Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Club Flyers and Invites from 1970s and 1980s: Part 5

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2012
Images are owned by the artists
Also, images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

As stated in an earlier blog, throughout the years I have collected flyers, especially from the 1970s and '80s. Many were sent to me directly by the bands while I was publishing FFanzeen. Below are some scans I made from my personal collection, in no particular order. I did see many of them, but not all, and I will comment on them from time to time. Note that I do not financially profit off of publishing them, but only do so to honor the work that was involved, and for archival purposes.

While it’s questionable whether Marianne Faithfull’s music of this period is punk, her life sure was hardscrabble at the time of this show. As her amazing book (Faithfull: An Autobiography) explained, a later life of substance dependence and the jealousy of others had a negative effect on her career. Yet, with the emergence of her album Broken English, she quickly captured the New York punk audience… well, the First Wave, anyway. I doubt British punk, hardcore, or neo-garage fans cared one way or another, though the latter may have some converts due to Faithfull’s association with the Stones.

Post-Ramones, Joey (RIP) became a scene maker, especially through his yearly birthday bashes. As you can see, this one had an amazing line-up. After Joey’s passing, his brother Mickey Leigh continued the momentum and has maintained the yearly series. It’s an amazing show, year after year, as it always has been.

Robert Gordon has had multiple lives in the business. Starting out as the voice of the fashionista punk band Tuff Darts (his vocals on “Slash” and “All For the Love of Rock’n’Roll” on the Live at CBGB’s LP are the highlights of an otherwise mediocre release). Quitting the band just as they were about to be signed, he denied his past and went the rockabilly route, in my opinion besting out some of the better known bands, such as the overrated Stray Cats. His solo albums and those with the late Link Wray are classic. They helped keep the fire alive and inspiring others. Once, he was married to Manic Panic’s Snooky Bellomo. Meanwhile, he is still touring.

When this later version of the Hoosier seminal bar rock band the Gizmos played at Max’s Kansas City, there were very few in the audience on the Tuesday night. Well, as I remember it, it was a bloated drunk woman who tried to dance with the band onstage, a guy passed out at the bar, their manager, and me (not counting staff). It was actually a very fun show, and was recorded and pressed to an EP titled Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here’s the Gizmos (still available on Gulcher Records in CD form with nearly an hour of extras). When you hear someone clapping on the 7-incher, c’est moi.

If I remember correctly, I was invited to this show by Doll House (hence the crossed off names). Unfortunately, I never did get to see the show, nor Doll House. And the only time I’ve seen Cheetah Chrome other than numerous Dead Boys shows and one with the Skels, was playing with Spacely (RIP) and Jerry Nolan (RIP) at the Johnny Thunders Memorial show during the early 1990s.

I did not see the Mad Orphans play, though I met the two leads (then a couple), Cynthia Sley and Ivan Julian, at a taping of Videowave, a cable access television show. Previously, both had been in seminal New York bands: Cynthia with the Bush Tetras and Ivan with Richard Hell’s Void Oids.

SST was one of the leaders in SoCal hardcore, and I’m grateful to have been on their mailing list to get all those great groundbreaking albums at the time. Because of that, when all these bands and artists came to New York, I was well aware of who they were, and their possibilities. I’m not sure why I didn’t attend these shows (probably was away visiting my then-girlfriend), but it was a loss.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the Undead rose from the body of the Misfits, with Bobby Steele (now an ultra-conservative Tea Party follower, fer chrizzake) at its head. No, I didn’t see the Undead, but Bobby’s then-girlfriend, Lori Wedding, posed for the front cover of FFanzeen mag wearing one of our tee-shirts.

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, my native turf, was nuts about either disco or the Rat Pack, depending on the age of the listener. For me, it was the Ramones, of course, but I never did fit in there. Anyway, somewhere in the area, usually at the Walker Theater on 18th Avenue and 69th Street, or at the Rex Manor in neighboring Bay Ridge, there were often shows catered to the audience of my parent’s generation. Sometimes it would be Jerry Vale or Pat Cooper, and for this particular show, a Rat Pack tribute. Okay, this isn’t a punk flyer, but it’s odd enough, don’t you think? Oh, if I have it correctly, Liza’s impersonator is a drag queen (I wonder if the audience was aware of that?).

