Here's the album that quashed a thousand arguments, the Kryptonite to any Monkees naysayers. Yes, after the rushed debacle that was More of the Monkees, the boys took control, ousted maestro Don Kirshner, and recruited Turtles member Chip Douglas (NOT one of My Three Sons) to produce. Their vow: To perform the entire album themselves.
Well, almost. As the note on the original back album cover says, other personnel handled the cello, French horn, and some bass parts. Otherwise, it's all Peter, Mike, Mickey, and Davy, on bass, guitar, drums, and tambourine, respectively. The boys also wrote 8 of the 14 songs themselves. The resulting album is less professional than The Monkees' previous albums, but in a good way.
By the admittedly narrow definition of a "classic" as a song that is instantly recognizable, there are none on Headquarters. But two songs could fit on the farther end of the spectrum. The gentle Shades of Gray made a greatest hits compilation here and there. It's a great example of band chemistry: Davy and Peter take turns on vocals, and Mike's signature pedal steel guitar is prominent. Mickey's military style drumming anchors it all. The lyrics are the dictionary definition of earnest, but still manage to connect. For Pete's Sake is the other song novice Monkeemainacs might recognize. It played over the closing credits of the T.V. show for awhile. It's a groovy document-of-its-time, with lyrics like "we were born to love one another / we must be what we're going to be / and what we have to be / is free" it's clear the Summer of Love was fast approaching. Though Peter wrote the song (thus the title) Mickey takes the lead and does his usual bang-up job.
Did The Monkees help invent country rock? Consider that The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo, often credited with that achievement came out a year after Headquarters, which features no fewer than four country rock gems. Opener You Told Me kicks a rockin' banjo, You Just May Be the One features a melodic bassline and Mike Nesmith's powerful vocal, and the pedal steel-driven I'll Spend My Life With You sounds like a lost John Denver song. But the best of the country rock lot is Sunny Girlfriend, Nesmith's bouncy ode to an enigmatic woman.
Zilch, while not a song, is one of the most intriguing moments on the album. Each Monkee takes an odd phrase and they say them in a round, creating a somewhat creepy effect. Mickey's phrase "nevermind the furthermore, the plea is self defense" shows up in the next song, the Chuck Berry-aping No Time. It's a loose rave-up written by all four members of the band, Mickey even steals a line from The Beatles when he says, "Rock on Ringo for George one time."
Speaking of The Beatles, they also get a mention in what might be the album's best song, Mickey Dolenz's Randy Scouse Git. "The four kings of EMI are sitting stately on the floor" he tells us in the stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Along the way there's some kettle drum, boppy piano verses, scatting, and a shouty chourus that reminds one of the culture clash of the times: "Why don't you hate who I hate / Kill who I kill to be free?" It's a brilliant moment for the band.
The final surprise is I Can't Get Her Off Of My Mind a ragtime piano piece with Davy on vocals that shows off the novice band's versitility (and some great harmonies).
Comme Ci, Comme Ca
These songs are just okay for me, dawg. Early Morning Blues and Greens and Forget That Girl are both Davy vehicles. The former features a pleasantly freaky organ solo in the middle and the latter was written by Chip Douglas and features sad lyrics and interesting harmonies.
Considering that they were working without supervision, the band stayed surprisingly on the rails. But there are a couple of strange moments. Band 6, a pointless attempt at the Looney Tunes theme contributes nothing musically, but does lend an anything-goes spirit to the record. Boyce and Hart's Mr. Webster, however, doesn't lend much of anything. It's a downer of a tune about a disgruntled bank employee who robs the bank on the eve of his retirement party. It's not a bad song, but seems out of place on the record. Plus, it reminds me too much of Richard Cory by Simon and Garfunkel, which I like even less.
The Bonus Tracks
Unlike some of the other Rhino reissues, Headquarters actually features some vital bonuses. All of your Toys, a potential single barred from release by the fact that the songwriter was not part of the band's publishing company (Heaven forbid someone else get their money). It's a shame that the excellent The Girl I Knew Somewhere, which has since been included on several hits packages, was never on a proper Monkees album. It's here in the Nesmith-sung version. Also notable is a demo version of Nine Times Blue (a studio version appeared on Missing Links). It might be my favorite Nesmith song, and I prefer this version because of Mike's funny intro: "The only difference between me and Peter is that I'm just stone legal."
The other bonus tracks are rawer. Peter Gunn's Gun is a jam that doesn't offer much besides a glimpse into the looseness of the album sessions. Same for Jericho, but there's some funny Mickey riffing, and an impromptu version of the spiritual Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. Pillow Time is basically a recorded rehearsal of a song that later appeared on The Monkees Present. Mickey sings the song unaccompanied, and mixes in a lot of banter, including a plea for hamburgers.
Overall, Headquarters was not only a superior album to its two predecessors, it was also more representative of the boys, the times, and even the T.V. show. Sadly, the band would never be this consistently good again.
Fave Songs: Randy Scouse Git / Sunny Girlfriend