Saturday, August 13, 2016

This One's For the Texas Prairie Chicken

The Monkees


MTV used to be watchable. Wildly so, in fact. No more so than in its first decade of life. The secret to their success wasn't a secret at all: Music Television delivered on its promises. Careers were made, re-made, and destroyed based on what artists old new and in-between chose to do with their 3-4 minute chunk of audiovisual promo.

I sucked it all up, usually with some junk food and junkier drink. I needed my MTV.

In early 1986, the network ran a weekend-long marathon of The Monkees, a sitcom that my (much) older sisters had watched during its initial late 60s run. Well, I hardly needed their testimony. One (maybe two) eps and I was hooked: four cute goofs with ADD who also happened to comprise a band that delivered their songs from down on one knee. The screwball package--loony humor, loonier fashion--hit me square between. (I love my mother but I will never forget her making me go to bed in the middle of "Love Is Only Sleeping." MIke's always been my fave, despite the havoc his wool hat wreaked on my color blindness.)

I was far from alone. Monkeemania, to MTV's ecstatic shock, had struck America again. The group once derided as "The Pre-Fab Four" had been blessed with something their English progenitors never had: a second act.

To understand Headquarters, one must be aware of the controversy that erupted when the media (with no shortage of relish) "exposed" the Monkees for being faking fakers who faked fakingly on their way to superstardom. Yep, the "American Beatles" were nothing more than machine-manufactured meat puppets. They not only didn't write their own material (whaaaat?) they used session musicians! Never you mind that many "legitimate" groups used one or both of these so-called "cheat codes" on their  records. The Monkees lied to the public and the media. Gasp horror shock.

Each of the guys had musical backgrounds, with Peter and Mike the most accomplished at the time. The latter Monkee-man led the revolt against manager Don Kirshner, who didn't want to see his guys ruin their good looks. The band instead told him "Listen chief, we're taking the china shop by the cash register," and their third album did indeed feature mostly songs written and performed by the madcap teen idols. Headquarters debuted on the Billboard charts at #1 before being overtaken the following week by Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Your eight-year-old blogger-to-be adored Headquarters. Wore that tape out. Haven't given it a full listen since. So what will adult me think? Enter the giant head, split four ways….

"You Told Me" - A good first--be it song, sentence, or sweat--is vital to a time well-spent.

Straightforward country pop courtesy of the tall guy in the hat may not be what listeners expected when the needle dropped, but time has been kind. Nez done had it up to the sideburn flare with "girls and all the games" and as much as I want to beat the drums for my gender, he sounds so warm and wooly, so--she said she said, she lied she lied, he tried he tried.

The Beatles gave listeners George on the sitar. The Monkees, Peter on the banjo. Advantage: PUSH.

"I'll Spend My Life With You" - Micky's antsy mic ways make lyrics such as "The road is long, the road is rough/I do believe I've had enough" stick to the cabinet doors. 

"Forget That Girl" - Davy forgot more about hate than he ever learned about love, so this slice of sugar pie with honey drizzle is all the fun of trying to dance one's way out of a snare made of dryer sheets and cobwebs.

That's a compliment. This is a very good song, shiny and pretty just like pennies used to be.

"Band 6" - Lotsa goofin' circlin' transpired during the sessions, and this sub-60 instro is but Exhibit the First.

"You Just May Be the One" - Mike's hale and hearty, but Pete's arterial bass refused to lean on its laurels. Giddy-up and go for the golden morning, young man.

The version that played on the show featured session musicians and a distressing lack of a MIke/Micky bird-tickling contests. Still good either way, though, since dust storms stirred 'neath star-sick skies by lean Texans incite unforgettable coughing spells.*

"Shades of Gray" - The only song on Headquarters exceeding 180 seconds is arguably the only skippable one on it as well. The presence of cello and French horn distinguish what is otherwise a dreadful, sapping Peter/Davy duet. Innocence lost? Probably just paradise misplaced.

"I Can't Get Her Off My Mind" - Cane a-twirl, fingers and toes snappin' and tappin', oh my yes the low-to-the-floor English lad is right at home (complete with butler).

Davy always sounded his comfiest when at his corniest, singing delicately and dashingly about girls whose games he couldn't wait to play. This squeaks (if and) when you scrub it, but the sound jibes tidy with that piano melody.

"For Peter's Sake" - Flip the cassette over!

Co-written by Peter and co-piloted to an island orgy by Micky, "For Peter's Sake" is most famed as the closing credits music for Season Two of the show. It is also insanely dated, an aural equivalent to the Nehru jackets and love beads they wore.