Ah, the Elgin. You hadda be there (and, unfortunately, I was). This is a part of New York’s punk history that is almost never discussed, for some reason (not even mentioned on the Elgin’s Wikipedia page). Barbara MacKay, of the gawdawful band the Hot Nuts, tried to make the revival film showcase Elgin Theater into a punk rock palace in 1977. Posting flyers around town lying that Blondie was going to play at the opening (probably hoping they would come anyway), she attracted a modest crowd (including me) to the multi-band opening night. It was awful. The sound was terrible, the bands ranged from hippie to prog, hard rock to pop (including Sweet Star, John Collins, the boring Harry Toledo, Brute Force [not the British “King of Fuh” singer], Kongress, Grand Slam, and White Gold). Heck, there was even some flame swallowing. There was no consistency, and I’m sure the bands felt as ripped off as the audience. The Elgin was gone within the month, and the Chelsea digs is now a dance repertory space.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

DVD Review: The Scarlet Worm

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

The Scarlet Worm
Directed by Michael Fredianelli
Unearthed Films, 2011
93 minutes, USD $14.95

When I think of no-to-low-budget, independent films, the genres that tend to crop up are either low-ball horror or lower-ball (pun intended) comedy (or a mixture of both). It’s certainly not a western, and especially not one as well made as this.

In addition, when one is viewing indie films on this level, there is a bit of an expectation that the acting will be more along the line of John Lithgow sit-com scenery chewing, rather than John Lithgow dramatic film acting. While there are a couple of somewhat stiff performances here and there from minor roles, generally the performances are top-notch and equal to many of the majors.

The story takes place in 1909, and revolves around Print (Aaron Stielstra), a hired gunslinger for Mr. Paul (Montgomery Ford, aka Brett Halsey), a corrupt cattle baron. Apparently this is a serial position, as Print was trained by previous gunhand Hank (Kevin Giffin), who was in turn instructed by Mr. Paul. Now it’s Print’s turn to pass on his knowledge to Lee (Derek Hertig) a youngn’ assigned by Mr. Paul.

See, while Print ain’t the sharpest stick in the stack, he believes he is, and that is just part of his (literally) saving grace, because what he lacks in thought he gains in instinct. Along with an artistic flair that is way out of place in the Wild West, he turns his many, many, many killings in his “paintings” by posing the bodies, or by the style and grace in which he kills. Death is his poetry (though he claims to write some, which we never actually hear, probably for the better good).

Stielstra, looking like a cross between a shorter Sasha Baron Cohen, Frank Zappa and Tony Shaloub – and I could also add in Daniel Day Lewis in his There Will Be Blood role – is ideal as Print. Having worked with director Michael Fredianelli a few times, he smartly underplays the character, as is mentioned in one of the commentaries, because Print is such a weird and anachronistic dude that it could easily have been done over the top, but by reigning it in and using his eyes and mouth twitches to emote a lot, he brings more of a reality to the character. Even when some of his dialog is neo-Dirty Harry or Pulp Fictionesqe, he finds a way to pull it off without sounding hokey, such as when he describes his Smith & Wesson pistol (though mostly he uses a rifle): “It’s about as pretty as a Sunday morning…I got a feelin’ it’s the kind of gun that God might carry.”

As with most indie films with almost no budget, the crew hold multiple jobs. In this case, Stielstra also wrote much of the original music, including singing up front with the Road Apples (lyrics by the film’s writer, David Lambert), and also handled all the exploding squibs (i.e., “blood” filled condoms).

Hertig, who plays his protégé Lee, has a Rick Schroeder vibe going, especially with the deep blue eyes. At times he acts like a deer-in-headlights, which actually contradicts his wilder “young” days shown in B&W flashbacks. Still, he portrays the character well, starting as someone who’s never killed a person to one who makes up for lost time. Gratefully, the makers did not go the cliché protégé vs. mentor route, but rather an entirely different path.

