "Narcissus," and onto a selection of post-split singles by Viv Stanshall, Roger Ruskin Spear, and Neil Innes. And it is nigh-on perfect. Obsessions trail like running jokes -- a hint of music hall madness, a healthy disrespect for cabaret, a tearful, fearful recollection of school, and a positive hatred of societal stereotypes. The sneering athletics master who torments the odd boy who doesn't like sport, of course, is the same ghastly being that dwells on the far edge of the drainpipe's pink portion -- the kind of person who would never have his hair sculpted in the shape of the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner, who would never think of rhyming "we want our freedom" with "we dig Bert Weedon." Like the best of Monty Python, the most obvious of their disciples, the Bonzos were funny not because they made you laugh, but because they could also make you feel very uncomfortable about your fellow man. The original vinyl release cannot be recommended too highly. The Beat Goes On CD reissue, however, is deeply flawed, and that despite retaining the original booklet and liner notes. Almost every track on disc one loses a fragment of its fade-out, while "Noises From the Leg," "Narcissus," and (on disc two) "Rhinocratic Oaths" not only appear in the same inadvertently clipped format, they also lose their very punch lines. And, while the Bonzos never relied purely on humor for their impact, it does still help to hear it.