PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Hey, Hey, etc... Why I Love the Monkees

I'm used to catching grief from friends for some of the quirky stuff I listen to, so whenever the Monkees come up in conversation, I'm always prepared for a lively debate. I'm not naive enough to pretend they were one of rock's great bands, though I do feel as though their music has been a bit shortchanged by history.

Their groundbreaking series lasted just two seasons, and was followed by a delicious stream-of-consciousness feature film (Head) and an even more bizarre TV special (33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee), which had the lousy fortune of airing opposite the Academy Awards. By this point, of course, the Monkees were hellbent on blowing themselves up from within. Scornful of the ridicule they faced from much of the "serious" rock cognoscenti, the pre-Fab Four made every attempt to shed their bubblegum image and strike out on their own.

It began somewhere around the time they recorded their third album. After playing sparingly on tunes for the first two Monkees' records, the band took over for themselves. With the assistance of Chip Douglas on bass, the Monkees turned into a semi-actual band on Headquarters. It wasn't a virtuoso collection by any means, especially when compared to many of other rock albums released in 1967. Never mind the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper; that year also saw seminal works drop from Love (Forever Changes), Captain Beefheart (Safe As Milk), the Velvet Underground (The Velvet Underground & Nico), Pink Floyd (Piper at the Gates of Dawn), 13th Floor Elevators (Easter Everywhere), the Doors (The Doors) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (Are You Experienced?).

Still, Headquarters is the work of a pretty alright garage rock band, one with a keen interest in experimentation. That thread would follow on the band's second album of the year, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., which featured forays into country rock, vaudeville pop and psychedelia, the latter including what has often been regarded as among the first uses of the Moog synthesizer on a rock song (both on "Daily Nightly" and "Star Collector").

1968's Head may be the Monkees' creative zenith, both on film and vinyl. The script, such as it was, was written over a drug-fuelled weekend in a cabin in the woods with Jack Nicholson. Yes, THAT Jack Nicholson. Nicholson makes a brief cameo in the film as does Dennis Hopper (the two worked together on Easy Rider the following year, a film financed, in part, on Monkee money), Frank Zappa, a very young Teri Garr, a very puffy Sonny Liston, Annette Funicello, Victor Mature, Carol Doda, Toni Basil and American football great Ray Nitschke.

Opening with Micky Dolenz jumping from a bridge to certain doom, the movie sunk like a stone in limited theatrical release, but went on to become something of a cult classic.

The soundtrack features just a handful of original Monkees' material, but what's there is among the very best music they ever recorded. "Porpoise Song" is a swirling epic, and "As We Go Along" (with guitar by Neil Young), is a love song of fragile beauty. The oft-marginalized Peter Tork has two songs on the album, including the Indian-influenced "Can You Dig It?" (with vocals by Dolenz) and the sprawling stomp of "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?" Even the sometimes schmaltzy Davy Jones is in fine form, on the Harry Nillson-penned "Daddy's Song". Nicholson compiled the album, gluing the songs together with dialogue and sound effects from the film. The only misstep -- replacing the incendiary live version of Mike Nesmith's "Circle Sky" shown in the film with a flaccid studio recording -- was undone when Rhino Records remasted the album for CD release over a decade ago.

Following the disastrous results for 33 1/3...,Tork wriggled his way out of his contract and split. As a trio, the Monkees released two more albums in 1969, much of which included songs recorded as early as 1966 that had just been sitting in a Colgems vault collecting dust. Nesmith's "Listen to the Band" (originally given a psychedelic freak-out paint job with Tork still on board for 33 1/3...) was the last great Monkees song. The last "musician" in the band, Nesmith left to form his own country rock pioneering outfit, the First National Band. Dolenz and Jones put out one last album under the Monkees' name before finally pulling the plug.

There's no question the Monkees were fabricated. But so was the cast of your favorite film, and they made great art together. And when the Byrds or the Beach Boys used studio musicians on some of their now-classic tracks, no one blinked an eye.

While stuffy critics like Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner have always pooh-poohed the musical relevance of the Monkees, perhaps their greatest detractors of all have been themselves. Both Nesmith and Dolenz have frequently said in inteviews they didn't think much of their music, with the former especially dismissive.

However, because they actually sorta gave a crap at the time, it's impossible to objectively lump the Monkees in with other teenybopper acts of the day. Even if one doesn't think much of them, they've got to at least fall somewhere in the chasm between the era's rock and pop rather than at one end or the other.

I love the Monkees. Not just because I enjoy watching them on DVD with my eight-year old daughter (her fave rave is Nesmith, though she's got bobblehead dolls of the whole group), but because I actually do enjoy their music. Some of it is simple to the point of hardly being there at all. And a few of their attempts to create art flamed out when they tried to fly too close to the sun, like Dolenz' "Shorty Blackwell" (which is a total mess) and Nesmith's "Writing Wrongs" (which is also a mess, but a curiously satisfying one). Yet there are gems to be unearthed far beyond the confines of a hits compilation. You may even find it's worth doing a bit of exploring.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.