Saturday, January 14, 2012

Meet the MONKEES – Part 1

Text by Joe Tortelli, intro by Robert Barry Francos
Article © 1984; RBF intro © 2012 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet, and can be made larger by clicking on them 

The following Monkees retrospective was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #12, in 1984. It was researched and written by Boston-based rock’n’roll historian Joe Tortelli. He had his own fantastic fanzine at the time called Oh Yeah!, and is currently involved in a book project that will hopefully see the light of day.

It took until the 1970s for me to appreciate the Monkees. Sure, I had a friend or two who were gaga over them, but even in my youth, I had an aversion to “the popular.” Nascent punk in me, I guess. There were a couple of tunes that I liked, though, like “Valleri” and “You Just May Be the One,” but it was actually after hearing
Monkeeshines 2 that I really began to appreciate them, for some reason. I do have to admit thought that I’ve been a fan of songs like “Joanne” and “The Crippled Lion” for a long time (though I thought “Rio” was overrated).

However, the Monkees are a lesson that many need to learn. For example, I read recently that Justin Bieber expects to be around for a very long time. Uh-hunh, yeah, okay. Whatever I think of the Bieb is beside the point. Expecting a career, no matter how big, to last forever doesn’t always happen. Ask David Cassidy, or the Bay City Rollers, or Tiffany, or any of the others who had massive crowds lining up, only to have them fade into dust. If you read any of those names and said, “who?”, well you’ve proven my point. Even when the Beatles were in New York, I believe it was, Ringo commented that he hoped the group lasted long enough that he’d make enough to by a hairdresser shop.

But the Monkees had more than their moment, they actually achieved something that lasted, if not their careers. And, yes, I did wear a blue, double-breasted shirt for a while in the ‘60s. – RBF, 2012

The advertisement in the September 8, 1965 issue of the Hollywood Reporter asked for four “insane 17 to 21 year old boys” to act in a television series about a rock’n’roll band.

Over 400 hopefuls did apply. A sandy-haired young fellow named Stephen Stills was among them. Though passed over himself, Stills told his near look-alike acquaintance, Peter Tork, about the audition. Tork and three other young men, David Jones, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith, were selected for the parts.

And so was born the rock group known as … the Monkees!

The Monkees became one of the three genuine phenomena in rock’n’roll history. The first two, Elvis and the Beatles, have long since taken their positions at the peak of rock music’s pantheon. The Monkees’ legacy has fared far less well. Indeed, there was a long period of time during which the Monkees were relegated to the musical garbage heap.

Today, it is difficult to realize exactly how popular the Monkees were at one time. For 18 months after Labor Day 1966, the Monkees came closer than any other acts in rock history to matching Elvis’ popularity in 1956, and the Beatles’ magic of 1964. Like their forerunners, the Monkees generated the hysterical crowds, the gold singles, the Number One albums, the radio airplay, and the widespread public attention. The Monkees had all this in addition to a weekly television series.

The Beatles and Elvis each received a limited amount of video exposure during their heydays. There is no doubting the fact that their televised appearances, especially on The Ed Sullivan Show, increased their popularity immensely. Television made them real, identifiable pop stars.

Another hitmaker, Ricky Nelson, benefitted immeasurably from weekly appearances on this parent’s television program, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The youngster was able to parlay his TV exposure into rock stardom. Other teen dreams who gained fleeting pop success due to their regular television roles included Johnny Crawford  (The Rifleman), Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip), and Patty Duke (The Patty Duke Show). Few in the music industry questioned television’s ability to make instant pop sensations. [I would add Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show – RBF/2012.]

The concept of a television band took this idea one step further. The TV series would provide a means of spreading the band’s music to millions of weekly viewers.

The formula achieved immediate results. The Monkees became the most popular pop group in America. The band members possessed the four most recognizable new faces since the Beatles burst onto the scene. Because of television’s power, every kid in the country knew the Monkees both as a smashing pop unit and individual stars.

