Thursday, July 21, 2011

Head - The Monkees

The Monkees
Colgems COSO-5008

My photo of the cover doesn't do it justice.  It is a clear silver cover and when you look into it you see a reflection of your head.  Very cool but a bitch to photograph.  I saw the Monkees recently in concert.  Even though I had been a huge fan of them as a child, I had real misgivings about the show, I only went because my son wanted to go.  My doubts about the show stemmed from the absence of Mike Nesmith (my favorite Monkee) and my fear that the show would be some depressing and empty exercise in crude nostalgia with Davy, Micky and Peter just going through the motions for the money.  At first my fears seemed justified as Micky and Davy clowned their way through a couple of numbers.  But then the excellent 7 member backing band took charge and the music picked up.  Finally Peter Tork made a heartfelt speech about how the Monkees were a real band and belonged in the Hall of Fame and I was won over.  All these years later and Tork is still looking for acceptance.  I was touched.  Tork is now the heart and soul of the band.  He sang all of Nesmith's parts and is clearly the best singer in the band at this point.  I was enjoying the show when Tork again took the mike to announce that they were going to do some songs from "Head."  I was ecstatic as they performed the entire album including an astonishing version of "Porpoise Song."  It was a terrific concert and I'm really glad I went.  "Head" is my favorite Monkees album.  I first encountered it via the movie of the same name.  Some of you may remember that distant time before cable when the three networks showed theatrical movies.  CBS ran movies nearly every night after the late night local news.  One night when I was in my early teens, they showed "Head."  I stayed up way past my normal bedtime to watch it.  I didn't get it,  I was expecting something like the TV series.  I even dozed off a few times.  Years later I was lucky enough to see it in a movie theater and it blew me away.  It remains my second favorite rock film after "A Hard Day's Night."  It is not only a great film, but a great record as well.  It was their final album prior to Tork's departure from the group and Tork goes out with a bang offering up two of his best songs with the band, "Can You Dig It?" and "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again."  Dolenz replaced Tork as lead vocalist on "Can You Dig It?" although Rhino included the Tork version on its CD re-issue of "Head."   Having heard both versions I have to concede that the Dolenz one is better although Tork sang it at the concert and it sounded great.  The song has a Middle Eastern flavor to it that befits its use as trippy accompaniment to a belly dancing sequence in the film.  "Porpoise Song" is my favorite Monkees song and is arguably the most psychedelic song they ever did with the possible exception of "Daily Nightly."  It was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and features lyrics of entrapment and escape reflecting one of the key themes of the film.  The song is sung by Dolenz with help from Jones and it is driven by majestic organ lines colored by heavy orchestration, very much in the style of English psychedelia.  A great, great song.  Escape is also the theme in Carole King's other contribution to the record, the idyllic "As We Go Along" which is also sung by Dolenz.  It is a very inviting and relaxing song.  In total contrast is Mike Nesmith's contribution to the album, the exciting "Circle Sky."  I think it is the best rocker the band ever recorded and is one of Nesmith's best songs.  That leaves Jones' number, Harry Nilsson's "Daddy's Song," which is a sort of Broadway show tune/old timey song.  Normally I hate that sort of thing, but the swelling brass on the chorus wins me over, it reminds me of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" although not so raucous.  The rest of the album is fleshed out with a short bit of Ken Thorne's soundtrack music and sound bites from the movie assembled by Jack Nicholson (yes that Jack Nicholson) including Frank Zappa's immortal line, "that song was pretty white."  I love the sound bites, they add a lot of resonance and humor to the album.  I think the Monkees are one of the most inspiring stories in rock and I have only the highest respect for them.  An artificial band, formed for the crassest commercial purposes, they broke free of their handlers' constraints out of sheer artistic will and dignity and went on to produce some of the best pop music of the 1960s.  Yes Peter, the Monkees do belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (along with Paul Revere and the Raiders, Donovan, Love, Moby Grape, Kiss and the Smiths, but I digress.)  By any objective criteria, artistic, cultural or historical significance, the Monkees are more worthy than many of the inductees already there.  I defy anyone on the selection committee to explain how the Dave Clark Five, the Flamingos, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, James Taylor, the Ventures, the Ronettes, John Mellencamp, Duane Eddy, Abba or Genesis are more deserving.  None of them ever made an album as good as "Head."  Recommended for people who think the Electric Prunes are a more significant group than Little Anthony and the Imperials (also in the Hall of Fame for reasons I can't begin to fathom.)

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