Friday, 4 July 2008
The Monkees "Head" (1968) (Revised Review 2015)
On which the Monkees get a ‘head-start’ in the postmodern era and slam music, movies and even themselves…
Track Listing: Opening Ceremony*/ Porpoise Song/ Ditty Diego-War Chant/ Circle Sky/ Supplicio*/ Can You Dig It?/Gravy*//Superstitious*/ As We Go Along/ Dandruff?*/ Daddy’s Song/ Poll*/ Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?/ Swami – Plus Strings (Ken Thorne) etc* (
UK and tracklisting. * = Dialogue from the film or non-Monkees music) US
There I was trying to write a piece on the marvellous wonders of modern architecture made for the people for the Lord Mayor of Moldova - one of the largest arch-type bridges in the world - (Can you dig it? And did I really have to write it all again?) when the thud-thud of paws on typewriters got interrupted by a dog in a top hat. It turns out that he had been driven so mad by trying to understand a bonkers Monkees LP that he had wondered over to my parallel universe to take a running leap off my bridge. He was followed by a string of porpoises chanting 'goodbye', a harem of Arabian girls, a boxer, a Green Bay Packer American Footballer, a policeman, Victor Mature's dandruff, an Indian mystic in a shower robe, a giant soft drinks machine that didn't seem to be working and the contents of a giant vacuum cleaner. It all seemed a long way from 'I'm A Believer' and 'Last Train To Clarksville' but it looked like fun so I put down my typewriter and joined in. And fun it was, an extraordinary scene even to those who cannot understand, filled with mind-bending concepts that pushed my understanding of the universe to the limits and showed me all the extra dimensions to life I had never noticed before. But the trouble with these reviews, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want and find yourself trapped by the single-layered structure of everything else you ever write: the feeling of 'let's all lose our minds'. Was it all supernatural baloney? Was living really all a lie? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I did find out one thing: I'm now trapped inside a black box that won't be prized open no matter how hard I try to think, fight, love and negotiate my way out. The years have passed and so very nearly have I and I still haven't got the heart of the many multiple million truths in this work yet (why should I speak? Since I know nothing?) It looks as though I shall have to find some other bridge to jump off, alongside the dog and the four Monkees, freed forever of who I used to be and what I was limited to being. At least for a moment. At least until I awake in another life and end up back in the box again.
Well, everybody's where they wanna be I guess. Howza bout some more steam?
'Head' is not like other Monkee projects. Heck it's not like any other project ever made by anyone anywhere. It's a film 'about' the characters in the Monkees TV series growing into much more lifelike characters than they would ever have been allowed to be, their imaginations allowed to reign unedited and uncensored as they outgrow their origins and destroy the formula that created the industry that created them in the most devastating way possible. The film is gloriously anarchic and inventive and has rightly become seen as one of the great unseen gems of the 1960s, which flopped badly on first release. Similarly the 'Head' film soundtrack - the first Monkees record to miss the top hundred on the back of five straight top three releases - was ignored at the time but has been since been greeted by fans as the unsung hero of their back catalogue. It's a similarly but differently unwieldy beast this album, one with multiple 'Heads' that plays around with the music and soundtrack of the film and turns it into a very different experience. It still begins and ends with the poised poignancy of 'Porpoise Song', contains the five 'actual' songs from the film plus one Micky-take in-between, and a fair amount of the dialogue from the film, all jumbled up in a very different order. It makes total sense - and no sense, simultaneously; impossible to follow without the film - and arguably with it too. But given that the film was all about extending our idea of who The Monkees were and pushing them past their limits it was essential that this record, too, maintained the anarchic adventurousness and free-wheeling spirit which it very much, containing some of the band's deepest, greatest, loveliest songs (in between discussions of supernatural baloney and glasses of cold gravy with a hair in it, please).