The role of Hank essentially mirrors the Gene Wilder character from Blazing Saddles in many ways. Written for an older person (Wilder’s was written for John Wayne, who turned down the role), Giffin takes the role and makes it work even as one not much older than his trainee (Print). Like “the Kid,” Hank got tired of killing and crawled into a bottle when not a barber, but comes back as a rescuing hero (without getting shot in the ass by a prepubescent). While being hard, Giffin also shows some of a humanistic side that makes the character likeable.

Before I discuss the next main characters, I need to make something clear. On one of the commentary tracks, Producer Mike Molloy adamantly insists that this film is not based on the style of the Spaghetti Western, but rather later revisionist westerns, and I wholeheartedly agree. A better comparison would be, say, McCabe and Mrs. Miller or those by Peckinpaw than anything by director Leone. I mean, nearly everyone is just filthy, with dust and dirt smeared on their bodies, faces, and clothes. Okay, that needed to be said before I went forward, because the plot of the story is Print being hired by Mr. Paul to kill a brothel owner who performs abortions when necessary (which is apparently often) on his prostitutes (I counted five of the ladies). It is for this reason that the film is broken up into five chapters, each with an antiquated term for the prenatal development of a child (e.g., A Quickening, Ensoulment, and Curettage).

As a side note: practically the only women in the cast are those who work in the cat house, and are severely underwritten compared to most of the men. This is definitely a weak spot, as at least one of them could have been a much better character. Rita Rey plays Annabelle, to whom we are introduced mid-abortion. Her actions change the course of the film, yet she gets very little dialog, and what screen time she does get she is naked more often than not.

Getting back to the matter, as with Leone’s A Fist Full of Dollars, Print is caught between two powerful men, both with heavily armed hired men behind them, and who hate each other for reasons that seem obvious at first, but there is something underlying that we learn a bit later. Along the way is a huge body count that makes most horror films pale in comparison. And yes, there will be blood.

As the first of the two butting heads, Mr. Paul is played by Ford (née Halsey), a veteran actor of high caliber (pun intended) dating back a large number of years, but his specialty was – yep, you guessed it – westerns, and especially of the spaghetti subgenre. You’ll probably recognize him, as he’s also been in hundreds of television shows, usually as a guest star rather than a series regular. His acting is nonchalant and natural, more like he’s talking than playing a character. He makes it look very easy to be both evil and likeable.

On the other side of the equation is the brothel proprietor, Heinrich Kley, played by veteran German actor, Dan van Husen. Husen has a long history of playing Nazis in some A-level films, and in – yes, again – spaghetti westerns (many with Lee van Cleef). Kley is initially also likeable, even though he forces his “girls” to abort their babies, which he considers necessary evils. A religious man, he backs his actions as getting rid of the children of demons (e.g., drunks, violent men). Having Print go after him on the proposal of his being an abortionist has a pro-life feel that made me uncomfortable (the film’s writer, Lambert, claims this was not the case, though), but even Print is somewhat persuaded by Kley’s reasoning. Kley actually comes across as a level-headed guy until he feels betrayed, and then shows some of his true nasty stripes.

Print, through setting up a situation with rival cowhands that he’s angered, works his way into Kley’s trust, and starts working for him as his enforcer. Lee tags along as his son, who falls for Annabelle (apparently his first).

Duplicity and lust leads to a couple of stupendous shoot-outs with dozens lying dead, and even some of the anti-heroes in rough shape. No, I’m not going to give away too much of the well-written and multi-layered story.

The look of the film, under the eye of cinematographer Michael Martinez, is quite outstanding. He uses a bit of a washed-out look to the film, and with an almost sped up look like it’s shot at 20 frame’s per second, especially during the action sequences. The lighting is glaring sometimes in an appropriate way (such as the red shades across Print’s face when he’s talking to Kley). There are a couple of scenes where the light looks a bit different from different angles, but what the heck, the end product looks great.

