Monday, 9 May 2016
The Small Faces "Playmates" (1977)
High and Happy/Never Too Late/Tonight/Saylarvee/Find It//Lookin' For A Love/Playmates/This Song's Just For You/Drive-In Romance/Smilin' In Tune
"We could dance and sing - now all we have are memories to pass on..."
The Small Faces were so young when they got their big break that by the time of this first reunion album Mac was still only twenty-two, Marriott turned 30 during the making of it and Kenney wouldn't be thirty until after the second one, but there had been such a gap since the half-completed (well, actually more like a quarter-completed) 'Autumn Stone' in 1969 that The Small Faces seemed like they belonged in an entirely different era. Steve Marriott alone had lived about ten lifetimes by then and looked closer in age to fifty, while none of The Faces were exactly bouncing with juvenile enthusiasm either. The band that, perhaps more than any of their era stood for fashion and style as much as their records, shared almost nothing with the DIY culture of punk and even though some of the elder punks were pretty close to The Small Faces in age there couldn't have been a worse year for The Small Faces to get back together (now if they'd waited a couple of years for the mod revival of 1979 it would have been a whole different story...) All this despite an unexpected 1976 hit with a re-issue of 'Itchycoo Park' that put the offer of a reunion on the table in the first place. The hippie idealism of 'Itchycoo' seemed a long time ago though for a band that, apart, had been through hell and back. Sounding like fish out of water (and looking that way too on the Old Grey Whistle Test to promote the record), 'The Small Faces' seem deeply uncomfortable all round, delivering a record that few people who'd bought the band's original LPs could have possibly recognised as The Small Faces. Defensive, bored and full of endless noodling, 'Playmates' - the de facto follow-up to the pioneering eclectic, compact 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' in 1968 - is the sort of record that no one should have to hear, let alone the band's fans and this from a band who'd never given less than their best during their short lifespan. What on earth happened?
Rather a lot, since you ask. Marriott has been on quite a journey since that last ill-fated 1968 Small Faces tour where he tried to bring in girl singers and extra guitarists to make himself heard over the teenage screams and jacked it all in during an outburst on New Year's Eve. Making good on his suggestions to the others he's formed Humble Pie, a band that's the logical extension of the harder-edged Small Faces songs of 1968, complete with girl singers including PP Arnold for a time and an unknown guitarist named Peter Frampton. After a few years of solid but falling sales, Frampton quit the band to 'come alive', Marriott became extinct, a drug habit left him creatively dormant and his long-term muse Jenny Rylance (whose inspiration dated back to 'All Or Nothing' and especially 'Tin Soldier') had finally left. Also, for the second time in two bands, Marriott found himself ripped off and penniless, so poor that by his own admission in press releases he's taken to poaching rabbits and stealing vegetables from next door's garden under cover of darkness. Reduced from being one of the hottest shots of the 1960s to the point of starvation, Marriott clung to his manager's suggestion of a Small Faces reunion like an octopus with grappling hooks.
The Faces too were not immune to the idea - well, two of them at least, Ronnie Lane having long ago gone his own way. When Marriott quit the band Ronnie, Kenney and Mac had spent two years trying to get a new band together. There's a feeling, after all, that this band has to be perfect to replace someone of Marriott's stature and that they can't be doing with anymore guitar players likely to run away to different bands or singers likely to turn into pompous egomaniacs who quit in the middle of sessions. The band quickly hires Ronnie Wood - an old mate from package tours after his days with The Birds (not Byrds notice but The Birds, another promising British cockney act who crumbled far too quickly) - who despite their best efforts ends up being poached by The Rolling Stones. They struggled to come up with a singer, wanting an unknown to avoid ego problems, until the skinny friend of Wood's named turned up so many times and became such a nuisance they asked him to sing just to get rid of him assuming he wouldn't be any good. His name was Rod Stewart and by 1973 he is one of the biggest acts on the planet, with a solo career that's selling ten times more albums than his old band and who can't afford the time to record with them anymore. History, as they say, repeats itself but nobody was expecting the story to turn out that way again quite so soon. At least The Faces lasted for four albums this time, one more than The Small Faces ever did, though they recorded far less work in terms of singles and the like. Even so it had been three years since the last half-hearted Faces single and the money was running out for mostly non-writers Mac and Kenney, who weren't ripped off so much by businessmen as Steve but had spent rather a lot of money partying after Faces gigs. It was actually Kenney who was the coordinator of this reunion, having fallen out with Rod after effectively doing all the band rehearsals for him while the singer had better things to do (like talk to the press and watch football), the big break coming when Rod assumed Kenney wouldn't mind three months away from home in LA (the drummer left with the parting shot 'It may be hard to undnerstand, but I'm more in love with my family than I am with you!') Mac too felt abandoned and sidelined, passed over for Stewart's new band. The two Faces wanted to prove themselves and after coping with Rod Stewart for four years, surely they could cope with Steve Marriott?
The person who really needed the money, though, was oddly enough the Small Face who quit the reunion two rehearsals in, his clairvoyant streak already telling him the reunion was going to work out badly (and an uncomfortable meeting with producer Shel Talmy, who hadn't worked with the band since 1966 and isn't exactly held in much love and affection by at least four AAA bands, didn't help). Ronnie Lane, frustrated at Rod and Woody's disappearing acts, quit The Faces in frustration in 1973 and spent most of his money on a caravan, a mobile recording unit, a band and a travelling circus that was meant to promote Ronnie's music. Poorly organised, vaguely advertised and only barely rehearsed, those fortunate few who attended still claim that the gigs played by Ronnie's band Slim Chance were some of the best ever made. However with only one half-hit ('How Come?'), a big band and a new family to pay for and almost no publicity unless you lived near a big field and were interested in circuses, the money was growing increasingly tight by 1977. Worse yet, he'd just been officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, something both Ronnie and those closest to him had been fearing for years after his mother died of it, but were hoping would go away - sadly it's a cruel and degenerative illness, that made an already hard life harder and harder (it's the sister condition to mine, so take it from me what a life-changer this is). Ronnie was in a bad way - he had in fact been unable to deliver a new solo LP that year because he couldn't afford the costs of a recording studio (he preferred to work in the outdoors anyway) and the record company weren't in a hurry to get one so it, until The Who's Pete Townshend came to his rescue and offered to pay not only for the recording costs but to make a 'duet' album 'Rough Mix', which helped boost Ronnie's coffers considerably (though he won't get that money till nearer the end of the year). Lane, the quiet heart of The Small Faces, was interested enough to turn up to sessions and revisit old friends, but he felt that the music was a poor substitute for what he remembered and felt his own style had departed way too far from his old friend's. In Lane's words he bailed out when the plan went from informal gigs to a permanent reunion, adding that he 'enjoyed visiting school but didn't want to stay to take classes'; in Marriott's words he did a 'Neil Young', 'walked out for a packet of fags and never came back'. Though financially it cost him dear, artistically Ronnie probably made the right move, returning to his farm for one last album neglected album instead to be replaced on bass by Rick Wills, once of Roxy Music (so he was, at least, used to working with eccentric egotistical musicians - he needed the music too after finding himself working as a labourer to make ends meet and would have played with anybody, with no prior understanding of The Small Faces' music). In some alternate parallel universe out there somewhere The Small Faces reunion got all the songs Ronnie wrote for 'Rough Mix' and they're the album highlights, every single one.
