Monday, 16 May 2016

Oasis "Dig Out Your Soul" (2008) (Heavily Revised Review)





Oasis "Dig Out Your Soul" (2008)

Bag It Up/The Turning/Waiting For The Rapture/The Shock Of The Lightning/I'm Outta Time/(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady/Falling Down/To Be Where There's Life/Ain't Got Nothin'/The Nature Of Reality/Soldier On


'Whose to say that you were right and I was wrong? Come the day, come the night I'll be gone...soldier on' or 'I'm tired - come get me off the merry-go-round'

For once, dear readers, we actually reviewed an album when it was brand new, a review that we're going to leave here more or less complete because it's quite interesting to come back to it after a gap of seven years or so, without any sense of the big drama that was about to unfold. As one of our very earliest reviews, back when we weren't quite sure whether Alan's Album Archives was a lengthy guide to some of our bands or a short guide to all of it (before it became a lengthy guide to everything) the reviews came without reviews of specific tracks and weighed in a little short (this one wasn't originally long enough to even have its own number - it's '8A' because I'd already written a Hollies review that week). In other words, it sounded a little like every other review site out there and sounds a little too pithy for my tastes: in the land of one-paragraph reviews it's the detail man that's king, because the more you write the more you get right (even if you get more wrong. Or he's a boring dullard - which is up to you, but as you're still here reading I'll take that as a compliment that probably wasn't intended. Ta very much! This is after all what comes of not quite wanting to admit that you've just locked yourself into the daunting task of reviewing 500-odd albums across ten years: though this was always the ambition from the first review this was written more or less alongside the 101 'core' reviews which was taking long enough as it was and I needed a rest (funnily enough so did Oasis). Usually these early reviews can be easily reworked, because there's not much difference between reviewing an album that's thirty years old to one that's forty. But the new releases are a little different: so much we didn't know back then - or more likely so much I feared but didn't want to write. After 101 reviews of my favourite records (this project was meant to stop at that part, as a list of the 'best under-rated records you ought to own' but, err, the AAA got out of hand as you've probably already noticed), it also seemed strange writing about an album I didn't particularly like, I remember, although I rather relish the challenge now (and feel I can get away with it after writing so many glowing reviews so early on, so I could point my critics there to show 'I must be a true passionate monkeynuts fan, I'd even praised The Masterplan/Neil Young's Trans/Paul McCartney's Ram/John Lennon's Walls and Bridges/Insert rarity here' and was thus entitled to be rude occasionally. In retrospect I'm far too nice to this album, which ain't bad but, compared to the previous six, ain't that good either. So anyway here is my younger self in 2008, desperately hoping the rumours of Oasis' pending demise aren't true and that this album is a lull in a long career, rather than a closing whimper after a lifetime of big bangs, living in a world where the credit crunch is only just beginning to bite, where there's a chimpanzee named George in the White House and where Oasis are still - just about - holding on to their career, with the new of the split not arriving until a year later. I'll pick you up again at the end.

''Most reviewers of this new album—the band’s 7th studio CD in 14 years—have been decidedly unkind, more than they have been in a decade or more, dismissing this album as ’more of the same old stuff’ and as a CD that soaks up all you’ll ever want to know  in one hearing. Sadly, by Oasis’ high standards, the verdict is more or less right—but for the complete opposite of the reasons that are usually given. ‘Soul’ is something of a step backwards or at least sideways after the growing sophistication of ‘Heathen Chemistry’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’, but underneath its typical Oasis production sheen it’s actually quite an adventurous little album that tries valiantly to mover the Oasis sound away from crunching rockers and into trance-like dance numbers. The influences here aren’t compact singles by The Beatles and The Jam so much as the complex epics by the Stone Roses and loads of forgotten swirly psychedelic one-hit wonders, for better or for worse. And, like all Oasis albums from the third album onwards, it grows with every listen.

The reason most critics seem to be having field day kicking Oasis again isn’t the fault of this record so much as the timing of it. ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Morning Glory’ summed up their eras uncannily well and for his first few years in the limelight Noel Gallagher seemed to have an enviable magic touch about judging what his audience were thinking and feeling throughout the band’s earliest years. After skirting on the edges of critical acceptance for the second time around (2002’s Chemistry and 2005’s Truth both received reviews along the lines of ‘best Oasis album since the first two’), the most popular 1990s band discounting the Spice Girls (why oh why?!?) have hit another brick wall in terms of critical acceptance and this time its not really their fault. In this age of the credit crunch and pop idol wanna-bees it seems that guitar bands, sneery singers and songs this massive, epic and loud are out of fashion once again. Oasis have been here before— the long awaited ’Be Here Now’ (1997) came out literally days after Princess Diana’s funeral when the British psyche seemed to turn inward and reflective overnight and people wanted slow, primal ballads rather than overblown rock epics. Like that album, had Oasis released their latest magnum opus when they wanted to (ie July—Noel Gallgher reportedly told the record company to wait till October so that the group could watch England play in the world cup, little knowing they’d be knocked out at the qualifying stage) it would have fared so much better than it has done come the Autumn. A re-issue of Noel’s fine acoustic flip-sides or perhaps Oasis’ MTV Unplugged concert might have been a better bet for the current climate —but, uncannily like the mood of the nation nine years ago, this is an album ‘outta time’. By and large, Oasis haven’t done massive-sounding rock epics since 1997, but this time the band are better suited to the genre and the epics aren’t quite as overblown as before and the result is a brave if largely un-needed attempt to stretch their old sound once again.

Alas, while many of these songs do shine out after a handful of playings, too many of them sound the same on first hearing, something I don’t think I’ve ever had to say about any earlier Oasis album. Noel has talked a great deal in the album’s pre-publicity about how his songs all seemed to fit a ‘trance’ groove and how he encouraged his fellow Oasisians to see if they could write something similar. While an interesting idea on paper, the practical upshot of this is that the old Oasis energy has turned to lethargy for the most part, with many songs going on for far too long or simply sounding like a repeat of the track that was on before and you often don’t notice that the song has actually changed. Another nice and typically Oasis idea in principle— a soundbite from John Lennon’s last radio interview with Andy Peebles, broadcast on December 6th 1980 – doesn’t actually add that much to the song, mainly because the mix is so poor you can’t actually tell what Johnny Rhythm is saying (and when you do decipher it, Lennon’s speech about there being ‘hope while there’s life’ only four days before his death makes Liam’s sentiment about making every day count sound more hopeless than hopeful).

Liam’s songs have been progressing nicely throughout the last three albums and his contributions are once again the ‘sleepers’ on this album, the mournful ballads that grow on you after every listen. For a writer whose only had six previous songs to his credit, the three compositions here are all pretty impressive—though having said that, none are as good as Liam’s gems which were all undisputed highlights of the ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ album of 2005. Noel’s songs are, just as on that last album, caught halfway between sticking limply to an old Oasis sound and trying something brave and new. When they work, they work really well—and when they don’t, reach for the skip button. Noel seemed to lose his songwriter’s confidence badly around the millennium judging by his rather tentative work since (despite several characteristic interviews braggingly telling us what a genius he still is) and his writer’s block still hasn’t quite healed itself judging by his six songs here, which still appear to be feeling their way round to what they want to say, instead of going for the jugular in classic old Oasis style. Worryingly, Noel seems to have written all of his six songs in the space of two 24-hour writing sessions according to interviews, sandwiched in between picking Gem’s kids up from school—and sadly this time there’s no magical three-minute bursts of despair like ‘Little By Little’ or ‘Gas Panic!’ to raise the emotion of the album. Depressingly, too, guitarist Gem and bassist Andy Bell’s contributions contribute just one song apiece and frustratingly the line-up that seemed to have settled in nicely during the ‘Truth’ sessions was disrupted yet again, with drummer Zak Starkey already committed to working on another project (the band get by with Noel playing the drums on a few tracks—indeed, the most impressive thing about this whole album is that everyone except Liam seems to have suddenly become a multi-instrumentalist, all three playing bass, keyboards and guitar according to the credits). 

Some of the new ideas do work, however, and they work well. ’Shock Of The Lightning’ is classic Oasis, a stomping rocker which sounds traditional and adventurous all at once, although it could have done with a few more twists and turns to it to make it a true Oasis classic. ‘I’m Outta Time’ tries perhaps a bit too hard to tear at our heart-strings, but Oasis are masters at recording spine-tingling ballads and this song of Liam’s about trying to find out where you belong is an interesting close cousin to ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ and ‘Let There Be Love’. ‘Falling Down’ is an interesting Noel-sung foray into American psychedelia— the more paranoid, chaotic branch of the genre— coming complete with a Mellotron accompaniment and an urgent guitar riff. It sounds like The Zombies re-interpreting the ’Beatles Love’ version of Tomorrow Never Knows/ Within You Without You and is all the better for it! Gem’s ‘To Be Where There’s Life’ is another interesting ‘grower’ song, the most overtly psychedelic Oasis have been since the under-rated ‘Who Feels Love?’ single in 2000 and it’s a genre Oasis have always managed a pretty high strike-rate with and nice to hear again. Bassist Andy Bell even gets to show off his sitar playing for the first time on an Oasis track! Closer ‘Soldier On’ is another interesting experiment, this time from Liam again, somehow transforming itself from a ploddy rocker into a full blown epic about marching on over obstacles and not letting them get you down. Its not quite up to Liam’s severely under-rated ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ (from ’Heathen Chemistry’), but at least he’s ripping off his better compositions here instead of giving us ‘Songbird’ for the 11th time! It’s also the one track here you wish would run for another couple of verses, so that the band can build up a true head of steam instead of letting the groove slip away from them.

The rest of the album is mildly disappointing by comparison, simply because there’s not that much to get your teeth into, although there’s only actually one un-listenable track here—Noel’s ’Get Off Your High Horse, Lady’, which is basically Carl Perkins’ ’Hi-Heeled Sneakers’ sung through a loud of electronic voice distortion effects for four minutes — which still isn’t that bad a ratio for an 11-track album. Somehow, though, this is an album that sounds less than the sum of its parts, with even the best material average until you stick your CD player on ‘random’. A bad running order has been the downfall of many an Oasis album—sadly this one is especially poor, putting all of Noel’s songs at the beginning and the three most similar-sounding tracks as numbers one, two and three. The title ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ is also curious, showing up the faults of the album rather than its strengths—what we get are 18 slices of slow-burning grooves, with three rockers sandwiched in the middle, with even Noel’s guitar solos and Liam’s spurts of anger or defiance sounding somewhat muted in the mix, as if all the tracks have been white-washed to remove any sense of emotion, never mind soul. Ultimately, then, this isn’t the sort of album Oasis badly needed right now. It isn’t the album that’s going to recapture the band’s old audience and its not going to add many new converts to its list of fans, simply because it doesn’t have the power to move or get involved that all their other albums so far have done. What it does do though is add another couple of new directions for the Oasis sound to travel in — and make us wait hopefully that the next album might see real return to form.'

Hello again: it's now 2015, the Spice Girls have been gone fifteen years not five (yippee!), Obama is at the end of his career not the fresh faced youngster he was the last time I wrote about this album and David Cameron has gone from cuddly posh twit to pig-mating monster: only one of these developments is unpredictable. What I think I sensed if I remember rightly, but which doesn't seem to have appeared in my review, is how 'final' a lot of this album sounded. I would love to say that I had a great sixth sense that the band had come to the natural road and picked up on the obvious clues that now in retrospect seem strewn like confetti across the record. However I think I got most of the gist of what was happening from reading Oasis fansites, who were already exploding with rumours of backstage bust-ups and thrown satsumas even back then. I've been waiting the past seven years to see if we would ever get to the bottom of just why Oasis split up when they did and nobody seems to quite agree on what happened and why, although several long-term and short-term factors seem to have come to a head, with no 'Talk Tonight' style 'fan' to talk Noel out of quitting this time around. By 2009 the band were tired: their renaissance had tided over but had never quite matched the heights of their first career, while not quite every fan was as enamoured with Gem and Andy as Noel and Liam clearly were.

Though fans largely long for any line-up of Oasis nowadays, at the time there was still a lingering feeling that this line-up wasn't as good as the 'real' thing and seven years in that was becoming a bit of a grind. The single worst mistake Oasis made of the period was how they handled the circa -2003 row between Liam and drummer Alan White. The band needed every link to their old sound they could get and great as Zak Starkey is across 'Don't Believe The Truth' and moist of this album, he doesn't have quite the same range and power (though he's still blooming good:  in fact all four Oasis drummers, with Chris Sharrock arriving for the tour to promote this album though he's not actually on the record, are excellent choices). Even more than his abilities as a drummer, though, Whitey was a valuable buffer between the two brothers - a great musical ally to Noel and before some fight or other a great pal and drinking buddy with Liam. Junior members Gem and Andy, though they more than earned their stripes on the altar of broken eggshells and family counselling, hadn't been through as much shared experience and so could never get what it was 'really' like to be a rock and roll star of the first league. The brotherly feud between Liam and Noel, kept at bay through success hard work and achievement, was beginning to heat up as the band took longer between albums and found themselves a peg or two lower in the music scene whenever they put their heads over the parapet. Noel was irked at the way Liam turned up late for sessions, delayed his vocals and wouldn't sing with the band - the fact that Liam recorded both of his post-Oasis records in exactly this way in the blink of a (Beady) Eye suggests that the younger brother found it hard to work with the older one. Being in a band is hard work - being a band with a family member who knows you well doubly so, as the Davies brothers in the Kinks or the Knopflers in Dire Straits will tell you: it's very hard to showboat and act like you know everything when you're in the same room as someone who can dish the dirt on you. Until near the end the rivalry between the one who wrote the songs and got all the applause and adulation that way and the one who sang them and got the plaudits that way has been good for the band: Noel gets a whole new layer of meaning to his songs he'd never have got singing himself (what he lacks most with his High Flying Birds records - it's all too 'nice' and one-layered), while Liam gets to sing direct, without having to filter what his brother records and sees, representing a particular 'generation' that Noel can feel slightly detached from (the problem with the Beady Eye records, though less so: they don't have the same 'link' to their audience anymore, with Liam coping with shifting characters and backgrounds, something that rarely happened with Oasis). But nowadays Noel's songs are drying up and it's hard work balancing a connection with your old audience who have partly turned their back on you while staying true and 'real' to your credentials, the way that Oasis always vowed. Liam, too has started writing and though less prolific is, creatively, going toe to toe in this period, while Noel is writing more and more personal songs about family and the new love in his life - wife Sara - and more reluctant to hand them over to Liam.

A stewpot of tensions that had been simmering loudly for fifteen years came to a head backstage when Liam announced that he wanted a freebie advert for his clothing range 'Pretty Green' in the back of the band's latest tour brochure. It seems a fair request to me - it wasn't like it was on the front page and came with Liam's name attached, not the bands and if the assumption of getting one for free was a little cheeky, then isn't being cheeky what the Oasis ethos was all about? Liam was also suffering from laryngitis, a complaint he suffered from a lot during the Oasis years (probably as a result of giving his all in every take, every performance, every time - seriously there's never been even an outtake from 1994 onwards where Liam isn't at full throttle) which meant that his brother would have to do more singing: this was something the band could get round in 1996 (when Noel sang the MTV concert solo), but the songs were harder and the band less drilled than they had been. Noel, after several tense dark gigs where the band weren't playing well, seems to have been looking for an excuse to lash out and chose this one. Somewhere along the way a piece of fruit got thrown (a tangerine? A satsuma?) and in the time it took for it to connect with one or other Gallagher brother (though odds seem to be on Noel throwing it at Liam) and in retaliation a broken guitar (probably Noels') a seventeen year old musical journey came unpeeled. Oasis didn't have many gigs to play, with their last performance (unknown to the crowd at the time) suitably coming back home at Manchester on June 8th 2008; the fight occurred backstage at the V Festival on August 26th 2008, still a couple of months before this album's release (though no mention was ever made in the official publicity, the hope being that the pair could still patch things up).