There are two commentary tracks, but none with the director, sadly. The better is the first one, with writer David Lambert and some of the actors of secondary characters, but worked as crew as well. While about 20 percent of this is whatever, there are a lot of really good nuggets in the rest, including how the film got made, anecdotal stories about the cast, opinions on specific scenes and shots, and other little detail tidbits we love. Apparently, Lambert is a Wild West buff, and he used a lot of his research in the film, which shows. One fact he points out that got my interest is that Print’s character is based on two actual people from the period, one of whom was named Killin’ Jim Miller. I would have, however, loved to have heard a bit more about what the title means, which is explained in the film, but I just didn’t get it.

The second voiceover track is with producers Mike Molloy and Eric Zaldivar, the latter who also does well playing Kley’s weakest-link son, Gus (he was also second unit director). While there is quite a bit of additional information about the making of the film and its crew, they seem a bit less confident in this off-the-cuff role, and tend to step on each other. Zaldivar (who is not as well mic’d) commonly asks, “Should we talk about (so-and-so)?” Molloy keeps second guessing himself with statements like, “Well, I don’t know if I’m supposed to mention (so-and-so), but…” However, I would like to add that I have heard so much worse tracks than this, and there is quite a bit of data, making it worth the listen. Though, I have to say, for a low budget film, two commentary tracks, really? That’s 3 hours above the time of the film itself. It may have been better, in hindsight, having Lambert and Molloy do it together.

Anyway, another bonus is subtitles, but only in Spanish. There are also about a half-dozen trailers, including some by the various crew of this film. There is also a brief seven-minute featurette with the long title, “Of Worms and Dogs: How Wild Dogs Productions Made The Scarlet Worm.” Directed by Molloy, it’s a light piece of fluff that doesn’t really have much point, looking like it was directed by someone in a college film class, but it also obviously was quite work intensive with many edits. Am I sorry I watched it? No, it was enjoyable, just not essential. Best part was getting to see the cast/crew be themselves.

This is a low-budget film, and in case one forgets that, there are a couple of reminders here and there. For example, a couple of times someone who is wearing a hat is shot in the head, and after a spray of blood, of course they die. However, as they fall, their hats come off and the head is unwounded. I found this amusing. As for the story, there is one big potential opportunity missed at the end: a certain character is killed off who is a bit of a milquetoast, which I think is a mistake. Having him come back as a killer bound for revenge in a sequel would have been the right move. And from the commentaries, it sounds like a sequel is in the works, though no mention of it is made on any Websites, and the director has made half a dozen films since this one. I hope it gets made, and I look forward to more of Michael Fredianelli output. This one really shines.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meet the MONKEES – Part 2

Text by Joe Tortelli, intro by Robert Barry Francos
Article © 1985; RBF intro © 2011 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

The following Monkees retrospective was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #13, in 1985. It was researched and written by Boston-based rock’n’roll historian Joe Tortelli. For more info on Joe, please see the first part of this article.

A year after this second part of the article came out, I saw a version of the Monkees (sans Mike) play at the Jones Beach Playhouse in 1986. It was a fun, and high-scripted show, where even the ad-libs were pre-prepared. It was a good show and a solid crowd; the group had a bit of a revival, in part due to a new album, song, and MTV video, all titled
That Was Then, This is Now (the song was written by a member of the Long Island post-garage group, The Mosquitoes).
However, I had seen Peter Tork play his first New York solo show after his breakup from the band in 1977, where he played two sets at CBGBs, including a classical piece on piano (John Cale would later claim to be the first to play classical at the club, but Tork beat him to it).

In 1998, I saw Davy Jones perform as part of a Teen Idol Tour at the Westbury Music Fair, sharing a bill with Bobby Sherman and Peter Noone. While Sherman and Noone were gracious, Jones was vile and bitter, including graphic homophobic comments made towards his gig-mates. The woman next to me, who told me she was so excited to see her teen pin-up after all these years, started crying at one point and said to me, “Why is he being so

The same year this second part came out, I even had the opportunity to briefly meet Tommy Boyce at the apartment of Nancy Foster, who was interviewing him for
FFanzeen – RBF, 2012.

