CULT CLASSIC: THE MONKEES-HEAD.
Cult Classic: The Monkees-Head.
On September the ‘8th’ 1965, the Daily Variety contained an advert that said: “Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series.” This was a new sitcom that had been written by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider about a struggling rock band from Los Angeles. The new sitcom would follow the adventures of Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter as they searched for their big break. 437 musicians looking for their big break responded to the advert.
Eventually, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider whittled their way through the hopeful applicants, and settled on three Americans Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and British actor and singer Davy Jones. They became The Monkees, which Mickey Dolenz later described as: “a TV show about an imaginary band … that wanted to be The Beatles, [but] that was never successful.”
While The Monkees never replicated the success of The Beatles, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider’s television show proved popular in America and further afield. It ran for three series’ between 1966 and 1968, with Americans tuning in to fifty-eight episodes that followed the adventures of Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter. During this period, The Monkees were one of the biggest selling bands in America.
The Monkees recording career began in October 1966 with their eponymous debut album, and lasted four years. Less than four years later, The Monkees released their swan-song Changes, in June 1970. Within a year, The Monkees has split-up after releasing nine album in less than four years.
These albums divided the opinion of critics, cultural commentators and record buyers, and continue to do so, forty-six years after The Monkees originally split-up. Some critics and record buyers regard The Monkees’ music as perfect pop, while others claim it as nothing more than bubblegum pop or manufactured pop. Both sides are firmly entrenched in their views about the merits or otherwise of The Monkees’ music. However, an oft-overlooked side of The Monkees’ career is their psychedelic era between 1966 and 1968. This was when The Monkees released some of the most memorable music of their career. Before that, The Monkees released their debut single.
When The Monkees released Last Train To Clarksville as their debut single on ‘18th’ August, the single started climb the charts, and reached number one in Canada and on the US Billboard 100. This was enough to give The Monkees their first gold disc in America. However, tucked away on the B-Side of the single was a taste of the psychedelic side of The Monkees, Take A Giant Step. It would feature on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album.
Just a month after The Monkees released their debut single, they released their debut album The Monkees in September 1966. Reviews of the album were mixed, with some critics still not convinced that The Monkees were a serious band. However, the positive reviews outnumbered the negative reviews of The Monkees. It started climbing the charts, and reached number one in Britain, Canada and on the US Billboard 200. The Monkees sold five million copies in America alone, and was certified platinum five times. Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter’s debut album had proven popular and appealed to a wide range of record buyers.
It wasn’t just fans of pop and rock that were won over by The Monkees. So were fans of psychedelic music. The Monkees’ psychedelic side first emerged on their eponymous debut album. Goffin and King’s Take A Giant Step and David Gates’ Saturday’s Child showcased the psychedelic sound of The Monkees, which was very different to other songs on the album. Maybe The Monkees had designs on becoming a serious band?
More Of The Monkees.
Just four months after the release of The Monkees, America’s version of the Fab Four returned with their sophomore album More Of The Monkees in January 1967. By then, what had been dubbed Monkeemania was in full swing. As a result, More Of The Monkees was rushed out to capitalise on the band’s popularity. This showed, and More Of The Monkees proved not to be the band’s finest hour.
Critics weren’t won over by More Of The Monkees, and their reviews reflected this. They weren’t alone. The Monkees weren’t happy with their contribution to More Of The Monkees. It consisted of adding the vocals, and very occasionally playing the instruments that they were meant to be playing. Mostly, though, the interments were played by members of the Wrecking Crew who stood in for The Monkees. They weren’t happy about this and wanted full artistic control.
Three weeks after the release of More Of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith began lobbying the creators of The Monkees to play their instruments on future records. Don Kirshner who had been brought onboard to secure music for The Monkees was against the idea of The Monkees playing their instruments on future records.Things came to a head a heated meeting between The Monkees, Don Kirshner and Colgems lawyer Herb Moelis. At one point, Michael Nesmith threatened to leave The Monkees. Given the album sales, there was only going to be one winner.
From their third album, The Monkees, not members of the Wrecking Crew would play their instruments. Executives at the Colgems label were scared of upsetting the cash cow that was The Monkees. While More Of The Monkees wasn’t the band’s finest hour, it reached number one in Britain, Norway, Canada and America. More Of The Monkees sold five million copies and was certified platinum five times over. This was pretty good for an album that many considered to be rushed out to cash in on the popularity of Monkeemania.
One of the finest songs on More Of The Monkees is She, which was penned by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Micky Dolenz adds a vocal on She, which featured The Monkees at their most lysergic. The psychedelic sound of The Monkees would return on their third album, Headquarters.