Then again Ronnie's folky vibe might have been one style already for an esoteric album already pretty overflowing with different ideas. The one element of The Small Faces' sound that's very much here is the range of their material as Marriott especially tries to make up for lost time by using every style that's come into being since the band's split: reggae, funk, even the sort of blues The Faces had made their own. Freed temporarily from having to 'fit' the stereotype of the heavier Humble Pie sound, Marriott is clearly having fun even if his compositions lack the punch and power of the old days. He clearly misses Ronnie to push him towards his best though: Marriott alone was a sad sight, whereas Marriott in company was always a sight to behold and he was always at his best when swapping ideas and having others add depth and layers to his instantly accessible work. The biggest change on 'Playmates' then is that Marriott gets to control The Small Faces' destiny, taking it into waters closer to home for Humble Pie, while also with the chance to swap genres around a bit for fun.
Where this album works best, though, is when Steve uses Mac as his foil instead. Band jamming sessions aside, Mac only ever got three writing credits on Small Faces albums and while all three were fan favourites he never enjoyed the same respect or attention as the Marriott-Lane pairing. In the past decade, though, the newest Small Face has grown as a writer, providing all of the Faces highlights that Lane didn't and all but creating the band's signature smokey sound of their ballads. Marriott's voice goes particularly well with these, as even in these dark days he still possesses more emotional range and subtlety than a pure 'shouter' like Rod and he sounds so right at times singing what would otherwise be a pure Faces song that it's a shame the old band didn't latch on to this sooner. The pair write three songs together across this album, all amongst the better tracks here - it's when the pair write alone, at the extreme of their by now very different styles, that this album falls apart (well, that and the interminable slowed down covers, a hangover from the Humble Pie days). There's a surprising lack of guitar across this album with Mac's organ also the chief instrument and more central to the band sound than it ever was in The Small Faces (Marriott, spoilt by being alongside two of the decade's best guitarists Peter Frampton and Clem Clempson in Humble Pie, had begun to think of himself as more of a rhythm player in any case). Frustratingly the band rarely played together anyway, the composers instead preferring to get the others to overdub one by one what they wanted. Like many an album made with such a piecemeal approach, it shows, with an album that's sluggish and where the tempos are all over the place.
The nostalgic album cover suggests that this record is going to be a memory-filled backward looking affair, with its two childhood classmates clutching schoolbooks and gollywogs (back when you were still just about allowed to have such things on album covers - had this record been a hit you can bet it would have been airbrushed to become a teddy bear by now - our own AAA mascot Bingo is free - despite the fact it should be treated as a historical artefact of it's times, the same way that removing the cigarette held in Paul McCartney's hand on Beatles album 'Abbey Road' is ludicrous, given that few impressionable youngsters I know care about album covers released thirty years before they were born).In fact this is a refreshingly forward looking album in many ways, with a bunch of recently-in-vogue styles (though not punk) and lots of lyrics that actually look hopefully to the future with titles like 'Never Say Never' and 'Tonight' (you can tell that most of the lyrics are written by natural optimist Marriott rather than the more anxious Lane). The problem is that The Small Faces spend so much time trying to sound contemporary and addressing the styles both halves have been playing in their respective bands that there's nothing left of The Small Faces here. There are no 'Lazy Sunday' style giggles, no 'Itchycoo Park' working class utopias and most surprisingly of all no tracks that match their old intensity on such songs as 'Tin Soldier' and 'Afterglow'. Marriott, who once made songs intense even when he sang one line or laughed through them, rather breezes through, treating the album as one long holiday. The Faces were never the heaviest or most thoughtful of bands (except on Ronnie's two cameos per album) but they aren't even that here, with too many playful organ frills and cymbal tickles rather than sombre dutiful block chords and bass drum thrashes. 'Help me to find it!' sings Marriott at one point on a track that sounds like every generic Humble Pie track of the last few years - but alas the band never do.
Given this album's spasmodic approach it's probably fair to say that there isn't a theme at work here. The band members don't seem to have spent much time in the studio together, never mind have any band meetings to discuss ideas - but there's a few threads that run through this album all the same. Most of this album features down and out characters who are struggling to get by and yet still dream of doing something bigger. The opener 'High and Happy' has Marriott sans money, love and career prospects but in the here and now he's content and on a drug-aided high. 'Never Too Late' might as well be Marriott's rallying cry as he decides that everything is always possible, no matter how low things get. 'Lookin' For A Love' might have searched a long time for perfection but the narrator never questions for one minute that he won't find it as long as he keeps looking. 'I can't see me sitting at home' promises Marriott as his wife goes off on a 'Drive-In Romance', figuring there's always more fish in the sea even if you're married to a porcupine puffer. Only the title track is at all melancholy or fed-up, which is a surprise given the recent history of the band members involved living off handouts, old royalties and stolen vegetables. Sequel '78 In The Shade' will, by comparison, be a much sadder and haunted affair. Maybe this is the lasting legacy from 'Itchycoo Park', the top ten re-issue of which inspired the band to go back into the studio in the first place, a song that's as 'high and happy' as they come. The trouble is, though, nothing here comes even within the boundaries of Itchycoo Park, never mind that 'single' single peak peak: though the band try hard (sometimes: two tracks are just plain awful!) nothing here is memorable and little really adds to the band's already stuffed back catalogue. Only 'Never Too Late' even comes close and that's if you shut your ears and squint very very hard and compare the song not to a Small Faces classic but some forgotten unfinished instrumental from 'The Autumn Stone'. The main difference is that the old Small Faces cared passionately for each and every last note of their output; the new Small Faces are just grateful for some extra pennies and want to get this album made as quickly and painlessly as possible. This is sad and heartbreaking a realisation as any in the AAA catalogue for a band whose legacy was once so important to them.