In retrospect the split seems obvious - so obvious I can't believe I didn't pick it up (although part of me was, perhaps, in denial: most bands I follow split up long before I was born, with all albums from beginning to end already made: this journey was one I'd lived through in 'real' time and far more personal).It's mean and loud for a start, neatly bookending a career that was a lot more varied than critics ever gave the band credit for with a return to 'Definitely Maybe' style stomping. Only instead of pretty songs about how great life will be when the band 'make' it, the band sound weary and wondering when it will all stop. Usually the more Oasis want us to hear something, the more acoustic they'll make an album, with the more 'real' the inspiration the more likely that it will be played on acoustic guitar (the Wonderwalls, Cast No Shadows, Songbirds, and Sunday Morning Calls). This album is the only Oasis album not to have a single acoustic song and most of the lyrics are hard to hear, replaced not so much by a wall of noise as a sea of destruction, with everything thrown at these arrangements a la 'Be Here Now' (a similar record made in similar trying circumstances).

It's there too in the lyrics: 'The freaks are rising up through the floor!' warns stinging opener 'Bag It Up', itself a kind of 'final' act, as if Oasis are being put away in a drawer somewhere. 'The Turning' longs for something different, after 'mining our dreams for the same old song'. 'I'm tired - come get me off the merry-go-round' pleads Noel on 'Waiting For The Rapture', a song about waiting for someone - anyone - to offer a way out of a prison and surely the nastiest sounding love song ever made. 'The Shock Of The Lightning' is about inspiration and as such is an obvious candidate for most oasis moment, with a sudden surge of the old tightness, adrenalin and optimism. It remains, however, a song about trying to bottle something that's fleeting, as if admitting that most Oasis albums are hard work, perspiration more than inspiration (the fact that the song goes badly round in circles and starts blatantly nicking even more from The Beatles than usual only emphasises the point). 'I'm Outta Time' is surely the biggest clue on the record - a Liam-written ballad that sounds like a coda to 'Rock and Roll Star', about how much the band were going to say and do and how they only got time for some of it. The track even ends with an eerie extract from one of the last interviews John Lennon ever gave in December 1980, another great gone too soon. Liam tries to be brave and look to the future and accept the need to 'grow', but this doesn't sound like a positive song to me, more a lament for a great thing ending. 'Falling Down' is Noel's turn to lament the changing world, a scary psychedelic journey which sounds like the worst acid trip ever as something 'blows my mind' and he realises that 'it's time to kiss the world goodbye - falling around all that I've ever known'. Gem's 'To Be Where There's Life' tries to back away from the conflict, a reminder that life is what you make of it, but though it sounds as if it was written in the old happy-go-lucky style that's not how it's performed here with the biggest Liam sneer of the record and a bass riff that comes with boxing gloves: 'Days turn into nights, pray from the light, let me come through, let me take you way over the line...' Liam's spiky punk song 'Ain't Got Nothin' spits at naysayers and critics and maybe even his own brother as he admits that he's got nothing left and being 'set off like a fuse'. Trust Andy to play philosophiser and peacemaker but even 'The Nature Of Reality' (which sounds like every oasis riff ever stuck in a blender) is a career overview that's only half-pleased with itself, with Andy's narrator having seen 'heaven and hell' together. The album and the band's career (at least for the for-seeable future) then end with Liam's 'Soldier On', a track effectively condensed to just the two brothers (with Noel on drums) and lifted from a demo made early in the sessions and overdubbed with sound effects which captures the downhome beat of the mood in the room rather well. It seems inevitable somehow that the last song on an Oasis album (a career that started with the hope and glory of 'Supersonic' and 'Rock and Roll Star') should end with an argument: whose to say that I was right and you were wrong?' while Liam sadly urges the band to 'Soldier On', an argument that's drowned out little bit by little bit first by a Scottish clan bagpipes (a sign perhaps of family ties?) and a squeal of noise that obliterates everything in sight. It sounds, oddly enough, like a piece of fruit hovering in the air about to go splatt, although the final row wasn't until long after these sessions.  (In case you're wondering why it isn't here, worst-song-in-ten-years 'High Horse Lady' is, to borrow a Noel phrase, 'absolute nonsense').

But is this career finale any good? Well, it's heart is in the right place - in a neat reflection of The Beatles' 'Let It Be' everyone is doing everything for the right reasons, with more of a 'live' feel and a punch long missing from the last few albums, along  with a pretty nifty  collection of songs (oh yes it is: I'd take 'Let It Be' 'Two Of Us' 'The Long and Winding Road' 'Dig A Pony' and 'Don't Let Me Down' over everything on 'Abbey Road' not written by George Harrison). However the mood in the room is too sad for it to work: Liam hasn't got the chance to soar and he's too tired of the fight to sneer. Noel seems to have already moved on, saving his best songs of the period for himself (of his half a dozen songs only 'Lightning' and 'Falling' come close to old classics and he had at least three future classics available at these sessions: 'Record Machine', which really was recorded at these sessions whatever it says on the band's Wikipedia page, 'If I Had A Gun' and 'Everybody Is On The Run' (Noel has also claimed to have heard a 'good half' of the first Beady Eye record at the sessions, though that seems doubtful given that 9/10ths of it is about fighting back after the split). Returning to the production trickery of 'Be Here Now' while keeping the songs short and the mood focussed should have been the way to go after three straight of albums of paring things largely back to basics and I'd never say no to hearing Oasis go psychedelic, as they frequently do across this record. I even love the band's last and best 'weird' publicity attempt: handing out sheet music for four key album songs (the three future singles plus, bizarrely, 'Get Off Your High Horse Lady') to buskers up and down the country along with a donation to get the whole nation 'singing' like yesteryear when we were all going to live forever and the world was mad fer Oasis.

But this isn't an album you can see anyone singing along to. Despite or sometimes because of the wall of noise, Oasis records usually have big hearts and just enough of a big mind behind them to stand up to repeated playings (though the first two Oasis albums are immediate, the others all get better the more you hear them). But this album feels cold and detached: either the band aren't telling us what they really mean and hiding behind confusing words or production values (what is 'High Horse' on about?!) or they're going full throttle and punching bells out of each other and us for listening to it. 'Dig Out Your Soul' is an album that's always on the verge of feedback and collapse, holding together by fake politeness where everyone's a little too afraid of giving it their all (again very 'Let It Be'). Oasis were always a band of brothers - and not just the band members who were brothers - but here they're 'just' a band, playing their parts and longing to go home. The only crackle and fire on this record comes when Liam yells 'To Be Where There's Life' like the Dalai Lama in a punk band, when the band are in unison on 'Shock Of The Lightning' or 'Falling Down' when the sea of noise starts levitating of its own accord a la 'Champagne Supernova' or when Zak Starkey is taking out the pressure that's been dumped on him in a kick-the-drummer syndrome out on his kit (his solo on 'Lightning' full of pent up aggression after minutes of being too 'nice' is everything that's great about Oasis, played at the right time rather than just making noise at random - it's a shame there aren't more moments like that here). The lyrics are poor by Oasis standards, vague and wishy-washy without the sheer poetry of their best nonsense lyrics like 'Supernova' or the direct bluntness of 'Cigarettes and Alcohol'. They're no longer speaking for anyone on this record except themselves and they don't seem quite sure yet whether they really want to come right out and day what they think to each other. Like the record cover the band have tried to go for surreal and colourful and 'Sgt Peppers' style collage-style, but come off exaggerating everything, throwing random things together on the assumption it will work and looking a bit silly Irony of ironies, 'Dig Out Your Soul' has no soul, instead being a collection of half-assembled songs that nobody was interested or enthusiastic enough to fit together with a fine performance. It is, sadly, the weakest Oasis album, as over-blown as the worst of 'Be Here Now' together with the inconsistency of albums four to six.

For all that, though, it's a pretty strong album to have as your weakest moment. 'Lightning' goes downhill rapidly after it runs out of parlour tricks to show off but for the opening minute, with new reveal after new reveal, it really is like the Oasis magic of old. 'Waiting For The Rapture' has the stomp of 'Lord Don't Slow Me Down' with something to say and Noel beating Liam for once at the best sneer on the record. 'Falling Down' turns the intensity, sadness and paranoia of Noel's more recent compositions into the scariest psychedelic song Syd Barrett never wrote,  a world where every opening door of perception is something to be scared of and back away through, not walk through. 'To Be Where There's Life' might not be that much of a song but it's one hell of a riff and may well be Gem's best composition for the band. Finally 'Soldier On' is, unknowingly and unwittingly, the perfect ending, a bunch of soldiers going home after a war that's left them scared and bloodied and suffering from shell-shock but still going, marching into the brave unknown. Of the rest of the songs, nothing here is that bad (except, of course, 'High Horse'), just uninspired and a little tired. Now I don't agree with critics who said Oasis left at the right time - or even a decade too late. There's much to love from the under-rated second half of the band's career and I stand by my first review that claimed this record would be a fine stepping-stone for the next thing. The Beatles, after all, still did 'Abbey Road' and even if I don't think it's much cop other fans seem to: ending on a handshake rather than a satsuma would have been a much more 'grown-up' way of handling things. But Oasis have only recently been about growing up - perhaps the biggest frustration of this album is that the band have found a way to grow up at last that stayed compatible with what they'd always stood for without recycling it. A similarly psychedelic concept album about the tensions in the band, but played by one who means it in an atmosphere of harmony? Now that could have filled a garden full of soul...


[  ] 'Bag It Up' sounds like the band have got ants in their pants, with a restless urge to do..something sudden and violent that keeps being held in check, perhaps Noel sensing that a storm is brewing and wondering whether to be the first one to lash out. Most of this track is a song with the brakes on, centred around the same pinging guitar chord whine that gradually turns to feedback, with the only instrument to find release being Zak's drums, with sudden rat-a-tat bursts hinting at menace and power. It's an odd place for the record to start: not since 'F!ckin' In The Bushes' have we started with such an experiment that takes such licenses with the usual Oasis sound and only on the middle eight ('Somebody tell me I'm dreaming...') does Liam even sound like himself. Lyrically, knowing what we know now, this sounds like Noel going back and forth between whether to end the band right here, right now - nor not. He's sending a 'telegram' back to his missus with requests for an 'old piano' he needs to write and promises to meet at the end of a 'runway', which after so long on the road is as much his 'home' as anywhere now. But he's too tired and worn out to write a song that 'tells the world I loe them' in true Oasis style and Noel's not in a loving mood: he's been stuck on tour with 'the monkey man' (almost certainly his less than flattering description of his brother, sung with such mocking by Liam that he's almost certainly guessed this), caught between his terror that the 'freaks' he doesn't recognise anymore and who keep badgering him for songs ('Giants' was a record full of references like this) and a competitive spirit that wants 'more more more'. The only relief is a bag of 'heebeejebies' (probably Noel using the 'slang' term for the 'date-rape' drug GHB, despite having apparently stopped taking narcotics in the last century, although I'd rather like to think he's talking about a collection of Bee Gees records) that he wants to share to get 'higher' and forget his current predicament. However this is a song not about escapism but the nastier side of reality, with the song sounding like a fight to the death rather than a debate. I'm still not sure what I think of this track: I admire its power (this is one of the best band performances on the record), but the sneer seems too often to be aimed at 'us', the fans, something that the 'old' Noel would never do, while the attack on the rest of the band who put in so much effort making a slightly clumsy song work, seems a little cheap. Ah well, let's bag it up for later and move on to the next one.

[  ] 'The Turning' is the song that's grown on me most across seven years, although it is by Oasis standards so subtle and understated it's all too easy to overlook. This track too seems written for the fans, with Noel longing to give them a 'Messiah' to believe him while he goes off searching for a 'dream' and the song's narrator even spends most of the song looking out at the city trying to make some kind of psychic 'contact' with everybody. However the chorus is alien and angry again, as Liam screams on his brother's behalf for a 'rag doll' he can easily manipulate and take songs from (a 'Talk Tonight' if you will). Half vampire, half tribute, this song is confusing and turns from warm to ice-cold in an instant, with the usual Oasis wall of noise building blocks given jagged edges so that each of the many guitar parts is duelling with each other rather than working together. There's a cold aloofness at the core of this song which is alarming and very different to the usual Oasis sound and while it's an impressive sound (with Jay Darlington's mellotron the only thing keeping the performers together at times) it's not an altogether place to be. Six repeats of the chorus - four of them in a row at the end - is also pushing patience past breaking point, although the thirty second instrumental that ends the song (calming Noel down from his 'rapture' back to being a 'normal' human being via the rootsy chords of The Beatles' 'Dear Prudence') is rather beautiful surrounded by car alarms, broken dreams and a slight sense of panic.

Noel sings [  ] 'Waiting For The Rapture', a sign that he's either very close to a song or is singing a genre that Liam wouldn't normally do. Actually this long sneer is very much in Liam's song and Noel revealed later this was an early love song for wife Sara and how she 'saved' him from a life of repetitive cruelty. However this is no 'Wonderwall' or 'The Girl In The Dirty Shirt', Noel's last paeans to love back in his Meg Matthews days. This love isn't cute, or romantic, or pretty, or innocent: it's heavy, the way that John Lennon once claimed his love with Yoko Ono to be (on 'Abbey Road', the album that keeps cropping up on this review). Noel starts the first verse still waiting for his picture-book idea of love and almost misses what's happening when she 'reaches out her hand' before it hits him like a smackeroo blerdy (thanks Small Faces): love isn't cute, it's intense. The closest thing Noel has ever felt is the gnawing clanging klaxon going off in his brain whenever he writes a song - and he doesn't need to write her because she's right there in front of him, talking about 'the revolution in her head' (another cute Beatles reference via Ian MacDonald's superb book on the band, one that features a Noel Gallagher quote on the back page on my old copy)while putting him in a 'trance'. Alas this promising idea, based around Noel's favourite 4/4 stomp pattern, never really goes anywhere: we end with the pair's meeting and simply go round the song again, while Noel gets a chance to try out his falsetto again (to rather more irritating effect than 'Idle'). What's very nearly a solo-performance-with-drums is so full of bass distortion it's quite hard even for hardened Oasis fans like me to listen to, like the backing track to 'I Am The Walrus' as played during a party celebrating the end of the world. Heard isolated, it always sounds better than I remember it - though heard after two very similar tracks in a row it rather loses something on the album.

Thankfully the screaming feedback of [  ] 'The Shock Of The Lightning' pulls all these elements together, with a driving rocker that features much more of a band sound without losing the stomp or surreal quality. The obvious single from the album, it's the sound of a trapped man working out whether he wants to escape or not. 'I feel cold - but I'm back in the fire' and 'I'm back on the streets - but my head is flying' suggests that Noel really really didn't want to knuckle down to writing this album, too wrapped up is he in dreams of his new family and too tired is he of being tied to his old one. The song makes good use of these conflicting feelings, using that special ability Oasis have to make a song sound as if its levitating, by having so many different parts playing 'against' each other at different speeds, while the lyrics too try and urge patience ('All in good time'), enjoy the moment ('the shock of the lightning' is surely the moment of inspiration, not unlike the moment of 'the rapture' or 'The Turning'), celebrate past successes ('Love is a time machine, up on the silver screen') and sigh at recent failures and broken dreams ('I'm all over my heart's desire'). A classic Oasis riff, churning but in a better and more musical way than the past three songs, does a good job at holding this song together like an elastic band, turning the song round so we get to glimpse all of Noel's mixed feelings one by one. But sadly even this promising song seems to run out of ideas midway through. Like many songs across this album, it peaks too soon and the second half is all repetition bar that majestic drum break from Zak, the only thing here that breaks the monotony and finds release (Noel was rather proud at getting a drum solo onto a single - he'd been trying for years but they'd never fitted before, so at least that's one dream he hadn't given up on!) The shock of the lightning is enough to revive the beginning of the song, but not enough to fully restore the patient.