Four months after the release of More Of The Monkees, came the release of The Monkees’ third album Headquarters in May 1967. Headquarters which was produced by Chip Douglas, was the first album where The Monkees enjoyed full artistic control over their music. This came at a price.
After the dismissal of Don Kirshner, the songs that he had supervised were discarded. They wouldn’t feature on the album. Instead, it would only feature tracks where The Monkees enjoyed full artistic control. Still, though, session musicians were occasionally used, but they seemed to be a thing of the past.
Another difference was that much of the albums was written by members of The Monkees. This included the Micky Dolenz penned Randy Scouse Git and For Pete’s Sake which was written by Peter Tork and Joey Richards. Both songs were sung by Micky Dolenz and featured the psychedelic side of The Monkees. The strongest of the two tracks was For Pete’s Sake, which marked the start of a new era for The Monkees.
While most of the reviews of Headquarters were positive, some critics weren’t impressed by the first album where The Monkees enjoyed full artistic control. They felt some of the songs penned by members of The Monkees shouldn’t have made the cut. They wouldn’t if Don Kirshner had been around,and already it was apparent that his loss cost The Monkees dearly.
When Headquarters was released in May 1967 the album reached number two in Britain and Norway. In North America, Headquarters reached number one in Canada and in the US Billboard 100. However, the album sales were way down, with Headquarters selling ‘just’ two million copies. While this resulted in Headquarters being certified double platinum, the album had sold three million copies less than More Of The Monkees. To make matters worse, when Randy Scouse Git was released as a single, it never came close to troubling the charts. The Monkees had learnt an expensive lesson from Headquarters, that full artistic control came at a cost.
Two months after the release of Headquarters, The Monkees released a cover of Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday as a single in July 1967. This example of perfect pop was one of the finest songs of The Monkees’ psychedelic era. It reached number three and was the fourth Monkees single to be certified gold. Maybe The Monkees’ luck was starting to change?
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.
There was no let up for The Monkees, who returned with another album in November 1967, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. It was a quite different album from Headquarters.
Unlike Headquarters, where seven out of the twelve songs were written by members of The Monkees, only three of thirteen songs were written by the band. The remainder was cover versions, including songs written by successful songwriters and songwriting partnerships. This included Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s Words, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s Love Is Only Sleeping and Goffin and King’s Star Collector. They were joined by Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday. These songs would showcase the psychedelic side of The Monkees.
When they came to record Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, session musicians were drafted in. They had featured to some extent on Headquarters, but played a bigger part in the recording of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. This made sense, as they weren’t accomplished enough musicians to record an entire album. The Monkees played their instruments on some of the songs, but elsewhere on the album, session musicians took their place. However, as the years went by, The Monkees improved as musicians.
The Chip Douglas produced Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd was released in November 1967, and was well received by most of the critics. However, The Monkees had their critics, who saw the them as nothing more than a made for television band. That was unfair, as The Monkees had just released one of the best albums, and an album that pioneered the use of the Moog synth.
While Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd was released, it reached number five in Britain, four in Norway and three in Canada. In America, it became The Monkees’ fourth album to reach number one. However, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd ‘only’ sold two million copies in America, and was certified double platinum. Maybe The Monkees’ popularity had peaked?
The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees.
Five months after the release of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, The Monkees returned with their fifth album The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees. It marked the start of a new era for The Monkees, who had rung the changes in their pursuit of full artistic control. The Monkees had dispensed with the services of producer Chip Douglas, who had produced The Monkees first four albums. This was a huge risk.
By the time The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees was released, The Monkees television show had been cancelled. As a result, The Monkees were concentrating all their efforts on their music. Deep down, they wanted to be seen as a serious band. However, still, many critics and record buyers saw The Monkees as a manufactured, made for television band. They hoped that The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees would convince their critics that there was much more to them than that.
For their fifth album, members of The Monkees wrote six of the twelve tracks. This included Tapioca Tundra which was penned by Michael Nesmith. When it was recorded, The Monkees fused psychedelia and country. During the sessions, The Monkees continued to employ session musicians, who added backing vocals on some tracks. This was playing into the hands of The Monkees’ critics, who continued to accuse them of not being a ‘proper’ band. Their fans pointed The Monkees were a successful band, whose first four albums had sold in excess of fourteen million albums.
Before the release of The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees, critics had their say. The reviews were mixed, and again, there was no consensus amongst the critics. Some of the reviews were positive, while other were critical of The Monkees’ fifth album and the first they had produced themselves. With no consensus amongst the critics,record buyers had the casting vote.