Still, considering everything that's working against this album (no Ronnie, the changing marketplace, a lingering sense of unease between the three remaining originals breaking in a new boy, a motor accident involving Mac and Kenney that saw them leave the sessions for two months while Steve and Rick ploughed on, endless contractual problems getting Marriott off Humble Pie label A&M and the fact that the band made no secret of the fact they'd got back together for money, not out of love) 'Playmates' isn't as bad as it might have been and - aside from the similar but tighter successor 'Made In The Shade' the next year - might well be the band's most overlooked album. Marriott is at the end of his peak period as a vocalist, his voice losing its elasticity soon after this, it's good to see Mac getting a fairer share of the pie for a change and Kenney needs the practice as he's going to be the new Who drummer as soon as this Small Faces gig suddenly ends. Even some of the songs are pretty good, at least compared to the recent Humble Pie and Faces albums. Of course this album isn't as good as classics from years before: you miss Ronnie in every generic bass note, every haphazard backing vocal (even a soul choir can't fill his shoes) and especially as the extrovert and earthy Marriott's introvert and poetical partner. At times this record feels so directionless you wonder how the band all made it to the same studio, while Shel Talmy's typically rigid and cyclical production - so right for the R and B band of 1966 - means even the inspired parts of this record don't come off the way they should. Heard as the fourth Small Faces album without acknowledging the gap in time and quality, the effect is laughable - trebly so if you view it as the much-delayed sequel to 'Ogden's. There's an awful lot that went wrong for this record in terms of writing it, recording it and even releasing it, with a truly awful album cover damning the album in any period, never mind the absolute possible worst time when the punks are doing their best to exterminate any band more than a year old. But to ignore it all would be to pass over one or two of the best work that any member still in this band had done for years. There really isn't very much in The Small Faces catalogue to begin with: better that we have even a half-baked reunion album than none at all. I think. Until 'Saylarvee' and 'This Song's For You' come on anyway...
[ ] 'High and Happy' seems like a fair place to start, a chirpy Marriott song first recorded for his unfinished 'Scrubbers' album in 1975 that holds out hopes that album is going to be kinda ok. Though it isn't obviously Small Faces-like, with its heavy funk backing (which really stretches Kenny as a drummer after years of gutbucket rock and roll) and a saxophone as the lead instrument, it does sound in some twisted way a little like 'Wide Eyed Girl On The Wall' and 'Collibosher'', the two horn-drenched instrumentals which became two of the last things The Small Faces ever recorded back in late 1968. The lyrics too are a kind of sly update to the drug-referencing 'Here Come The Nice', with Marriott 'caught snorting' smokin' anything that pleases me', but even though Marriott clearly wrote (and probably sang) the track on a Cocaine high, there's an underlaying air of menace which the cheeky 'Nice' was too, well, nice to offer. 'Let's outrun the constable and do another line!' sings Marriott, who by now has been busted twice for drugs in his life (once erroneously - the police were sure he must have something so nicked him for two tablets that turned out to be for a cold!) Part defiant, part worry that something bad's going to happen, 'High and Happy' is pretty successful at conjuring that moment when you're still at the top of the world but sober enough to realise you're not going to stay there forever. Together with an unusual, 'ba-da-, da-da, dah!' riff that sounds like sinking into a warm bath, this is actually a pretty strong and under-rated song, one of the best from the two reunion albums.
Better yet, though, is [ ] 'Never Too Late', a Faces style sleepy ballad by Mac given a set of Marriott words that feature another Small Faces tradition: an intense Marriott lyric about his undying love for first wife Jenny, even though by now she's a distant memory some years after their divorce. This track doesn't sound like The Small Faces either but it is a clever combination of opposites, with Marriott's wide awake and forceful Humble Pie-ness set against The Faces' laidback drunken-ness. Rather than pretend that the intervening years haven't happened, it's as if the reunion band have embraced what made them different and how much they've learnt apart from each other. Marriott does a far better job of this Rod Stewart type song than any of Rod's actual vocals, with a dexterity and subtlety as well as all the power that Rod could only dream of, while the track's sudden lurching into full throttle still feels fresh and exciting, even this many Small Faces/Humble Pie/solo albums on. Lyrically this is a simple song (probably to keep in line with Mac's short melodic phrases: his usual collaborator Rod liked things short and punchy), but it's heartfelt with Marriott managing to pack a lot into a little, reminding both him and us that while there's life there's hope. 'I found you - when you needed me' he sings, as if addressing this to the band as much as his ex. The track's fairly breezy vibe is refreshing to hear too after so many dark albums from Marriott about his latest financial crisis or marital woes and suggests that the two writers of this song at least regarded the Small Faces reunion as a positive start to begin again. Sadly it's the last time anyone will feel positive about these reunions as the songs are about to decrease in quality rapidly from here in...
[ ] 'Tonight' was written by Mac with his friend John Pidgeon. The song isn't really bad, just bland and while there's still quite a few Faces ballads out there I couldn't name despite hearing them umpteen times, this really is a new avenue for The Small Faces. Sometimes weird, very occasionally hopeless, they've never been bland before. Mac sings what's only his second lead vocal since The Small Faces split and it's a shock: that hard upright edge has been replaced by years of boozy wear and tear into a throaty growl. Once again the most interesting part of the arrangement is the tension between two sides: Mac and Kenney provide a laidback Faces template style but suddenly in come a group of backing singers (including the Pie's Greg Ridley and the band's old friend PP Arnold) and it's pure Humble Pie! Lyrically this is definitely a Mac song though and one that foreshadows quite a lot of his own work with The Bump Band made after this album: recently engaged to wife Kim (who divorced her first husband Keith Moon in 1975 and will marry Mac in 1978 a month after Moony's death, in between the two reunion albums), he still can't believe his luck and feels inadequate against her beauty. As for Kim, it must have been a relief hearing a traditional love song written for her that didn't involve barking dogs, 'cobwebs and strange' or thrashing drum solos!
What sound did you have in mind for The Small Faces reunion sound? How about some bluesy yodelling?! No, I have no idea why Steve Marriott is doing this to himself either - maybe it's a response to so many years of being stuck in one place with Humble Pie? - but [ ] 'Saylarvee' is a candidate for his worst vocal - perhaps his only bad vocal. A Marriott solo composition backed by some unconvincing honky tonk Mac piano, Marriott sounds drunk as he professes his love in simple terms, claiming his soul is 'set on fitre' and offering 'the keys to my car'. Well, he's clearly not in a fit state to drive judging by this track - or sing come to that. The punks must have looked on this revered band's reunion album and this track in particular and seen it as everything that betrayed the rock movement: self indulgent, generic and offensive by its very inoffensiveness. Given the months it took to make this album (longer than any of the band's 1960s works) you'd have thought they could have come up with something better than this or if not then another take when everyone's awake and sober. Truly mind-bogglingly awful. Yet worryingly not the worst track on the album...