The film was perhaps too far for most Monkee fans to go - but then there weren't that many Monkee fans around by 1968 anyway, with the rule-breaking of 'Head' making much more sense when you realise who wrote it and why. When Screen Gems commissioned it in early 1967 a Monkee movie seemed like a no-brainer: the band had the biggest hit TV programme in years, appealed to a mightily wide demographic for a 'teenage' show and rock and roll films were big back then. Chances are none of the high-up 'Head' honchos ever gave a thought to the fact that the band either wouldn't simply make a fuller version of one of their TV episodes or that the teeny-boppers wouldn't watch it. They probably thought they were being extra-careful, in fact, assigning only a medium budget to the project and persuading as much of the staff who'd worked on the TV series as possible to still be involved. However The Monkees' fall from grace across the next eighteen months was spectacular: few acts have ever gone from 'hero' to zero' at such speed. The film could and perhaps should have been cancelled - but the wheels of bureaucracy worked a million times smaller than the pop scene of who was in and who was out and so Monkee creator Bob Rafelson faced having to make a film that he was contractually obliged to make, for an audience that almost completely would never go to see it. A lesser band would have decided to simply re-make their hit TV series anyway and bring people that way (while being crucified for still doing something 'the same' that wasn't working - the fate of almost every TV spin-off since time immemorial - or the invention of the cathode ray tube at any rate). But The Monkees weren't a lesser band. If this was going to be some grand last statement (it was of sorts, the last album if not quite the last project to feature all four Monkees) then the band were adamant it was going to be one hell of a last statement, made for people to look back on a half-century later when all the fuss about The Monkees being a 'real' band had died out and the world could better understand what the greatest multi-media experiment of the 20th century was 'really' about. As Mike Nesmith put it years later, making a film so far-out it was in (despite flying way above the 'heads' of most of the people who saw it, without even being advertised with The Monkees' name) was 'the only thing we could have done that wouldn't have been awful'.
With the budget already assigned and no way of getting out of the contract, it was agreed that the new film would not only agree that The Monkees were 'manufactured' but why, creating a surreal ‘expose’ of the group that in a postmodern way would explore the facade of the band, of music, of television and the 60s in general. To their undying credit, all four Monkees set about this project with varying degrees of glee, enjoying the chance to break free form the confines of their TV series’ characters and create the kind of subversive, formless experiment on film that they had begun to create in the music studios. Micky, Mike, Davy and Peter camped for a week in Hawaii with Bob and his new but as yet inexperienced friend Jack Nicholson (who still rates this film as the best thing he was ever involved with), each chipping in ideas for the surreal scenes that take place in the film and squabbling over what form it should take; with four very different creative artists involved, the only thing they could agree on was that the film absolutely shouldn’t be a 90 minute condensed version of what they had already done. So Head is a combination and indeed a spoof of several genre films, just like the caricatures of other programmes presented on the TV series every week but much bleaker and far more pacy: pop art, horror, beach movie, silent movies, documentaries, sport features, films about explorers, commercials about dandruff, you name it, it’s all in there somewhere. The programme appears to be as free-wheeling as The Beatles' 'Magical Mystery Tour' so fans of both groups will have known what to expect - except that it isn't. 'Head' is a lot darker than MM Tour. Though both projects take the mundane and make it magical (The Beatles took a boring couch trip and added magicians, while The Monkees take on every genre they'd ever parodied all at once) 'MM Tour' has a benevolent genie in charge making everything come out right, bar a surreal 'I Am The Walrus' soundscape and Aunt Jessie being over-fed with spaghetti. 'Head' is a project about doors being shut, of being forever trapped in big black boxes, of the restrictions of fiction as The Monkees swap one backdrop for another and prove that all of them - including 'real life' - is 'one big fake' and which begins and ends with the band's own suicide (does it, in fact, take place inside Micky's brain as his consciousness ebbs away? Lots lots lots more of this sort of thing in our 'Monkee Film Section' coming soon!)