It takes Liam to slow the album down, but arguably [  ] 'I'm Outta Time' slows the album just that little bit too much. The record's second single, it became the biggest flop of Oasis' career at the time (though a chart high of #12 in the UK still ain't bad for a song everyone had already bought on the album already) and seemed to split reviewers and fans the most. My take is that there's a great song in here somewhere: the chord progression is pretty (Liam had and has a real flair for these sort of things, impressive given that he's not really much of a 'musician'), the words are a powerful reflection on saying goodbye to something important (almost certainly the band) and his lead vocal a clever mix of innocence and sneer. But the song is sadly just that bit slow and that bit over-polished (clever as having Lennon say 'goodbye' from the grave might be, it sounds terribly out of place stuck at the end of a long fadeout and mixed so low we can't really hear it) to work as well as it should. The lyrics, though, are worth persevering with and sound much prouder of what Oasis achieved and what the fans must feel than anything Noel wrote (this will continue across Beady Eye's work more than Noel's, with Andy especially picking up on this idea too).Liam's been listening to a song 'that reminds me of when we were young' - is it an early Oasis hit heard when flicking channels? Or a Beatles/Stone Roses/Sex Pistols/Slade favourite on some TOTP/Sounds Of The Sixties-Seventies compilation? Liam tells us that he's at 'sea' but what he seems to really mean is that he's withdrawn from the band as far away as possible to have some alone thinking time, aware that his brother is no longer happy and wondering whether to 'let him go because in my heart you'd grow'. For all his image as the troublemaker in the band, it's the first of many Liam songs offering an olive branch to his brother, offering apologies and words of comfort he would never dare make in person. He even debates what his brother would do if they were no longer financially tied at the hip: 'If I'm to fall would you be there to applaud?' he wonders (it's worth mentioning that the pair got on as well as any siblings five years apart do in their childhood - the rows only started when they shared a band and Liam seems to be wondering if things will go back to where they were if they don't live in each other's pockets all the time). The use of Lennon at the end seems to be hinting that life is too short for fussing and fighting, my brother - but Liam also knows that his brother means it this time and is willing to let him go. A very powerful and moving song, sadly it's rather thrown away by a performance that tries too hard to be an epic ballad and which has such a slow tempo it all falls rather flat. Though I've never heard it, I'm willing to bet the demo of this song was a killer, though, full of all the passion that evaporated in the studio.

I'm willing to bet, too, than even the demo of [ ] 'Get Off Your High Horse, Lady' was a dog. Noel can't really do sarcasm the way his brother can and singing through an electronically enhanced megaphone while ripping off the tune to 'Hi-Heeled Sneakers' is not the way to go. Noel has clearly been stung by somebody snooty - though it would make sense in the context of this album of coded messages and warfare if it was Liam, that doesn't quite ring true: he's not the 'snooty' type. Noel doesn't really explain either, mis-directing us to his favourite meteorological metaphors with tales of a 'fire in the sky' and a 'rain coming down'. Such apocalyptic imagery may have seemed shocking on past Oasis albums, but here sound rather trite, while the boom-chikka drum pattern clearly here to resemble a horse in motion is a nice idea that gets trying way before the end. This song isn't all bad - the 'wayyyy dowwwwwn' mournful chorus line is rather effective, while the layers of guitar effects are rather good too. But like many songs on this record its unfinished and unclear, Noel never adding anything except repetition and this song's surreal wide brushstrokes sound very out of place and hollow on an album made in graphic detail and hard monochrome. If ever an Oasis song was going to put me on my high horse it's this plagiarised, unfinished, badly performed monstrosity. To think that we could have had the glorious 'Record Machine' on this album instead...

The album's true classic and lasting achievement is Noel's last song on an Oasis album and the band's final single [  ] 'Falling Down'. After years of hinting at melancholia and depression, Noel unleashes hell on a track that could easily be read as a suicide note ('Time to kiss the world goodbye...') If that seems like a rather un-Oasis thing to be writing, then so is the song: Noel is trapped, caught between a rock (well a gritty guitar) and a hard place (signified by the saddest mellotron ever), 'lost and found' all at the same time as his heart takes him to a new place while being hit by memories of the old. Uncharacteristically he even reaches out to God, so much more humbly than on their last conversation on 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' and asks for help 'but to no avail', turning on him too with a curtly dismissive 'If you can't help me then please don't waste my time!' The hint is that it's not just Oasis Noel is saying goodbye too: he name-checks the 'wheel that breaks a butterfly?' speech that everyone assumed was an Edgar Burroughs reference but is more likely the newspaper headline of the Telegraph article written when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given ridiculous sentences for trumped up drugs charges. In this context Noel is trying to 'catch' the wheel - the cogs of industry that destroy artistic freedom without even noticing - and Noel finds himself blinded by the sun that once brought him everything - his usual metaphor for his muse or inspiration. Suddenly everything is turning on him: his new songs are so intense they're hurting him, while the world is changing so fast he's being left behind. Across the rest of the album Noel sounds defiant or angry, but here he sounds terrified: 'You can't leave me' he seems to be4 saying 'this is all that I've ever known'. No wonder the track is titled 'Falling Down' - though the line actually refers to the hard times falling round him like rain, he sounds as if he's falling too, toppling from his perch as generation spokesperson in a similar to song to close buddy Paul Weller's 'Porcelain Gods'. The band performance on this track is majestic, with Jay Darlington again the standout on a guest mellotron part that perfectly captures the feeling of feisty helplessness, while Noel's slightly detached vocal is a thing of beauty and the last great Oasis wall of noise features him, Gem and Andy alternating solos, hammered into place by more superb drumming from Zak. For all that, the demo of this song is still stronger than the recording, clearly made in the 'heat' of inspiration and capturing Noel's surprise at what he's written that much more strongly. Sensibly the band included it on the CD single as a bonus track. The album's one great triumph without a 'but...' added at the end.

I'm also rather fond of [  ] 'To Be Where There's Life', a noisy psychedelic song by Gem that no one else seems to like. Based around the mother of all bass riffs, superbly played by Andy, it's a thick and heavy song that's claustrophobic and menacing, perfect for Liam to strut his stuff as if nothing has changed. The tensions on the 'Fears don't try me, tears don't cry me' middle eight (which sounds daft when written down, but electrifying on the album) as vocalist and band head in separate directions in a massive tug-of-war game, are the single most memorable moment on the album. The most intense and passion-filled song on the album, this more or less sets the tone for the more emotional postmodernist rockers that Beady Eye will go on to write ('We gotta move - it's what we do!'), most likely without Noel playing guitar on the track. He does get a credit for 'toy sitar' played simultaneously with Andy's tamboura, which gives the song a nice trippy feel that half-works (it doesn't distract from the song, but it would have worked equally well without the extra decoration). Liam clearly loves having a song he can get his teeth into and has rarely sounded better, pulling the band along through sheer force of personality at times just like the old days. So is the final lyric: this music, this band, this power can do anything: it can show their audience the way, break down 'locked doors', explore 'secret floors', ignore 'signs': everything 'ordinary' people in the 1990s generation can't normally do, except in tandem with the ordinary's people's greatest band. A tribute to the sheer power and oomph Oasis brought to their early recordings, this would have made an even better finale to the record than 'Soldier On', a final moment of glory in the spotlight and the last time the band get to sound like rock and roll stars, ending in an explosion of colour and noise the way all good Oasis songs should. How the hell did the critics not 'get' this song (my 2008 self included, if I'm honest).

I'm less keen on Liam's one-note [  ] 'Ain't Got Nothin', which is a re-make of his 'Don't Believe The Truth' song 'Meaning Of Soul' without a similar amount of ideas. A rocker that contains more venom than a snakebite, it sounds as if it was modelled on The Who's 'Dr Jimmy', taken from the point in 'Quadrophenia' when the main character has got fed up of philosophising and turns nasty as the drugs wear off. Sounding as if it was written and recorded in the heat of the battle, it's right in someone's face - probably Noel's - as it demands 'the truth' and 'to let me out of this groove!' The groove is an apt metaphor as this song is stuck, the simplest rock and roll moment on the album boxed in by some slightly lesser drums from Zak as Liam complains of 'not feeling real' and wondering if it's a 'crime'. Comparing himself to an innocent 'out on bail' giving the system something to lock him up for, the song gets manic quickly as the band push way past the logical limit (with somebody - Noel? - screaming to themselves in-audibly in the background of the instrumental break) and Liam effectively hands his notice in right here and now. It's clearly a key song for Oasis, being even more graphic and dramatic than 'Bag It Up', laced through with more than a little of the contempt of Lennon's 'primal scream' debut album, taking things down to basics in a search for 'the truth'. However it's a tough song to listen to and there are far better and more disciplined Oasis rockers out there.

Andy's [  ] 'The Nature Of Reality' is also a bit of a disappointment: it starts with some scene-setting feedback that suggests something along the lines of the Jefferson Airplane, but ends up a slow-burning strutting rocker more like AC/DC. The guitar riff and booming bass drum, make for an uneasy listening experience and really don't suit the philosophical lyrics. Andy revealed after the album came out that he had just got divorced (a fact he largely kept quiet at the time) and wrote this song after deciding that he felt no emotion at all after breaking his marriage vows despite being brought up a strict Catholic. Figuring that there had to be more to life than there seemed on the surface, he plays with Buddhist concepts instead, figuring that there is no such thing as 'reality' - we all live in different worlds 'in our mi-eee-ii-eee-iiii-eeee-iiiiiinds' (the closest Liam comes to repeating his famous 'sunnsheeeeiiinnneee' phrase across this album). In this world, which sounds like another hazy drug trip, God and the devil exist, but only as people, with no real effect on the world - its us mortals who have the power to change our lives. Coming across as more like something the band's old rivals Kular Shaker or Cornershop would do than the usually more straightforward Oasis ('Brimful Of Asha' is a 9-0s take on psychedelia if ever there was one), it's nice to hear the band still trying to stretch their sound this late on in the game and Beady Eye will benefit from the rush of sequels offered by Andy across the next few years. However, it's not an experiment that's altogether successful: like many of this album's songs it sounds unfinished, plodding on the verse, soaring on the chorus and....going back to plodding again, just as you think you've found the 'answer'. Nice guitar solos though and the massed choir of Liams all mocking each other over the epic ending is quite a sound to behold. In this reality I'm suddenly developing a headache.

And so it ends. Fifteen years of breaking down barriers, uniting the nations' working class youth with anthemic choruses and promising better days have ended up in [ ] 'Soldier On', a Liam song that features him lying even to himself. Sounding as if the weight of the world is on his back and pressing him down, Liam wearily struggles on through one last simple rocker that sounds as if its going round in circles - a complete 180 degree turn from the anything-goes exuberance of 'Rock and Roll Star' or 'Supersonic; where this journey first began (depending whether you count the first single or the first album as the 'true' start of the journey). Once again, Liam is delivering mixed messages: 'Don't be long' he warns the others before vowing to 'soldier on', while telling his brother that it doesn't matter whose 'right' or whose 'wrong', the journey is over all the same. A surprise snatch of Auld Lang Syne on the bagpipes makes you wonder whether the family unit is uniting after all in a Gallagher tartan, but the bagpipes were designed for use in battle and that's how they sound here, counting the cost and trying to unite a disparate band of people lost inside a haze of their own making (brilliantly conjured up out of all the electronic trickery). Liam's last message for the world: 'Come the morning I'll be gone' followed by one last great 'na na na' chorus - this time sounding a million miles away from the joy of 'Around The World' or the slightly sadder ones of 'Keep The Dream Alive' or 'I'm Outta Time'. This isn't a time for hope or hugs, what that burst of nonsense joy usually signified (probably 'nicked' from The Beatles' 'Hey Jude' where it's one of the most uplifting sounds in music): this is a world of casualties where nobody can be saved and everything the narrator once knew was gone. Rather than admit it, he blindly keeps struggling forward, sure that a sniper's bullet will get him too as he 'soldiers on' into a massacre. The bullet catches him, too, given the sudden ear-catching wave of noise that greets the song's final moments, the band fading away into the distance as they're replaced by a host of hideous electronic noises (the band's comments on the 'hole'; they're leaving behind in music perhaps? In truth there'd mainly been electronic noises like this since the end of the band's heyday in 1997 - isn't it about time to give another sound a go for a bit?) Though again like almost all the album I'd trade in three minutes of repetition for an extra verse anyday, this is another powerful song treated with just the right amount of detachment thanks to a band performance that's eerie and chilling, Noel's sloppy drumming the sound of a band of former comrades who were once so close now struggling to keep pace with each other. It's a powerful goodbye, even back in the days when it wasn't yet an 'official' goodbye and remains one of the most moving moments of any Oasis album.


Overall, then, 'Dig Out Your Soul' isn't one of those 'farewell' triumphs the way that The Moody Blues' 'Seventh Sojourn' or The Searchers' 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' or 10cc's 'Windows In The Jungle' are. But nor is it an unmitigated disaster the way that The Who's farewells are (take your pick from 'It's Hard' and reunion album 'Endless Wire') or Lindisfarne's 'Dingly Dell' is often said to be. It is, instead, a mixed farewell album akin to Pink Floyd's 'The Division Bell' or Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' or, yes, it's close cousin 'Let It Be' are: a step down from the band's peak but without falling down too spectacularly. Half the songs sound rushed and completed and half of the performances sound spiky and repetitive, lost in a world of trance and psychedelic punk that really doesn't suit Oasis in any era, never mind a last goodbye to their sound. However when the other half of the album gets moving much of it is truly great: 'Falling Down' 'To Be Where There's Life' and 'Soldier On' really do sit amongst the band's best work and if that's lower odds per an eleven track album than we've ever had from Oasis before then that doesn't necessarily make it bad. All of this album is straining at the leash to do something different and given the alienation and acidness in the room (on both meanings of the word) it's a wonder that any of the album manages to be as good as it is, with so little that bad. This is a courageous and at times fitting ending to a fifteen year journey of ups and downs - it's just a shame it isn't that little bit better, consistent and more inspired too, an album made up of too many thunder clouds and not that much shock of the lightning at all really. 

Other Oasis articles from this site you may be interested in reading:


'Be Here Now' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/oasis-be-here-now-1997-album-review.html

‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/oasis-heathen-chemistry-2002.html

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/oasis-dont-believe-truth-2005.html

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/oasis-dig-out-your-soul-2008_31.html

'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-119-noel.html 


'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/noel-gallaghers-high-flying-birds.html



The Monkees: HEAD/33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee/Episode #781




Film
"HEAD"

(Recorded February-May 1968, Released November 6th 1968)

"It's a very extraordinary scene to those who don't understand, but what you have seen you must believe -if you can"

Music: Porpoise Song/Ditty Diego-War Chant/Circle Sky/Can You Dig It?/As We Go Along/Daddy's Song/Happy Birthday To You/Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?/Swami Ken Thorne Strings Etc

Main Writers: The Monkees, Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson Director: Bob Rafelson

Plot: There isn't one. That is to say there's many. That way there is more fun. And only John Brockman's shrink knows for sure what it is anyway (and that's according to the film's own movie poster!) What plot there is involves a politician about to make a speech that's interrupted by various delays including The Monkees committing suicide by leaping from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge while pursued by lots of authority figures. Along the way Micky gets tired of shooting fake scenes and walks off set, Peter argues with the director over being seen to punch a 'girl', Davy gets a bloodied nose in a boxing ring and Mike discovers that the other guys keep disappearing but are really holding a surprise birthday party for him. Meanwhile American troops are shooting Vietnam soliders in cold blood and the police are harassing young teens but The Monkees can't say anything about it because they're too busy performing as dandruff in Victor Mature's hair and speaking to Swamis in the shower. The 'real' plot though concerns the many ingenious ways The Monkees are prepared to 'think outside the box' they're trapped in and keep breaking free of. Artistic suicide - hence this film - appears to be the only way but ultimately even that won't work and the punchline of the film (the one delayed by 90 minutes but runs on from the first scene) is that The Monkees haven't drowned at all but are still trapped, returned to the Screen Gems studio lot along with all the other props. All this plus Frank Zappa sells a talking cow.

