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Music Review: The Monkees’ Head Soundtrack Remains A Worthy Trip

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How bad is The Monkees' 1968 film Head? The movie begins with the group jumping off a bridge, apparently committing suicide. Davy Jones engages a waitress in witty repartee by telling her “I'd like a glass with a hair in it, please.” A shirtless Micky Dolenz crawls across the desert, ending up in fierce battle with a Coke vending machine. At one point, clad in white, The Monkees romp within a wig. “C'mon, guys, you're supposed to be dandruff!” screams director Bob Rafelson from offscreen. At various times, the band members have claimed that Head was intended as satire; revenge against NBC for canceling their show and ultimately controlling their image; and an anti-war statement. In reality it was the product of drug-fueled brainstorming sessions with Rafelson and then-screenwriter Jack Nicholson. Head bombed within weeks of release, later gaining a cult following.

Why should this mess of a film be deemed noteworthy? The soundtrack, unjustly ignored by '60s audiences, contains some of The Monkees' strongest, most original work. While Headquarters marks their emergence as a “real” band, playing their own instruments, Head shows the “prefab four” in their most cohesive, tight form. In short, through some powerful ballads and rockers, The Monkees illustrate their growth as true musicians.

When eliminating the strange spoken segments, Head becomes a collection of solid '60s pop. Thus the album begins with “The Porpoise Song,” perhaps the best-known track on the album. Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the song features Dolenz's lilting vocals and a swirling organ riff. The sound creates the overall effect of floating underwater, listening to the porpoises coo to one another. It is a beautiful track that successfully bridges the gap between psychedelia and pop. Next comes “Circle Sky,” which demonstrates Mike Nesmith's skill as a songwriter and performer. Over pounding guitar chords, Nesmith drolly narrates an “extraordinary scene” which ultimately becomes banal: “and it looks like we've made it once again.” The 1994 CD reissue corrects a glaring omission: it includes the incendiary live performance of “Circle Sky” seen in the film. Dolenz's furious drumming and a throbbing bassline propel the song into warp speed. Why the live version was originally deleted from the soundtrack will remain a mystery.

Changing from harder to more acid rock, “Can You Dig It” is one of Peter Tork's best compositions. While it bears the marks of typical psychedelia—trippy lyrics and Middle Eastern percussion—the track retains its exotic flavor today. Once again, Dolenz's gently soaring vocal style adds to the beauty of the song. Tork's other contribution, “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” evolves into an all-out jam session that showcases The Monkees as rock musicians. It even contains a flute solo (paging Jethro Tull). I still enjoy cranking this track in my car.

Per Monkees tradition, the group shines the solo spotlight on Jones with “Daddy's Song,” a Harry Nilsson-penned track. While the song marks a radical departure from the album's sound, it perfectly matches Jones's charm and musical stage roots. Hearing the horns and sprightly beat, one can easily envision Jones performing the song while brandishing a straw hat and prop cane.

Finally, Head contains one of the best Monkees songs that never became a hit: “As We Go Along,” a lovely ballad co-written by King and Toni Stern. The acoustic guitar, Dolenz's dreamy vocals, and the inspirational chorus “open your eyes/get up off your chair/there's so much to do in the sunlight” paint a beautiful picture of young love. Buried on the Head soundtrack, “As We Go Along” never reached the wide audience and success it deserved.

Bold counterculture statement or drug-addled mess, fans will continue to debate the merits of the film Head. Opinions of the movie should not cloud the worth of the soundtrack, however. In fact, had Head been released as a stand-alone album, it would have been a fitting coda to The Monkees' career (the album signified the last time The Monkees performed as a four-person band until 1996's Justus). The Head soundtrack remains a buried treasure of innovative '60s pop, and should not be unfairly overlooked. In sum, this album remains an enjoyable Head trip.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • The Porpoise Song is one of my favorite Monkees songs, top 5.

  • JC Mosquito

    And Neil Young, who had recently quit the Buffalo Springfield, paid the rent by ghosting some guitar on at least one song here, though I don’t remember which one off the top of my head, old age and dementia setting in when it comes to remembering 40 years old trivia.

  • Rachael

    You mention Circle Sky in your article….I was a fan of the Monkees back then. Far as I can recall, Mike wrote the song to describe how it felt being onstage at one of their concerts – “It’s a very extraordinary scene, to those who don’t understand, but what you have seen you must believe, if you can.”

  • That’s an interesting point about “Circle Sky,” as that interpretation is consistent with the concert scene in the movie. In any case, I think Mike Nesmith is an underrated songwriter.

    Thanks to all for commenting!

  • Rachael

    Yes I agree that he is. He’s a story teller in many of his songs.

  • JC Mosquito

    Liner notes to the Monkees’ Anthology (2CD set Rhino 1998) sez Neil Young is one of the guitarists on “As We Go Along.”