This is a far more adult take on the TV show, where there aren't really any villains and everybody (Monkees included) is deeply flawed, a movie that cares little for the audience and a lot about getting to the 'truth' as the band see it. (The film’s creators famously spent the film’s allocated advertising budget on some of the weirdest press any film ever got in its life. The Monkees aren’t even mentioned at all in a good half of the press adverts for the project and the main TV commercial used to promote the film simply had a Colgems advertising department employee named Jack Brockman staring at the screen silently for a minute before mouthing the word ‘Head’ – nobody in America was even told this mysterious advert was for a film (that’s his ‘head’ pictured on the CD if you own the 1990s CD release).
By extension, the soundtrack has to be equally tough and uncompromising - and it is. 'Head' may be the shortest Monkees LP by the time you take out all the song dialogue and repeats (a full three minutes of 'Porpoise Song' all over again) but it's also the band's most consistent LP. All of the five songs and the 'bonus track' daft ditty are career highlights, more or less equally split between the band and thus making this the best Monkee 'sampler' record of what each of the band were capable of. It's also as wild, eclectic and challenging as the film, equally wild, continuing the wide range of styles the group had been exploring on their last few LPs: epic ballads, muted ballads, blistering garage rock, brassy music hall and even a comedy spoof where the Monkees gleefully tear to shreds all of the images they had worked so hard to build up (The lyrics to Ditty Diego are far harsher than anything even the most sneering of music critics ever said about the group – the fact that its word are written by the show’s co-creator Rafelson says much about the dual feelings of courage and confusion that run through this troubled groups history). The songs themselves only make up seven of the soundtrack’s 14 songs (six if you discount the second identical version of Porpoise Song) so it goes without saying that they’d have to be a pretty special bunch to make it through the critical over-seeing eye of this website. Thankfully every song is a gem. Porpoise Song and As We Go Along are both majestic Carole King ballads sung exquisitely by Micky Dolenz, some of the most complex and multi-layered productions the Monkees ever made. Can You Dig It? and Long Title are two glorious Peter Tork rockers, recorded with a basic non-Monkees line-up that also features some of the trickiest parts of any Monkees performances and Tork’s two best lyrics, full of witty dry humour and deep-thinking philosophy. Mike Nesmith, seeing what his band-mates are doing, characteristically goes the other way and instead of his usual surreal poetry and complex tunes gives us surreal poetry with the band’s most basic, rocking riff on Circle Sky. Finally, Davy Jones gives us a typically nasty but nice Harry Nilsson composition with the jaunty Daddy’s Song, having a whale (porpoise?) of a time on the vocal in the process. Davy dances, Peter prances, Micky croons and Mike rocks, but unlike other Monkees records that struggle to take in all aspects of the eclectic Monkees sound it makes perfect sense that 'Head' should go in so many different directions - all at once. Peter and Mike write some of their best material, Davy finally gets a 'deeper' song that still fits snugly with his natural personality and Micky gets two of the greatest songs ever written. Moreover the subject matters such as death ('Porpoise Song'), karma ('Circle Sky') and parental absence ('Daddy's Song') aren't subjects that would fitted comfortably on any earlier LP (though you can hear a little of these subject matters in the album's predecessor 'Birds, Bees and Monkees', mainly courtesy of Mike's songs, they didn't really fit there either).