What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode:  Mike: Hates surprises and especially surprise birthday parties ('and I'll tell you something else too - the same thing goes for Christmas!') Wins a bet with Micky that a girl will jump off a building. His way out of the 'box' is to placate everybody around him  or con them (which is the opposite of the strasight-talking openly honest Mike we see in the TV series). Micky: is the first Monkee to take the giant leap into the unknown - perhaps because he's singing the title song. Really hates empty drinks machines abandoned in the desert. Always the most 'independent' Monkee, this 'Micky' tries to escape the box by urging the others to work together.  Davy: Get lost inside a vacuum cleaner but still comes out the other end singing and dancing. His way out of the box is to fight it - which doesn't work as well as it does in the TV series, what with Davy being tiny and all. Comes off worst in a fight with Sonny Liston, although you could have probably predicted that. Peter: His way out of the box is to think his way out with the help of the Swami - which again is very at odds with what the 'dummy' Peter of the TV series would do. He's worried about his image and how hitting a girl - even one played by a transvestite - sits with his character's image. In other words all four Monkees 'grow' into, if not quite their polar opposites, then at least into characters whose responses to things being thrown at them aren't as 'predictable' as in the TV series.

Things that don't make sense: This isn't a film where things like plot matter so what actually doesn't make sense here is the world and man's growing sense of detachment from it and each other. Film has reduced everything to a common level, so that cartoons and adverts for dandruff are shown on a par with Nguyen Van Lem, a Vietcong soldier, being shot (for real - it isn't staged; the poor Vietcong soldier being assassinated by American troops is the first time anyone had ever died for real on a broadcast film - not that most of the people watching would have realised the significance of this. The same bit of film was re-used in the 1974 film 'Hearts and Minds', which got lots of critical plaudits for using the identical film in the identical way 'Head' already had six years earlier). However there is one great big mistake that should have made sense even in this film: Mike and Davy share the same birthday, December 30th. So how come only Mike is celebrating not Davy? (Have Micky and Peter forgotten?)

Best Five Quotes: 1) Micky: 'My canteen is empty where once it was full. I felt I couldn't go on (I can't) but something kept telling me I must (I must I must)' 2) Davy picking a boxer to fight and choosing Sonny Liston: 'Great. I'll have a go at him. You won't hurt my face will you. Million dollar head this!' Bob: 'Why him, Davy?' Davy: 'Well, you know I like him, he looks like a god guy and I like his smile!' 3) Factory Owner: 'Capable of 33 horse power apiece and all on one pressure valve. It has a lifting power of over three hundred tonnes (man dangles from the edge). We spend a good deal of our time here ensuring the perfect working conditions (a woman worker sobs). The biggest aspect is the safety factor. Take one take and the entire process is re-geared. Pleasure, the inevitable by-product of our civilisation. A new world whose only preoccupation will be how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want 4)  Peter: 'Everybody's where they want to be" Micky: "That's a particular crass thing to say considering we are in a vacuum cleaner!" 5) Critic: 'That song was pretty white' Davy: 'Well, so am I - what can I tell you?' Critic: 'You've been working on your dancing though' Davy: 'yeah yeah well I've been rehearsing it' Critic: 'That doesn't leave much time for your music. You ought to spend more time on it because the youth of America depends on you to show them the way' Talking Cow: 'Monkees is ze craziest people!'  6) Peter: 'Let me tell you one thing son - nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humour!' 7) Peter: 'Mike you son of a gun, a millionaire at twenty-five' Mike: 'Ask me 'how does it feel?' Peter: 'Huh?' Mike: 'I said ask me how does it feel? Micky: 'How does it feel?' Mike: 'I don't like it - that's how I feel! I don't like surprises, I don't like these people jumping out and saying...I don't even want to know what they're saying. Do you know what you're saying to me? 'Happy birthday' is what you're saying to me. And you're jumping out the wall and it's scaring me to death and it's a big joke and I'm supposed to be happy about it. 'Aww come on Mike be a good sport'. Well who needs it? You want to invite me to a party you don't kidnap me you send me an invitation. Besides I may have been happier where I was sleeping - hah! And I'll tell you something else too - the same thing goes for Christmas. Now how about them apples?!'  8) Reporter: 'Are you telling me you don't see the connection between Government and laughing at people?' 9) Swami: 'We were speaking of beliefs, beliefs and conditioning. All beliefs could be said to be the result of sound conditioning and thus history is simply the story of opposing beliefs one after another, and so on and so on and so on. A psychologically tested belief of our time is that the central nervous system which feeds it's impulses directly to the brain is unable to discern between the real and the vividly imaginative experience. Here there is a difference - at least most of us believe there is. Am I being clear? To examine these concepts requires tremendous energy and discipline. To allow the unknown to occur and to occur requires clarity. For where there is clarity there is no choice and where there is choice there is misery/ But then why should anyone listen to me? Why should I speak? Since I know nothing!'  10) Davy: 'Something's wrong with you man, you've got a sheet on, you look weird!' Peter: Whose to say what's normal? You've got to stop and listen to me guys or you'll end up back in the box!' 11) Micky: 'This box is now a composite universe...our universe is something inside of our head that allows us to go out into all sorts of different directions up until infinity...'

Romps/Performances: See the 'music' section for our take on the soundtrack album and it's songs. We will, however, point out a few key differences between the songs as heard in the film and on the soundtrack: 'Circle Sky' is an entirely different recording performed 'live' by all four Monkees in the film and by Mike and studio musicians on the album (the live take being officially released on Rhino's re-issues of the album), the unusual distinctive rhythm at the end of 'As We Go Along' ends up cross-fading into the sound of a machine in a factory, 'Daddy's Song' includes a very different last verse which is sung sad and slow in the film but in keeping with the chirpy feel of the rest on the album and 'Long Title' has a good fifteen seconds extra in the film, ending with a proper 'full stop' rather than a fade. The 'Swami' also speaks a few additional lines on the album which were cut from the film.

Postmodernisms: Masses. The film starts with lots of 'deliberate outtakes' - the sort of things that would get cut from other films (the boat noises, the sound effects, the microphone feedback as the mayor tries to speak).  The 'Ditty Diego' sequence is the ultimate film no-no, providing sneak previews of twenty key scenes from the film (in retrospect it's amazing how much these look like a modern home movies maker kit, with each film 'separate' and waiting to be assembled seemingly at random). Micky and Mike in a Western is a horrendously over-clichéd bit of nonsense, with Mike and Micky in plain shot of the bad guys but never so much as cut by the flying arrows, while the bad guys fall all around them. Micky later walks off, scorning the 'fake arrows and fake trees' before physically walking through the set backdrop and revealing it was all 'just' an acted scene. The channel hopping too breaks the fourth wall and reminds us this is a 'work of fiction' (For the record the other films and TV shows included in the 'channel hopping' sequence include Golden Boy (1939), City For Conquest (1940), The Black Cat (1941), Jam Session (1944), Gilda (1946) and Two Faced Wolf (the cartoon, 1961)). Davy the promising fiddle player says 'what am I going to do? Play violin in two bit clubs all my life?' just as The Monkees are coming to a close. After Peter hits T C Jones the camera walks out of position and we see the 'real' scene, complete with Peter arguing about whether his character would do such a thing to real director Bob Rafelson and usual Monkee director Jim Frawley, being told that they'll change it in the edits and complaining 'you always say that and it never happens!' This scene is, however, as staged and unreal as anything else in the film, segueing nicely into the 'As We Go Along' sequence thanks to a falling bout of paper that turns into snow. 'Long Title' the song is about as postmodernist as it ever gets, an existentialist sigh over having to repeat yourself ('didn't I get it right the first time?) And finally our very last shot of the film is a lingering look at the studio in which it was made, the camera 'staying behind' as The Monkees props are filed away for another day. Over which some of the superimposed credits are also very postmodern: the entire last page, for instance, is in reverse so that 'Srebmahc Yrret' laying 'Oreh' should actually read 'Terry Chambers' playing 'Hero'. Even to the last frame this film is defying perceptions, with the absolute last shot the film catching alight and fizzing, just to remind us one last time that this actually is a 'film' and what we've been watching the past 84 minutes is just a strip of celluloid with some images on it.

Davy Love Rating: The whole band are 'even' according to Julie Fairchild. That said, birds sing and an orchestra plays when she kisses Davy and it doesn't happen to the other three (a side effect of the TV series?)

Review: Here they come, walking down a crazy-paving street, getting the funniest looks from every film-goer they meet. It seems so wrong, somehow, being able to buy a mass-produced copy of this once barely seen film and to be able to watch it on a nice shiny DVD at any time day or night. 'Head' was a film that those making it thought would never be seen, the brave and slightly sarcastic response to the fact that the film was commissioned when the band were at the height of their powers but made when the band's critical reputation was on the wane. Nobody was going to see this movie anyway - so The Monkees, creator Bob Rafelson and new boy in town Jack Nicholson made sure that nobody would understand it either. 'Head' is a work that everyone knew was made for late night showings on obscure foreign channels, to be shown unbilled in cinemas when they run out of other things to show or to be bought for vast prices on some grainy bootleg copy, if there was even that much a level of interest in a band that was clearly dying a painful death. For decades 'Head' felt like a mass hallucination shared by Monkee fans so improbable that it couldn't possibly have been as weird as we remember it, one that would back to haunt us regularly often years between showings of it. And yet it is every bit as weird as we thought it was: having slightly turned the TV world on it's 'Head' The Monkees wage all out-war on the film business on their one and only movie, a film that's extraordinarily brave and rule-breaking (ten minutes go by before any of The Monkees speak). It's a film like no other made before or since, a last throw of the artistic dice by a band who knows they have nothing to risk and nothing to lose, a document of a particular point in time that could only have been made by a band like The Monkees, a band hip enough to destroy their own reputation. It's a film that simultaneously manages to break all the rules and make no sense while working to its own carefully structured inner set of rules and shedding just enough light to keep us watching on the way the Monkees specifically, the film world generally and the world loosely all work. It's a movie that takes in every genre and style going - partly to keep up with the zany pace of The Monkees' show and partly because the creators thought the film would do so badly they'd never get a chance to make another so wanted to pack as much into 'Head' as they could. It's a far-sighted film that was made not for the teeny-boppers expected to sit through the next Monkee project but for scholars and thinkers half a century on to celebrate and re-evaluate once the fuss over The Monkees playing their instruments has died down. It's a film that gives more artistic freedom to the main characters than any other script has ever done or will ever do - and still ends up with a last scene where it's all been in vain and they're as trapped as they ever were. It's a film that's outrageous, daring, complex, confusing, impressionistic and downright bonkers. It also happens to be my favourite film ever made.

A complex intellectual (some would say pretentious) film deserves a complex intellectual (some would say woefully pretentious) analysis, if only to match life for like (the first draft of this article even included a paragraph on the significance of orange cloths in the film, which is perhaps a concept too far even for me). To go back to my earlier statement and be clear about things, I'm not a great film buff, I left a film studies course to do creative writing two weeks in because it was boring me rigid and most of the symbolism people talk about being in films either seems blindingly obvious or is so flimsy I doubt whether anybody making the films actually meant things that way. Therefore saying 'Head' is my favourite film is not the same as me recommending my favourite album or my favourite book or my favourite TV series. I also doubt severely whether encouraging you all to rush to the shops to buy this film the way that I do with the records on this website will do any good either, because I doubt anybody enjoys films for the same things I do. Telling you to buy a certain album is easy because even if you don't share my passion for the words, ideas, music or performance individually, quality and excellence will genuinely out. 'Head' is different and I can well see why it bored some fans stiff even for me it's the main reason celluloid was invented. There are for instance many TV series I adore (The Monkees included) where you get to know a set of characters and whole worlds are created out of their interaction. But that rarely happens in film, where plots are king and everything is one layered and predictable. While I can see why other people would love films and enjoy them for the sake of being, the way you enjoy paintings, my brain is wired like a dot-to-dot puzzle in reverse, looking for connections and hidden meanings in things. My love of music partly comes from the fact that all the ideas are abstract and exist in a place where the music and words and sometimes the performances are telling different stories, hinting at layers and hidden meanings, all up to the interpretation of the listener. Films can't do that so well because the director effectively 'is' the listener, telling you where to look and how to think (a producer is the closest musical equivalent, but even then they can only choose how much prominence to give to certain things - how much stock you take by what they 'recommend' to you is up to you). 'Head' is to date the only thing I have ever seen (possibly '33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee', but not to the same extent) that lets the viewer interpret film the way that you can interpret music. 'Head' is my favourite playground for abstract ideas because this project is effectively anything you want it to be, with a series of metaphors and imagery that can be interpreted any way you wish with none of the ideas being right or wrong. That's why this project seems to have been called 'head' for a kick-off, complete with a soundtrack album that originally worked as a 'mirror' so you could see your own 'head' looking back from the album cover. Rather than some other projects that simply go mad, however, 'Head' has just enough sense of a point being made to make the quest for answers seem worth it, even if ultimately what you get out of the film is up to 'you' not the creators. I love basking in 'Head' because every-time I see the film I see something new in it and another possible angle about what the hell might be going on. If you don't want to know or don't care then just skip this section and accept that 'it's well made, well acted and directed, but deeply confusing' is about as full a description as you're likely to get.

Reviewing a film like this seems pointless anyway if you don't establish what it's 'about' so instead your treat is to hear various thoughts as to what might be going on in 'Head' (the ultimate 'mind' film, even if it is partly named because it takes place on Victor Mature's bonce). Let's start with who is meant to be 'narrating' this film. Amazingly once I got the internet I discovered that I wasn't alone in believing one theory which is that the film takes place in Micky's unconscious mind, possibly caused by the suicidal leap into the river. Patients brought back to lie often talk about their past lives 'flashing before their eyes' but mixed up with a surreal dreamlike quality where nothing is quite how it really happened (a side effect of the brain losing oxygen if you want to be scientific, although the idea of reviewing your past mistakes in preparation for an afterlife makes equal sense depending how you see it). Presumably as Micky jumps first this film is happening in 'his' brain and that might be why so many images from the TV series are lumped together and slightly askew ('Can You Dig It?' is the 'Everywhere A Sheikh Sheikh' episode, Frank Zappa returns after his cameo in 'Monkees Blow Their Minds' and Davy gets beaten to a pulp which isn't quite what happened in the similar 'Monkees In The Ring'). It is a scene, after all, accompanied by the chorus 'goodbye goodbye goodbye'. Then again the 'dream' seems to switch over midway from Micky to Davy as the 'central' character (with sequences for both Peter and Mike). Another thought is that it's a fan's narration after their 'suicide' bid (or at least they 're-wakening'), discovering that The Monkees had been conning them all along and that now they are adults they can 'see through' the evil plot to 'fool' them into loving this band. It could even be the fan 'John Brockman' (Screen Gems' marketing guy, who used his own face on the trailers for the film, which simply showed his head and the word 'Head' for a full fifty seconds; The Monkees weren't even mentioned). Alternately this is the Monkee 'characters' realising that as fictional creations they'll never escape the re-set button that recurs after every episode of the TV series (and most TV programmes in fact, so that they can be screened out of order in repeats) and making sure that they won't have to go through life again in the most drastic way possible. Just to add a spanner into the works, the 'Mike's birthday party' sequence is subtitled 'the cop's dream' and takes place after the policeman passes out on the floor - so is this film taken from lots of different viewpoints and stuck together like a collage (a film version of the Sgt Peppers front cover?)