The perfect pop of Daydream Believer was chosen as the lead single, and released in October 1967, It reached number one on the US Billboard 100 and was certified gold. Alas, Daydream Believer was the last of The Monkees’ nineteen singles to top the charts. However, the success of Daydream Believer augured well for the release of When The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees.
When The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees was released in April 1968, it failed to replicate the success of previous albums. The album failed to trouble the charts in Britain, where The Monkees had always been popular. It was a similar case in Canada, where The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees stalled at number six. In America, The Monkees was hoping that The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees would give them their fifth consecutive number one album. It was a case of close but no cigar, when The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees reached number three in the US Billboard 200. For The Monkees this was another disappointment. Especially when they heard that the album had sold just over a million copies. While this was enough for a platinum disc, it was a far cry from when both The Monkees and More Of The Monkees sold five million copies. Monkeemania it seemed, was now a thing of the past.
Maybe not? In February 1968, The Monkees released Valleri as the second single from The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees. The followup to Daydream Believer reached number three in the US Billboard 100 and was certified gold. Little did The Monkees realise that Valleri was their last single to be certified gold.
The followup to Valleri was D. W. Washburn, which was released in June 1968. However, it stalled at number nineteen in the US Billboard 100. This was a sign of what was to come
Four months later, and The Monkees returned with a new single in October 1968. The song that had been chosen was Goffin and King’s Porpoise Song, which featured on the soundtrack to Head. The Monkees had been asked to provide the soundtrack, and with a few friends created a soundtrack that mixed satire and darkness. Porpoise Song was a taste of what The Monkees had in store for their fans. However, the single stalled at a lowly sixty-two in the US Billboard 100, and became the second least successful single when it stalled at a lowly sixty-two in the US Billboard 100. This was worrying as Head was due to be released in late 1968.
Just like their previous albums, reviews of Head were mixed and there was no consensus among critics. While some critics loved the albums, others loathed it. This was nothing new. However, Head was the first soundtrack album The Monkees had recorded, and it featured six songs, including the lysergic Porpoise Song. It’s one of the best songs on Head. These six songs were joined by Ken Thorne’s incidental music, dialogue fragments, and sound effects from the film. As a result, it was very different to previous albums and it was unfair to compare Head to The Monkees’ studio albums. That was what the critics had done.
On the release of Head in December 1968, the album stalled a lowly forty-five in the US Billboard and twenty-four in Canada. This was the lowest chart placing in either country. Across the Atlantic in Britain, Head was the second album that failed to trouble the charts. This was a worrying time for The Monkees.
Not long after the release of Head, Peter Tork left The Monkees, citing exhaustion. The Monkees had recorded six albums in less than three years. They also filmed three series of the television series The Monkees and toured extensively. It was no wonder Peter Tork was exhausted. However, leaving The Monkees proved costly, as he had four years remaining on his contract. After paying a large, six figure sum of money, Peter Tork was no longer a Monkee. However, he would feature on The Monkees’ swan-song Good Times!
Just four months after the release of Head in 1968, The Monkees returned with their seventh studio album Instant Replay in February 1969. Instant Replay was the first album The Monkees released after the departure of Peter Tork, and was the only one of the nine original studio albums that hadn’t featured in the original TV series.
By the tine work began on Instant Replay, Brendan Cahill had been appointed The Monkees’ new musical supervisor. He was tasked with transforming the group’s fortunes. Brendan Cahill decided to look into The Monkees’ vaults for songs that had been recorded when they were in the musical prime. This Brendan Cahill hoped would restore the group to the top of the US Billboard 200.
Eventually, Brendan Cahill settled on twelve songs that would become Instant Replay. These songs included Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s Through the Looking Glass, Don’t Listen To Linda, Me Without You and Tear Drop City. Two Goffin and King songs Won’t Be the Same Without Her and A Man Without a Dream joined Carol Bayer Sager and Neil Sedaka’s The Girl I Left Behind Me. The three remaining original members of the Monkees penned the rest of the album, Micky Dolenz wrote Just a Game and Shorty Blackwell, while Michael Nesmith contributed Don’t Wait For Me and While I Cry. Davy Jones wrote You and I with Bill Chadwick. This mixture of cover songs and original material had been recorded over a period of thirty-one months.
Brendan Cahill chose some songs recorded in the summer of 1966 by the original lineup of The Monkees. They joined new songs recorded in 1968 and 1969, including A Man Without a Dream and Someday Man were produced by Bones Howe and recorded at Wally Heider’s studio. Bones Howe brought onboard some of the Wrecking Crew to accompany The Monkees. Eventually, Instant Replay was completed, it featured of twelve songs recorded between July 1960 and January 1969.
