The Monkees had been haphazardly recording since late 1967 for "The Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees". They all went into the studio and recorded separately and were left with too much material to fit on one album. When it became definite that they were to make a movie, work on the soundtrack album officially began in early 1968. Although not all of the songs were specifically written for the film ("Can You Dig It", for example, was demoed during the Headquarters sessions), the songs that eventually became the soundtrack were handpicked by Rafelson, Nicholson and the other Monkees.
The first song recorded for HEAD, "Circle Sky", was first recorded on December 9, 1967. "Circle Sky" was recorded by Mike and his friends Bill Chadwick, Keith Allison (among others) and is the source of much debate between Mike and Peter. This recorded version took three sessions to complete and was originally not going to be on the soundtrack. Another version of "Circle Sky" was recorded nearly six months later, only this time it was a live concert by the Monkees at Valley Auditorium in Salt Lake City, UT on May 21st. Rafelson had envisioned a concert sequence for the film, so the Monkees trekked over to Utah to give thousands of Monkees fans a full concert where they were to play "Circle Sky" live for the movie. They recorded everything but the vocals that day, and returned to the studio three days later to cut Mike's vocal. Yet sadly, this energized performance of "Circle Sky" was left off the soundtrack album in place of the original studio version without the other Monkees. The inclusion of this version is unknown, some suspect that Mike or Jack Nicholson may have included it on the soundtrack for various reasons. No one really knows why, not even Nez himself; "I don't have any idea how that happened. I think that The Monkees always played it better. I can't remember a studio version being better than the way we played it live. 'Cause live it was just pure unbridled energy." Nevertheless, the live version remains the more popular cut today and is the version that appears on all box sets.
The second song recorded for HEAD was another Nilsson tune, "Daddy's Song", which was in Davy's "Broadway rock" style. "Daddy's Song" features the usual Monkee cohorts (Keith Allison, Bill Chadwick, Eddie Hoh), and Monkees' (Mike Nesmith ). Interestingly, this song was originally sung by Mike (that version appears as a bonus song on the HEAD CD) in January of 1968. When it was decided that the filmmakers needed a song for Davy's dance sequence, the Monkees recut it in April of 1968 with Davy on vocals. This song was originally considered as a strong second single from HEAD, though it ended up only being released in the U.K.
Peter's two HEAD tracks, "Long Title" and "Can You Dig It" were recorded in January 1968, along with his other songs "Lady's Baby" and "Merry Go Round". Peter's songwriting around this time was more prolific than ever, yet none of his compositions except for the two on HEAD were ever released. "Long Title" was a rousing power trio song that he had written in mid 1967. He explains; "I remember very well that the song just fell out of me one day. I was just playing those chord changes on the guitar and opened my mouth, and that's what popped out. Once I had the first verse, the second verse followed the theme for the first verse. The weird thing is that the song has been prophetic. I had no idea that that was going to be my attitude about anything having to do with music when I wrote the song. It just came out that way. I wrote the lyric in London." The song features Peter's pal Lance Wakely on guitar, Buddy Miles on drums, and Peter on guitar, bass, and vocals.
"Can You Dig It?" was something Peter had been messing around with since his college days. He demoed an instrumental version during the Headquarters sessions, with a slightly different guitar part. The lyrics were written on the set of the TV show and were inspired by the Tao Te Ching. This song was first recorded on January 28, 1968 with Peter on electric guitar and bass, Lance Wakely on accoustic guitar, Dewey Martin (from the Buffalo Springfield) on drums. Buddy Miles is supposedly on the track, and it's rumoured that Stephen Stills played some role. Who knows. The song was originally recorded with Peter on vocals, but Schneider asked if Micky could sing it, since the song was to come right after Micky's solo scene in the movie. "CYDI" was recut with Micky on vocals in March of 1968. The movie version of "CYDI" actually has a different mix than the one on the soundtrack. I must say, I think the movie version kicks ass a tiny bit more than the soundtrack one. But maybe that's just me.