* * *

Robert Michael Nesmith was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1942. His mother, a commercial artist, invented the typist’s best friend, Liquid Paper. Nesmith enlisted in the Air Force in 1960, and picked up the guitar two years later. After performing in the San Antonio area, Nesmith traveled to California. There, he played the café circuit and recorded some folk rock songs as Michael Blessings  for Colpix Records.

An anonymous publicity genius dubbed him “Wool Hat” Nesmith (a nickname which mercifully did not widely catch on) because of the head gear he often wore. Tall, slim and witty, Nesmith was quickly recognized as the band’s leader. The singer-guitarist emerged as the most gifted songwriter in the group.

Peter Thorkelson was a few months older than Nesmith. The son of a University of Connecticut economics professor, he studied teaching before joining the Greenwich Village folk scene. After landing the Monkees gig on a tip from Steve Stills [Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – RBF/2012], Tork switched from guitar to bass to satisfy the demands of the series. Though a sensitive and intelligent individual, Tork was cast in the role of the naïve or dumb Monkee. He displayed a natural comic talent, though he lacks previous screen experience.

The Monkees helped popularize several sixties pop fashions, including the two-inch-wide belt with heavy duty public. Peter added some extra zip to this by always wearing his belt buckle on his left hip. Moe than a few fashion-conscious teens began to copy him.

Born in Los Angeles in 1945, George Michael Dolenz was the son of actor George Dolenz. The younger Dolenz starred in the TV series Circus Boy from 1956 to 1958. With the stage name Micky Braddock, he played Corky, a young orphan traveling with a turn-of-the-century circus. In the ensuring years, he occasionally appeared on television programs, including Route 66 and Peyton Place. Dolenz also recorded some musical tracks and was singer-guitarist for a pop outfit called the Missing Links (under the name Mike Swan).

Dolenz appeared to be filled with non-stop energy. The frenetic, crazy Monkee, he was equally adept at making facial expressions and attempting the entertainment world’s worst James Cagney imitation. He had to learn how to play the drums for the Monkees.

The youngest Monkee, David Thomas Jones, haired from Manchester, England. At 5’3” tall (or small), Jones worked as a teenage jockey in his native land. He pursued an Anglo-American acting career playing the Artful Dodger in the play Oliver and Sam Weller in Pickwick. His television credits included Ben Casey and The Farmer’s Daughter. The well-rounded entertainer even recorded a “teen idol” pop album for Colpix Records in 1965. Though loaded with schmaltzy tunes, the LP, David Jones, did contain Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

With his short stature, good looks and British accent, Davy Jones inherited his role as the cute Monkee. Young girls found him irresistible under his trend-setting Dutch boy cap. Though he did not play an instrument, Jones was cast as a guitarist [though he would soon switch to mostly percussion, like maracas and tambourine – RBF / 2012].

The Monkees television series was conceived by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, of RayBert Productions. Rafelson and Schneider originally considered using an existing pop act in the program. The Lovin’ Spoonful and Jan & Dean (prior to Jan’s near-fatal car accident) were thought of before the producers decided to create a new band.

While Rafelson and Schneider were developing the TV series, Don Kirshner was summoned to supervise the music. Kirshner and his partner, Al Nevins, had been powers in the music publishing business for years. In 1963, their company, Screen Gems, had affiliated with Columbia Music to form one of the world’s giant publishing houses.

With his most stunning business achievement within grasp, Kirshner used Screen Gems-Columbia as the repository of all Monkees material. He formed a new record label, Colgems, especially for Monkees products. Predictably, Don Kirshner served as President of Colgem Records.

Kirshner molded the Monkees sound into a pleasing mix of pop and rock. The music found its influences in the British Invasion, particularly in the pre-Revolver Beatles. He commissioned his stable of songwriters to compose catchy, hook-filled tunes. Veteran studio musicians were hired to record most of the instrumental tracks. The four Monkees were the stars fronting this Kirshner-concocted combination.