When Instant Replay was released in February 1969, reviews of the album were mixed. Its mixture of pop, psychedelia and rock didn’t receive the same reception as previous albums. This was a disappointment for The Monkees.
When it came to releasing a lead single from Instant Replay, Brendan Cahill chose Tear Drop City, which was one of the songs from The Monkees’ vaults. Brendan Cahill decided to increase the tempo nine percent changing the song’s key from G to A-flat. Alas, that didn’t help Tear Drop City which stalled at fifty-six in the US Billboard 1o0 and forty-seven in the UK. For The Monkees this was another disappointment. Things didn’t get much better when Instant Replay was released, and reached just thirty-two in the US Billboard 200, forty-five in Canada and twenty-six in Japan. This was another disappointment for The Monkees, who were no longer as popular as they had once been. Proof of this was the followup single to Tear Drop City was Someday Man, which reached eighty-one in the US Billboard 1o0 and forty-four in the UK. It was beginning to look as if The Monkees’ career was at a crossroads.
The Monkees Present.
By the time The Monkees began work on their eighth album The Monkees Present, which is sometimes known as The Monkees Present Micky, David, Michael, their popularity had peaked. As a result, Screen Gems were no longer as interested in The Monkees, who were no longer the cash cow they had once been. This resulted in The Monkees being left to their own devices when it came to producing the The Monkees Present.
Originally, The Monkees Present was meant to be a double album, which devoted one side to the album to each member of The Monkees. That was until Peter Tork left The Monkees. To make matters worse, by the time it came to record the album, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones had all embarked upon solo careers. As a result, a decision was made that The Monkees Present would be a single album.
For The Monkees Present, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart only contributed Looking For The Good Time and Ladies Aid Society. They joined Michael Martin Murphey’s Oklahoma Backroom Dancer and Janelle Scott and Matt Willis’ Pillow Time. The rest of the album was penned by The Monkees, with Michael Nesmith contributing Good Clean Fun, Never Tell A Woman Yes and Listen To The Band. Micky Dolenz wrote Mommy and Daddy and cowrote Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye with Ric Klein. Davy Jones wrote If I Knew with Bill Chadwick who penned French Song. These songs became The Monkees Present.
Just like Instant Replay, some of the songs had been recorded between August and October 1966, when The Monkees were in their prime. The rest of the album was recorded between June 1968 and August 1969. The result was an album that combined it was hoped combined classic Monkees with their new music. Surely this would be a winning formula?
Sadly, that wasn’t the case when The Monkees Present was released in October 1969. Critics weren’t impressed by what was one of The Monkees’ weakest album. They had eschewed their psychedelic sound and switched between country rock, folk rock, pop and rock. The Monkees Present wasn’t the most cohesive album The Monkees had released, and was slightly disjointed. This didn’t bode well for the release of The Monkees Present.
Things didn’t get any better when the lead single Listen To The Band stalled at sixty-three in the US Billboard 100. Then when The Monkees Present was released in early October 1969 it stalled at a lowly 100 in the US Billboard 200, and became The Monkees’ least successful album. Adding to The Monkees’ woes was the single Good Clean Fun struggling to eighty-three in the US Billboard 100. For The Monkees this was a worrying time.
Just when The Monkees thought things couldn’t get any worse, Michael Nesmith left the band. This left just Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz to fulfil The Monkees’ recording contract.
With just Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz remaining, recording The Monkees ninth studio album wasn’t going to be easy. However, the two remaining Monkees were reunited with producer Jeff Barry who cowrote much of the material on Changes.
Of the twelve songs on Changes, Jeff Barry wrote or cowrote six of them. He penned 99 Pounds and Tell Me Love and cowrote On My My, Do You Feel It Too and I Love You Better with Canadian singer-songwriter wrote Andy Kim. Jeff Barry and Bobby Bloom wrote Ticket on a Ferry Ride and You’re So Good to Me. The Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart songwriting partnership contributed I Never Thought It Peculiar while Ned Albright and Steven Soles wrote Acapulco Sun and All Alone In The Dark. They joined Neil Goldberg’s It’s Got To Be Love and Micky Dolenz’s Midnight Sun on Changes.
Just like The Monkees two previous albums, Changes was a mixture of old and new songs. Some songs were recorded during sessions that place in October 1966 with others recorded in January and February 1967. The Monkees had recorded other songs between July and September 1969 and then returned to the studio between February and April 1970. This allowed Colgems Records, a division of Columbia Records to put out an album as cheaply as possible. The only problem was the risk that it wouldn’t sound like a cohesive album when it was released in June 1970.
