Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

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"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"
Single by Monty Python
from the album Monty Python's Life of Brian
Released 1991
Format 7" Single, Cassette Single, CD Single
Recorded 1979 - Friar Park Studio, Henley-On-Thames
Genre Comedy music
Length 3:33
Label Virgin Records
Writer(s) Eric Idle
Monty Python singles chronology
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" / "Brian"
(1988)
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"
(1991)
"Galaxy Song"
(1991)

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is a comedy song written by Monty Python member Eric Idle that was first featured in the film Monty Python's Life of Brian and has gone on to become a common singalong at public events such as football matches as well as funerals.[1][2]

History[edit]

Whilst trying to come up with a way of ending the film Monty Python's Life of Brian, Eric Idle wrote an original version of the song which was sung in a more straight fashion, which the other Python members eventually agreed would be good enough for the end of the film. However, Michael Palin noted in his diary for 16 June 1978 that during a script meeting, "Eric's two songs — 'Otto' and the 'Look on the Bright Side' crucifixion song — are rather coolly received before lunch."[3] Despite being initially underwhelmed, the group warmed to Idle's efforts and the song was retained. While practising during a break in filming, Idle found that it worked better if sung in a more cheeky manner. This new version was used in the film and became one of Monty Python's most famous compositions.

At the relevant point in the film, Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman) has been sentenced to death by crucifixion for his part in a kidnap plot. After a succession of apparent rescue opportunities all come to nothing, a character on a nearby cross (played by Eric Idle) attempts to cheer him up by singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". As the song progresses, many of the other crucifixion victims (140 in all, according to the script, though twenty-three crosses are actually seen on screen) begin to dance in a very restricted way and join in with the song's whistled hook.[4] The song continues as the scene changes to a long-shot of the crosses and the credits begin to roll. An instrumental version plays over the second half of the credits.

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was conceived as a parody of the style of song often featured in Disney films. It may be considered an answer song to the entire genre, but particularly to songs such as "Give a Little Whistle" from Pinocchio. Its appearance at the end of the film, when the central character seems certain to die, is deliberately ironic.

It was arranged and conducted by John Altman and recorded at Chappell's Studio with a full orchestra and the Fred Tomlinson Singers.

The song appeared on the film soundtrack album, listed as "Look on the Bright Side of Life (All Things Dull and Ugly)". The subtitle does not appear in the actual song, and is only used on the soundtrack album. "All Things Dull and Ugly" was also the title of an unrelated track on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (released only a few months later), which is a parody of the popular hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful".

The song was also released on the B-side of the single "Brian Song", the film's opening theme (performed by Sonia Jones).

The song touched a chord with the British trait of stoicism and the 'stiff upper lip' in the face of disaster, and became immensely popular. When the destroyer HMS Sheffield was struck by an Exocet cruise missile on 4 May 1982 in the Falklands War, her crew sang it while waiting to be rescued from their sinking ship, as did the crew of HMS Coventry.

When Chapman died on 4 October 1989, the five remaining Python members, as well as Chapman's close relations, came together at his private funeral to sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as part of Idle's eulogy. In 2005, a survey by Music Choice showed that it was the third most popular song Britons would like played at their funerals.[1]

Single[edit]

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" had been issued as a single as a double A-side with "Brian Song" on the film's release in 1979 and again in 1988 but failed to chart on both attempts.

The song became particularly popular in the early 1990s. The film had retained a cult status in the intervening years. Around 1990, the title refrain and hook (either whistled as in the original, or vocalised as 'da-dum, da-da da-da da-dum') began to gain currency as a football chant started by fans of Sheffield Wednesday. This came to the attention of BBC Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo, whose breakfast show had a track record of reviving old novelty songs. Mayo began playing the original version on his show, which led to Virgin re-issuing the track as a single in September 1991.