The Monkees premiered Monday, September 12, 1966, at 7:30 PM [EST], on the NBC network. Clearly inspired by the Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! (both directly by Richard Lester), the fast-paced 30-minute comedy followed the misadventures of a young rock band. The camera work and editing techniques (quick cuts, distorted focus, fast and slow motion, freeze frames, bizarre inserts) evoked memories of the critically acclaimed Beatles movies. The thin plots suggested that he program’s main purpose was to popularize the band’s music.

The first Monkees record was issued shortly before the series began. A sterling, upbeat pop song, “The Last Train to Clarksville,” featured Micky’s tuneful singing and an unforgettable guitar riff. The song was the first of string of Monkees smashes composed by the team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

With a mighty boost from its television connection, “Last Train” soared to the Number One spot on the national charts and earned a gold record. If the Monkees were groomed to be the “American Beatles,” then the initial record sales seemed to indicate that history was repeating itself. Indeed, the hit song captured that familiar Beatles sound better than any smash since… well, since the Fab Four’s own “Paperback Writer.”

The Monkees’ eponymous debut album followed their single to the top of the record surveys. Each of that LP’s 12 cuts found an outlet on both radio and television.

Up to this point, only one act’s albums were treated by radio programmers as if they contained a dozen fresh hit singles. As a result, the Beatles sold an unprecedented number of long players, and the teen audience knew nearly all their songs. The Monkees joined the Beatles as the only ‘60s artists who received saturation album airplay on AM radio. Each LP track became an individual smash.

This unique radio and television attention generated massive record sales. The Monkees LP sold more than four million copies, a figure almost identical to the sales of the Beatles’ first LP, Meet the Beatles. Moreover, it held onto the Number One spot for 15 weeks, the most ever for a debut album by a rock act.

“(Theme from) The Monkees” kicked off the album, just as it accompanied the opening and closing credit of the TV series. This bouncy Boyce-Hart composition would have topped the charts on its own, had it been released separately as a single.

Other Boyce-Hart numbers got heavy airplay, too. A generation of school girls yearned for Davy’s affection as he crooned “I Wanna Be Free.” The rocking “Let’s Dance On”  pinched its guitarist riff directly from the Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout.” “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day” and “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” (a Tommy Boyce-Nick Venet collaboration) reflected contrasting sides of the mid-tempo coin. “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” closed the album in a friendly, light-hearted way.

With its insistent rock’n’roll guitar, “Saturday’s Child” proved to be one of the LP’s heavier tracks. The surprisingly driving number was penned by David Gates, future leader of the soft pop outfit, Bread.
Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote “Take a Giant Step.” Its lyrics (“Come with me / Leave yesterday behind / And take a giant step / Outside your mind”) left traces of psychedelia, which was mind-sweeping the music world. Goffin teamed with Russ Titleman on “I’ll Be True to You (Yes I Will),”  a ballad custom-tailored to fit Davy Jones.

Music critics did not overlook the fact that Mike Nesmith was the only Monkee who played original material on the album. “Papa Gene’s Blues” reflected the Texan’s enduring love of country music. He co-wrote “Sweet Young Thing” with veterans Gerry Goffin and Carole King. With its steady beat, guitar frills and serious lyrics, “Sweet Young Thing” was the record’s least accessible cut.

The Monkees proved to be an album filled with unbeatable, seamless pop tunes. Micky Dolenz established himself as the group’s foremost vocalist, singing seven songs. By performing credibly on the LP’s two ballads, Davy Jones cemented his role as the music world’s latest heartthrob. Mike Nesmith demonstrated his commitment to developing as a musician and artist. Peter Tork did nothing to avoid being tagged “the quiet Monkee.”

Though not members of the band, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart deserved special credit for the spectacular success of the first Monkees long player. They wrote over half of the album’s songs, including its three most requested numbers (“Clarksville,” “I Wanna Be Free” and “Theme”). The twosome additionally produced ten of the LP’s twelve tracks (Mike Nesmith produced the remaining pair – his own compositions).