Though these tracks would have been the basis of a fine ordinary album, they all suit the film soundtrack’s bitty and far-reaching nature very well (having been one of the first projects to be split between the sound and the visuals, everyone involved in The Monkees' project has an instinctive understanding of the inherent differences between the two). One minute the Monkees are interrupting a Mayor’s ceremony by inconveniently jumping off the bridge he’s about to open – the next they are fighting over a girl who is kissing each Monkee in turn and making them jealous, breaking up the group ‘ethos’ of the band along the way by presenting them as individuals. Full of soundtrack chatter and bizarre sound effects, the album splices up the material in quite a different order to the film – not that the order of Head ever made much sense in the first place (when this film had its first, very limited viewing in tiny art cinemas dotted around America, nobody seemed to notice that a careless employee had labelled the film-reels of Head the wrong way round and the audiences in fact saw the middle and end of the film before the beginning!) Some of these juxtapositions are actually quite funny (for example, cameo guest star Frank Zappa telling Davy after the performance of Daddy’s Song ‘that song was pretty white’ and Nesmith, after telling his friends that he hates surprise birthday parties, that ‘the same thing goes for Christmas!’ while two of the most telling lines from very different places in the movie - 'Are you telling me you can't see the connection between Government and laughing at people?' and 'Let me tell you one thing song - don't ever lend money to a man with a sense of humour!') However, there's an important difference between 'Head' the album and 'Head' the film (apart from the fact that what you see when you play the album only happens in your mind, anyway): the movie I could watch all day (and often have), while coming away with something a little extra from it each time. The soundtrack album, though, is a very different beast: though it's useful to hear once as evidence of how cleverly everybody managed to turn it into such a different experience it's not really something made for repeated listening. In fact, listen to Head enough times and you’re guaranteed a ‘Head-ache’ from all that annoying soundtrack speech - so if you like these songs enough and have just inherited a fortune from your elderly and rich Auntie Grizelda, your best bet is to buy either of the inter-changeable Monkees box sets Listen To The Band or Music Box where all the songs are intact but all the soundtrack periphery has been cut out for you. Alternately, do what I once did: tape the songs onto a 20-minute cassette, add some of the more interesting oddities from the Missing Link sets for the 'other' side and top and tail your set off with some rare mixes from the DVD soundtrack. In this way, Head sounds less like an admirable experiment you want to own but never want to play and more like an album you’ll always love and treasure.
Don't get me wrong though - 'Head' is a terrific project in any form and I cannot recommend it strongly enough for adventurous Monkees fans with open ears who are as monkeynuts as I am. If ever an album on this list was born to be ridiculed at the time and re-evaluated as an all-time classic 40 years later, Head is it, by far the bravest project the Monkees ever made in their short life-span and a testament to the genuine creative powers involved (you can’t see other ‘manufactured’ pre-teen bands like The Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits making this film somehow). Head the album also stands, erm, head and shoulders above most tacky film tie-in soundtracks and with its classy songs, rip-roaring performances and clever links it may be the best, if shortest, Monkees collection of the lot. Even if the film can only really be enjoyed by surreal-thinking avid Monkees monkeynuts like me (and the half-a-dozen or so other people out there who ‘get’ this film...surely there must be some more of you out there somewhere?!), the soundtrack has enough of that old Monkee magic to satisfy old faithful fans too and contains some of the best music this under-rated band ever produced. No I'm not surprised the thing failed to chart (few people saw the film to begin with and the few who sat it out to the end wanted a souvenir of it!) - but equally I'm not surprised that to less time-constrained Monkee fans, who in the 1980s and 1990 especially couldn't move for cheap manufactured bands who didn't play their own instruments but had the audacity to be proud of it without even a TV series as an excuse, it's the band at their very best. 'Head' is exactly the sort of album we love on our site: a record that never got its just desserts the first time round but which has aged far better than many of the better-known hits, which manages that rare knack of being brave yet beautiful, while being complex enough to get lost in without soaring completely over your 'head'.