This single (which was backed with two tracks from Contractual Obligation, "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song on the Radio" and "I'm So Worried") also doubled up as promotion for the recently released compilation Monty Python Sings. (The original pressing also featured a German-language version of "The Lumberjack Song", though this was quickly withdrawn and is now a collector's item.) The single reached the top ten in October and prompted a deliberately chaotic performance by Idle on Top of the Pops. Despite some predictions, it did not manage to bring an end to Bryan Adams' unprecedented run at the top of the UK Singles Chart with "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You", instead peaking at number 3. However, the single did get to Number 1 in Ireland (Official Irish Record Industry Chart.IRMA), knocking Bryan Adams off the top spot there, on 17 October 1991. Considering that both "The Life of Brian" film had been banned in Ireland, and the soundtrack on Warners withdrawn when released after protests, this was a fitting triumph. Following this attention, the song became more popular than ever. Two cover versions, by Tenor Fly (incorporating the piano riff from Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares for Me"), and the cast of Coronation Street, both reached the charts in 1995.

Eric Idle recorded alternate lyrics for the radio version, with the swearing censored, and the comments about the end of the film replaced with references to the end of the record, and continued rants about old people. This version was released on CD, cassette and vinyl via the compilation album Now 20 in November 1991 and as a b-side on a reissue of "Galaxy Song" (where it is billed as '1991 version') in December. For this radio version, the line "Life's a piece of shit" was altered to "Life's a piece of spit". In recognition of Simon Mayo's contribution to making the record a hit, a special version was also created exclusively for him in which Idle addresses him by name. Mayo still uses this version when the song is played on his show.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"
  2. "I'm So Worried"
  3. "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song on the Radio"

Covers[edit]

Harry Nilsson performed "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as the closing track on his 1980 album, Flash Harry. In 1997, the song was recorded by Art Garfunkel and included in the soundtrack of James L. Brooks' film As Good as It Gets. Jack Nicholson sings the song fleetingly in the film itself with the minor addition of "your" in "brighter side of [your] life". Garfunkel's version replaced the risqué phrase "Life's a piece of shit" with the more family-friendly "Life's a counterfeit" ("Life is hit or miss" has also replaced the lyric as with wedding bands and live radio). The song has also been performed by Bruce Cockburn and released on his 1990 live CD.

The Brobdingnagian Bards recorded the song for their CD A Faire to Remember. American musician Emilie Autumn performed a harpsichord cover of the song for her compilation album A Bit o' This & That. Heavens Gate recorded a metal cover of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" for the album Hell for Sale!. Green Day has used it in their rendition of "Shout" on their concert DVD Bullet in a Bible.

German fun metal band JBO made a version of the song with changed lyrics ("Always Look on the Dark Side of Life") for their album Sex Sex Sex. German fun punk band Heiter bis Wolkig also made a version with changed lyrics called "Versuch's mal von der breiten Seite zu seh'n". The British duo Amateur Transplants made a parody version of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as well, with lyrics in which only the name and the chorus of the original song are retained. The song is paraphrased by rival supporters of British association football club West Bromwich Albion who sing the terrace chant "Always sh*t on a Tesco carrier bag".

In popular culture[edit]

The song appears twice in the Broadway musical Spamalot, based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail – once in Act II and again during the curtain call. It is one of two Monty Python songs in the musical not taken from the original movie, along with the "Finland" song; other songs were either from Holy Grail or were new creations.

The song is used at the end of Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy), the comedic oratorio written by Eric Idle and collaborator John Du Prez.

Charts[edit]

Chart (1981) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[5] 30
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[6] 32
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[7] 34
Chart (1991) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[8] 2
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[5] 35
Germany (Official German Charts)[9] 3
Ireland (IRMA)[10] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[11] 5
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[12] 3
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[13] 3

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Angels 'favourite funeral song'". BBC News. 10 March 2005. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "Baby boomers jazz up their funerals with Monty Python and fancy dress". UK Telegraph. 21 Nov 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Palin, Michael (2006). Diaries 1969–1979: The Python Years. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 473. 
  4. ^ "Monty Python: Life of Brian". Allmusic. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Ultratop.be – Monty Python – Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  6. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 3, 1981" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Monty Python – Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  8. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Monty Python – Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  9. ^ "Musicline.de – Monty Python Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  10. ^ "Search the Charts" (enter "Monty Python" into the "Search by Artist" box, then select "Search"). irishcharts.ie. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Monty Python – Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life". VG-lista. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  12. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Monty Python – Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Archive Chart: 1991-10-19" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved 24 August 2014.

External links[edit]