As 1966 approached its inevitable end, the Monkees starred in the country’s most popular teen-oriented television series, topped the album charts, and dominated the radio airwaves. Davy’s Dutch boy cap and the group’s matching double-breasted shirts ignited new fashion trends in the pop world. Monkees bubblegum cards, lunch boxes, magazines and other items hit the market as part of an unprecedented merchandising campaign. The businessmen behind the project decided it was the time for a new product.

With advance sales of over one million, the single “I’m a Believer” / “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” was released November 26, 1966. The overwhelming response of radio programmers and the rock audience resulting in the fastest selling single since the other quartet’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was issued nearly three years earlier. “I’m a Believer” owned the Number One position for seven incredible weeks during December and January, and ultimately sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide.

Composed by the fast-rising New York songwriter and solo artist Neil Diamond, “I’m a Believer” was one of the truly classic pop rockers of the ‘60s. Micky’s vocals combined with Jeff Barry’s sure-handed production gave the Monkees their biggest selling and best remembered song.

While “I’m a Believer” nestled at the top of the charts, “Steppin’ Stone” peaked at a respectable No. 20. Though the Boyce-Hart tune has been recoded by numerous rock acts, the Monkees unleashed the definitive version of this seminal four-chord punk rocker. The uncompromising rock’n’roll attack of guitars, bass organ and drums underscored Micky’s sarcastic interpretation of the biting lyrics: “You’re’ trying to make your mark on society / You’re usin’ all the tricks that you used on me / You’re readin’ all the high fashion magazines / The clothes you’re wearin’, girl / Are causing public scenes.”

The largest advance order ever for a rock album – 1.5 million units – greeted the Monkees’ second album.

 More of the Monkees arrived with the new year. And it was just that – more of the great pop sounds to which listeners had been introduced on the first LP. But it was even more successful.

Only two weeks after its release, More nudged The Monkees out of the top spot of the charts. It proceeded to hold down the Number One position for four entire months. Together, the first two Monkees albums remained at the top of the LP charts for more consecutive weeks than Elvis, the Beatles or any other act of the ‘50s or ‘60s. The Monkees owned that top spot for 31 incredible weeks.

Nor do the comparisons among the rock’n’roll sensations end there. Only two acts during the ‘60s sold over four million copies with each of their first and second albums. The Beatles were one of those groups. The Monkees were the other.

The Monkees’ hold on Top-40 radio was equally impressive during the early months of 1967. While songs from The Monkees still saturated the airways, More of the Monkees reigned supreme. Radio capitulated fully and willingly to the star-making power of its young offspring. Stations competed with each other to play “the most Monkees,” but conceded the teen audience to television each Monday night at 7:30.

More of the Monkees brims with top-notch pop rock. In addition to the monster hits, “I’m a Believer” and “Steppin’ Stone,” Micky sings Boyce and Hart’s tough-sounding “She,” and Mike Nesmith’s most successful composition for the Monkees, “Mary, Mary.” The drummer’s performance on the Goffin-King ballad, “Sometime in the Morning” proves conclusively that his voice was best suited for up-tempo numbers.

Davy Jones handles five album tracks: Neil Diamond’s “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” captivates the listener with hits hook-filled simplicity, “When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door),” a Neil Sedaka-Carol Bayer collaboration, and “Hold On Girl” offer pleasing examples of mid-tempo pop. “Laugh” doesn’t quote make it as light comedy or social commentary. “The Day We Fall in Love” is the record's only outright disappointment. This deadly boring ballad does not pick up where “I Wanna Be Free” left off.

Mike Nesmith’s only vocal comes on “The Kind of Girl I Could Love.” Mike wrote the tune with Roger Atkins, a lyricist whose other credits include the Animals’ “It’s My Life.”

Peter Tork makes his singing debut on the oddball ditty, “Your Auntie Grizelda.” The voice is flat, but friendly. The lyrics apparently refer to the generation gap. And the absurd vocal noise-making during the interlude is entirely appropriate. Peter’s voice possesses the same offbeat charm that Ringo’s always showed in Beatles records.

