Written by 4:30 am Audiophile Music

Monkees Head Blu-ray Wows With Surround Wonderment

Mark Smotroff digs psychedelia that goes to 5.1

There are several ways I considered opening this review of the new Blu-ray of The Monkees’ 1968 psychedelic pop art film called Head:

AR-MonkeesHeadBluRayDiscReel225.jpgFirst… I considered talking about the notion of how great it sounds in 5.1 surround sound while bringing up the nagging question as to why if The Monkees’ could spring to have it’s movie soundtrack properly remixed into discrete channels,The Beatles — with their no doubt infinitely larger budgets — couldn’t do the same with its 1967 made-for-TV psych movie experimental precursor, Magical Mystery Tour?

Second… I thought that perhaps I’d just dive into some of specifics about why this pioneering and still-to-this-day-challenging film is worthy of your attention, if only for its key soundtrack songs such as Carole King & Gerry Goffin’s “Porpoise Song” and “As We Go Along”  (and Monkee Peter Tork’s two fine fun tunes : “Can You Dig It?” and “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?”)

Third… I pondered the possibility of a rant (of sorts), whining, complaining and otherwise lamenting as to why the (arguably) most appealing portion (to a broader adult audience) of the new Monkees Blu-ray Disc box set is only available — now, for the second time — as part of a pricey boxed set package? Before its inclusion in The Monkees – Complete Series Blu-ray (http://monkeesstore.warnermusic.com/music/the-monkees-complete-tv-series-blu-ray.html) — a $200 set only available at the band’s website or at their concerts (where I got my copy)  — the restored movie on Blu-ray Disc was only available in Criterion’s own not-quite-as-pricey-but-still-a-consideration-for-most-of-us boxed set called American Lost and Found: The BBS Story. That seems a bit odd to me… but maybe I’m too much of a fan of the film and not considering economic realities…

AR-MonkeesHeadCoverImage225.jpgAnd, then fourth… there is the more emotional personal discussion about how there was virtually no information put out by the film’s creators as to the joys of their restoration, particularly the quite wonderful and inspired audio 5.1 surround sound mixes of the musical portions. Sure, the set’s specs mention the availability of an optional DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack on the disc, but thus far I have found zero details on what that soundtrack would deliver. There isn’t even much detail on how the film itself was restored.

Guess they didn’t think about hiring me as their publicist so perhaps maybe that sort of oversight wouldn’t have happened (shameless self-promotion plug, folks). 

Of course, taking the eight mile high view of all this, the only logical option for me was to discuss all of the above and try to keep this review as positive as possible, because at the end of the day, this is a fine restoration and I’m overall very very happy with it. 

And… since this is Audiophilereview dot com, I should talk about the sound mostly as there are some really nice moments here. As I alluded above, the remarkable thing in this edition is hearing the music presented in rich, discrete 5.1 surround sound for — as far as I know — the first time. These recordings sound quite fantastic spread out across in a distinctive multi-channel mix.  Mostly the producers have kept the core band / rhythm section — drums, bass, guitar and vocals — front and center.  

AR-MonkeesHeadScreenGrab1225.jpgThe surround channels are used tastefully, blending a combination of room ambiance with select overdubs and effects. For example, on “As We Go Along” you first hear acoustic guitars strumming behind you in the right channel while a sort of almost-feeding-back, reverb-drenched electric guitar emerges in the front left channel as the song kicks in. In the left rear channel you get some percolating quick picked guitar overdubs while the drums, bass and lead vocals fill the room from front. Its quite impactful, elevating this fine track sonically to the point where you almost feel that it could rank right up there with acclaimed recordings of the The Monkees’ period peers, from Neil Young to The Beatles.

Really…. after hearing it sounding so enormous and round for the first time (in comparison to the relatively compressed-but-good stereo mix on the LP soundtrack), I’d love to experiment DJ mixing “As We Go Along” as a bridge segue between, say, The Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly” and Lennon & McCartney’s “A Day In The Life” from Sgt. Pepper

The sound quality on this Blu-ray Disc is very clear with a remarkable sense of analog warmth, present and accounted for… songs like Carol King’s epic “Porpoise Song” take on an element of grandeur heretofore only hinted at…  When the band kicks in on “Circle Sky,” the music takes center stage, elevating the scene dramatically, grabbing your brain by the ears and eyes. Its quite powerful.

The picture quality is quite natural looking and vivid when it needs to be while otherworldly phantasmagoric at other key moments. This is especially apparent on the trippy, psychedelic parts with their multi-layered imagery and fractal-flavored photo negative video graphic special effects. 

AR-MonkeesHeadScreenGrab4225.jpgThe impact of this film gets more powerful with each additional viewing I have had over the years. Less directly about The Monkees, Head is a scathing social commentary on the rapid commercialization of the world around us at the time as well as the harsh realities of war and other tensions impacting America and the world. 

Sadly, it is still highly relevant today, nearly 50 years later… 

Which leads me to wrap this up saying that if you are an open minded individual who appreciates politically leaning topics as well as surrealism, you may well enjoy The Monkees’ Head as a movie, not just a 60s music oddity.  If you are an advanced Monkees fan, you probably already know about Head and will want to see this best-ever version (which looks and sounds way better than the old somewhat washed out-looking DVD version!). And if you are simply fan of “The 60s” and want an alternate perspective reminder of that freewheeling spirit, Head is a remarkably modern-feeling connecting point linking the past to the present.

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