Band jam turned song [ ] 'Find It' sounds like bad Humble Pie boogie - which is to say that it is at any rate tuneful and has some interesting changes of gears but sounds like a waste of a gritty Marriott vocal delivery. This is a more interesting song lyrically than musically, with Marriott realising in there somewhere that he's lost the inspiration and hunger that used to drive him everyday and trying to get some of that old feeling back by searching for it in new places. The track takes on the theme of a lengthy game of hide and seek with the universe, when Marriott's realised all along that all he really needs is soulmate Jenny by his side again. Marriott at last gets The Small Faces to record some soul with some committed vocals not just by the guitarist but his friendly backing singers as well - exactly what he promised to the band back in 1968. Better than much of this album (even if it needs a punchier chorus), it's still far worse than anything the band achieved the first time around; whether Marriott was right or not therefore remains a moot point. Despite the co-credit Kenney plays the simplest drums of the whole records, big wide open dum-chikkas and Mac is barely heard at all.
The album's only cover song was, oddly for a band in need of moolah quick, chosen as the album's single even though it's far from the most obvious commercial song on the album. Unknown songwriters James Alexander and Zelda Samuels came up with [ ] 'Lookin' For A Love' for Bobby Womack, though the 'It's All Over Now' singer never really suited this poppier song. Nor do The Small Faces, despite another surprisingly joyful Marriott vocal and more chirpy soulful backing vocals. Lyrically it sounds like 'Tin Soldier' from a past rather than future perspective: Marriott, who once declared his undying love and devotion with everything he had, has only now come to accept that actually for a time he had it and what an enjoyable time he had without really appreciating it. Now he wants another love for practical reasons, 'who can bring my children upright', make him breakfast in bed and stop him from feeling lonely, although the vocal is delivered with such a knowing wink to the audience it's clear he wants a woman for other reasons as well. In true 1960s fashion, you could read this is a pro feminist single full of praise for the female sex - albeit from the stance of a man too lazy to do any of the things in the song himself! Times had moved on by 1977 though and you sense this song is retro in more ways than just the simple boogie woogie lick running underneath it; this is a song that had had its day long before the release date.
Title track [ ] 'Playmates' is a Marriott solo composition that sounds like it was written especially for this album. The closest thing on the album to the band's R and B roots, the narrator is much older and wiser than normal, reflecting on a busy long life well lived where memories of the old days seem more real than the present. Finally acknowledging that his best days may well be behind him, Marriott has mixed feelings about the idea, grateful for ever having the chance to prove himself after a life he assumed would have turned out differently but guilty that he didn't make more of his chance at success when he had it. As if to make up for lost time, he only slots in a quick guitar solo before handing the bulk of the music over to Mac's swirling churchy organ and Kenney's quick-patter drums. However there's a feeling of bitterness here too: 'Why don't you call me?' snarls Marriott, adding 'my cats are gone' as if that was the only reason that kept two people apart or trying to get their pity. Though it starts off as a love song (well, a past love song), the chorus surely is more about the band, that he remembers being 'playmates' with some good friends who did a lot of good work and is remembering why he hung out with them in the first place ('We had everything!') 'Everything happened just in time' he sings more happily in the last verse, returning to the album's half-theme of things getting better.
[ ] 'This Song's Just For You' is a real oddity - and not in a good way. Steve and Mac wrote the track together in an uncomfortable country bumpkin style that sounds like pulling teeth and dedicate this song to someone unknown after promising to 'do their best', which they clearly aren't (Mac and Marriott have never sounded worse vocally than here - even on 'Saylarvee'!) Did they have Ronnie Lane in mind? To the untrained ear Ronnie's Slim Chance and solo records have a lot of 'country' in them - they were recorded in the country for starters and feature fiddles quite prominently. Ronnie, though, was a folk natural more than a country boy and will only attempt a bit of Nashville style larking on 'See Me', the final album he hasn't actually made yet. If this is meant to be a parody (and this is, remember, a song 'for you' not for the band), perhaps with the two Faces wondering what Ronnie's contributions might have turned out like and giggling themselves silly over the thought, then it's a rotten one. Lane's songs may have often been as quirky as this but they were often heartfelt and always made with care; 'For You' sounds like the tape rolling at a karaoke night by a bunch of singers who've never sung before. 'We'll all be there' Marriott and Mac sarcastically cry, 'just say the word!' as if sarcastically putting someone down for their disloyalty, the song opening with a pointed 'You just left. Another beer?' This song is right up there with The Rolling Stones' 'Far Away Eyes' as the most hideous country song ever written. This should never, ever have made the album - it's cruel, it's cowardly, it's deeply unfunny and so badly sung you wonder if this really is The Small Faces at all. Someone should have stepped in and stopped this. Why didn't they? Suddenly you realise why Ronnie left these sessions in the first place...
[ ] 'In-Drive Romance' is the album's 'Lazy Sunday' - in the same sense that The Spice Girls' 'Spice Up Your Life' is a band manifesto in the same way that, say, The Monkees' Theme Tune is. Another so-called comedy, it's a Mac-Pidgeon song delivered by Marriott with a manic grin (probably forced) as he tells the Faces-style story of a chick driving off with a bloke to a drive-in and pretending that nothing's happening to her husband. Naturally, this being a Faces style song, he doesn't agree. Actually the music for this one isn't too bad - there's a nice 70s (ie more laidback) R and B groove going on that suits the band, especially Mac's calm organ playing against Marriott's restless guitar. It's the lyrics that insult: Marriott wants to tell his lover that he loves her, but well, the phone lines are down and she's at a drive-in anyway. 'I can't see me sitting at home!' yells Marriott after her as she walks out the door, but all predictably there's no one he knows he can ring up to get his own back, so he sits at home feeling sorry for himself. It's odd to hear a band as proudly English as The Small Faces record such an outwardly American song, but then both The Faces and Humble Pie had been selling better in the States recently than they ever had in Europe. Recording a song like this, appealing to a nostalgic 1970s American audience reminiscing about their own childhoods and teenage years (even though they'd have been nothing like The Small Faces' own childhoods and teenage years) seems like a calculated marketing ploy, not a song.