Monkeesmania lingered into early 1968. The quartet’s initial release of the year, “Valleri” b/w “Tapioca Tundra,” rested at the third position on the surveys. It was destined to be the group’s last million selling Top Ten single.

A steady rock’n’roll beat drives the smash “Valleri.” Davy’s solid vocal, upbeat horn lines and session man Louie Shelton’s flamingo guitar decorate this Boyce-Hart tune. “Tapioca Tundra” reveals Mike’s versatility as a singer and songwriter. Hi vocal suggests Rudy Vallee and the Roaring ‘Twenties, but the tempo is pure ‘sixties rock. “Tapioca Tundra” received a tad of airplay and went to No. 34 on the charts.

The Monkees’ final gold album surfaced in April 1968. Mike, Peter, Micky and Davy produced The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees (excluding “Daydream Believer,” a Chip Douglas production). Reflecting the band’s declining popularity, this Monkees album attracted little AM radio exposure and failed to reach the top of the LP charts.

The album includes five David Jones (as the maturing Britisher now billed himself) vocals. David handles the pop numbers, “We Were Made For Each Other,” “Dream World,” and his own composition, “The Poster.” He also sings “Valleri” and “Daydream Believer.”
Micky is heard on a couple of typical, mid-temp Monkees ditties, “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet,” and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s take-off on personal ads, “PO Box 9847.” The drummer also performs credibly on “Zor and Zam,” a clever anti-war ballad, and Mike Nesmith’s mildly psychedelic “Auntie’s Municipal Court.”
With a vocal style reminiscent of “Tapioca Tundra,” Nesmith simulates the old gramophone sound on “Magnolia Sims.” Nesmith’s most progressive composition, “Writing Wrongs,” consists of five minutes of avant-garde meanderings on voice and keyboards.

The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees effectively ended a year and a half of Monkee-inspired hysteria. The television series was given its pink slip by NBC in the Spring of ’68. Denied this constant exposure, the group lost its access to mass audiences. The Monkees’ final gold record had already been awarded: their last Top-Tenner had already charted.

In slightly over a year and a half, the Monkees achieved a level of popularity matched only by Elvis and the Beatles over a similar period of time. Like their two predecessors, the Monkees popularity was global. The series was televised in 39 nations around the world. The foursome attracted screaming fans to concerts in Britain, Japan and Australia, as well as the United States. Their international record sales are said to have exceeded 35 million units.

On the negative side, the Monkees were the first act to generate antipathy – not from parents, but from some rock fans. They were unmercifully criticized for their musical shortcomings and their dependence on outside songwriters. Kids into acid rock, psychedelia and progressive music complained that the Monkees were empty pop stars singing worthless bubblegum tunes. These young critics dug the Doors, Cream, the Jefferson Airplane and most of all, Jimi Hendrix.

Ironically, Micky and Peter spotted Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, before he became a sensation. They insisted that the Jimi Hendrix Experience fill the second spot on a Monkees tour that year. Hendrix’s big break turned into an embarrassing bust for his world-be mentors. The black guitarist’s onstage activities outraged the parents of young Monkees enthusiasts. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was quickly forced off the Monkees tour. The episode reinforced Jimi’s hip image, but left the Monkees looking squarer than ever.

Meanwhile, Mike Nesmith’s often overlooked songwriting talent was attracting the attention of other recording acts. A band called the Stone Poneys nearly cracked the Top 10 in early 1968 with Nesmith’s “Different Drum.” The group, which at times was billed as a supporting act at Monkees concerts, also recorded Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues.”

The young, attractive lead vocalist of the Stone Poneys gained a foothold in the recording industry with “Different Drum.” Superstardom awaited her in the mid-‘70s, but Linda Ronstadt’s signature song through the early, lean years of her career was this Mike Nesmith composition.
While Nesmith was placing songs with other artists, writing for the Monkees continued to be something of a cottage industry for professional composers. Turning Nesmith’s journey from pop star to songwriter inside out, the composing team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart tried their luck as a vocal duo.