The next song recorded, "Porpoise Song" began the phase of recording specifically for the movie. "Porpoise Song" was a psychedelic, dreamy, acid trip of a song that was specifically written for the movie by Gerry Goffin. The song was recorded with minimal Monkee input, chosing to use session players like Leon Russell, Ken Bloom (from the Lewis and Clarke Expedition) & Danny Kortchmar making the only Monkee involvement the vocal work by Micky and Davy. Micky insists to this day that Goffin wrote this song with him in mind; "I was told that by somebody. If you listen to it, it's about me committing suicide. It was written for the movie. It wasn't a song that she pulled out of a drawer. 'Riding the backs of giraffes for laughs,' I'm sure, was a reference to Circus Boy. At least I was told that." "Porpoise Song" was the only HEAD track released as a single, and it didn't fare well, mainly because it was unlike any other Monkee song to ever be released as a single. The teenybopper's didn't want their idols releasing psychedelic, drug induced songs. Needless to say, the song only got to #62 on the charts, and was only on there for six weeks.
The last full song to be recorded for HEAD was "As We Go Along", a roaming, mellow accoustic number penned by Carole King and sometimes Rafelson paramour, Toni Stern. "As We Go Along" was recorded on May 30th, 1968 and features an incredible combination of the best session players and producers. None of the Monkees were involved, other than Micky's vocals, instead, "AWGO" features Neil Young (!!!!!), Ry Cooder (!!!!), Ken Bloom (from Lewis and Clarke Expedition), Carole King (!!!), and Danny Kortchmar on guitar. No wonder it's a kickass song. Neil freakin Young plays on it. Legendary arranger Jack Nitzche also participated. Yet even with these heavy names, "As We Go Along" never charted. It was released as the B-side to "Porpoise Song" and ended up bubbling under at #106 on the Billboard Charts. Yet even today, the song remains a favorite to many Monkees fans, and to the Monkees themselves. Peter remarks; "Carole King is an astounding creature. The 'Porpoise Song' is a great song, and I think 'As We Go Along' is even better. Carole King could write with anybody. She could write with Mike Nesmith, after all!" Micky agrees; "That was a bitch to sing. It was in 5/4 time or some bizarre signature. I had a lot of trouble picking it up. Typically, we didn't have a lot of time to rehearse this stuff. We were filming. I'd go in, and they'd play the song a few times. I remember that was a tough song to sing, but I loved it. I still love it. It's actually one of my favorites."
The last two 'songs' recorded for HEAD were Ditty Diego, which was recorded in July of 1968, and Happy Birthday To You, which was recorded in August. "Ditty Diego" is unique in that it's probably the only pop song that Jack Nicholson received writing credit for. "Ditty Diego" (original title: "Movie Jingle") is the unofficial theme song of HEAD and serves to sum up the plot of the film. "Happy Birthday To You" was recorded to complete the "MIKE BIRTHDAY PARTY" sequence and featured three part chanting from Peter, Micky, and Davy.
The remainder of the album consisted of collages of sound bites from the movie and Ken Thorne's instrumental tracks put together by the album's co-producer, Jack Nicholson. "Opening Ceremony", "Supplico", "Gravy", "Superstitions", "Dandruff", "Poll", and "Swami-Plus Strings" all serve the purpose of promoting the film and filling out the rest of the album. These sound bites are noteworthy, however, because of Nicholson's witty editing techniques.