Against all odds the album does end on a kinda high, though, with a final Mac-Marriott collaboration [ ] 'Smilin' In Tune'. Marriott's narrator has been 'thinking and drinking', reflecting on all the changes in his life over a tune highly reminiscent of Jimmy Reed's 'Baby What You Want Me To Do?' (as sung by Elvis in his 1968 comeback special every bleeding five minutes without fail!) A drunken singalong then ensues as Marriott reveals in a pleasing fan-friendly verse that he's been 'in the light, in the dark and over at Itchycoo Park!' Though the main verse is a drag and painfully slow (more shades of Humble Pie here), the quicker middle eight is rather good, adding some tension to the song as Marriott sings about knowing a change was in the air and that the time is right to go back to basics, join up with 'the poor boys'. The rows the band once had are now 'yesterday's news' - everybody's smiling 'in tune', though there's something slightly sarcastic about this too, the way Marriott puts this into words bringing to mind artificial fixed grins that aren't real (did we mention this was The Small Faces' 'American' album?!) Marriott provides some nice harmonica over the fadeout - his first for years - and there's a second-tier classic in the making here, if only the band had been a) sober and b) a bit faster.
Overall, then, 'Playmates' is a success on a few levels. Three of the band proved they were able to get on again without too many rows, while the album made the band more money than they'd made in one go since their Decca album. The record wasn't a strong seller by any means, but Atlantic were enthusiastic that the reunion might yet catch on and head boss Ahmet Ertegun was supportive enough of the band's talents to let them have another shot in the new year. For Steve, Mac and Kenney things were more stable than they'd been in years...The problem comes with looking with 'Playmates' in the long term. There are some reunion projects that feel like they had to be made - the sense of closure, unfinished business and healing old wounds that comes over strong on reunion albums by The Moody Blues, The Beach Boys, Lindisfarne and The Monkees amongst others. That sense isn't here and if The Small Faces felt any drive stronger than making a quick buck that went out the door the minute Ronnie Lane did. We'll never know of course if the bass player would have ended up as boozy and lethargic as the rest of the band, but you sense that if he had been involved this album would have had at least a few moments of depth and sincerity, rather than half-baked experiments and vague attempts at comedy. Which is not to say that the album is completely hopeless: the two strong opening tracks hint at what could have been had the tug of war between Humble Pie roar and Faces blasé sounds been established more, with the band pulling in different directions while still standing for the same things. Had there been even one attempt to turn back the clock to something The Small Faces actually did (R and B, psychedelia, comedy) properly instead of treating those sort of things as a joke then this album might have re-established the band for a whole new era just when the band financially needed it most. Instead it's the album that got away, so fast and so decidedly at times that you wonder whether the band actually realised they were going to come up with a product at all. Even after months of work the best you can say about this album is that there's a great double sided single in there; everything else is essentially worthless (and of course neither side actually was released as the single; that would have been too easy for a band like The Small Faces. Not as bad as some people say, then - but oh so far from being good.
You can now buy 'Every Step Of The Way - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Monkees' in e-book form by clicking here!
TV Episode #57
"The Monkees Blow Their Minds"
(Recorded April and December 1967, First broadcast March 11th 1968)
"They have a lot of crazy stuff on this show, don't you think?!"
Music: Valerie (Second Version) (Romp)/Gonna Buy Me A Dog (Half-Romp)/Daily Nightly (End Performance)
Main Writer: Peter Meyersen Director: David Winters
Plot: The Monkees have an important audition coming up and want to write a whole new batch of songs for it. Poor Peter has writer's block - he hasn't written anything for two whole weeks - so he goes to see master hypnotist Oraculo to see if he can be cured. Unfortunately Oraculo is an evil mastermind genius (yes, another one!) who wants to win the audition himself and so sets about sabotaging Peter's mind. Peter can no longer play and instead clucks like a rooster when trying to sing - the others aren't sure this isn't an improvement but they still lose the audition. Mike tries to trap Orcaulo by inviting him back to The Monkees' pad and offering him a large sum of money to help him - but Oraculo sees through the scheme and slips Mike a potion that knocks him out too. Micky and Davy have better luck when snooping around Oraculo's apartment and they manage to get Peter back home - though they still can't change his brain. To their horror they find Mike is missing so rush back to the theatre where Oraculo knocks them out. The hypnotist now has all four Monkees under his command and plans to use them in act as his 'Four Slaves', summoning Peter as well thanks to a 'mind call'. Oraculo's assistant Rudi accidentally slaps Micky, waking him up from the spell who wakes up the others and they merely 'pretend' to be hypnotised, doing the opposite of everything Oraculo tells them and turning into the worst 'dog act' in history!
What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode: Mike: Owns a very posh smoking jacket which he wears as part of his usual clever plan to con Oraculo while Davy and Micky go recue Peter. However Mike makes an uncharacteristic mistake of trusting the potion Oraculo slips him as part of the 'Valleri' romp (this is a very rare occasion of you actually needing to follow a 'romp' to understand the plot development of this episode!) Micky: Knows the Dewey decimal system after taking books out of the library to lead - unfortunately he can't find anything on breaking hypnotic spells! Micky refers to Peter as 'my best pal and buddy for years and years and years (compare with 'Monkees In Texas' a few episodes back where they've only known each other for two!) Has a lookalike in the audience with a moustache and glasses. Davy: Has a lookalike in the audience with a moustache whose a lawyer aged thirty-five (at least I assume it's a lookalike - see 'things that don't make sense!') Peter: Has had songwriting block for two weeks - which appears to be a very long time for Peter given the way he treats it here (he clearly doesn't like letting down his friends!) Has really good insight into other people's motives under hypnotism - which fits with what we know un-hypnotised too (Peter 'understands' people very quickly but doesn't always act on the 'vibes' he picks up from them). The others spot Peter's slightly different straight away but can't put their finger on why - Mike says he 'always looks like that!' while Micky adds that Peter's 'sharp crisp intelligence is still intact!' Still has problems opening his jaw when shocked (now with an extra squeaky sound effect!)
Things that don't make sense: Everything! Well, no not quite everything - but this is a very strangely plotted episode. Peter goes to the hypnotist because he needs to write new songs for an important audition - why not stick the old and popular material (assuming anything the fictional Monkees performed is popular) - a big event is not the time to start adding untested material. Up till now the only mention of the band writing their own material has been when Mike got fleeced by a song publisher - since when did Peter become a main songwriter for the band? Why does Oraculo hypnotise him in the first place - the most he ever does with the band is try to enhance his act at the audition which he doesn't even appear to know about until he meets Peter (why not just hypnotise Rudi?) It's also a very strange contest with only a handful of tables at the club and no apparent voting system! Mike is also too intelligent to fall for the old 'why don't you have a drink?' ploy on which the plot turns. The ending though is particularly hard to follow: we see lookalikes of Davy and Micky in the audience and assume they're up to something - but they don't disrupt Oraculo's act, just go along with it - and then we cut to the four hypnotised Monkees back stage (did something in the script get changed or did the band fall behind time so cut some scenes out?) It's also unclear whether The Monkees truly wake up or not - they all go floppy when Oraculo demands they go rigid but go through with his 'dog' routine. We never go back to the plot after the 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' romp either to clear things up. Odd.