The demand for new Monkee sounds seemed to be nearly limitless in early 1967. Hoping to mine some of that Monkee gold, Challenge Records exhumed an old Micky Dolenz recording. “Don’t Do It”  gave Monkees-hungry fans a raving rocker which pre-dated Micky’s tenure with the band. Though it barely dented the charts, the song did let listeners hear Micky scream, “You do it with everybody you see / Why don’t you do it with me?!”

After the amazing sales totals of “I’m a Believer,” advance orders for the Monkees’ third single topped 1.5 million. Colgems released “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” b/w “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” in March to satisfy this pent-up demand.

A Little Bit Me” opens with a guitar rhythm reminiscent of several solo hits by the song’s composer, Neil Diamond. Unfortunately, Davy’s voice lacks the punch which the Dolenz treatment might have provided. “A Little Bit Me” did not drive to the top of the surveys like its predecessors. It crested at the runner-up position instead.

The B-side of the seven-incher, Mike Nesmith’s “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” was accorded frequent radio spins. This marvelous song featured Micky’s estimable singing and Peter’s harpsichord playing. This was the first instrumental track on which Peter actually played.

Avid fans found another source of new Monkees music. Sometimes, songs were aired on the TV program long before they were committed to vinyl. A handful of “television” tunes never showed up on record. And “alternative takes” (i.e., songs which differed from the final recorded version) of Monkees hits occasionally accorded viewers with an unexpected surprise.

Although the Monkees were selling more records in 1967 than any other act, they were also faced with growing criticism. “They are not real musicians. They don’t even play on their own record,” the rumor mill buzzed. “They can’t write songs and probably don’t even really sing. These boys are actors, not rockers,” complained others.

This put enormous pressure on the four Monkees. Michael and Peter, especially, considered themselves musicians. They resented the perception that they were manipulated by agents, managers and businessmen. They intended to prove that the band was real.

The Monkees hit the concert trail during the year. Monkees performances generated the same kind of frenzied response which had greeted the Beatles before they quit the road. The screams and crowd noise covered the music, making it impossible for skeptics to assess the band’s skills. Creative lighting and visuals enhanced the excitement of live appearances, while revealing little about the group’s musicianship. One memorable Monkees television program documented a knockout concert, but even this did not silence the critics.

The Monkees’ predicament was not at all relived when the Beatles reclaimed their rock’n’roll kingdom in June of 1967. During the months of late ’66 and early ’67, the Monkees had reined supreme, unchallenged by their role models. The Fab Four issued only one single, “Penny Lane” b/w “Strawberry Fields Forever,” during these nine months of unremitting Monkeemania. Had the Beadles abdicated their throne to this new foursome?

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band not only demolished the young pretender’s claim, it unalterably changed the face of rock music. Just as they had done in 1964, the Beatles rolled over the vestiges of the past and recreated the future.

Suddenly, rock music achieved a new level of significance. It was no longer simply “pop.” It was “pop-art” or just “art.”

The music became complex and varied. The choice of instrumentation expanded wildly. The lyrics grew profound and meaningful. The music wasn’t for kids anymore. It was for college students and some of their hip professors. It was for political activists who could interpret the revolutionary designs of the most abstruse lyrics. It was for those who understood and appreciated music. And, of course, it was for drug experimenters.

This was 1967. The Summer of Love. Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out. Timothy Leary. San Francisco. Peace. LSD. Grateful Dead. Love. Love In. Luv. Sitars. The Airplane. Haight-Asbury. Avalon. Raga. Doors. Fillmore. Marijuana. Mary Jane.

The mid-1967 Monkees were thrust into this apparently alien and hostile environment. But there was another side, too. The rock scene still embodied a fairly unified generation of fans at this time. The same AM radio stations which played the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane and Sgt. Pepper’s, were inundated with Monkees music Nineteen-sixty-seven was also a big year for the Turtles, the Cowsills, Herman’s Hermits, and Tommy James and the Shonells. And the Monkees were still at least the second hottest band in the world.