The title by the way could mean many things and - like a good third of the scenes in the film - was only decided on at the very last minute. Originally titled Untitled, the project then became known as Changes, the eventual title of the Monkees’ last record from 1970 (an under-rated return to bubble-gum, it’s actually Head’s polar opposite!) and inspired an originally unreleased Davy Jones song intended for the film soundtrack that is among his best efforts (see Missing Links Two). Head is a fitting name for the film, though, being a bit of a ‘trip’ that like all good 1960s hallucogens were meant to do something strange to your brain; it also represents the ‘peak’ (or ‘head’) of the Monkees’ artistic story when they truly were art-rock pioneers; the whole film could also be seen as a hallucination going on in Micky’s head, when his life flashes before his eyes while symbolically drowning in the film’s opening scene; a later section then has The Monkees performing a commercial as dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair before being swallowed by a vacuum cleaner (don’t ask!); and last but not necessarily least the original album acted as a mirror to reflect the purchaser’s head as if to say ‘we all have these feelings left unspoken inside our own minds.’ Nice one guys, now I can listen to music while I’m brushing my hair. A mirror with the words ‘Head’ written on it to reflect the listener’s own ‘head’! Made out of the heavy metallic element mylar, it all but wrecked the American pressing plants and the record company employees had to feed the sheets through individually by hand, so at least someone was pleased that this album sold so few copies and never had to be re-printed! The Monkees, meanwhile, got into even deeper trouble with their increasingly bemused record company for coming up with the idea. Somehow owning the otherwise perfect CD re-issue of Head - released by Rhino with silvery-gray tinged paper replicating the original record - isn’t a patch on owning the original thing, where you could comb your hair while listening to and looking at your Head.
A quick one too before we move on to the songs proper. The album may have only six tracks proper, but alternate takes exist of nearly all of these: a single mix of Porpoise Song with a near-minutes worth of an instrumental coda with added porpoise effects tacked on after the main song (see The Monkees’ Greatest Hits, 2002 or the Listen To The Band box-set), two alternate versions of Circle Sky - one a live version taken from the soundtrack of the film (available on the Head CD re-issue) and a very different mix of the studio version with Nesmith’s vocals now loud and proud instead of ducked in the mix (heard on Greatest Hits’ bonus out-takes CD and Missing Links Three, 1996), a version of Can You Dig It? with Peter on vocals rather than Micky (Head CD re-issue), a version of Daddy’s Song with Mike on vocals not Davy, similar in style to his earlier ‘roaring 20s’ tribute Magnolia Sims (Head CD re-issue) plus countless alternate mixes heard only in the film (Porpoise Song is faster and a semitone or two higher, Circle Sky has a longer edit of the live version mentioned above, Can You Dig It? is faster, has a fractionally longer opening instrumental and the backing harmonies are more prominent in the mix, As We Go Along has a longer beginning and end section, Daddy’s Song has an alternate last verse sung by Davy in a much more sad and mournful way than on the album, Long Title has a full ending faded down for record release and there is also a short burst of three of the Monkees singing Happy Birthday to Mike in a cross between Tibetan Monks and hammer horror monsters). Finally, you can also hear a limp re-recording of Circle Sky as the opening track of the disappointing 1997 Monkees re-union album JustUs. Many of these alternate versions (all except the last one in fact) can be found on the three-CD Rhino deluxe set of 'Head' - released after this article was originally written - along with session outtakes galore (some great, some pointless), a cornucopia of alternate mixes, the full mini-concert from which 'Circle Sky' was excerpted and an hour long radio interview where Davy Jones tries his hardest to sound as if he really knows what the film is all about and almost convinces himself he knows by the end. Coming in at somewhere around four hours, it's not a bad extension for an album which in its original format with repeats and film dialogue removed lasts just shy of twenty minutes!
