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Arts and Culture

Hey, Hey We Aren't the Monkees

'Head' killed the Pre-Fab Four, but the soundtrack still puts out.

Adrian Mack 10 Nov

Adrian Mack contributes a regular music column to The Tyee and frequently sits behind Rich Hope.

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Uh oh, looks like Pauline Kael's review just came in.

A paragraph of snark appeared over at Rolling Stone on Monday commemorating the abysmal box office failure of the Monkees film, Head. They always get it wrong over at Rolling Stone. Head, released in 1968, was a mother of a flop, reportedly bringing in a lousy $16,000 on its first limited run, and it was savaged by the critics. Pauline Kael wrote, "The doubling up of greed and pretensions to depth is enough to make even a pinhead walk out." But she hated A Clockwork Orange, too, and Head has long since passed the point of knee-jerk ridicule by the likes of RS.

Over in the slightly better informed world of Pop Matters, Jason Henn (almost) concurrently produced this fantastic piece on the film and its soundtrack, which just received the deluxe reissue treatment by Rhino.

It's well worth reading, whether you dig the Monkees or not. Lots do. Good people, of sound mind and sterling good taste. It seems dishonest to marvel at the panorama of quality pop music in the '60s and not include the Monkees alongside all the other acts of wonder the decade produced -- cynical cross-platform marketing exercise or not.

Frank Zappa was getting it before anybody else, and he shows up in the 1968 film pretending to chastise Davy Jones for his lack of musical integrity. The film is full of that kind of ambiguous loathing. The band more or less commits suicide in the opening scene, and moments later they're chirping, "Hey hey, we are the Monkees, you know we like to please, a manufactured image, with no philosophies..."

But everybody involved in Head also appears to be having a blast dismantling the Pre-Fab Four, as if the film's creative team -- including the band, producers Bob Rafelson and Burt Schneider, plus the film's writer, Jack (yes, that Jack Nicholson) Nicholson -- had giddily forseen that Head would signal the end of everything, which it did. The plot (such as it is) was conceived, as legend has it, in a mammoth pot and acid session, so it's not such a far-fetched idea.

If Rafelson and Schneider -- two dilettante rich kids -- pioneered a monstrously successful way to hijack, neutralize, and sell the counter-culture to children, they also bowed out two years later with an outrageously entertaining mea culpa, and possibly the first post-modern critique designed for recently graduated teeny-boppers. But all that aside, Head was graced with an outstanding soundtrack. That might be all you need to care about.

The competition is stiff for best track. Davey Jones gives a boisterous music hall kick to Nilsson's "Daddy's Song"; Peter Tork weighs in with two dizzyingly good slices of Laurel Canyon pop -- "Can You Dig It" and "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?"; and Mike Nesmith's "Circle Sky" is an incredibly punchy and characteristically weird garage rocker.

But it's likely "The Porpoise Song," a plush bit of cod-psychedelia from Carole King and Gerry Goffin complete with wall-of-organ that grabs most people up front. There's a reason it's been covered over the years by those in the know. Significantly, it's the song that opens the film, and a failsafe for those who are receiving Head for the first time.  [Tyee]

Read more: Music, Film

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