Tommy Boyce actually placed “I Remember Carol” in the lower third of the Hot 100 in 1962. Prior to the Monkees, Boyce and Hart composed for other acts. Jay and the Americans took “Come a Little Bit Closer” all the way to No. 3 on the charts in 1964.

As a result of their unparalleled success with the Monkees, record labels vied for the talents of these two reflex hitmakers. Boyce and Hart signed with Herb Alberts’ A&M Records label and scraped the Top-40 during the summer of ’67 with “Out and About.” The duo struck their biggest seller, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” in the first quarter of ’68. With its bright melody and good-natured lyrics, “I Wonder…” bounced up the charts and into the Top-10. “Alice Long,” a similar sounding upbeat follow-up, skirted the Top-Thirty a few months later. [They would also make an appearance on Bewitched as themselves singing “Blow Me a Kiss in the Wind,” and provide the excellent and bouncy title song for the film Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows - RBF / 2012.]

A May 1968 release inaugurated the Monkees’ post-mania period. Davy Jones’ “It’s Nice to Be with You” backed the pleasant, but insignificant “D.W. Washburn.” The feeble sales of this record indicated that the era of automatic million sellers and Top-10 hits was over. The Monkees’ first non-gold record peaked at No. 19.

[The Monkees concluded a disappointing 1968 with a Gerry Goffin-Carole King composition, “Porpoise Song,” delivered a wonderful glimpse into psychedelic pop. Micky and Davy fronted the dirge-like tune with its musical and lyrical Beatle influences (Porpoise = Walrus – get it?).

Unfortunately, the youngsters wanted more yummy pop songs, while the skeptics refused to even listen. “Porpoise Song” didn’t crack the Top-40.

If the Monkees no longer appealed to small screen audiences, perhaps they could find a new life on the big screen. So Bob Rafelson hoped, when he brought the boys to the movies. (Rafelson would go on to acclaim for his work on Five Easy Pieces, but he made his directorial debut in this Monkees film.)

The surrealistic film featuring those fading pop idols was titled Head. The eclectic cast included movie star Victor Mature, beach queen Annette Funicello, and footballer Ray Ninschke. The reigning king of the underground, Frank Zappa, also had a bit part.

Neither Zappa’s appearance nor the druggish connotations of the movie’s title attracted hip viewers to this underrated slice of psychedelica. And teeny-boppers, who no longer purchased Monkees records, did not suddenly materialize at the box offices.

Like the movie, the soundtrack album bombed commercially. Head was an interesting step for the band musically, but the teen audience ignored it.

Peter Tork made his greatest contribution to a Monkees LP on Head. He wrote and produced two cuts, “Can You Dig It” and “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again.” The soundtrack also contained the semi-hit “Porpoise Song.” Mike Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” appeared as a studio track on vinyl, though it was recorded “live” for the film.

Though the Monkees now controlled their own music, Peter Tork announced his decision to leave the band. Tork was always irritated by the yoke which management placed on the group. He realized that his contribution to the Monkees’ first two albums was virtually nil. Ironically, he asserted himself most on Head, his final vinyl venture with the band. His overall unhappiness with what the Monkees seemed to represent simply grew too great.

Before he left the group, Peter taped one last television extravaganza with his mates. 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee starred the boys, along with rock veterans Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard. Brian Augur and the Trinity were added to lure the progressive audience [as was Julie Driscoll, who had a few hits at the time in England – RBF / 2012]. Though an interesting send-off to their video career, this 1969 program did nothing to revitalize the Monkees’ sagging popularity.

The three remaining Monkees pulled their first Torkless release from a one-year-old Boyce and Hart album. “Tear Drop City” recaptured the infectious “Last Train to Clarksville” formula – Micky’s confident vocal, familiar guitar riffs, and reliable songwriting a la Boyce and Hart. It failed to recreate “Clarksville’s” chart luster. “Tear Drop City” climbed only half way up the Hot-100 in February 1969.