Best Five Quotes: 1) Oraculo - "Look very deeply into my eye, so very deeply...what do you see?" Peter - "Dishonesty, cowardice and a lack of scruples" Oraculo - "No, not that deep!" 2) Oraculo to Rudi - "For a psychic slave you've got a very big mouth!" 3) Micky - "You can come back any time Pete old buddy - just write first because we'll have probably rented out your room!" 4) Oraculo - "Will you kindly hold up between one and thirteen fingers behind my back and I'll tell you how many you have!" 5) Micky - "Psychedelic!"
Pre-Credits Tease: Perhaps the most famous element of the episode is the opening pre-credits sequence where a rather Frank Zappa-ish looking Mike is in conversation with a very Mike Nesmith-looking Frank Zappa. The middle of this year's 'guest sequences' this was the last filming ever down at the Monkees' pad in December 1967 and came about at Zappa's suggestion (perhaps surprisingly he was a huge Monkee fan and loved the fact the band got 'kids with long hair' on TV, whatever he thought of their music). Mike looks rather good with a Zapata moustache and Frank in a Nesmith bobble hat (the last time this is seen on screen too) as they discuss in a stilted way their mutual musical ideas. The highlight of which is Zappa asking Nes what he'll do after The Monkees inevitably end (the look he gets in return is priceless) and saying that he'll probably join The Byrds (who were certainly going through an awful lot of new members in late 1967!) Nes-Zappa then conducts Mike-Frank in a conducted car wrecking to the strain of Zappa theme tune 'Mother People'. Until they've seen it with their own eyes most Monkees fans refuse to accept that the leading counter-culturalist ever appeared on a mainstream television programme or that the band ever let him - which makes this teaser sequence rather fitting for an episode that's all about hypnotism and delusion!
Romp: The re-recording of 'Valleri' takes place in Oraculo's flat where Micky and Davy are trying to rescue Peter, occasionally cutting back to Mike falling under Oraculo's power. The song's manic energy fits, but as ever the lyrics don't. Rather more obvious is the brief reprisal of 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' when the band are being persuaded to do their 'song act' - however you'd have to be a true fan to 'get' the reference as the song is an instrumental with the dog sound effects removed and by the time this episode aired is a good eighteen months old!
Tag Sequence: 'Daily Nightly' in which a black and white Mike, Davy and Peter sit around in the background in various stages of being 'still' while Micky is for once at the front taking the lead. Micky sings and plays with the buttons on his own moog synthesiser just like the record, while an inscrutable Mike Nesmith - who wrote the song - looks on. As Micky says at the end, 'psychedelic!'
Postmodernisms: In the scene where the other Monkees are watching a hypnotised Peter in the club and working out what has happened, Micky delivers the line 'you've taken over Peter's Mind!' in such an OTT way that everyone - cast and crew - give him a round of applause, leading an embarrassed Micky to thank them all! The whole teaser sequence of Mike and Frank - never referred to again throughout the rest of the episode - is full of so many self-references and points about reality v fantasy that my postmodernism Geiger Counter has just exploded!
Schneider: In the last time we ever see him, the dummy of Mr Schneider 'swaps' over with Peter midway through the 'Valleri' romp as Micky and Davy are carrying their friend out the door!
Review: This episode is a mess. The show was filmed somewhere around the middle of the second season but kept behind so it could be 'buried' near the end and it shows (this also means we have an unfortunate finale to the series where Peter gets hypnotised for almost the entire last two episode, which means that the last 'normal' Peter we have appears in 'Some Like It Lukewarm'). Though Oraculo The Hypnotist is a good idea in principle and something a bit different than the usual Monkee villian, he has the flimsiest motivations of all - he doesn't seem the sort to be interested in just winning a contest and no reason is given for why he wants to win so badly and scupper The Monkees' ambitions. He seems to be working on his feet too given that Peter comes to him unexpectedly despite having a complicated plan. Spending so much time on Oraculo and the hypnotised Peter also means we get precious little Monkees - which is a shame given that, in broadcast terms, this is all but a 'goodbye' to The Monkees' pad and most of the Monkee traditions (which will be broken entirely by Micky's season finale next week!) Even the script doesn't have as many great one-liners as normal, although the parts about the other Monkees trying to work out what's wrong with Peter when 'he always acts a bit like that' is worth a chuckle or three and the two romps are at least more interesting and made with more enthusiasm than some others of late. In a way this is a 'dress rehearsal' for 'Head' in which the cast are rude to each other, Zappa returns in a cameo and the plot is less important than the random elements that happen within it, with the depiction of the band as 'four puppets controlled by a giant puppet master' a clear nod towards '33 and a Third' as well. Really, though, the entire plot is subservient to the great opening and closing scenes in which Zappa out-Monkees Mike and manages to be both supportive and destructive of the band at the same time and the glorious mimed performance of 'Daily Nightly' with Micky giving his all. The result is a largely poor episode with some great bits in it in which The Monkees don't so much blow their minds as promised as just act a bit odd for half an episode.
Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) Rudi is played by long-term Monkee director James Frawley, whose had several voice-overs in the series but makes his only physical appearance here. He wasn't the director for this story! 2) That rather odd man laughing at the table in the club the director keeps cutting to is of course Burgess Meredith, who played The Penguin in the TV adaptation of 'Batman' which has already been mentioned a great deal across the series! 3) Zappa's track 'Mother People' has just been released a month before this episode's transmission date, on the Mothers Of Invention album 'We're Only In IT For The Money' 4) This is the only episode in the show's history to have both a 'teaser' and a 'tag' sequence unrelated to the plot - it's also the shortest episode in terms of pure plot at just seventeen minutes! 5) As you might have guessed, there was a lot more in the script that never got filmed again including an entirely new ending: The Monkees' dog act wins the audition in their own right, but Oraculo re-hypnotises them into making too many demands and even makes them turn a water pistol on the club owner! 6) The last Monkees credit mis-spelling: 'Valleri' becomes 'Valerie' (even though the song had been printed the 'right' way twice by this point!) This was the first time the song's full ending had been heard (both original single and the version on 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' fade out early) though most compilations in the CD age tend to feature these extra few seconds
Ratings: At The Time 9.4 million viewers/AAA Rating: 3/10
TV Episode #58
"The Frodis Caper"
(Recorded November and December 1967, First broadcast March 25th 1968)
"Now to foil the plot of the evil wizard Glick!"