No one was more responsible for the remarkable popularity of the Monkees than song publisher and Colgems Records president Don Kirshner. He was credited rather immodestly in hand print as “Music Supervisor” of the first and second Monkees albums. The record company executive embarrassed his four young stars by mentioning a litany of songwriters and producers on his liner notes for More of the Monkees. The band faced enough criticism for depending on outside musical support. Their own “musical supervisor” seemed to be magnifying the problem.

Kirshner did not endear himself to the individual Monkees when he insisted that studio musicians play most of the group’s instrumental tracks. His iron-handed control extended to assigning vocal parts to band members. He displayed his insensitivity by flatly refusing to let Mike Nesmith sing “I’m a Believer.”

This arbitrariness properly helped the Monkees commercially, since Kirshner’s ear for pop hits was apparently nearly infallible. But it also irreparably soured personal and professional relations between the “music supervisor” and his band.

Rumors circulated about the four Monkees’ dissatisfaction with the musical direction and public image of their band. Mike Nesmith felt particularly frustrated. A married man and father, he was settled with an unwanted teenybopper personal. A songwriter, producer and guitarist, he was prevented from developing or experimenting musically. The 6’1” Texan actually walked away from the filming of three television episode when his difference with management cut too deeply.

After a bitter confrontation with Don Kirshner in the lobby of a Beverly Hills hotel, Nesmith exposed the festering sore to the press. “We’re being passed off as something we aren’t,” he told the pop world. “The music on our records has nothing to do with us. It’s totally dishonest.” With the full support of his three comrades, Mike fought for control of the Monkees’ future.

A series of bushiness moves within Colgems’ parent corporate structure removed Don Kirshner from his position of power. This breakdown of authority gave Mike, Peter, Micky and Davy the opening which they needed. They became the masters of their own music. And their initial vinyl effort in June 1967 foreshadowed a promising future.

The Monkees’ third LP, Headquarters, was the first full album over which they had significant artistic control. Though it lacked the spar of pure pop which ignited the earlier records, Headquarters possessed a new sense of depth and sincerity. It still stands as the Monkees’ most endearing LP, and their most personal statement.

Mike Nesmith shows his maturing skills as a performer and songwriter. He sings the countryish “Sunny Girlfriend” with unabashed enthusiasm. His understated country guitar licks add an extra dimension to the solid pop rocker, “You Told Me.” With its sensitive lyrics and revealing melody, “You Just May Be the One”  remains Nesmith’s finest composition.

Micky’s first original Monkee song, “Randy Scouse Git,” sounds like a quaint, nostalgic ditty until its mood depends and the music hardens. The song’s threatening lyrics and arrangement probably surprised detractors and fans alike.

Radio stations across America accorded “Randy Scouse Git” saturation airplay. In Britain, the tune reached No. 2 as the single, “Alternate Title.”

Peter Tork also contributed his first composition to Headquarters. “For Pete’s Sake” features a great guitar intro and Micky’s dynamic voice. One of the LP’s hottest cuts, “For Pete’s Sake” replaced the Monkees’ “Theme” by playing over the closing credits of the weekly television series during its second season.

Three Boyce-Hart songs are included on Headquarters. Micky handles the vocals and Mike plays pedal steel guitar on “I’ll Spend My Life With You.” The drummer also sings “Mr. Webster,” a Paul Simon-influenced folk rocker. “I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind” weighs in as the album’s lightweight piece. And Davy’s cute voice hardly invigorates the tune.

The young Britisher offers atonement on the superb folk rock number, “Early Morning Blues and Greens.”He additionally sings, “Forget That Girl,” a Beatles-esque song composed by the album’s producer, Douglas Farthing Hatelid (actually Chip Douglas using an aristocratic pseudonym).

 Not to be outdone, engineer Hank Cicalo landed “No Time” on the album. Micky does his best Little Richard imitation on this non-stop rocker.