The album which followed continued the downward trend. Instant Replay was comprised of the usual Boyce-Hart and Goffin-King tunes in addition to a few Monkees originals. Radio airplay was practically non-existent. Record sales slipped even more.

Realizing that the group was becoming a commercial basket case, Colgems Records issued the Monkees’ Greatest Hits the biggest hit singles and a few choice LP cuts were squeezed on this fourteen-song compilation.

The threesome nearly tasted success one last time in the last spring of ’69. The hit song was expected to be “Someday Man,” a syrupy Paul Williams tune sung by Davy.

Mike Nesmith’s “Listen to the Band” filled the record’s flip side. Driving, orchestrated music accompanied Mike’s sterling vocal performance. “Listen” muscled its way onto many AM stations’ playlists, and even confirmed Monkees haters nodded approvingly. The song earned the Monkees not another gold record award, but respect.

Finally, the Monkees had redeemed themselves artistically. Mike and ex-Monkee Peter always yearned for acceptance on musical terms. They disliked the hype and hysteria as much as their severest critics. Freed of the mania and freed from managerial constraints, the Monkees produced a gem of a song nearly three years after their first smash. They triumphed in a small way with a minor hit that was a pop masterpiece.

Mike Nesmith’s concluding Monkees album, Present, attracted little notice and fewer sales in the fall of ’69. The banjo picking on Mike’s “Good Clean Fun” unmistakably indicated the countrified direction of his coming solo career.

That neglected album coincided with the Monkees’ last live appearances. Concerts no longer attracted screaming, sell-out crowds. Television still occasionally welcomed the lads back home. On one evening the threesome guest stared on The Johnny Cash Show. Mike, Micky and Davy sang something called “Everybody Loves a Nut” with The Man in Black.

When the Monkees found themselves cutting television commercials for Kool-Aid, it could hardly have been the proudest moment of their career. They must have felt a tad more irritated when they checked out the latest music surveys. While their records were lucky to sneak into the charts, their former “music supervisor” was once again riding high: Don Kirshner’s cartoon character studio group, the Archies, nestled at Number One in September ’69 with “Sugar Sugar.” The contrast between Kirshner’s renewed gold-plated success and the Monkees dismal commercial failures could not have been greater.

The two actors, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, limped along after as the Monkees after Mike Nesmith departed. With producer Jeff Barry at the helm, they recorded the album Changes. The single from this inoffensive pop record, “Oh My, My,” crawled to No. 98 on the Top-100.

That final, totally ignored Monkees album was released in May 1970. Another band issued its last LP that same month and year. Only three years earlier, the Monkees had been favorably compared to this British act. In a cruel but appropriate twist of fate, these two bands concluded their public careers simultaneously.

The Beatles ended as they had begun – with a Number One album (Let It Be), artistic integrity, and immeasurable popular appeal. The revelation of the Beatles’ breakup was a major international news story.

The Monkees (or, what was left of the Monkees) disintegrated in the face of mass indifference.

* * *

Mike Nesmith pursed outside project before leaving the Monkees. Besides writing for other artists, he recorded an instrumental album, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings. Recorded in 1968 for Dot Records, Wichita featured country interpretations of Nesmith’s Monkees compositions.

Mike signed with RCA Records after leaving the Monkees. The RCA financial empire actually controlled the NBC network (which broadcast The Monkees series) and the Colgems label (the Monkees’ record company).

The former Monkee produced a string of respectable country rock albums during the early ‘70s. Critics finally accorded this multi-talented artist proper recognition.

Nesmith’s initial post-Monkees congregation, the First National Band, scored a couple of popular successes, “Joanne” nudged the Top-20 in the summer of 1970. A few months later, “Silver Moon” touched the Top-40.

Mike’s abortive attempt to form his own record label ended in disappointment. His deal with Elektra Records to record West Coast country acts collapsed after two releases. Unimpressed with the sales potential of the Countryside subsidiary, David Geffen dropped it when he assumed the presidency of Elektra.

After forming and then disbanding the Second National Band, the ex-pop idol went under the name (surprise!) Michael Nesmith. Following his departure from RCA, Nesmith helped develop the Pacific Arts Corporation. The 1975 album and books set, The Prison, was his earliest effort for this new label.