Or is 'Head' a creative re-birth? The Monkees 'die' by hitting the water after all, the traditional imagery of being able to 'start anew' and it may be significant that The Monkees start to break out of their respective 'boxes' as the film unwinds. All The Monkees act deeply out of character across this film and get caught out for it. Mike, the straight-talking clear-thinking level-headed on, starts to placate people and urge the other Monkees (notably Micky) to 'play along' before conning people left right and centre. Davy, small and cheerful and friendly, gets the maddest at being restricted and ends the film fighting anyone who gets in his way. Micky, the commercial lynchpin of the entire series, blows up a coke machine in a daring display of anti-capitalism. And Peter, who for so long has played 'the dummy', meets an Indian mystic and starts talking deep philosophical thoughts. The thought seems to be that the Monkee characters can't go on being the relative ciphers they were in the TV show, where the re-set button is pressed every week; instead they're meant to be human beings and humans change and grow (this film's working title was 'Changes' after all). The Monkees 'outgrow' the boxes they're kept in - and yet by the end of the film, when they leap to their deaths to avoid the 're-set' button being used and wiping out all their new experiences, they wake up inside another box being taken back to the studio lot along with the other props, their grand plan failed. The boxes itself are a key piece of Monkee imagery: the band have since revealed that they referred to their VIP suite at the Colgems lot as their 'black box'; it was where each Monkee was 'stored' until needed by the camera crew and contained a giant door that could be locked, minimalist lighting and a big red bulb that would light up in each Monkees' respective 'corner' of the box to tell them if they were needed and someone was on the way to get them (it all seems pretty drastic but The Monkees had a habit of wondering off during the early TV episodes and by the end especially it was the only way of keeping tabs on all four at once). Similarly the black limousine that took them to gigs became known knowingly as the 'mobile black box' and the band always seemed to be in one or the other, except for when they were in a beige box of a hotel room on tour. The Monkees were in a way being stored like 'props' - the film is them rebelling big-time and 'escaping' this box. A 'black box' is also of course a flight recorder on an aircraft that recalls every past detail of your life - bringing us back to that point about the film being Micky's subconscious again.

One scene that sticks in the minds of many people is the one of Micky in the desert with the coke can machine that's 'empty'. On the one hand it seems like a comment on capitalism coming up short - the one offer of promise in a barren wasteland keeps coming up short while an incessant coke jingle plays. However I've always wondered if this was a comment on The Monkees itself. Asked to conjure up a phenomenon for teenagers, The Monkees are the coke-can, full of glorious catchy jingles and promising much, but in keeping with the guilty conscience of much of 'Head' the film suggests the band have come up 'short'. Over the course of the scene Micky holds a conversation with himself and tells his inner voice to go away - he then suffers a breakdown as his muse 'goes away'. Is this The Monkees' creativity coming up short? is this the 1960s teenager rejecting the only thing they had reflecting their society back to them on television (so Bob is actually being angry that they haven't realised a flawed concept is better than nothing at all and that The Monkees, while acted, is still far more 'real' than most bands/TV series on air?) Or is it just a bunch of iconographic imagery that looked good? Possibly related to this is the symbolism of using Victor Mature of all people as a big stomping monster. Victor, a big star in the 1940s, had only recently been coaxed out of retirement to play a similar parody of who he 'used' to be in the Peter Sellers vehicle 'After The Fox' (which funnily enough has another AAA connection thanks to it's Hollies film soundtrack song), thus proving that he could both laugh at himself and wasn't scared by younger pop bands (perhaps the reason why Bert and Bob hired him: when asked about the script for the publicity he said 'I don't understand it but it makes me laugh', which is about a good summary of 'Head' as you can find). However is there something 'extra' going on here - is the creation of a giant-sized institution named Victor trying to squash the Monkees like bugs under his weight and considering the quartet as nothing more than dandruff to appear in adverts for his hair really a reference to RCA Victor, the record label 'behind' Screen Gems, the label The Monkees were 'officially' on.

Although 'Head' is wider than just The Monkees and you don't have to know the band to 'get' the film - which is why so much of the promotion doesn't mention them at all. Much of 'Head' is instead a commentary of the fakery of the film and TV world, with a shockingly high amount of behind-the-scene shots showing what filming is 'really' like decades before reality TV became a thing and harking back to the old Monkees tradition where 'outtakes' would be used over the real thing if it worked better that way. Just as the TV series didn't sit in one genre but instead borrowed iconography from many different genres (horror, Westerns, romances, 'sports' films, science fiction) so too does 'Head' laugh in turn at all of these (while throwing in digs at commercials along the way). It's really only a small step from the TV series making us laugh at yet another cliché coming up to what happens here where the punchline is that real life doesn't work the way it does in the movies (Davy gets a literal 'punchline' when he gives up the violin to become a boxer despite the tears of Annette Funnicello - and then gets beaten to a pulp by Sonny Liston). The Monkees also have fun revealing how fake movie sets are: Micky simply walks off set complaining about fake bows and arrows while Mike tries to get him back. And it's not just film: the 'war' coverage is 'fake' too, with a 'Life' photographer shooting Peter as he struggles on for ammunition.

Related to this is the idea that movies and television have now reduced everything to the 'same level'. The scene where the person who turns out to be Victor Mature is channel hopping literally gives equal meaning to everything as he flicks through the channels without context or direction, ending up at the point where cartoons are now on the same level as a news report where a real human being dies. Reality and fiction now exists side by side on the television - and the boundaries between the two are blurred because both are down to 'perception' and context than what they are actually showing (is there a difference between a good actor playing a person whose been shot and someone whose been murdered for real?) The way the 'channel hopping' scene is made, it's as if the clips are talking to each other and having one long conversation that clearly wasn't 'designed' by the people who made each particular film. The screams between the events in Vietnam and the screaming crowds at a rock gig are also indistinguishable - it's all one scream. Television was meant to open our minds to other cultures and other people, allowing us to learn to think like they do and empathise with them, but there are now ('Now' being 1968) so many channels out there reflecting so many people living and dead that we can't identify with them all (it may be relevant that so many of the characters seen on screen are the 'American hero' type - and yet the Vietnamese soldier shot dead is executed by another supposed type of American military hero). Micky himself turns out to be an American war hero, with the whole of the Italian army surrendering to him even though he's done nothing pro-active about this at all; being a true child of the 1960s he instead turns his attention to the capitalist system and blows up the drinks machine. The Monkees are clearly the perfect vehicle for a discussion of where the lines between reality and fantasy blur after playing with the concept for so long during their very post-modernistic TV series (note the fact that the band revert to becoming 'dolls' once the audience gets up on stage and tears them to pieces).

Choice is a dilemma across the film, with the characters making 'wrong' choices that always leave them back inside 'the black box'. And not just for The Monkees either: we only see June Fairchild in two scenes, one where she kisses each Monkee in turn before ranking them 'even' and another where she threatens loudly to jump off a roof, a later scene showing her in Mike's arms as Micky pays up after a bet. Given that we don't know what happens to her character between scenes things might not be linked, but if I know Bob Rafelson's mind like I think I do then the issue here is that she's drawn to suicide by being made to 'choose'. The four Monkees are so different and yet she can't choose between any of them so her mind shuts down (this is, presumably, reflective a wider metaphor about not being able to choose between more than her favourite Monkee). It also reveals how callous human beings have become, with Mike and Micky more interested in their bet than her welfare.

In fact all four Monkees come out of this film very badly (as scripted I mean - their acting is impeccable throughout). All four of them get slagged off across this film (June Fairchild turns them all down and T C Jones calls them 'God's gift to the eight year olds' and tells them to 'add some talent into their act') and they all get insulted by somebody (Micky is called a 'fuzzy wuzzy' by the cops, Davy is a 'Lancashire midget greenie' when seen through Micky's magnifying glass - Rafelson clearly didn't understand whereabouts Manchester was as its a county in its own right - Peter gets laughed at for passing on the Swami's words 'I know nothing' and Mike really turns on the friends who have done nothing more sinister than hold an - admittedly odd - birthday party for him). Peter later reflected that this was just the way that Bob thought and that he was like this to them all the time. Fair does, but the fact that 'Head' is in a wider sense trying to show people for what they 'really' are, instead of the cardboard cut-out characters always shown on television as 'heroes' and 'villains'. Another set of figures who come out of this film badly are authority figures. We've seen time and again across the Monkees TV series that those in power don't know what they're doing and have no more right to be in control of other people than the rest of us. Usually that's set up for laughs: the record producer who doesn't realise the band trying to chase him all day are the ones he wants to hire, the spies and FBI agents who are so hopeless they should have been sent back to spy/FBI school and the crooked politicians in 'Monkee Mayor' spending more time ruining genuine campaign trails than working on their own policies. This film is, typically, darker: The Mayor in control of the whole town in the opening scene is totally hopeless and his 'message' keeps getting screwed up (even though it works fine for the guards with him) - notably the screw-ups happen every time he tries to dedicate the bridge 'to the people' (is this a lie?) The policeman who The Monkees try to persuade to find Davy is more interested in interrogating them, even though they ain't done nuttin'. The factory worker is too interested in his own profits to notice that anything has gone wrong with his precious machine - or that the workers are slowly committing suicide and suffering horrendous accidents (again, his mind has been shut off to human suffering). Even Bob and Jack, the directors officially 'in charge' of this production, are shown to be mere humans, standing around and arguing with Peter even though he's clearly upset and 'right' (his character would never hit a 'woman'- again they've lost touch with the human empathy thing). Absolute power corrupts absolutely and the band release any hold they had over an entire nation for this film, safe in the knowledge that most of their fans had probably relinquished their hold long before this anyway. In a way 'Head' is saying 'grow up my children and be yourselves now that you're armed with knowledge about the fact that no human ever has any real idea what they're doing, even the ones that pretend and have positions of power', though ironically you have to have already learnt that independence to be able to notice it from the clues in the film (though Micky, the voice of his generation, leaping to his death from a bridge is quite a graphic clue if you believe this theory).

An interesting side effect of this is that 'Head' is a film about the humility and yet the dignity of 'losing (that's not me being rude either: even Davy says it in his radio interview promoting the film as heard in the Rhino deluxe set of 'Head'). Many people mention the guest cast in 'Head' and for good reason: no other film has ever matched American footballers, Disney child stars and 40s film icons in such a way before. But note that 'Head' doesn't do the obvious and hire the 'most famous' any of these: instead it deliberately goes for second best in all cases. Ray Nitschke was, at the time, the star player of The Bay Green Packers, an American Football team that were trounced frequently when he first joined them and often bottom of the league (although things were picking up by the time of his appearance in 'Head' when he in particular was winning much respect for his abilities in the game). Instead of Muhammad Ali we get the man who lost to him, 'Sonny Liston'. For a former child star we get Annette Funicello, whose star had slipped slower but just as dramatically as The Monkees with her always caught in a single role (the sort she plays here). Victor Mature was labelled 'past it' after reaching middle age - though he never did a commercial for an anti-dandruff shampoo as far as I know it's the sort of thing people would have seen him doing, a comedown from his heyday. Frank Zappa too was still at the start of his career and far from the big name he would be later; in commercial terms in 1968 he too was a 'loveable loser'. The Monkees are as much a part of their time and as tightly labelled as all these other stars so in a way 'Head' is a means of preparing The Monkees for a future when they too are has-beens and doomed to failure. It's both flattering and nasty that all these 'losers' are given a chance to show another side to them across this film (nobody knew the two sports stars could act for a start) while simultaneously having them depicted as being 'less' smart than The Monkees, the only ones to see through the 'black box' delusion. However, as much as people had tried to knock all of these previously popular institutions down, they had all survived the passing of time and had all maintained a sort of 'loveable loser' brand of identity. Back in 1968 acts like crossdresser TC Jones and Frank Zappa were loved as much as feared for being great traditional eccentrics. Victor Mature might have been a star of yesteryear but he's taken age with good grace, playing the sort of roles that laughed at what he used to be. Ray Nitschke and Sonny Liston were loved even more because they'd 'lost' after hyped contests - and become noble in the way they bravely took defeat. Even Annette Funicello, whose career had got stuck for the past fifteen years, would have been a key memory for many people's childhoods back in 1968 and the viewers were of an age to start to think it 'sweet' she was still the same as they remembered rather than creepy. The Monkees know they're going to join this long list of second-bests, forgotten and trodden on by hipper acts of the 1960s, but by goodness if they were going to go out it was with the same courage and grace as their supporting cast. Having winners like Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay as he still was then) and The Beatles, would have been 'hipper' than Sonny Liston and Frank Zappa, but would have been 'wrong' too: this is a film were nobody wins because nobody is smart enough to work out the rules; The Monkees here are as far away from natural life winners The Beatles as they ever were.

This is, you see, a very 1960s film and works best if you see it through the eyes of people who don't know how quickly Frank Zappa's star is about to rise in the early 1970s or that Sonny Liston's sudden death two years after making this film would elevate him from fondly remembered laughing stock into anational treasure. We've spoken often across our reviews of the TV episodes about how this series was intended for one generation only - and that was the teenagers who till now hadn't had a 'television' voice. 'Head' comes fashionably late towards the end of the 1960s when things are changing and getting darker; it would have been interesting to see if the relatively fluffy Monkee antics of 1967 would have got darker or been taken off the air anyway even without the great 'you don't play your own instruments' outcry hadn't happened. This is a generation who just a few years ago were teeny-boppers but are fast becoming 'adults', people of age who can infiltrate the 'system' by voting and holding positions of power (at least in theory - it's hard to explain how terrified some older people in power were of this happening, although sadly the odd commercial hit like Ben and Jerry's or Glastonbury aside, the 1960s seems to have had far less impact on business models than on music, fashions and politics). However many have chosen not to do this but instead to take the money and run as it were, hypnotised and sterilised on a diet of mass produced fodder that's the downside of the 1960s philosophy (as the factory owner puts it 'the trouble with your times my young friend is that you may get exactly what you want'), the pure bliss of 'As We Go Along' in the pure snow and sunshine giving way to ugly signs and the relentless whirr of capitalist consumerism. The summer of love spirit that everything will change as soon as the world discovers 'love' hasn't worked out the way it was hoped and in fact wars and demonstrations and assassinations have got worse than ever in 1968, not better. (The world is still a desert and capitalism is still the only oasis in it - even if it's one that proves frustratingly empty (as Micky finds out to his cost). Note that it's after the factory worker leads the band 'astray' (the other three not listening to Davy whose spotted the carnage caused by consumerism) that the band end up in a black box for the first time (one which gives way to a degrading anti-dandruff commercial). The Monkees represented the 'summer of love' more than most bands - not as much as the 'Laurel Canyon' mob or the 'Haight Ashbury' crowd perhaps, but they were very much the closest thing to a 'hippie' band on TV. Flower power and the 'Monkee peace' so often plugged on the show's second season hasn't worked. So is this instead the hippieness that went leaping over the bridge with the band, the innocence of the 1960s committing suicide because it can't bear to live in an adult world it can't possibly change? Is this in fact why Mike hates being reminded of his 'birthday' so much - and its not the surprise element at all; he turns nasty only after Peter mentions his age which, technically, is a year out as Mike turned 26 that year (it might perhaps be prescient to point out that 'real' hippies hated The Monkees - Peter Tork, for instance, got booed off the stage at the Monterey Pop festical in June 1967 when trying to introduce The Buffalo Springfield - but Bob and Jack either didn't know that or didn't care; 'Head' is all about 'perception' and the link between The Monkees and the 1960s in most of the general public's minds was 'enough' to maybe make a point).