This is music with a message, all right, one of hope and unity. Such an unabashed espousal of the "kisses hugs and tons of drugs" ethos could have been a laughable disaster, but it turned out to be my favorite song on the entire album, then and now.**

The idea of a universal moral obligation is by turns intriguing and infuriating. It assumes utopia as a goal. Utopia's desirability is irrelevant; given the sheer body count, and value systems spread over countless cultures, utopia's plausibility is nil. So I don't buy (or even go halvsies) on "We were born to love one another…All we have to be is free." But, I won't snatch it off the shelf and break it into pieces and bits, either. Our world is a big world--leap how you feel.

My review of Magical Mystery Tour featured a pretty harsh takedown of "All You Need Is Love" but something about "For Peter's Sake" causes me to lower the silver-plated hammer not upon an unsuspecting noggin, but to my side, where I let it slip from my grip onto the ground. Probably blame the organ. Or, whoever spiked Mick's chocolate milk with ephedrine. Oh, who do I kid--that guitar is coming for the crown.

"Mr. Webster" - Of all the boxes Boyce and Hart placed under the tree, none was more oddly-shaped than "Mr. Webster." The eerie story of an overlooked, underpaid bank guard is a three-act play produced under the auspices of Jefferson Airplane's weed connect. The steel guitar ratchets up the tension (safety nets are for inedible pussies).

"Sunny Girlfriend" - The last (and least) of Mike's contributions, "Sunny" refuses to relinquish its shoes, drinks all the swirly pink liquid, sheds on the sofa, then skidaddles off with the host's sugar.

Oh yeah, about drugs. The song is, I mean. Showed up late to the masquerade and left early. 

"Zilch" - Tony Roche, Joe Namath, Pete Maravich, and Julius Boros step out on the diamond to…practice laying down bunts?

The family-friendly fugue known as "Zilch" is not the only Monkees song grabbed for use in a hip hop song, but it's D-E-L over DMC all day. Fitting, since the fellas themselves took from the mouths of others.

I can remember only two songs from that time in my life that left me staring at speakers in disbelief: "Zilch" and "I Am the Walrus." Apples and oranges, to be sure, but both fruits make great juices. The Beatles were determined to show a rock band could create art. The Monkees were determined to show they were a rock band that could create, period.

"No Time" - Came for the hysteria; left needing a shower; returned decades later when I noticed I'd overlooked some references.

Akita puppies chasing crabs down a newly-waxed floor are the only competition to "No Time" in the hijinks stakes.***

"Early Morning Blues and Greens" - I was convinced as a child of these things two: I would never reach the age of 30, and "Early Morning Blues and Greens" sounded similar to the "Eruga's Forest" level of Rygar on the NES.

I was an idiot as a child.

Another one from beyond the enclave, a plotless short story narrated by a hermit who lives in the tallest tree. Light on the naturalism and heavy on the scaffolding thanks to the lack of gravitas Davy Jones brought to everything. Not precisely morose, not entirely at peace. Whether your coffee or your bed--you made it, you answer for it when the circuit shorts out.

"Randy Scouse Git" - A good last--song, sentence, or push--is vital to a time well-spent.

The Monkees made their name and fame on the clean-cut, but there was always dirt on the handle. More jaunty than raunchy, "Randy" is not sophisticated baroque pop; under the harshest scope, it's a goof for the sake of, 'cause that was the MMO of the time. Timpani (yes!) and piano, angry pouts and hairy shouts, damn chorus why are you so perturbed?

Multi-tracked Micky, woooo, hide the goddamn everybody.

I cannot separate this ostensible ode to a super chick from the first time I heard it--which was also the first time I saw it, at the end of "The Picture Frame." Some call it a nightmare, some call it a day in the life, what's the difference? Micky's got questions too, from the banal to the brutal, and the answers (should they exist) are to be found beyond the limits of minds concerned with why that curly-haired buffoon is wearing a table cloth.

At only thirty minutes, you could chase the album with an episode of the show and have a kretching good time. (I recommend "Fairy Tale.") I award Headquarters six out of a possible eight buttons on a well-aged shirt.


*I'd love to go back in time thirty years and tell Sloop Jenn B. that one day a member of her favorite band will cover this song at a concert in New York City and not only will she be in attendance, her boyfriend will be standing behind her shooting video on his phone. Then, I'd raise finger to lips and moonwalk over that horrible blue carpet.

**"A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" is my favorite. Holy shit is that song brilliant.

***Although written by the band, full credit was given to recording engineer Hank Cicalo, for his hard work and patience with what was essentially a band working on their debut album.

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