Head in a Box: Monkee Movie Outtakes Extend 60s Trip Soundtrack

AR-HEAD225x175.jpgAbout three years before Carole King made the earth move with her 1971 smash singer-songwriter breakthrough mega-hit album Tapestry, she was mostly known as a respected songwriter for hire. By then living in Los Angeles and her New York Brill Building glory days of the early 1960s in the distant past, writers like her were steadily being eclipsed by the new wave of musicians and bands who were writing their own material (Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks, Who, etc.). Even Phil Spector had more or less called it a day in 1966 after the commercial flop of his stunning production of "River Deep, Mountain High" for Ike & Tina Turner.  

The times, they were a-changin' for sure, especially in the land of rock 'n roll.

An exception amidst much of this change were The Monkees, a manufactured pop group built specifically for the American market which had big hits in 1966 and 67 written by many of great songwriters of the day such as Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond and... Carole King. By 1967 the group had rebelled against the producers that made them -- shades of Frankenstein -- seeking to establish their own reputation as "real" musicians playing their own instruments, writing their own songs where possible and generally taking charge of their future. Their third album, Headquarters became a big hit much to the chagrin of management and the group went on to produce several more popular records in addition to their TV show. They even undertook an actual concert tour.

Regardless, by 1968, The Monkees were burning out and the band members wanted to kill off their manufactured pre-Fab Four image for good with a new film project they were brewing with Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafaelson. Ultimately named Head, the artsy-surreal resultant film was fully misunderstood at the time as too little too late and way too trippy for the core Monkees audience. They thought the fans would follow but few did -- it was a classic example of not really being in touch with the fan base. 

Over the years the film and its soundtrack have, however, aged well and very much increased the band's reputation as artists of genuine nature.

Accordingly, it is fascinating to note that the writer/producers chose Carole King and her husband/writing partner Gerry Goffin to craft a theme song for the movie. Working together, they crafted a tune that stands up well alongside the more elaborate productions of the times (Procol Harum, Moody Blues, Donovan, Beatles etc.) and delivers a subtle message against so the called "plastic" manufactured mass market entertainment that The Monkees themselves were. With that in mind the lyrics from that Goffin/King theme -- "Porpoise Song" (which more or less opens the movie) -- takes on added relevance:  "A face, a voice, an overdub has no choice, And it cannot rejoice."

Hopefully this is useful perspective to help justify in your mind -- and mine, for that matter! -- why I am writing a review of an entire multi-disc boxed set from Rhino Records dedicated to the soundtrack to the film, Head. 

AR-HeadBoxSet225x175.jpgBoasting three CDs including the original album, the rest of the set is chockfull of outtakes, alternate mixes and unreleased material. You even get a bonus 45 RPM single with instrumental versions of "Porpoise Song" and "As We Go Along." A nicely detailed booklet tells the whole tale behind Head and what really went down. It is a fascinating read if you are a fan of the film, a look into the behind-the-scenes of the film-making process of the time and the music beneath it. 

Possibly best of all on this set is a CD reproduction of an obscure promotional interview LP which was apparently sent to radio stations to help push the film. On the disc are canned answers from Davy Jones to a list of provided questions which the DJ was supposed to ask before playing the response. This kind of promo device was popular in the past among radio promotion people (and probably present too!). What is fascinating about the disc is simply to hear Davy's oh-so-groovy swingin' Englishman language and quasi-stoner ramblings. I have no idea if he was stoned, on speed or simply acting the part -- he was an actor after all! Whatever the case, it is really quite hysterical and surreal to listen to end-to-end. Part train wreck, part mad-cap insanity, its a bit of a jaw dropper ... 

The overall sound on the three CDs -- and the single -- is uniformly excellent, especially given the time period it was made and the not exactly audiophile focus of the producers at the time. I mean, we are talking about The Monkees here at a time when they were in a questionable status with the studios and the producers. Try as they might, they were not going to get the sound of The Beatles doing The White Album at Abbey Road; don't go into this expecting a panoramic soundtrack of epic proportions this side of Pink Floyd.

Of course, if you want the whole album on actual vinyl, well you will have to purchase that one separately (it is available on a lovely 180-gram reissue that sounds fabulous, also from Rhino). Still, there are some very cool things on this set such as an alternate mix of "Circle Sky" with clear vocals not buried in the mix, that make this set worth owning.

Should you get this boxed set if you are a casual fan? Nah. This is really an item for the hardcore Monkee maniac.

I thus however suppose that I am officially now a hardcore Monkee fan because I am very happy to own this set!

Now I just have to get a Monkeemobile toy for my office desk top...

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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