The final point to make is based around something the Swami says at the end, when he appears to Peter and urges him to 'think' his way outside the box. His comments are that 'there is no difference between the real and the vividly imaginative'. Much of his speech actually refers to what we were saying earlier about TV's ability to depict other people's feelings and thought systems. However this blurred line is particularly key to The Monkees' story and one we've banging on about ever since the first article written on the band for Alan's Album Archives eight years ago: this is not just a TV series or a music band but both. The Monkees was the first real multimedia experience ever made, but in order to become one it had to blur a few lines between how the two systems worked. The music world in the 1960s was all about authenticity and being 'real' - The Monkees scored there by (sometimes) playing their own instruments and using their own names. The TV series, however, knew that this 'Mike Micky Davy Peter' group was a fictional construction based only loosely around each individual. It made no bones about the fact that the shows were scripted and often showed behind-the-scenes clips to make sure; although again the lines were blurred with the 'one minute short' interview clips where The Monkees became 'real' all over again. The Swami's speech - and much of 'Head' - seem to be asking what the difference is and why this 'blurred line' has effectively ended The Monkees' before its time (though you can debate how long The Monkees could have sustained itself without it anyway, the big revelation that 'the band didn't play their own instruments' is clearly the point which 'ends' the band's career, even if it took three years for the full damage to be done). There is, though, no difference - to us. I may have an impression of the 'real' Micky, Mike, Davy and Peter but I don't' 'know' what they're like because I'm not them living life through eyes and having had their experiences. Therefore the 'real' Micky Mike Davy and Peter that comes across on film is as much of an impression and a caricature as the characters each one 'plays' in the TV series. No wonder the Swami says 'here there is a difference (at least most of us believe there is)'. The Monkees were the first act ever to be both TV and music stars and that blurred line (along with the great songs, witty scripts, perfect casting and The Monkeemobile) are why The Monkees were so important and - once the fuss all died down - resilient enough to last into the current day. The Swami hints that the only way to become real is to tear down all barriers between us, to accept that all humans have a depth that we can never understand while living our own lives. 'Beliefs' are the result of 'conditioning' from a certain set of humans: but what if we're 'all' right and life is really about perception? The only way to live life as it really is, instead of through other people or what we've been taught to think, 'is to experience the now without preconception or belief'. We've clearly moved a long way on from 'Last Train To Clarksville'...

Most of this may well turn out to be pure gibberish and The Monkees, Bob and Jack really did write it because of a bad LSD trip that meant nothing (the script even beat me there too though - 'why should I speak? Since I know nothing!') However I defy anyone to watch 'Head' without the sense that something is going on - whether this is what you think the film is all bout or not. This is, after all, the movie business' equivalent of the rorsarch blot: what you see in it is probably more about you than the creators. There is, nevertheless, something palpably in this film and I love projects like this that allow me to tease out what might be here without giving me any straight answers. What I feel about this film can never be proved 'wrong' - even though it can never be proved 'right'. 'Head' is the perfect launchpad for the best discussions about, well, almost anything really from the state of music to the film world to the thoughts of fictional characters to the restrictions we place around all mankind. 'Head' debates the pointlessness of war, before taking a surreal walk through a vacuum cleaner, keen to laugh as much at itself and its main cast as the many traditions it lampoons mercilessly across its hour and a half running time. It really is the most extraordinary adventure/comedy/ western/love story/mystery/drama/ musical/documentary/satire ever filmed, as was promised on the trailers. It's aged better than almost anything else from the period, moving slowly from an average rating of 'zilch' stars to four stars (surely we can push it up to five?; the revisionism took place as early as the 1973 re-issue with esteemed film critic Charles Champlin wondering, as much to himself as anyone else, 'how critics and early audiences could miss the film's fierce energy and tart iconoclastic point of view'). Even Mick Jagger, not the sort of person you'd expect to want to see an arty film about a manufactured pop group, loved the sound of it so much that he wrote off to Bob Rafeleson offering to trade the unseen Rolling Stones documentary 'Cocksucker Blues' for a print of 'Head' (alas history never did record what he thought of it!) It is the most 1960s film ever made - and simultaneously the most timeless. It's full of some of the greatest songs The Monkees ever made (not much space for them here but we've covered that aspect in full on our album review). It is the best swansong anybody could ever have hoped to make (notwithstanding the TV special and three LPs still to come, this one 'feels' like an end). It's a project that has fascinated and thrilled more than almost any other AAA creation. It is 'Head' and 'Head' is whatever the hell you want it to be. What other film, especially a music film starring a fictional musical band, could you ever possibly say that about?

Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) This was the first screen credit actor Jack Nicholson ever got in his life, a year before teaming up with Bob Rafelson again for 'Easy Rider', only here he's a co-writer 2) Debate rages as to how much of this film The Monkees actually wrote. According to Bob and Jack the six of them took a holiday in Ojai California and tossed around ideas for a whole week, but it was the pair of writers who physically 'wrote' the script and decided what would happen, reflected in only them getting a credit on the end of the film. The four Monkees have all claimed to have written sections to varying degrees, however, especially Peter who was particularly hurt not to get a credit (given that part of the film is about how The Monkees were never given credit for their own actions, this seems sadly plausible). 3) Of the songs used in the film soundtrack only 'Porpoise Song' was written specifically for the film. Peter had submitted both of his for 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' before 'Can You Dig It?' and 'Long Title' were chosen by Bert and Bob for the film and Peter originally sang the former song not Micky (as can be heard on the re-issues of the album soundtrack) while Mike wanted to sing 'Daddy's Song' (ditto). The last song to be decided on was 'Daddy's Song' - the working script for the film had Davy singing his own song 'If You Have The Time' instead  4) A major rift developed between Monkees and creators when the band learnt that they would not be allowed to direct part of the film (as they thought had been agreed) and when they learnt they would not be getting a writing credit for the film. This lead to a rift between the other three and Peter when they staged a walkout strike on the first day of shooting but the banjo player still turned up for work  5) The name 'Head' was added late in the day (specifically so Bob and Jack could use the joke on their promotion for 'Easy Rider' 'From the makers who gave you 'Head' although they were never allowed to use their gag). The working title while the film was being made was 'Changes' (later 'borrowed' as the name of a 1970 Monkee LP and possibly named after a Davy Jones outtake from 1968) and early test screenings of the film were given the name 'Untitled' 6) Unlike the TV series, almost all of 'Head' was filmed on location: Long Beach (opening 'ribbon cutting' scene), Pasadena Rosebowl (the 'WAR' chant),Salt Lake City ('Circle Sky'), Bronson Canyon (the war trenches), Hyperlon Sewage Treatment Plant (The 'Factory'), Palm Springs (Micky in the desert) and The Bahamas (The Monkees underwater) 7) The Monkees pad seen in the film is clearly meant to resemble the 'old' one from the TV series. Only the set had already been broken up and junked, with several of the familiar props unavailable. So for this one project it looks as if The Monkees have had a change of decorators, gaining an entire new staircase, a new couch and lounge chairs and even a barber's chair, stained glass in the windows, a fluffy carpet instead of bare floorboards and - most bizarrely - an aquarium. Has 'this' version of The Monkees gone up in the world? Mind you the decor is the least of the band's troubles in this film... 8) Fans of The Beatles have often seen a link between this film's loose structure and that of 'magical Mystery Tour'. However I say the biggest influence is 'Help!' with many similarities between the two projects. Both titles  are very similar four letter words beginning with 'H', both have Ken Thorne providing the music (including a re-arranged classical piece on the end credits), the scenes for 'Ticket To Ride' and 'As We Go Along' both set in the snow are very similar and there's a tank that runs out of control in both films 9) Apparently the 'director's cut; for this film ran to 110 minutes, but predictably poor results at test screenings meant the film company insisted on the film being cut down to the 86 minutes we have today (even though the film was always going to be hit like this at any length!) Sadly to date the 'extra footage' has never been seen and may not even have been kept  10) Bob and Jack were arrested for a promotional campaign for the film that went wrong, being 'discovered' in the process of trying to stick a 'Head' label onto the helmet of a New York policeman! 11) Was there ever another film with a cast to rival 'Head's? American footballer Ray Nitschke, actress Terri Garr, boxer Sonny Liston, Disney star Annette Funicello, 40s movie star Victor Mature, future 1980s songstress Toni Basil and anarchic musician Frank Zappa! 12) A rare cut scene written for the movie but not filmed would have taken place after June Fairchild has kissed The Monkees and left. Each of them goes to the mirror to preen and sees themselves as 'others' see them: Mike is 'posh', Peter is a 'clown', Micky is a 'centaur' (eh? I don't get that one...) and Davy is a sheikh (not so sure about that one either come to that...) 13) Peter Tork left The Monkees after making this film and subsequent TV special '33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee'. The others new of his decision and it was even incorporated into the film: the scene on Mike's birthday is set a day before his last official day as a Monkee, December 31st 1968 (the date seen on the telegram he receives; the others all signed new contracts through 1969, Mike buying his out a year later and bankrupting himself in the process) 14) Davy had already married his first wife Linda in secret earlier in the year. Her first appearance on film comes as one of the dancers in the 'Long Title' sequence, although she's not actually dancing with Davy. Phyllis Nesmith, Mike's first wife, also appears in the same scene - she's the one in a floral dress.

Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 10/10



  
TV Special:
"33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee"

(Recorded November 1968, First broadcast April 14th 1969)

"I don't believe it!"

Music: I'm A Believer (Micky)/Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love) (Peter)/Naked Persimmon (Mike)/Goldilocks Sometime (Davy)/Wind-Up Man (Monkees)/Darwin (Monkees)/I Go Ape! (Monkees)/Medley: At The Hop-I'm Ready-A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On-Tutti Frutti-Shake A Tailfeather-Blue Monday-Little Darlin'-Long Tall Sally-Down The Line-Dem Dry Bones (Monkees with Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard)/Come On Up (Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and The Trinity)/A String For My Kite (Monkees)/Solfeggietto (Peter)/Listen To The Band (Monkees)/California Here I Come! (Peter)

Main Writer: Jack Good and Art Fisher Director: Art Fisher

Plot: Brian Auger and his less-than-lovely assistant Julie Driscoll want to brainwash the world through the powers of television and have an electro-thought machine that allows them to do just that. For reasons best known to themselves and the director, they decide to conjure up The Monkees and 'brainwash' the real Micky, Mike, Peter and Davy into taking up new roles as Monkees. Each one gets trapped in a hypnotising 'tube' and has their own 'musical fantasy' relating to the direction they wanted to take The Monkees in. Somewhere in the middle of all this is the idea of evolution - that The Monkees have to progress from their primate stage and Charles Darwin is somehow shoe-horned into the plot as a fellow mad scientist. Along the way Auger decides that the experiment is taking too long so he 'invents' rock and roll, with a parody concert set at the Paramount Theatre on December 7th 1956 and attended by Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Fat Domino who play a rock and roll medley with and without the Monkees joining in. Auger and Driscoll then perform one of their own songs before a sad and wistful Davy reflects on what might have been, Peter sits down to play a big of his favourite Bach piece and then The Monkees all turn up for one final performance, an epic version of 'Listen To The Band' that lasts nearly twenty minutes. It's a lengthy 'spoof' of the Monkees romps in which the band themselves don't do much but all sorts of psychedelic effects happen and we cut to the guests/dancers/extras doing weird things. The camera pulls away to reveal this is all taking place in a 'book' titled 'Chaos Has Come Again' and has 'The Beginning Of The End' on the back cover. This is shut with a big crash, bringing an end to the song, before Peter's last performance as a Monkee has him telling us 'this is the final end!' as he plays 'California Here It Comes' out to the finish. In other words, no that wasn't a drug-induced dream you had back in 1969, this special really happened and yes it was every bit as weird, surreal and downright confusing as you remember (this isn't the sort of special you'd forget if you've seen it) - and I'm sorry if I've just started off an acid flashback for you, as if I have this will be a very uncomfortable experience all round.

What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode:  Mike: Or 'Monkee number threre' as he's labelled. His 'dream' is the most pertinent of the four and 'Naked Persimmon' involves a schizophrenic Nesmith trying to be both country legend and rock star. Both Mike's 'die' during the course of the sequence. Elsewhere 'Listen To The Band' is started by Mike as a sad lonesome ballad before everyone else joins in and it becomes an epic. Micky: Is 'Monkee number one'. His big number is an R and B version of 'I'm A Believer', which is great until the part where Julie Driscoll decides to screech right along with him. Micky is also the 'lead' singer of The Primate Monkees as they sing 'I Go Ape!' Davy: Is Monkee number four. His dream sequence is a children's tale that has him inch high and turned into a storybook character. Peter: Is 'Monkee number two'. His big moment is an Indian re-arrangement of Medival-sounding ballad 'Prithee', previously recorded by both Micky and Davy for the band (though technically this is the song's first 'release').

Things that don't make sense: Strap yourselves in, we're going to be here for around 33 and 1/3rd pages to sort this mess out! Firstly, the obvious: why this show ever got on the air for a start. Along with 'why did Screen Gems show this opposite the Oscars Award Ceremony which back in 1969 was a 'must see'? (they seem to all intents and purposes have been pleased with the special and still expected a fair audience similar to the end of the second season). Oh and another big why - how on earth did a channel as professional as NBC 'accidentally' screen parts of this special out of sequence the first time round? (Confused by what was going on but assuming it was part of the madness, no one complained!) However most of the problems with this special stem from the chaotic way it was made, with The Monkees unlucky enough to get the short straw in a battle of productions delayed by an NBC strike, meaning that the show was made in a hurry (even by Monkees standards) and in a totally different setting which neither band nor director had rehearsed (most of the special was meant to be an 'outside broadcast', though exactly where outdoors has never been said). this explains a lot of the dodgy camera shots, the unrehearsed extras (or Monkee occasionally) and the general sense that this is a bad school play. The most hilarious moment comes in the seconde scene where Drsicoll 'telepathically' talks to the audience and says 'silly boys - brute force will get you nowhere' while Mike Nesmith desperately clings to his 'hypnotising tube' because if he even breathes on it strangely it will topple over! However, this surely could have been avoided. Given the extraordinarily long time between recording and broadcast dates (roughly double the amount on the second series) and the fact that Screen Gems still expected a semi-big hit with this special, why not wait until the 'proper' equipment was ready and starty again?

As for the script, who are Auger and Driscoll meant to be? The confusing opening speech - including munching apples - seems to hint that the pair are our 'creators', Gods if you will ending the Garden of Eden themselves as they brainwash mankind. Another view is that they're wizards/aliens who have taken an interest in Earth and just happen to like munching apples without realising the significance. A third has Auger is the devil and he's changed his form since he was Mr Zero - that might explain why he wants to get his own back on The Monkees although this raises another 'thing that doesn't make sense'. The TV Monkees were never in a position of brainwashing anybody - their only chance to appear on television got blown by Fern and Davy doing so badly at a talent show. Fair enough then, this is the 'real' Monkees as they are in real life - only they're not but the caricatures of the TV characters. Which means that they're both. Or neither. My head hurts! (They really didn't think this through did they?)