The album’s ‘theme’ Porpoise Song - not that the film’s tie-in single had a hope of promoting the film in the usual manner - is an epic ballad from Goffin and King that’s one of the slowest songs the Monkees ever produced – thankfully, it’s one of the most beautiful as well. The song doesn’t sound like a Monkees song at all at first, given its grandiose production, heavy classical string arrangement and multi-layered symbol-filled lyrics and show that songwriters Goffin and King had grown in tandem with the group (they’d also written earlier songs for the band such as Sometime In The Morning and – with Mike Nesmith – Sweet Young Thing). Whilst the title of the song is confusing (the porpoises that ‘wave goodbye’ to us are surely the Monkees waving goodbye to themselves – but the connection to the porpoise remains unclear; there aren’t any featured in the film at all), that’s still nothing compared to the rest of the lyrics that seem to deal with the theme of how we perceive things. Updating Shades Of Gray, this song pits childhood innocence against growing up – a very apt metaphor for the film’s story of the four Monkees suddenly hit by the ugly reality unseen by their television characters – with an understandable world of ‘castles and kings and things that go’ gradually becoming more confused as the song goes on. There’s even a possible reference to Micky’s own childhood in the line about ‘riding the backs of giraffes for laugh’s alright for a while’ – a line the singer says may well have been inspired by his first main acting role as the lead in the TV series Circus Boy, aged 10. The song is then rounded up with its classic closing line: ‘wanting to feel, to know what is real, living is a lie’, sentiments that match the film’s themes of mis-communication, fighting against one-dimensional labelling and plot devices and a growing feeling that what truth there is in society is being hidden from us (Despite having said earlier that the film deliberately jumps around randomly as if to escape any ‘labelling’ by the viewer, its surely more than a coincidence that minutes after this track we cut to some real documentary footage of a Vietnamese prisoner of war being shot in the head (the first time ever that any real footage of a ‘death’ on camera was used for ‘art’ rather than documentary purposes, a fact often forgotten in the Monkees’ history) mixed into some random TV channel-hopping of cartoons, commercials and black-and-white B-movies. How fitting that the Monkees – TV characters who used their own names but only a vague approximation of their characters on-screen - should end their artistic career by kicking off a debate about the thin line between reality and fiction on TV that carries on in the ‘fake’, re-edited documentaries and so-called reality-TV programmes of today where ‘contestants’ have often worked out what will win them votes well in advance of going on air). With all this Monkees-related imagery its hard not to shed a tear at that glorious long fade-out with Micky and Davy wishing us ‘goodbye’ in a rare occasion of group harmony and the song’s slow stately march really does make it sound like a funeral. So slow is the song, incidentally, that it still sounds ‘normal’ when played back at the wrong speed on your turntable (try it at 45rpm) as I discovered by accident the other day (Hey!Hey! It’s the Chipmonkees!)
Ditty Diego-War Chant isn’t strictly a song, but this piece of witty self-criticism does include a piano accompaniment from Michael Rubini and is notable for being the only time all four Monkees were ever in the studio at the same time following the Pisces Aquarius sessions right up until their JustUs reunion album of 1997. With a catchy jingle-type tune and a speeded-up and slowed-down tape that is obviously meant to re-capture the zaniness and spontaneity of the TV series, the Monkees both comment on the non-plot of the film (‘for those who look for meanings and form as they do fact, we might tell you one thing but we’d only take it back’) and their own manufactured beginnings (‘the money’s in, we’re made of tin, we’re here to give you more!’) Slightly too nasty for its own good, this piece of music is a bit of un-necessary frivolity on the album but works well in the film, where it accompanies a series of film-clips that haven’t been seen in the movie yet (thus breaking any suspense Head might give you and implying that the ‘plot’ is of no importance!) Micky’s intended second verse ‘mix it all together, pictures sounds and songs, in time and place and weather, and even rights and wrongs’ was cut from the film and the soundtrack album (he was given Peter’s second lines instead for some reason), but can be heard from the recording session extract on the Head CD re-issue. The session tapes - a whole 22 minutes' worth - have since been released on the 'deluxe' Rhino box set version of the album (a 'highlights' edit also appears on a mid-90s CD re-release) and reveal a few changes: Micky had a whole verse cut from the final product ('To mix it all together, pictures sounds and songs, time and place and weather, and even rights and wrongs', heard between Peter's and Davy's verses), Peter kept getting his lines wrong ('We don't like to dance Peter - we like to sing!' quips Mike) and there's an aborted attempt to get all four Monkees to sing all ten verses in unison.