Music: Zor and Zam (First Version) (Romp)
(the last repeat of the last Monkees episode in 1969 featured the last song from the last Monkees LP 'Changes' instead - 'I Never Thought It Peculiar')
Main Writer: Micky Dolenz with Dave Evans (teleplay) and Jon Andersen (story) Director: Micky Dolenz
Plot: The Monkees wake-up to discover Peter Mmissing. They go downstairs to look for him and after mistaking him for a wooden indian find their friend hypnotised in front of the TV. Walking outside Mike, Micky and Davy find that everyone else in the neighbourhood is the same - slumped in front of the TV hypnotised. They try to change into their Monkeemen outfits - but there's a message up in the phone-booth banning them from changing. Instead The Monkees make their way to TV studios to stop the evil Wizard Glick who they've just seen during a cut-scene in his evil lair. Glick tries to set a two-headed org onto the band but they defeat it with their instruction booklet by jumping up and down three times, rolling a cabbage and giggling. They also evade four technicians sent with TV sets without actually noticing any of them. The trio do eventually get tied up though and are left unable to prevent Glick from unleashing his evil scheme of putting the alien Frodis on TV at noon to take over the Earth! The trio call up Peter telepathically using a buddhist chant Micky learnt from a cereal box-top and comes to their rescue - well sort of, as by the time he arrives Mike is already free. The Monkees then run after the Frodis and aim to destroy it - but he pleads with them to listen as he too is a pawn in Glick's evil plan. Instead The Monkees rush off to the Frodis' spaceship and allow him to escape to the sound of Monkee romp 'Zor and Zam'. The last shot we ever have of The Monkees in their own series is of them jumping up and down at having freed Frodis, with Peter suddenly 'awake' again!
What we learn about The Monkees In This Episode: Mike: Seems to have the strongest mind, battling through to turn off the television in The Monkees' pad when Micky and Davy look like being affected. His favourite television programme is, naturally enough, 'The Monkees'! Appears in an imagination scene as the 'lost and found man' though he can't locate Peter whose right in front of him! Micky: Has lost his bass drum - which seems rather too big to lose - but finds it under a pile of clothes. Eats cereal and pays enough attention to remember Buddhist chants written o the box. Glick's henchman tries to trap him with a trail of money - but Micky's attention is distracted by a 'groovy' cardboard box instead! Davy: Doesn't get much to do this episode. Peter: is the most easily hypnotised and has apparently stayed up late to watch TV while the others have gone to bed.
Things that don't make sense: Surely Mike, Micky and Davy can't be the only people in the whole world who didn't happen to be watching television at the time Glick but his dastardly scheme into place? It's also a bit of a coincidence that a plot to take over the whole world should be launched in the tiny TV studios that's in walking distance from The Monkees' pad. Peter doesn't seem at all surprised to learn of the plot to take over the world when he 'wakes up' from being hypnotised - but then foiling another 58 plots across previous episodes probably means he isn't surprised by anything anymore! How come releasing Frodis means that Glick's hypnotism ray is now broken and everyone watching television is now cured (including Peter?) I'm not entirely sure the band can just 'know' the plot by watching the 'next scene' but Ok I'll let that one roll - how come though The Monkees suddenly know Glick's name despite it not having been used on screen yet? (more telepathy? That must be a great brand of cereal!)
Best Five Quotes: 1) Micky - "What's happened to Peter?" Mike - "Perhaps he isn't back from his dream yet?" 2) Micky - "We've got to concentrate real hard on Peter through this great chant I learned" Mike - "A chant you learned whilst studying transcendental meditation under an Indian mystic, right?" Micky - "No it's a chant I learned when I sent in a cereal box top!" 3) Peter - "Hello! I'm here because I'm receiving a telepathic message to visit the TV studios!" 4) Micky - "I can't stand to see a grown bush cry!" 5) Glick, now that his powers have worn off - "I don't want to fight anyone - I just want to lie down on the grass and be cool!"
Romp: An early version of 'Zor and Zam' can be heard during the closing scene over which the caption 'typical Monkee romp' is inserted. Though the song doesn't fit plotwise (it's the tale of two related kings trying to fight a war to which nobody turns up) there are similarities with the sense of a hungry power-mad tyrant trying to rule a world that doesn't care. This early version won't appear on record until 'Missing Links Volume Three' (1998) and will be re-recorded for the 'Birds, Bee and Monkees' finale later in the year.
Tag Sequence: In what must surely be the most anti-climatic ending in television history The Monkees don't appear in the last scene of their last episode. Instead Micky off-camera introduces his 'special guest' singer-songwriter Tim Buckley who performs his rather boring composition 'Song To The Siren' (he wrote much better ones than this!)
Monkeemen: Are now banned from getting changed in a public telephone box according to Federal Law W443 Paragraph 7!
Postmodernisms: Oodles. For a start there are two captions: the dismissive ''Typical Monkee Romp' and another saying 'Freeze Frame' (clearly the result of Micky having fun in the editing suite as it bears no relevance to the plot!) We also have The Monkees actually watching the plot unfold which allows them to understand all about Glick's plans without them actually meeting him yet, though quite how they 'see' it is unexplained (they just find out thanks to the 'next scene'). Another scene has them contacting Peter by telepathy ('It's working!' 'How do you know?' 'I saw the last scene!') One section has Davy genuinely forgetting his lines and ad libbing 'what's this geezer called again?' before going back to do the take again - with all of this being left in the final cut. Much of this episode takes place 'backstage' at a TV studios with shots of the band walking through where they normally work complete with cameras and props piled up everywhere. Finally The Monkees even refer to themselves as a TV programme, Mike commenting on the time (a very precise '7.36' - which would have been the exact time the show was on the first time round, the comment arriving some six minutes into the action) and that his 'favourite show The Monkees' is coming on soon (a later reference to the time near the end of the programme when other people are turning in comments that 'it's time for Dragnet' - the police show that traditionally followed The Monkees show).
Review: This time it's Micky's chance to rummage in The Monkees' box as chief writer and director and he has much more 'fun' with his episode than Peter had. Like many a first script this episode has far too much plot to contain in one half-hour show (especially with Tim Buckley taking up three precious minutes) but The Monkees' format is looser than most and Micky has no qualms about breaking barriers and plot conventions to keep the plot moving. Though the plot itself isn't that interesting - another mad scientist plotting to take over the Earth - it's what Micky does to get there that's so clever. A lot of the budget is spent on scenes that don't 'matter' - we see The Monkees run up and down a 'real' street and several inside sets that are only seen for a few seconds and a most wonderful alien spaceship that takes off in the final scene that's more impressive than some period Hollywood blockbusters. And yet most of this episode takes place backstage at a TV studio that involves no set dressing whatsoever, the evil two-headed org is deliberately poorly realised and the Frodis - the star of the show in many ways - is just a plant with an American Football on his head. It's as if a child had been given free reign to put The Monkees episodes they've been creating in their bedroom onto television - rejecting all those adult things like plot and logic that just get in the way of the bright memorable scenes.