Linked to this - who is Driscoll and what is she to Auger? (Yeah apart from singer and organist - we'll leave that to one side a minute). In the first scene she's laughing and cackling along with him and is in truth a lot scarier than he is but then in the second scene she's trying to 'help', urging The Monkees to 'think yourselves free'. Won't Auger be cross when he comes back? And why, if she was always there to help the hapless foursome, is she so mocking and beastly to them? Why does she appear in Micky's 'dream' but not those of the other three? And where has Auger gone away - did he run out of apples or something?

In the 'Golidlocks Sometime' sequence, why does  Auger interrupt the action, laugh at The Monkees' dreams and then allow the song to run on with a 'false stop' dance sequence that adds nothing (he doesn't seem the type of wizard to be a fan of dolls dancing somehow).

Where does Darwin come into play? Though certainly 'connected' with the idea of evolution, old Charlie boy is hardly the wizard he's painted out to be here. Unless of course you assume that he went back in time to pose as a human to come up with the theory and lived out a normal human lifespan (and a painful I might add - he clearly had an early form of m.e./cfs) in his pointless quest to turn humans on to evolution. And why does he spend so much of his time manically laughing and making bad puns about man rising up from being fish ('but without the chips of course - ha ha!') Full marks for the stupidest line in I've heard in years ('Evolution can do no more - this is where science steps over!' I get the drift (Evolution has reached a peak and now scientist humans can manufacture things themselves) but surely someone involved with this production should have pointed out that you can't get much more sciency than 'evolution' (which was taught as part of biology last time I looked). This is not the same Darwin I studied at school and doesn't even look that much like him...

During the rock and roll sequences Micky falls in love with Marilyn Monroe, an actress whose of the completely wrong vintage for the music playing and who would have been sixteen years older than Micky had she not already died in 1962, seven years before this special was aired. So why the Charles Darwin is she here?!

Why is the rock and roll sequence here at all? Yes I get that The Monkees are just the tip of an iceberg of mass-commercialism, but unlike say 'Head' (which made a point of making all the guest parts 'losers' who had lost their way and fame and been stuck in time the way The Monkees had been) we don't know what to think. Are the 1950s a warning about what will happen to The Monkees when everybody 'catches on'? If so then I'd take it - even in 1969, with a slight dip, Fats Little and Jerry Lee were all still fairly big name performers and only the latter marrying his cousin had really caused sales to dip. The answer to this special seems to be: The Monkees can't last and they're going to be dried up, just as those timeless legends from the 1950s we all still know and love.
I've just seen Mike asked to bend over so the backing singer can see his tail-feather. This is clearly wrong. I suddenly feel very sick.

Hmm something tells me I've spent far longer thinking about this special than the people making it did...

Oh and why the heck was Julie Driscoll ever popular? Auger and Driscoll have the audacity to laugh at The Monkees for having no talent - eh?!

Best Five Quotes: 1) Auger - "We have the knowledge, evil though it be, to twist the mind to any lunacy we wish through this electro-thought machine - I'll demonstrate exactly what I mean. We'll take the means of mass communication, use them for commercial exploitation, create a new four part rhythm group, four simply lads talent little or not, and through the latest fad of rock and roll conduct experiments in mind control on an unsuspecting public. I'll brainwash them and they'll brainwash - the world!" 2) Driscoll - "Silly boys, brute force will get you nowhere. Here's not here now - your minds are free. Use them! Think yourselves out! Relax, relax, feel your body sinking and your spirits rising. Rising out of your heads, floating away into your own world of fantasy..." 3) "I'm a wind up man, programmed to be entertaining, turn the key, I'm a fully automatic wind-up man, invented by the teeny-bopper turn me on and I will sing a song about the wind-up man! I'm a wind-up man programmed to be entertaining, turn me on and I will sing a song about the wind up world of people watching television, wind-up man, can you hear me laughing at you? Wind-up man!" 4) Darwin - Balderdash! Rubbish and tommy rot! Do you know who I am or have you forgot? You're trying to run before you can walk, now let's get back to the start of it all...In the beginning there was Darwin (Here's my card!) Then came the fish (But without the chips of course, ha ha!) Dinosaurs and Brontasaurs followed (Yes it's in my book 'Origin Of Species') and started an evolution! 5) Announcer - "And here they come, idloized, plasticised, psycho-analysed, sterilised - The Monkees!" 6) "Awake before it's too late, there comes a time when love bangs at your door and when that time comes run it run it and then..."

Postmodernisms: Oodles. For a start The Monkees are drawing attention to their own creation as mass-produced consumerist fodder, supposedly 'brainwashing' a sleeping world into being sucked into their empty capitalist greedy plot. The show also veers from dismissing the band as 'puppets' to making them out to be 'brainwashed' - either way, this special is very openly mocking the TV show. Then there's the continual jokes about the band as 'apes' and 'monkeys' as well as addressing 'evolution' in general (the entire special starts with Julie Driscoll eating an apple, a Biblical reference to man's 'creation'). You could throw in the 'advert' that crops up behind the 'Wind-Up Man' sequence with 'this space for rent' written all over it. And the fact that Darwin rips through the screen and physically tears it up to make his point. Then there's the music: all four Monkees are seen in 'exaggerations' of themselves, like an LSD-fuelled vision of what the band played in their solo spots on their first concert tour (Micky 'James Brown' Dolenz re-invents 'I'm A Believer', Peter gets trippy on 'Prithee', Mike is torn between country and rock on 'Naked Persimmon' and Davy is storybook cute on 'Golidlocks Sometime'. During the closing 'Listen To The Band' jam someone holds up a very awkward sign during the quartet's last performance together: 'They're Really Playing This!' You can throw in 'Wind-Up Man' there too, a track deliberately designed to sound like a horribly irritating commercial and where the 'evil' Auger and Darwin himself can be seen 'laughing' at the people at home for watching all this rubbish. To put this in context this would be the equivalent of Alan's Album Archives writing parody editions of its own newsletters every April Fool's Day and expecting people to come back after uproariously laughing at itself (erm, guess what book we have coming out in just over a year's time!) The special actually ends with the camera running out of film! And the single greatest entry across this whole book so great we have to quote it in full as Brian Auger calls out to producer Jack Good and says: 'Wait a minute Jack, hold on, stop the show, look this brainwashing bit has completely out of hand. I'm Brian Auger and this is Julie Driscoll and we don't any more of this sort of brainwashing business - what we want is complete and total freedom. Do you understand what this means?' 'Yeah - utter bloody shambles!'

Davy Love Rating: Minus a Million. In fact every Monkee scores minus a million here - nobody loves The Monkees anymore, they're finished, washed up, through, shown for what they 'really' are as mass media puppets and the creation of capitalist pigs, etc etc

Review: They wanted it to be a sequel to 'Head', one of the most perfectly realised, groundbreaking, multi-layered film projects ever created. It ended up looking like one of those embarrassing pantomimes the children's series Rainbow used to do but with a scary man and woman instead of Rod, Jane and Freddy (actually that is about the same!) The general consensus among Monkee fans is that '33 and a Third' was a clumsy attempt to do on a low budget what the band had already done perfectly with a big one, with a wannabe writer in Art Fisher (previous experience: a James Brown music special very different to this one) whacking fans over the 'head' with the sort of thing the film had only hinted at. Watching it at times is like the worst acid trip of your life, as an old friend is murdered in front of you - after they've dug their own grave first. The few fans The Monkees had left in 1969 really hoped that the promise of three specials in the year (the other two were cancelled after this) really would be 'special', with The Monkees all given the chance to prove how great and talented they were across a longer period of time, breaking free from the 'control' of the TV series the same way they had musically on 'Headquarters'. Instead it doesn't feel special at all, just cheap and nasty and full of cruel digs at how stupid The Monkees were for being brainwashed and how stupid we all were for being taken in for so long. In one stroke this special explains why the last three years of our lives were wasted (and by osmosis the last 500 odd pages of this book) and we're all supposed to say 'thankyou, how clever!' at having this pointed out. I don't think so. The strike and the impact it caused on this rushed and clumsy production is clearly to blame for some of the issues, but it could have been shot with a million pounds a scene and still been wrong because its so badly put together at the start. I think it's fair to say that neither Art Fisher nor Jack Good (creator of the 'Oh Boy' series among others) ever really 'got' The Monkees or even came anywhere close.

There is, you see, just enough of a hint in this special about why The Monkees weren't offering manufactured anything. While Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll ponce about like the main stars (to be fair they're only doing what the script demands) their one-layered performance is exactly what you see in other Magical Mystery Tour-lite specials like this one around back then. Even confined to quarters, with just a song each and a shared jam plus thirty second bursts of crock and roll hits, The Monkees prove why if this was being brainwashed most fans would gladly welcome being brainwashed all over again. Micky purrs like a panther on 'I'm A Believer', updated to sound contemporary and fresh and ironically its the 'hip' presence of Driscoll that comes close to ruining it. Even at the time Peter's Indian-inspired 'Prithee' seemed bonkers and OTT as well as horrifically dated - but this period of music charms for several good reasons and by combining the fading demand for all things Eastern with a Medieval feel, Peter gets close to being 'timeless'. Mike's 'Naked Persimmon' is a real song that 'got away', a debate between his country and rock sides without any clear winner as he veers between one extreme to another, in front of a daringly inventive split screen that features two Mike's on a 'wanted' poster. Very clever Nes. Even 'Golidlocks Sometime' isn't as horrifically chirpy as some other Davy songs and has a really pretty melody, while 'A String For My Kite' is beautifully sung by the Mancunian melodicist. The 1950s rock pastiche, while inordinately stupid, is delivered with just enough of a wink and a nod to get The Monkees by. 'Wind Up Man', too, is the best irritating song I've had the pleasure to be irritated by in a long time, perfectly capturing the incessant droning persistence of consumerism (even if I'd still prefer a shampoo commercial shot in Victor Mature's hair to make the point). 'Listen To The Band' is great for the first four minutes, even if its a shame about the other sixteen. Somehow it makes sense, though, that The Monkees' original career (ie the one with all four members) ends with a monumental postmodern jam about waving goodbye to us and to each other - it's a neat mirror of the 'Theme' which promises the band will come 'walking down the street' full of energy and excitement as we hear them turning away and slumping to the floor.

It's not just The Monkees either. There are some great ideas in this special which have either been lost because they're surrounded by so many bad ones or because the passing of time has seen so many other shows catch up that they seem ordinary. Even in the opening shot, though, we get Julie's eyes in Brian's stomach and all sorts of post-production effects that would have been mind-blowing television in 1969, already a move ahead from the second series of the TV series even with such a low budget and interrupted production. Darwin ripping up the screen still looks remarkable now nearly fifty years on. The four pianos stacked on each other (Fats, Little, Jerry and Brian) is an astonishing bit of editing work without any obvious lines around it. The simple set dressing for 'I Go Ape!' is fab, even if the chunky costumes aren't. The sudden cuts away to various gorillas doing human things - like wearing headphones or nodding along - are a good ten years ahead of their time. The dancing skeletons who jive along with the Clara Ward Singers are laughable now, but you show me another programme from 1969 with graphics this god - especially when this complex combination of live action and animation is then burnt from the middle out! (That's witchcraft for 1969!) The fact that The Monkees are kept in a 'cage' between shows is simple yet very effective (and resembles the 'truth' more than the production team perhaps knew - the TV show directors took to locking the band up in a special room when they weren't need to make sure they wouldn't walk away!) Mike Nesmith sings to himself using split screen - and just when you think you've worked out how they've done it he reaches over the rather obvious 'split' line and reveals the production is so much cleverer than you think it is. Not to mention the moment when the penny drops and some of the half-ends wrap themselves together, with the debate about whether it is better to be controlled and brainwashed but making music people will listen to - or whether it's better to be 'free' and limitless, but because of our lack of rules we'll end up making more noise. Alas this promising discovery is rather swept aside by a lovely Davy Jones vocal on 'A String For My Kite' and Peter Tork doing his 'Bach' bit and the whole idea gets lost.

Or am I being unfair? Is this special in fact even more clever than Head and its just the execution that's clumsier? I'll throw this in here now because I'm not quite sure where else it goes, but watching it back reminds me of a lot of the late 1960s books that theorised that God was an alien and man was created in his image twinned with the DNA of monkeys. Now admittedly this special is weird enough without throwing that in, but  it would explain this special's obsession with evolution and the fact a giant gorilla paw comes out of nowhere to close a book marked 'the beginning of the end' while the world explodes on the last note. Throughout the special you can see a tug of war between the idea of being controlled (all the things the 1960s thinks of as 'bad' in rock songs: capitalism, greed, wars, 'the man') and the idea at the end of limitless freedom, which sounds like a great idea when Mike strikes up 'Listen To The Band' but is sounding like a bad move twenty minutes later when everyone's playing randomly and you have the mother of all migraines. There are many books from this era that explore, both fictionally and potentially factually, the idea that Mankind rebelled against God/ET and went his own way in the universe, swapping peace but no freedom for freedom but no peace. There was a real feeling in 1969, as we've seen with every AAA band around that year, that the pendulum was swinging like crazy and society could yet go either way. We know now sadly (and to me its sadly if not you) that the 60s idealism of thinking for yourself and overthrowing outdated regimes won't last past the next few years of the next decade. There was a sense that it wouldn't even back then, with the 'discovery' of drugs and free love that opened so many doors in 1967 having closed for good in so many cases by 1969, with endless meaningless parties, endless meaningless sex without love and too many days wasted strung out on dope. The Monkees couldn't have made this show in any earlier year, just as they couldn't have got away with the first TV season any later - say what you will about how this show reflects The Monkees (sand we have) but it's a very prescient take on the 1960s. You could even compare it to the Darwin-era of the 19th century when man was caught between obeying God without question or accepting scientific principles that over-rode what was written in the Bible (the very reason a God-fearing Darwin didn't publish his theory for years before he heard of a scientist having similar thoughts - he was actually a very different character to the aggressive chap seen in this episode). The end result, then, is that just as in the TV series The Monkees are the product of their generation, battered about by the waves of pop brainwashing and fakeness set against their growing independence and demands for authenticity, which is actually a very neat conclusion to The Monkees' 1960s film work after all. A few more clues would have been nice, though, if any of this last paragraph is true.

However, that's still no excuse for wasting all the talents in the show in the first place, with the wrong people getting the most air time and the band the few people tuning in have come to see so far down the screen time sheets it hurts. Almost the entire second half is pointless, a two minute song about kites and the first four of 'Listen To The Band' apart. The Auger/Driscoll duet is atrocious - this is a pair that should have got other musicians in to play and sing on their records! The 'awake' bit that the alien version of Pan's People dance to in funny costumes, against a backdrop of volcanoes, is both the single stupidest and cheapest looking Monkee production since the finger puppets and make you long for something more palatable - like a five hour musical based on 'Ladies Aid Society'. If I'd seen a schoolplay this bad I'd have asked for my money back - as an NBC production, even a badly hit and doomed one, it's a disaster. Peter Tork's grand farewell should amount to more than an Eastern-flavoured cover song, a quick burst of Bach and an unlistenable performance of 'Listen To The Band', interrupted by all four Monkee larking around in ape costumes. The rock and roll legends really needn't have turned up (just why did they turn up?) The script needs starting again completely from scratch, missing the laughs and alternating between being blindingly obvious and offensively obscure all the way through. As the song says, I can almost hear them laughing at me while I'm watching this - but not The Monkees but Good and Fisher. As a sequel to the TV series it's a disappointment. As a piece of entertainment in its own right it's flimsy and crude. As standalone special with so much riding on it (the other two TV specials and who knows what next?) it's a disaster. Even as a period piece it's an overblown under-budgeted farce. And yet despite all the mud that's thrown at The Monkees across this special their reputations somehow remain unsullied: at least they had the good grace to laugh at themselves and it's not the brainwashed who deserve our sneers but the brainwashers. The Monkees deserved a better finale than this. And yet the special is so utterly unlike anything else you will ever see and so totally utterly often stupidly daring I still can't help but love this special, for all it's many many many faults.