The studio version of Nesmith’s Circle Sky is up next (the live version you can see in the film and hear as a bonus track on the CD re-issue) and features some typically surreal lyrics narrated over a quickstep guitar riff that’s among The Monkees’ heaviest. Unusually for Nesmith, the wordy surreal lyrics really are meant to be nonsense rather than some cryptic code that calls out to be un-ravelled and as a result are some of the most hurriedly slap-dash of his career (‘Hamilton smiling down’, for instance, refers to the manufacturer of the sheet-music stand Nesmith was using at the time). Perhaps realising this, Nesmith’s vocal is dunked extremely low in the mix so that you can’t hear it properly, despite the fact that Mike is screaming the words out in an uncharacteristically hoarse yell (you can hear them better on the Missing Links Three re-mix of this song). What you do get, however, is a classic guitar riff married to some tight ensemble playing from the band’s usual bunch of studio musicians which makes for one of the Monkees’ tastiest rockers. The lyrics also contain a very interesting middle eight (see ‘key lyrics’ above beginning ‘it’s a very extraordinary scene…’) that harks back to the film’s theme of lies and deception, hilariously spoofing Vietnam documentary footage on-screen (the world’s first ‘televised’ war?!) by interspersing real footage with a cartoon chicken shooting a gun. Written specifically as something simple for The Monkees to perform, the fact that the group version got replaced by an earlier Nesmith studio re-recording created a lot of bad feelings within the group (although who approved the re-placement is unknown, seeing as Nesmith has gone on record as saying he wanted the live version out himself) and both versions are equally good in different ways; the live version builds up the drama from its rough in-your-face recording and the studio from the layers of guitars and percussion built up gradually over the course of the song. The Monkees finally recorded their own studio version of Circle Sky for their blooming awful 1997 re-union album JustUs, the only Monkees song they did re-record for the project, but it’s not a patch on either original version of this track.
A quick sound-bite later from a voiceover artist telling us Micky’s real name (‘George Michael Dolenz’ – he became known as Micky because his dad was called George and it got confusing at home!) and then Peter Tork’s Can You Dig It? takes us back into the album’s theme of how society is governed by change and can never stand still. The song sounds like a perfect fit for the film’s working title of Changes, but its actually an old song of Peter’s that was developed over a period of years, with the tune started in Tork’s pre-Monkees college days, the chorus and title in a Monkees dressing room during one of their early tours and the rest polished off for this album. The lyrics at first appear to praise change, almost defending the film in the way they tell us how those who ‘scorn’ changing times and remain teen idols must always ‘die’ when their audience grows up, but alters tack partway through to ‘sing the praise’ of stability ‘with every single breath’. A song that touches on eastern philosophy, both in its wise lyrics about the ‘balance’ of life and in its oriental guitar-phrases, Can You Dig It? is one of the better songs on the album with a guitar solo from Monkees regular Lance Wakely one of the fastest, most exciting and downright impressive solos in the whole of the Monkees’ canon. Fittingly, the backing track is as restless and ever-changing as the lyrics, bursting from one key and tempo to another, all held together by a fine bass riff and drumming from guest musician Dewey Martin (who had got bored of sessions next door with his own temper-tantrum-throwing group the Buffalo Springfield). Micky sings the song superbly with some help from his remarkably similar-sounding sister
Coco (although Peter’s original demo shows he could have
done it pretty well too).
As We Go Along is another Carole King song, this time written with Toni Stern, and is one of the most beautiful pieces she ever wrote. Like Porpoise Song it features another set of impenetrable lyrics and a tricky backing track (with the extremely rare time signature of 7/4) but is far less grandiose and more fragile and intimate than its close cousin. How Micky nailed such a strange, complex song and imbibed it with so much pathos I’ll never know but – even though it reportedly took an age to get right – the end effect is well worth it, with Micky’s gently romantic vocal a career-high even for his wondrous vocal talents. In contrast to the sequence this song accompanies in the film (a deliberately clichéd shot of each Monkee walking through America with a fictional ‘partner’ and representing each season between the foursome), As We Go Along is further proof that the Monkees were more than capable of recording the heavier material that Head laughs at the band for not being able to do. The song features two unusual guests: Carole King making a rare appearance on acoustic guitar for her own song and the second of three ex-Buffalo Springfielders on the album, Neil Young, whose shimmery electric guitar part is amongst the most subtle and impressive he ever played.
