Thursday, January 29, 2009

208. The Monkees: Headquarters (1967)

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.

The Classics

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.

The Surprises

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.

WTF?

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.

Grade: A
Fave Songs: Randy Scouse Git / Sunny Girlfriend

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Superbowl 2 was held at Miami's Orange Bowl on January 14, 1968.
The Oakland Raiders were expected to be destroyed by the Green Bay
Packers, then the toughest team in the Black And Blue, the NFL's
roughest division.
Scheduled to sing the National Anthem was the pretty and popular Joey
Heatherton, and the halftime show was to be provided by television's
The Monkees.
However, two days before the event, The Monkees had to bow out due to
a contractual dispute between their parent company, Screen Gems, NBC,
and CBS, the network broadcasting the game.
Producers started doing a quick scramble to find suitable replacement
entertainment, and on the advice of George Schlatter, contacted Judy
Garland with an offer.
As it turns out, not only was Judy a big footaball fan, but she was
available, and excited to do the show.
So with less than forty eight hours notice, she packed up her kids and
orchestra leader Gene Palumbo, and flew from New York to Miami,
arriving on January 13th just in time for a sound check and short
rehearsal.
Kick off for the game was at 3 P.M. on the 14th and commentaor's Frank Gifford
and
Pat Summerall seemed just as excited by the prospect of
the halftime show as they were by the game itself.
The day was clear, sunny, and a warm 86 degrees. Judy had originally
planned to wear the sequined pants suit that had been designed for her
to wear in the film Valley Of The Dolls, but because of the heat she
opted to wear a pink and silver chiffon mini dress borrowed from her
fifteen year old daughter Lorna.
By the end of the first half of the game the Packers were dominating
the Raiders, as had been expected. But the real excitement was yet to
come.
As soon as announcer Gary Owens announced Judy's name there was
a roar in the Orange Bowl that could be heard a mile away.
Gene Palumbo hit the downbeat to Judy's chart of For Once In My Life
and Judy trotted out and practically skipped to the center of the arena.
Palumbo and the orchestra had to vamp for a full three minutes before
the audience quieted down enough to let Judy sing.
Judy's rendition of For Once In My Life was new to the audience and
they were estatic to hear her sing a current popular song, and with
such warmth and control to her voice. The ovation at the end of the
song was as strong as it had been when she first entered the arena.
Her second number was her movie medley, another popular choice, which
became obvious as over 75,000 people sang along with her when
prompted to during For Me And My Gal. Next came Just In Time with all
of it's difficult key and tempo changes, Judy sang it to perfection,
and with a freshness that made it seem as if this were the first time
she had sung the song.
She then introduced her daughter Lorna, who joined her for a joyful
and swinging Jamboree Jones. After that, as Lorna was leaving the
stage, Gene Palumbo and the orchestra started up Judy's reprise of For
Once In My Life, which she sang with as much power and heart as she
had at the begining of her set. Then it was over. Or was it?
After Judy finished the reprise of For Once In My Life the orchestra
started playing her bow music of Over The Rainbow which was drowned
out by the cheers, whistles and screaming of the audience, who were
all on their feet. Judy bowed and blew kisses as she ran off the
playing field and the camera's cut back to Frank Gifford, who was
trying to announce the start of the second half of the game, but to no avail.
The crowd could not be stopped, the cheeering and stamping eventually
gave way to the chant "We want Judy, we want Judy."
After a full five minutes of this the producers had no choice but to
prevail upon Judy to sing an encore. She agreed and reentered the
playing field to absolute pandemonium!
After the crowd died down Judy started singing Over The Rainbow solo,
without the orchestra. Gene Palumbo and the musicians had to scramble
to find all their parts, and one by one they joined Judy, all to great
dramatic affect. Judy sang the song with all the longing and heartache
that she had when she first sang it in The Wizard Of Oz, and as
she sang the last line "why oh why can't I" a hush fell over the
stadium. After a few seconds the still was broken when the voice of a
young woman called out "Bravo, Mama." then all bets were off and it was
New Years Eve again. Another five minutes later order was restored and
the game continued without further incident.
The Packers beat the Raiders 33 to 14 that day, Bart Starr was named MVP, but
he gallantly presented his trophy to Judy saying that he "may be the game's MVP
but Judy is the world's most valuable player" (unfortunately for her he
didn't also give her the 25,000 cash prize that went with the the
award).
Another player in the game who received considerable attention was
Greenbay Linesman Jerry Kramer, who would be befriended by Judy. In
fact, they would later appear together in a fun and flirtatious romp
on the Tonight Show.

To learn more about Judy Garland please read The World's Greatest
Entertainer by John Fricke, or Rainbows End By Coyne Steven Sanders.
To learn more about this period of the NFL's history, and it's
roughest division, pick up a copy of The Black And Blue by Bob
Berghaus.

JD said...

The above comment is fiction. Grambling State University played at Halftime at Super Bowl II. No Monkees were considered...Judy never played.