The record’s centerpiece, “Shades of Grey,” explores the complexities and ambiguities of modern life. Davy and Peter share the lead vocal on this, the most enduring recording of the Monkees’ career. Their style meld perfectly on the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil opus. The lyrics are the most sophisticated the group ever attempted: “I remember when the answers were so clear / We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear / It was easy then to tell truth from lies / Sell out from compromise… / Today the is no black or white / Only shades of grey.”

Headquarters represents the Monkees struggle for self-justification. The boys strove to prove that they were a legitimate rock’n’roll act. The liner notes indicate that they understood the criticism confronting them. The words on the back of the album read: “We aren’t the only musicians on this album, but the occasional extra bass or horn player played under our direction, so that this album is ours.”

If the record’s musicianship is hardly earth shaking, it requires no apology either. Most importantly, the album works. The Monkees labored to create an album, instead of a collection of pop songs. They succeeded.

Appropriately enough, no American single was ever pulled from Headquarters.

The album was commercially successful on its own. It hit Number One on the charts but did not sell nearly as many units as its predecessors. Headquarters faced the unenviable task of competing for record sales and recognition with Sgt. Pepper’s, the masterpiece which overshadowed the entire pop world during the summer of ’67.

As the Monkees’ latest lyrics reflect the uncertainties of the world, one of those uncontrollable forces threatened the band’s very existence. A bloody war ranging half a world away underscored the other side of the American Dream. The military draft stole young Americans from the comfort and prosperity of home and tested them in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

Military service had already shot down the promising career of Gary Lewis. With his band, the Playboys, the son of veteran comedian Jerry Lewis had produced six Top-Ten smashes before the military killed his momentum. [I once heard Gary commenting that his father refused to intervene on his behalf to get him out of the military, as did Dean Martin with Dino; Gary was bitter and never forgave his father for that, to me seeming to suffer from PTSD – RBF / 2012]

Another rock star, Beach Boy Carl Wilson, decided to fight induction into the service. The youngest Wilson brother embarked upon a long, costly and frustrating legal battle to avoid compensatory enrollment in the armed forces.

Now it was the Monkees’ turn.

The army informed Davy Jones that he must report for a medical examination in the spring or summer of 1967. Though a British citizen, he was eligible for the draft because he lived and worked in the United States.

When asked how they would respond, spokesmen for the NBC network revealed how inadequately they understood the dynamics of the Monkees phenomenon. NBC’s representative suggested that Davy could be “replaced.”

Several million teenage girls breathed a collective sigh of relief when the youngest Monkee was not drafted. NBC executives were spared the embarrassment of search for a “replacement” for the best-loved Monkee.

The television establishment surrendered to the Monkees onslaught on June 4, 1967. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded producers Bern Schneider and Bob Rafelson the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series: The Monkees. James Frawley earned the Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for The Monkees’ episode entitled “Royal Flush.”

The adults joined teenagers in honoring youth. The pop world conquered the real world. The velocity of the whirlwind which trapped Mike, Peter, Micky and Davy turned up another notch. The generation gap twisted inside out.

The band’s third consecutive gold single burned up the charts in July and August. “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” another can’t-miss Goffin-King tune, lyrically exposes the banality of suburban middle class life. Micky sings lead on both “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and its very successful flipside, “Words.” Peter echoes the drummer’s vocals until the Boyce-Hart smash explores into its rocking chorus. Each song packs a devastating pop punk making this the second best single of the Monkees’ career (“I’m a Believer” b/w “Steppin’ Stone” is, of course, the best).

After a sizzling summer tour of America and Britain, the television series entered its second season and another LP was released. Like its three forerunners, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., shot to the top of the charts and secured a gold record award.

The record was the most developed Monkees album to date. With Chip Douglas producing again, the boys experimented with unorthodox studio techniques. The Monkees aspired to be a little less pleasing and bit more meaningful.