In many ways it's Micky's 'goodbye' to his memories of The Monkees, more than it's 'our' goodbye. The four extras whose done so much to help the show finally get to be seen on screen in full. The TV studios the band would have walked past are presented to 'us' as just another set. The interminable card games that went on while the cameras got ready are added to the script. The jokey banter and improvisations are even more OTT than normal, as if the band are trying to establish a 'folk memory' of what their show represented for future generations. Seen in that sense it's rather moving, with Micky making this as a 'home movie' for him to look back on later that was just lucky enough to get filmed. In many ways it's very accomplished for a first directors job - Micky will go on to become a fine TV director in his own right in the 1980s and his experiences here must have been highly valuable for his work on the similarly anarchic show 'Metal Micky'. The writing too is highly inventive if a bit on the wild side, with things like plotting not really holding up under scrutiny, though delivered with just enough pathos and feeling that this does 'matter' somewhere down the line, if only to the band themselves. Interestingly Micky seems to have picked up on the message of the whole series' run: that adults should listen to their children and then they might have world peace. The final scene of the evil Glick lying in the grass telling us he doesn't feel evil anymore and just wants a snooze almost comes with the haze of marijuana, while it's notable that the 'enemy' is not the triffid-like alien but the humans warring amongst themselves. Note too the idea that television can 'brainwash' and so must be used with care - a theme that will be developed in both 'Thirty Three and a Third' and 'Head' but impressively already clearly in The Monkees' way of thinking, turning a spotlight on the 'other' programmes that are to come in The Monkees' place and reminding the audience of the power they have to see through the 'lies' the adult world gives them. Very Monkees in other words, even if the stakes are bigger and even this series has never been mad enough to feature a talking plant at all.
The only thing 'missing' really is the music and sadly the romp to 'Zor and Zam' isn't one of the best, with The Monkees basically being seen in slow motion. In fact the whole end is most unsatisfactory, not only because it follows such a full and busy episode that basically comes without an ending or tag sequence but especially because it's the very end of the series as a whole. The Monkees know they'll be back in a series of TV specials (although ultimately only one was ever filmed) but this is still an incredibly disappointing end to such an inventive series. What's more the entire episode ends not with The Monkees but Micky's voice introducing folk singer Tim Buckley, whose drag of a song is far less interesting than the cameos by Liberace (who plays against type), Frank Zappa (who spoofs the whole show) or Charlie Smalls (who 'teaches' the audience with Davy's help). Buckley just sits there and sings as if he's on 'The Smothers Brothers' or something (perhaps in his stoned mind he thought he was? He was certainly quick to disown The Monkees experience after he'd been on it and the band were suddenly the height of uncool). It's sad too that for this last hurrah peter spends so much of the episode zonked (the second episode in a row to do this to him) - though arguably one of The Monkees needs to gets 'zapped' early on to show the threat, Peter really didn't need to get 'zapped' a second time as it serves nothing to the plot. Our last chance to see the band as we remember them actually happened in 'Some Like It Lukewarm' two episodes back as things turn out (was Micky cross with Peter the day he wrote the script?) Some of the execution is a bit clumsy, Peter and Davy might as well not have turned up for work, the plot just seems to give up partway through and the ending needed to be totally re-written. However 'The Frodis Caper' is a charming period piece full of lots of good bits and is a nicely bittersweet swansong to this phase in The Monkees' creation, a sort of 'folk memory' of elements of the series' past as seen through the eyes of one of it's main cast. If only other series had been brave enough to let the cast write and direct they too might have ended on as striking and imaginative a note as The Monkees' series.
Things About This Episode You Might Not Know Unless You're A Mega-Fan: 1) Micky's original title for this episode - still the one used by many fans though not features on screen anywhere - is 'Mijacogeo', his code name for his family ('Mi' is Micky, Jac' is his mum Janelle, 'Co' is his sister Coco who'll appear on many Monkee recordings from this point on and 'Geo' is his father George). Micky also coined the name 'Frodis' which he used as pseudonyms in hotels and things - he's already used the word a couple of times this series - check out the blackboard in 'Monkees Paw'! 2) Director Micky came up with the idea of filming the series from two different directions on two different camera to make things easier in the editing suite (another reason why this is the 'low budget' episode of the series) - this is now standard practice on TV but daringly new at the time! 3) Micky also acted the voice of the Frodis in the editing suite, his voice 'sped up' to half again its usual speed (he read his lines very...slowly...to get the desired effect) 4) This episode is the only TV programme of the 1960s to ever use a Beatle song, something Lennon and McCartney were very protective over. They gave Micky special permission to use 'Good Morning Good Morning' as the band's alarm call after Micky met up with them in London on mid 1967 and was working on an early version of the episode 5) 'Namyohorengyoko' is a real chant, a Buddhist technique that's supposed to allow all beings to reach a state of nirvana. Interestingly Kellogg's had returned as The Monkees' sponsor for one last time this week, which must have led to many Monkee-fans scouring their products for this 'box top' chant! 6) Rip Taylor, playing the wizard Glick, speaks almost solely in phrases he's already said in his previous appearance in 'Monkees On The Wheel' 7) The 'Freeble Energiser' sounds suspiciously like the bridge of the USS ENterprise from Star Trek (it's the same sound effect!) 8) Talking of which a cut scene from Micky's script had the freeble energiser refuse to work - Glick calls out a handyman to try the problem but gets it working again himself by kicking it with his foot! 9) As well as a two-headed org the Monkees' instruction manual includes instructions on defeating six-headed orgs and a three-headed gleeb . The AAA's advice is to keep a cabbage with you handy at all times just in case you meet one 10) We briefly see a picture of Monkee co-creator Bert Schneider's head during the final scene, for no apparent reason (Head...coming..soon?) 11) The episode makes good use of Monkee extras with David Price, David Pearl Rik Klein and Mike's new replacement for John London Bruce Barbour all seen in close-up as Glick's henchmen. Price and Klein do double duty as the 'two-headed org'. Nyles Brown, the hippie whose 'always like that' in front of the television also worked as a Monkee stand-in and once auditioned for the series back in 1965 (so did Bill Martin, the composer of 'Zor and Zam'!)
Ratings: At The Time 9.1 million viewers/AAA Rating: 7/10
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'
Ratings: At The Time: Unknown/AAA Rating: 4/10
Join for our final mopping up of the Monkee filmography with' the film 'Head', the 1969 special '33 and a third Revolutions Per Monkee' and the multi-titled 1997 reunion special in next week's exciting unmissable edition of Alan's Albums Archives asking those musical questions...
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