Daddy’s Song is the second of two Monkee Harry Nilsson efforts - out of around a dozen he either demoed or part-recorded with the band - but even though this song dates before Nilsson’s uneasy flirtation with fame, it includes one of his favourite musical devices. A typically happy sounding tune and upbeat arrangement make us think the song is jolly, but the words are actually quite heartbreaking – the narrator is remembering his dead or departed father and hoping that he will not have to leave his own children the isolated, lonely figure that he has now become. The version on the album loses the more moving, slower tag of the song as heard in the film - re-recorded by Davy live straight after his frenetic dance - which makes the sadness of the song much clearer (‘The years have passed and so have I’). Not to mention some breathtaking choreography where Davy and future star Toni Basil (remember her #2 song Micky? Yeah, sorry, that’ll go round my head for hours too now…) dance in black and white and white and black which then mixes the whole caboodle together so that it flashes before your eyes and gives you a migraine (or yet another HEAD-ache). Surprisingly the song was picked out not by Davy, whose brassy tones fit it well, but by Mike and an early recording was indeed made with the wool-hatted one on lead.
Long Title features Peter playing alongside his old friend, fellow Monkee auditionee and this album’s third Buffalo Springfielder Stephen Stills. Both guitarists (Tork plays the lower, more rhythmic acoustic) work together really well on this track, shadow-boxing each other throughout the song, while their restless energy matches the lyric’s why-am-I-stuck-here-doing-this-when-there-are-so-many-other-great-things-I-could-be-doing-vibe well. Another of Peter’s rollicking songs about illusion, boredom and the song’s creator being generally fed-up with the whole Monkees concept, it fits the film’s de-construction destruction of the band’s image perfectly, whilst underlining what a great creative team the Monkees could have been if they’d been able to go their own way more from the beginning. Unsurprisingly given his heartfelt vocal on this fed-up song, this is the last 60s Monkee track to feature Peter in any form, but he would go on to make another TV special with the band and various neglected rock and roll legends straight after Head (33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee: this project is really just a lesser man’s Head, featuring the same anti-Monkee anti-music anti-everything rant, although it has some great ideas that explore in more detail the idea of the Monkees’ ‘evolution’ into proper-thinking musicians (cue lots of Darwin references and shots of monkey-suits), using the band as a metaphor for rock and roll music in general (cue lots of 50s rock and roll stars looking almost as embarrassed as the group themselves). Still, despite Micky’s rude comments and 40 minutes of giggling on the commentary added to the DVD release (you can find this special as a ‘bonus’ extra on the Monkees’ second season DVD set) 33 and 1/3 might have been a superb show if production hadn’t been hit by production strikes, disinterest, weird costumes, terrible dancing, a TV slot that put it head to head with an Oscar ceremony, the use of some notably bored-looking extras and an offkey Julie Driscoll).
And that’s your lot. The whole record and film concept sounds to me as if The Monkees were saying ‘We’re never going to be cool again this decade, but we don’t want to be dismissed forever, so we’ll make a really complex album that won’t sell and our teenybopper fans will hate, which will get us so much kudos from fans in the year 2008 that aren’t even born yet that we’ll be hailed as musical geniuses!’ Well if that was the thought behind it, my friends, then you succeeded. This record is sounding better all the time and despite its weirdness and uncompromising cynicism it makes a little more sense every day. With some of the band’s greatest music sandwiched against some of the most bizarre tracks ever released on vinyl, it’s a fascinating and pioneeringly honest account of the Monkees at the end of one of the busiest and most productive short careers in rock’s long history.
That article was pretty white, even though the album was grey. And I'll tell you something else too - the same thing goes for 'The Beatles White Album'.