HEAD the album was released to the public on December 1, 1968 and was their first album not to reach the TOP 5 on the album charts. By this point in time, the Monkees' popularity was waning, as they were all getting older, getting married, and not in the public eye as much. This added to the fact that teen magazines were promoting newer and groovier teen idols like the Cowsills, Bobby Sherman, Sajid Khan and Brenden Boone (whoever the fuck that is), caused their fan base to look elsewhere. HEAD did reach #45 on the charts, perhaps buoyed by the single "Porpoise Song", but it was not on the charts for long and even today, it hasn't gone gold. The release of HEAD was an important one in Monkee history. It was the last Monkees album of the 60s to feature all four Monkees, the only Monkees album in the 60s not to feature a song by Boyce and Hart (maybe that's why HEAD is so good?), and it was the last Monkees project to have involvement from Rafelson and Schneider. It also is considered one of the Monkees' best works as a group. With the failure of the movie and the soundtrack, the Monkees began to start re-thinking their role in the whole Monkee project, and after HEAD, a lot of their interest in the band and project was lost. HEAD the album expresses the themes of the movie as well; the fight between the band and those who try to control them. While Mike and Peter both participated in the recording and writing of the songs on HEAD, the 'singles' and most of the songs were authored by the same people that were hired by Donnie Kirshner, and feature minimal Monkee involvement. This is perhaps to say that while they did "overthrow" the PTB during Headquarters, ultimately, the PTB never lost control of the Monkees music career. This concept is summed up in the movie of HEAD with the prophetic ending when Big Victor (aka RCA Victor, who owned Columbia/Colgems) captured the Monkees in the tank.
But enough analysis, HEAD remains the weirdest Monkees album in history and also one of their best. I highly recommend it to anyone.
Label: Colgems COSO-5008
Released: December 1, 1968
Highest Chart Position: #45
Porpoise Song (Theme From "Head")
Can You Dig It
As We Go Along
Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again
HEAD album reviews by the pros:
All Music Guide: Like the film from which it came, the soundtrack to Head was far from a masterpiece, but had some inspired moments. These include the spacy "Porpoise Song," written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King; the tough-rocking "Circle Sky," probably the best song Mike Nesmith wrote for the group; "Can You Dig It," one of Peter Tork's best contributions; and "As We Go Along" and "Daddy's Song," little-known songs by Carole King and Nilsson, respectively. As a listening experience, it's made more difficult by the juxtaposition of music and dialogue from the film. The CD reissue adds bonus unissued jingles and alternate takes, highlighted by a live version of "Circle Sky."
New Musicial Express: New Musical Express - 9 - Excellent Plus - "...an authentically important document of the time, alternating half a dozen intensely lovely songs (including Tork's mystical triumph `Can You Dig It' plus Nesmith's rousing `Circle Sky') with nonsense poetry and tripped out dialogue...
George Starostin: Wow, what a strange record... sure beats Zappa's Lumpy Gravy to hell. The Monkees at this point probably realised that their commercial appeal had gone for shit anyway, and threw off all the conventional shackles by starring in, not just a psychedelic, but rather a bizarre avantgarde movie, called, well, Head. I suppose the movie itself, though I've never seen it, might not be all that impressive. Essentially, it just featured the Monkees relishing in their 'free' style and ironizing on the topic of 'manufactured bands', with lots of gags and jokes and silly nonsensic crap and came-os from Frank Zappa himself (that Lumpy Gravy reference wasn't for naught, you see), all produced and elaborated by Bob Rafaelson and Jack Nicholson. A lot of the stuff from the movie made it into the soundtrack, though, and - surprise surprise - the 'spoken' pieces and bits of noise look just fine and comfy, sitting around there together with the actual songs. If there is something wrong about the resulting disc, it's that it is way too short, over in about half an hour. They sure could have written some more songs, so speaking from a strictly formal obsessive position, it's a rip-off. Speaking from a strictly informal don't-give-a-damn position, though, it's a near-masterpiece, and people who condemn the Monkees for crap beforehand, yet have never actually took a listen to this stuff, simply do not know what they're missing. First of all, the songs are ALL good. ALL of them. The major highlight, of course, is 'Porpoise Song', arguably the best Goffin-King contribution ever to appear