His second Pacific Arts LP, From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing, included “Rio,” a Top-Ten single in Australia on Island Records. The 1977 release also received attention in Britain, though it failed to attract American interest.

The guitarist’s most recent album, Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma, was issued in June 1979. Billboard magazine called the record, “Nesmith’s return to mainstream rock’n’roll.” Despite a major publicity push from Pacific Arts, neither the LP nor its single, “Magic (The Night is Magic),” reaped meaningful sales.

During the late ‘70s, Nesmith displayed a revitalized interest in the use of video as a musical medium. He was among the first in the rock world to appreciate this link. [His hour-long video, Elephant Parts, was the first video ever to win an Emmy – ed/1985.]

Nesmith has also involved himself in filmmaking. His name appears as producer in the 1982 futuristic western, Timerider .

* * *

Micky Dolenz dabbled in both television and music, following the Monkees’ breakup. His TV appearances included guest roles on Adam-12 and Owen Marshall.  He also worked on children’s programs and television commercials. He traveled to England at the close of the ‘70s to develop an animated series. During an interview at that time, Micky said that he viewed his years with the Monkees as another step in his long career as a professional entertainer.

As to prove his own point, Micky’s solo musical output has been singularly unimpressive. The man who sang lead on so many exhilarating Monkees tunes has been unable or unwilling to channel that talent on his own. A handful of Dolenz singles have reached the market” “Daybreak,” a 1973 release on the Romar label, caused a minor stir because it was composed and produced by Harry Nilsson.

* * *

While the individual Monkees pursed inconsistent solo careers, their televisions series was syndicated to many American and international broadcast outlets. Repeats of the program resuscitated the memory of the band and earned the foursome new fans. In Japan, this resulted in the rebirth of Monkeemania towards the end of the ‘70s.

Colgems Records had waved goodbye to their Golden Boys in 1970 with the release of a two-disc greatest hits set, A Barrel Full of Monkees. Bell Records secured the rights to the Monkees catalogue after Colgems folded. Hoping to tap into the syndicated television audience, Bell pressed yet another compilation, Re-Focus, in 1972. Record sales were sparse.

Outside of the band itself, songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were probably hurt most by the demise of the Monkees. Their ability to pen Monkees million sellers earned them hefty royalty checks. When the record sales and radio spins faded, Boyce and Hart must have felt the pinch.

It was not a total shock when the songwriting team turned up a half of a touring act dubbed “The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees.” Onlookers easily identified the other two performers – Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz.

The repeated showings of the television series achieved concrete results by the mid-‘70s. Young and old fans numbering up to ten or fifteen thousand crowded Midwest fairgrounds to hear their favorite songs. If audiences were disconcerted by the absence of half the original band, they did not show it. Nor did they mind when ‘60s semi-star Keith Allison stepped forward from his perch as guitarist to sing the ‘60s TV theme song, Action.

Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart toured together in 1975 and 1976. At one memorable July 1976 concert in Disneyland, a fair-haired, bearded fellow appeared with the group. For the firs time since 1969, three members of the Monkees were playing together. On that day, Peter Tork performed with his former comrades, Davy and Micky.

The reception accorded their live performance encouraged the four neo-Monkees to land a recording contract. A major record company, Capitol, signed the act. Because of legal impediments (not unlike the Lone Ranger mask hassle), the name “Monkees” could not be used. Instead, they recorded as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart. One self-title LP was produced.

That album neither recaptured the magical Monkees sound nor rekindled interest in that dormant pop phenomenon.

It was May 1976. Nearly a decade had passed since the Monkees’ first hit. Rock’n’roll had changed. Memories of the fast paced Monkees era had dimmed.

The Monkees phenomenon was a product of its time. It was an essential part of the ‘60s. It could not be re-created or relived. It was over.

For more recent (since 1985, anyway) developments with the band and it’s members, check Wikipedia, as they are more thorough as I could ever be without just repeating the information. – RBF / 2012.

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