[Today: The deconstruction of a manufactured band…]
The Monkees practically invented the idea of selling out. The group was assembled in 1966 for the sole purpose of being featured in a TV show that consisted of lots of cutesy clowning around. Anyone who saw it couldn’t have taken them very seriously as a band, but they did have a couple of serious musicians, most notably Michael Nesmith, who would go on to make a handful of landmark country rock albums with The First National Band in his post-Monkees career. With their sixth and final effort as a four-piece (Peter Tork would leave in 1969 and Nesmith in ’70), The Monkees made their best album by far – a piece of work that mocks their image, rips the music industry, and stands one of of the trippiest and most forward-looking albums in a decade full of them.
Head is the soundtrack to their 1968 movie of the same name. A disjointed, non-linear forerunner to films like Kentucky Fried Movie, it’s now considered a psychedelic treasure. The soundtrack contains only six proper songs, lots of weird snippets of dialogue from the film, and fragments of tunes. It was partly mixed by the actor Jack Nicholson, and anticipates the sample-happy DJs and mashup artists of the 00s. This album couldn’t have sounded like anything other than an audio mess to listeners in the 60s, but modern ears will process it just fine. In fact, a lot of Head has been sampled, most notably by The Kleptones on their mashup classic A Night At The Hip-Hopera.
The title alone is weird departure from the group’s previous work, and the album opens with a woman hypnotically chanting the word “head” to a collage of found sounds and dialogue. That leads into the tolling bells of ‘Porpoise Song’ a King/Goffin-penned tune that is sublimely rendered here. On ‘Ditty Diego-War Chant’, they lay into their carefully manicured image. “You say we’re manufactured/To that we all agree/So make your choice/And we’ll rejoice/At never being free,” sings Davy Jones. The song is sped up and slowed down, like a warped record being played at various RPMs on a turntable. It’s a truly surreal experience for anyone who thinks they know this group. “Hey, hey we are the Monkees/We’ve said it all before/The money’s in/We’re made of tin/We’re here to give you more.” Frank Zappa is an extra in the film (along with Sonny Liston, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, and a cast of thousands) and his spirit is alive in the music as well.
‘Ditty Diego-War Chant’ ends with a woman screaming, like something out of a horror movie, which then segues into a huge crowd screaming “WE WANT THE MONKEES!!!!” ‘Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again’ is wry commentary on the endless takes that musicians are forced to go through in the studio. Anyone who thinks this band is a joke is advised to check out ‘Circle Sky’, a nice preview of what Nesmith would get up to after leaving The Monkees. ‘Gravy’ consists of a five-second snippet of Davy Jones saying “I’d like a cold glass of gravy with a hair in it,” while ‘Swami-With Strings’ sounds like something mixed by DJ Shadow. Head is a trip, and will leave you wondering just who those guys on TV really were…
Listen: Ditty Diego-War Chant
Listen: Circle Sky [Live Version]
Listen: Superstitious (LP Version)
Listen: Swami-Plus Strings (LP Version)