on a Monkees album: a lush, soulful organ-dominated epic with Dolenz taking lead and the orchestration embarking the band on something in between a Procol Harum and a Pink Floyd performance. I'd even say it's a bit too epic, what with the movie's sarcastic overtones and everything, but hey, the idea WAS to make a huge melting pot of everything. Carole King is also responsible for the folksier 'As We Go Along', where Dolenz also takes lead vocals and again presents us with a funny Grace Slick-alike vocal delivery. The gentle acoustic shuffle and humble, unintrusive flute cannot be beat. The only other cover is Harry Nilsson's cheesy, but catchy 'Daddy's Song'; goes without saying - the cheesiest bit of the load goes into the hands of Davey Jones, hee hee. Dumb to the extreme, but you gotta believe me: within the context of the movie/album, you don't really make distinction between the dumb and the clever. What's clever turns out to be a hoax; what's a hoax turns out to be a gimmick; what's a gimmick turns out to be a parody, and so on. Head is a perfect name - everything's reversed and standing on its head indeed. Everything but Michael Nesmith, who by now was firmly embedded into the idea of his country-rock schtick and so he rips it up on 'Circle Sky', a great little country-rocker in the true sense of the word, i.e. a country melody arranged in a rock manner and played with rock instruments. Banjos? Nah! Crunchy guitars! Love that descending riff in the intro and throughout. The other two songs are Tork's - good songs. 'Can You Dig It' is, like, folksy psychedelia a la Lovin' Spoonful with a bit of Neil Young-ish world sorrow. Moody minor guitar chords and sad melancholic refrain. And 'Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?' is more like a Pretty Things rocker. Anyway, split personalities all around: Dolenz the epic hero, Jones the silly tasteless clown, Nesmith the country cowboy, and Tork the sad disillusioned romantic. Mayhaps it was this last emploi that was the last straw after which Tork left the band. In between you get the WEIRD stuff. Weird stuff includes: noise (undiscernible); bits and snatches of songs mentioned previously; a stoned female voice calling out 'head... head... head...' (I wonder if this could have prompted Lennon to do his 'number nine... number nine...' thing? Now, wait, w e're talking Monkees influence on the Beatles? Oh, wait, silly me, Head came out a month after the White Album did); a great little accappella ditty called 'Ditty' (well, actually, the full name is longer, but who cares?) where the Monkees succesfully debunk themselves chanting 'hey hey, we are the Monkees, you know we're here to please, a manufactured image with no philosophies'; noise (undiscernible); space shuttle growls; a Monkee saying 'I'd like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it, please'; lots of silly dialog; noise (undiscernible); looped chants of 'dandruff, dandruff, dandruff'; pistol shots and cannonshots; wild laughter; noise (undiscernible); heartbeats; an extract from an Indian guru's speech (I love Indian accent); noise (undiscernible); a full-blown symphonic interlude; and noise, noise, noise... You might think it all sucks, but for me, it works better than Lumpy Gravy. It's funny, for the most part, it never lasts too long to truly annoy, and the very idea of hearing all this shit on a Monkees album of all places is so bedazzling that I'm ready to forgive 'em anything else. It's as if... as if these guys were really at the end of their rope and throwing themselves in all possible directions. They've mimicked teenage pop music, they've mimicked psychedelia, they've mimicked roots-rock, now they're sick and tired of mimicking and yet they're not really intent on establishing themselves as individual artists, so they throw on this bizarre avantgarde collage to make matters even more complicated. It's an attempt at maturity, sure, but I don't think they ever took stuff like Head as seriously as Frank Zappa could have taken his stuff. Or maybe it's just a big fat question mark they slammed at us at this point before finally crashing down and abandoning all hope of becoming a truly significant band. Either way, Head is quite a fascinating listen, and it goes without saying that an attentive listen to this stuff will convince many, many a listener that the Monkees weren't such trivial no-goodnicks as they're pictured by people who mostly slam the Monkees in order to "establish" their snubby persona without even giving the music a fair chance. P.S. The bonus tracks on here really add to the flavour - most are just remixes of songs like 'Can You Dig It', but there's a goofy session chat bit from the recording of 'Ditty Diego War Chant', and a Goth version of 'Happy Birthday To You'. Okay, maybe not Goth, but I hope you're interested already.
( not back like in a box back )