When critics heard Changes, they weren’t overly impressed with what was an essentially an album of bubblegum pop. Just like The Monkees two previous albums, Changes wash’t a cohesive album, and sounded like an assortment of tracks from the past four years. Even two remaining Monkees weren’t fans of Changes. Davy Jones called it his: “least favourite Monkees album” and said he had: “terrible memories of making Changes.” By then, The Monkees was over as a group, and Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz were merely fulfilling contractual obligations,
The Monkees went out with a whimper when Oh My My struggled into the lower reaches of the US Billboard 100 at ninety-eight. Then when Changes was released in June 1970, it stalled at 152 in the US Billboard 200. This was a new low for The Monkees.
On September ‘22nd’ 1970, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz recorded what was their swan-song as The Monkees. That day, they recorded Do It In The Name of Love and Lady Jane. However, Do It in the Name Of Love wasn’t mixed until February ‘ 9th’ 1971, and was released as a single later in 1971. However, Do It in the Name Of Love failed to chart and this was an inauspicious ending to The Monkees’ story.
The Monkees split-up in late 1971, and everyone thought that this was the end of a group who for five years, had divided the opinion of critics, cultural commentators and even music fans. However, in 1976, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz reformed the band and brought onboard Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to makeup America’s once fab four. This was the first of several Monkees reunions and revivals that have taken place over the past forty years.
During their comebacks, The Monkees have recorded three new albums, including 1987s Pool It! ,1996s Justus and Good Times! in 2016. It was the album that saw The Monkees revisit their psychedelic sound,
After the commercial failure of Head, The Monkees didn’t revisit their psychedelic side until 2016, when they were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of their eponymous debut album. To celebrate the anniversary, a new album was commissioned, which became Good Times!
This was the twelfth album of The Monkees career, and the first album since the death of Peter Tork. He appears posthumously on Little Girl, alongside the remaining Monkees Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter on Good Times! It’s one of thirteen songs on Good Times!, which reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200.
The songs on Good Times! are a mixture of old new and old. Some of the songs are penned by giants of music including the late, great Harry Nilsson and Neil Diamond. Others were written by successful songwriting partnerships like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and the legendary Goffin and King. One of the new songs, Birth Of An Accidental Hipster, was written by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller and finds The Monkees revisiting their psychedelic side one last time.
The Monkees psychedelic years began in 1966 and lasted until 1969. However, it was between 1966 and 1968 that The Monkees released the best psychedelic music of their career. That coincides with what was the most successful period of The Monkees career.
Some of the psychedelic music The Monkees made between 1966 and 1968 wasn’t overtly psychedelic. Instead, they find The Monkees moving in the direction of psychedelia. Maybe this was The Monkees seeking credibility in the eyes of critics and record buyers?
Despite their dalliances with psychedelia, The Monkees never fully embraced the genre like other sixties bands. Maybe it was a relationship that lacked commitment? The Monkees certainly never released a psychedelic masterpiece. The Monkees soundtrack album Head, which was released in December 1968, certainly wasn’t a psychedelic masterpiece, and was an an album that critics either loved or loathed. It was one of The Monkees’ occasional dalliances with psychedelia, and looking back with the benefit of hindsight, Head was a much better album than many critics were willing to admit. It’s an ambitious and innovative genre-melting album, but one the took its on The Monkees, when Peter Tork left the group. It was the end of an era for The Monkees who were one of the most successful bands of that period.
While The Monkees may have never fully embraced psychedelia like many other sixties bands, ironically, this worked in their favour. The music on their first five albums, including the psychedelic side of The Monkees was accessible and was hugely popular, selling fifteen million copies in America alone. However, by December 1968, The Monkees had already enjoyed the most successful years of their career.
In America six of The Monkees singles had been certified gold, while one album of their albums had been certified platinum, two double platinum and The Monkees and More Of The Monkees had been certified platinum five times over. Never again would The Monkees reach these heights again.
The Monkees split-up in 1971, and later, made several comebacks. They even recorded three albums, including their swan-song Good Times! in 2016. By then, The Monkees had released nineteen singles, twelve studio albums and six live albums between 1966 and 2016. However, still, the most successful period of The Monkees career was between 1966 and 1968. Sadly, the oft-overlooked Head wasn’t the commercial success that previous Monkees albums had been.
For just over two years, The Monkees were one of the biggest bands in America. They had found a winning formula, with albums that featured pop, rock and sometimes psychedelia. Head featured all the and more from The Monkees, and is an oft-overlooked album that nowadays is regarded as a cult classic from America’s very own Fab Four, The Monkees.
Cult Classic: The Monkees-Head.