The first cut warns listeners that this is a very different kind of Monkees LP. Mike Nesmith sings “Salesman,” without disguising his Texas twang. The background vocals boarder on the bizarre.

She Hangs Out” opens on a Jan & Dean-Beach Boys style “Da-Do-Ron-Ron.” Davy’s voice cuts through the cuteness with an extremely uncharacteristic harsh edge. A very punky organ sound underscores the song’s toughness.

Mike returns as vocalist on a pleasant, mid-tempo number, “The Door Into Summer.” The guitarist also singes the strangely worded “Love is Only Sleeping,” the countryish “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round,” and the sophisticated ballad, “Don’t Call On Me.” The last named is perhaps the most atypical piece the band has ever recorded.

This is Mike Nesmith’s album more than any other. His restrained but effective guitar playing distinguishes itself throughout. For the first time, his voice dominates a Monkees album. This explains the record’s depth, as well as its commercial limitations

Nesmith composed “Daily Nightly,” an amazing psychedelic number which Micky sings Lyrics like “Lost in the scenes of smoke filled dreams / Find question but no answers” conjure hazy visions not readily associated with the Monkees.

Micky is the lead vocalist on only two other album tracks, “Words” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” If there is one obvious difference between Pisces and previous Monkees LPs, it is the drummer’s relatively subdued role as lead singer. Dolenz introduces a new hair style on the album cover. His “Beatle” cut is replaced by a teased and curly Afro-influenced coiffure.

Davy sings three numbers in addition to “She Hangs Out.” Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy” does not rise above teenybopper predictability despite its Beatles affectations and bikey jargon. The middle-of-the-road sounding “Hard to Believe” just isn’t Davy’s song.

The lad’s voice is at its bets on the record’s closer, “Star Collector.” The Moog synthesizer instrumental jam ending this Goffin-King collaboration probably jolted listeners even more than Davy’s spunky vocal.

Though “Star Collector” is timed at three minutes and a half according to the LP jacket, it actually lasts over four minutes. This intentional discrepancy was surely designed to trick AM radio programmers who looked askance at “long” songs.

Piscesis the first album on which musicians other than the Monkees are credited individually. Mike, Peter and Micky play all guitar parts, but producer Chip Douglas plays the bass notes. Two session percussionists complement drummer Dolenz. Noted country picker Doug Dillard sits in with his banjo.

Pisces soared to Number One, but its sales lagged far behind the groups three previous long players. Now that the four Monkees directed their own musical careers, their recordings reflected greater maturity and less accessibility. Young fans were turned off and AM radio aired fewer album tracks.

The Monkees faced a no-win situation. As they began to assert themselves musically, they alienated teenyboppers and Top-40 radio. Yet, nothing they did could entice acid rockers and hipsters to listen. Despite the Monkees’ expanding sound their audience was shrinking.

Something similar was happening to the television program. The hit situation comedy of the ’66-’67 season developed into a sometimes surreal and oftentimes plotless 30-minute video escapade, the inclusion of cult acts like Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley as guest performers hardly widened audience appeal. Casual viewers, the life blood of any primetime network series, began slipping away. The falling ratings disturbed the NBC executives, a group never known to sympathize with low ratings or rock music.

The Monkees entered the year with a smash which reinforced the band’s pop image. Peter Tork’s piano introduces John Stewart’s mid-tempo classic, “Daydream Believer.” Davy’s outstanding vocal coaxes the melody line to its surging sing-along chorus.

Following three consecutive double-sided hit singles, the Monkees gambled on the B-side of “Daydream Believer.” Micky propels the blazing rave up, “Goin’ Down,” through its frenetic pacing.

The two sides of this seven-inch record demonstrate the tension between pop and rock which plagued the Monkees at this time. Of course, the pop side found the commercial success. “Daydream Believer” rested at Number One for the month of December 1967, until it was replaced by the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye.” “Goin’ Down” did not even crack the charts.

Part Two: to be continued

1 comment:

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    It could easily turn it into the group's official website.