By Benjamin Leatherman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Katrina Montgomery
By Robrt L. Pela
By Kathleen Vanesian
By New Times
By Ray Stern
By Eric Tsetsi
"The first real Monkee album, if you look at the four of us, was Headquarters," Mickey qualifies. Headquarters' combination of no-frills playing and loose studio chatter predated the Beatles' similar Let It Be album by several years. Not only is this modest Monkees album its finest long player, but it holds up considerably better than most albums dated 1967.
Oddly enough, Headquarters and its superb follow-up, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., were the only albums where all four Monkees actually played together on every cut. On the latter album, Mickey experimented with one of the earliest Moog synthesizers, constituting the unwieldy instrument's first appearance on a pop record. Lord knows how many budding Keith Emersons in TV land watched Mickey playing what then looked like a jammed telephone switchboard and pestered their mommies for one of those!
Even though the band had proved it could hold its own in the studio, the session guys were back on full duty for the fifth Monkee LP. The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees is where all sense of group unity is lost. The Monkees beat the Beatles to the dysfunctional punch by releasing solo efforts masquerading as a group offering, six months before the White Album hit the streets. "Most groups, in fact, all groups, have that one singularity of musical vision, usually," Mickey explains (page 69, the "Singularity of Vision" passage). "Sometimes there's two partners, a Lennon and McCartney, a Jagger and Richards, but usually there's one guy or one girl who's the driving force and it's their musical vision that drives the group. In our case, there were four very distinctive lead singers and musical talents that wanted to be heard. So when we did finally wrest the control away, then it was, 'Oh, shit, now what do we do?'
"What happened was they said, 'Okay, Mickey, you're gonna have three cuts on the album.' And I chose my producer, my arranger, my musicians, my songs, usually I wrote 'em alone or with someone else. The same with Mike, Peter and David. And that was coming around to a more natural way of doing things. Then it became these four individual lead singers recording under the banner of the Monkees. It was very strange."
Strange and schizophrenic. Only one cut on TBTB&TM, "Auntie's Municipal Court," contains more than one Monkee. Mickey sings this Nesmith-penned track, which virtually lays the blueprints for R.E.M.'s landmark sound: plenty o' jangling, 12-string guitars and mumbled, cryptic lyrics. Mike's other contributions include the infuriatingly unlistenable "Writing Wrongs" and "Magnolia Simms," which was recorded to sound like an extremely scratchy 78 (shades of McCartney's "Honey Pie"--shame on you, copycat Beatles!).
The album's original sleeve warned the listener that the surface noises, needle skipping and complete silence on the left channel were all intentional. As for the efforts of the other three, Davy's initial songwriting attempts make Herman's Hermits sound like heavy metal, Peter's cuts were railroaded off the record, and Mickey's offerings are the most Monkeelike and entertaining of the bunch.
That patchwork album was the group's first not to reach No. 1 and the first not to receive prime-time exposure, as the show had just been canceled. Mickey, who starred in TV's Circus Boy in the Fifties, took the cancellation as most seasoned TV thespians would. "The death knell! Well, that sounds a bit grim, but when shows are canceled, that's usually the end of a project. In the case of the Monkees, because we had this recording career and recording existence, we went on the road, did tours and recorded for a couple of years. But the show was the thing driving it along, so that obviously made a difference."
The group made one more album as a foursome, as well as one movie, the delightfully trippy Head. The movie's premise, that the whole Monkees phenomenon was a con, is a precursor for the Sex Pistols' far more cynical film The Great Rock and Roll Swindle. The Head soundtrack, which went straight into the cutout bins upon release, sounds positively revelatory today with its Monty Pythonesque links between songs and dialogue lifted from Bela Lugosi's stellar Glen or Glenda? monologues. "Carole King wrote some beautiful songs for that movie," adds Mickey. "I thought it was great. But it was weird and it certainly was not what the fans would've expected at the time." The Head LP was packaged in a shiny Mylar sleeve, which reflected the proud record owner's own "head" like a mirror. This innovative design idea would be used to far cheesier effect on Uriah Heep's Look at Yourself album and, later still, for the cover of Madonna's Sex book--which could've garnered more controversy for the Material Girl if it, too, had been named Head.
Following Tork's exit in 1969, the group fulfilled its contractual obligations with three albums. The first, Instant Replay, contains outtakes like the "Last Train to Clarksville" sound-alike "Teardrop City," not surprising since it was recorded during those same 1966 sessions. The group fared far better artistically, if not commercially, on the follow-up, The Monkees Present. Davy and Mickey blossom into fine songwriters, and Mike, as ever, churns out the country-rock that will later win him accolades, but only serves to drive young Monkees fans even further away. Originally scheduled as a double album, here was a case where the supply definitely outweighed the demand. Many of the leftover tracks have since turned up on volumes one and two of Rhino's Missing Links series and are being included as bonus cuts on these reissues.