Weren't they good? They made me happy. Now how on earth can they make it alone, without Bert or Bob to guide them?

Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) What's the significance of the date and place: Paramount Studios, December 7th 1956? Erm, like most features of this special you got me there - the date seems to have been plucked at random from what I can tell. However it might be worth noting that  Elvis signed his first film contract with Paramount Pictures earlier in the year and on this very date got into 'trouble' with the deep South and racial laws by performing a joint concert with B B King and a photocall where both had their arms round each other caused an outcry at the time. However this all took place at Memphis radio station WDIA and nothing to do with the Paramount Theatre! 2) Filming for the special started the day after the band's last concert as a quartet at The Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan. It marked a busy week for the band and especially Peter Tork, who with his contract up and unwilling to re-sign, went from one of the busiest weeks of his life (even by Monkee standards) to having nothing to do for the next few years. 3) This was the first and - until 1997 - only Monkee recording made on videotape rather than 16 or 35 mm film (as per the series and the film), a deliberate decision because despite losing a sharpness and quality it made it much easier for effects to be added in post-production. There are a lot of them in this special, even if few of them turn out the way they were intended (though the one of the two Mikes in 'Naked Persimmon' works rather well for the times). 4) As usual with The Monkees, the backing tracks were made largely without their contributions. However all four Monkees sang to these backing tracks 'as live' in the studio - the only time they ever did this. 5) There are only five names carried across to the credits from the TV series - the four Monkees and executive producer Ward Sylvester. If you're wondering where Bert and Bob are, they're busy making 'Easy Rider' with Head scriptwriter Jack Nicholson. 6) The bored looking extras were all genuine hippies from the Sunset Strip (the place with the riots Mike talks about in a 'minute short' segment) bussed into the studios at the production team's expense. The one who isn't is Monkees pal Rip Taylor (last seen nearly a year earlier as Wizard Glick in 'The Frodis Caper'). There is also one last hurrah for the original Monkee extras David Price plays drums on 'Little Darlin' and speaks the show's latest catchphrase 'I don't believe it!' 7) Though fie or so months separate the two recordings, the Monkees studio re-recording of 'Listen To The Band' was rush-released to the shops twelve days after the shambolic early version in this special first aired. Given the poor reception to the special this publicity scheme rather backfired. 8) Reine Stewart, Peter's girlfriend of the time and soon to be the drummer in his short-lived band 'Release' filled in for Fats Domino's drummer in the camera rehearsals when he failed to show and can be seen playing drums next to Jerry Lee Lewis in the 'Listen To The Band' jam 9) Puzzlingly, this special is the only Monkee inclusion at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York and the copy is one of the show in transmission order, not the intended order used on videos and DVD 10) Talking of which, modern-day viewers can see the special in its entirety as a special feature on the DVD set of the second season. There's also two optional extras to hear commentaries by director Art Fisher and guest star Brian Auger on the one hand (they're really proud of the special and thinks it stands up really well) and Micky on another (who thinks it looks awful and laughs most of the way through it. His last comment: a wry 'Boy, was that weird!')
Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 3/10



TV Episode  #781

"Hey! Hey! It's The Monkees!" aka "Episode 781"

(Recorded January 1997, First broadcast February 17th 1997)

"Even if you're all grown up, you're just as dumb as you ever were!"

Music: You and I (Romp/Performance) Circle Sky (90s Version) (Performance) Antarctica (Romp/Performance) Regional Girl (Performance) Hits Medley (Performance)

Main Writer: Mike Nesmith Director: Mike Nesmith

Plot: There isn't one! Or rather, The Monkees keep trying to avoid one. It's 1997 and The Monkees' series has continued to run for thirty years even though we at home have never had the chance to see it. The Monkees still live together at their beach pad and are still musicians but they've become increasingly tired by having their lives interrupted by endless plots. In turn they throw out a butler whose comes from a 'mansion that some say is...haunted!', a girl in love with Davy whose being chased by 'guys with cell phones and...black gloves' and a kid whose pet pig is about to be sold '...for bacon!' , but the closest the band come to a plot is performing at a prestigious country establishment where if it doesn't go well the owners may 'lose...the club!' Along the way Micky develops a new invention that allows him to throw up via a special effect ('Magnificent Monkee Hurl'), the laughter track breaks down and creates chaos, Mike re-develops the Monkeemobile so that it's 'dimensionally transcendent' (it now has a 'space' button, a 'time' button and has the ability to change objects at random - which causes a few surprises during The Monkees' actual performance!) Alas the Monkees end up using so much of their budget the episode has to keep cutting to footage of a lizard sunning itself on a rock and the episode ends prematurely, shortly after they find a kissing couple outside their house have covered it in toilet paper (it's an American thing, so I'm told!)

What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode:  Mike: Seems to have changed character with Micky for this episode, re-designing the Monkeemobile and cracking jokes. This aged Mike is far less bossy and no longer wears a wool-hat ('I haven't seen that hat in twenty-five years!') but is still game enough to run into the sea as per the Monkees' opening titles and demonstrate the news in interpretative dance. He's also the Monkees' memory checker, remembering old episode plots from years ago. Introduced by the club owner as Charlie.  Micky: Seems to have had a character transplant with Mike and has now become 'the bossy one', forever pushing the band to rehearse. Is still enough of an inventor to create 'Magical Monkees Hurl' although he reveals later it's just a special effect. Once had a tomato thrown at him during a concert in 1967 which for some strange reason the drummer still keeps in the fridge. Introduced by the club owner as Arlo. Davy: Is perhaps the most similar to his old self - he's still a sucker for a pretty face, seen trying to chat up girls who are now half his age during the video for 'Regional Girl' and even gets stars in his eyes and ears sometimes ('leftovers' from the old days). Dresses in drag as Ethel Merman to distract a guard. He's also slightly vain, going back to the broken laughter track to pretend that the applause of all for himself ('You like me! You really like me!'). Introduced by the club owner as Humphrey. Peter: Knows a lot of euphemisms for kissing, throwing up and being bonkers. Seems slightly smarter, if a bit quieter, than his 60s self though he still pulls many of the same expressions. He likes what the vandals have done to The Monkees' pad at the end of the episode. Introduced by the club owner as Bing. The Monkees 'probably' own the house 'by now', with no appearance by the landlord.

Things that don't make sense: There seems to be some confusion about how successful The Monkees ever were in this timeline. At times the band still seem to be unknowns, dodging rotten fruit in the past and greeted with silence when their name is announced. On the other hand the club owner insists on them playing their 'hits', which rather suggests they had some, and everyone in the audience remembers being beaten up for owning a Monkees lunchbox strangely ('it was quite a weapon though wasn't it?!') The fictional Monkees also had a glove puppet made of them which Peter happens to own - just like 'our' Monkees!

Best Five Quotes: 1) Micky - "What was the name of that other band, with all the blood and the make-up?" Davy - "Kiss?" Micky - "No thanks. You know, they have high heels and the guy has a nine-foot tongue" Mike - "Kiss?" Micky - "No, but Davy wants one!" 2) Micky "We'd better rehearse - before another plotline shows up!" 3) Davy - "Don't you think we really need a storyline?" Mike - "Not really, not as long as we're having a good time"  Davy - "You mean, you think it's alright that we have no visible means of support?" Micky - "Who says our means have to be visible?" Davy - "Don't you think we should have some dramatic tension, some drama, some distress?" Mike - "Not really, I mean we've been living like this for years. Once in a while a good storyline comes along, but other than that it's better hanging round on the beach, life's a bowl of oysters, what could be better?" 4) Girl in Car outside The Monkees' pad  "Once four boys moved into this house, went crazy and never moved out!" 5) Davy - "But she has had stars in her eyes!" Micky - "Yeah and oranges and grapefruits and the international symbol for slippery when wet!"

Romps/Performances: First up, 'You and I' in which The Monkees are seen to skate while miming their parts. Davy, Micky and Peter are all pretty good but Mike - traditionally the least physically active of The Monkees is amazing with a red bandana over his face (erm, is that really him as we're led to believe?) A random dog turns up to skate too! Second, the re-arrangement of 'Circle Sky' is performed by the band on the beach before the video cuts to shots of the band performing the song on a series of televisions. Note that Davy plays the guitar for this one. Thirdly,  'Antarctica' - a Bill Martin song that only ever appeared in this episode - starts with The Monkees performing out in the beach and cuts to them apparently at the South Pole dressed in furs looking cold. Fourthly, 'Regional Girl' features the band and extras walking past the camera, supposedly backstage, where only Micky mimes the song while Mike plays air guitar and Davy chats up his co-stars! Finally, The Monkees performance of old hits features 'Last Train To Clarksville/Daydream Believer/I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone/I'm A Believer/Pleasant Valley Sunday' and is an otherwise 'normal' performance except for the kids playing with the buttons on the Monkeemobile that suddenly change their instruments into different objects at random!

Postmodernisms: Lots. The doorbell at The Monkees' pad plays their theme tune. The fact that The Monkees' don't have a 'plot' suggests they know they're on television. The kissing teenagers out in the car referring to an 'outsider's view of The Monkees as 'four men who went inside that house and went mad!' The sight of 'Circle Sky' being performed on multiple TVs. The references to the budget and running out of film so that they have to keep cutting to a lizard sunning itself on a rock. The laughter track breaking down (interestingly, this wasn't used on the final few Monkees episodes - is this why?) The references to old plotlines (which interestingly aren't quite accurate - the one about a haunted house is of course episode two not 106, while the one about a pet being sold was actually a horse not a 'calf') plus Davy repeating his performance in drag from 'Some Like It Lukewarm', safe in the knowledge that viewers at home will know he's done this before. The club owner's references to Monkee lunchboxes and finger puppets.

Davy Love Rating: About a three. Davy gets only a 'hot dog' coming out of his ears when he meets the princess and is clearly worried about her stability even if he thinks she's pretty (however Davy clearly still has an effect on her - she gets most of the symbols from a fruit machine in her eyes at some point!)

Ad Lib: Micky's speech about not liking the changes to The Monkeemobile are followed by the drummer playing around with two crabs that try to eat each other, causing Micky to sob 'ohhh, he's dead!' catching both Mike and Peter off guard with their giggles!

Review: There was a lot being asked of the Nesmith written and directed reunion special. It had to remind people of the 'old' series without ignoring the changes that took place in 'Head' and '33 and A Third Revolutions Per Monkee' and try to make sense of the fact that The Monkees were still hanging out on the beach, largely unemployed, after all these years. Mike, never the fondest or most nostalgic of the Monkees, seems stuck between genuine affection for the band and respect for the audience and lampooning the whole thing a la 'Head', meaning that we get two great halves of an episode that never quite works. The decision to go 'plotless' is both the episode's strength (meaning we get to concentrate on The Monkees' characters - and let's face it the plots were never why we watched The Monkees in the first place) and it's weakness (the episode all seems a bit pointless, with the sense that The Monkees are just doing what they've always done - just on camera this time - not 'special' enough to quite pull off). There are lots of gags throughout this episode that work really well: the meddling with The Monkeemobile that moves everything outside the car back to the sixties or into random objects ('Very Monkees' as Peter puts it), the 'mini tour guide' round the fridge  (full of fruit thrown at the band and 'the first ever TV dinner') and the postmodern gags like the laughter track breaking down. The fact that The Monkees' pad still looks much the same (with the same 'money is the root of all evil' poster) but now comes with a psychedelic looking microwave is very clever too (we could have done with more of this actually: a Mr Schenider dummy dressed like one of The Spice Girls or something, or a collection of CDs to go alongside the records). However there are other parts that just don't work: the whole routine about Micky throwing up with confetti seems very 'off' somehow and what could have been a clever trick (the fact that The Monkees are themselves the 'monsters', 'going crazy' in a house they 'never left') ends up with a weak ending where two kissing teenagers hurl toilet paper over the house. The Monkees are noticeably less active in the music videos which are closer to straight performances than the 'romps' of old and whilst the instruments-becoming-fruit gag is very Monkees, the performance of the hits medley itself is awful. Oddly Mike gets Davy's character spot on (basically sweet, but still slightly vein and lovesick) but doesn't do so well with the others - Peter gets very little to do, whilst Micky has become the bossy one and Mike the wise-cracking one (you get the sense that Nes didn't actually bother to watch any of the episodes back to write this!) The result confused many fans, who were expecting a celebration rather than a 'Head'-like dissection of the TV business and the Monkees project, but actually those are the parts that work best: the poster of Magritte painting 'this is not a pipe' next to a shot of The Monkees captioned 'this is not a band' is priceless and easily the best gag of the episode, the only reference back to the 'Monkee backlash' of 1968 and beyond. This needed to be one of a handful of specials to go alongside more 'traditional' Monkee episodes - as a standalone reunion episode (and sadly the only one we're likely to get nowadays) it's all slightly underwhelming. Still, this special's heart is in the right place and it's great to see the band together as their 'fictional' selves again. The format of the show updates to the 1990s surprisingly well (modern TV owes more to The Monkees than it will ever admit, with all the fast cutaway shots and breaking the fourth-wall gags and the updated brief insert of The Monkees plugging their CD on a shopping channel) and this series could have gone on to run and run had the band been willing or had their 1997 reunion been greeted better by the national press. Micky's near-closing comment 'I wonder if the public know that TV shows like ours will never die, they just run and run even if they're never filmed' is a lovely Monkee moment that should have been where the episode finished (instead of the stuff with the papered house). However there just isn't enough Monkees here: where's the landlord, the dummy, the old guest stars (many of whom were still acting in 1997), the romps? This special sometimes surprises you with what it gets right and the attention to detail, but misses out on some of the obvious things along the way. The end verdict? This is better than many fans would have you think (many were quite bitter on first broadcast) and has some undeniably great moments, but in many ways it's a lost opportunity, more like the under-written over-cooked episodes of the second series than the brilliant gems of the first. A mixed bag, reminding you both why The Monkees was so brilliant in the first place and why it ran out of steam so quickly it was taken off the air after two series.

Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) The Monkees gave caret blanche to ABC to title this special whatever they wanted - the working title of this episode was 'A Lizard Sunning Itself On A Rock' 2) The project was Sylvester Ward's idea - the shows had been popular in re-reruns across the 1990s and the network asked him to come out of retirement to make a documentary. He contacted the other Monkees who were more enthusiastic about a one-off episode of the series updated to the modern day 3) most episodes of The Monkees took two days to film - this one took the record with six! 4) The old plots referred to in this special include  The Pilot, 'Monkee See Monkee Die'  'Gift Horse' and 'Some Like It Lukewarm' 5) The oddest moment in the special is 'Antarctica'. The song was written by Bill Martin (who also auditioned for The Monkees before writing 'All Of Your Toys' and 'The Door Into Summer' for the band and can be seen as the fridge 'tour guide' in this episode) and was first directed by Nesmith in his 'Pacific Arts' music video of 1980 'An Evening With Sir William Martin'. The pair had stayed  close friends since The Monkees' split and Mike wanted him in there somewhere!  6) ABC insisted on a 'new' version of 'Regional Girl' without the word 'bitch' so Micky re-recorded the line especially for this special- it's now 'making burgers for some cat!' 7) Mike's speech trying to cheer up the boy with the pig is the closing scene from 1947 film 'The Grapes Of Wrath
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Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 4/10