The following is an advance look at The Monkees, Head, and the 60s by author Peter Mills. It will be available in print and electronic editions from Jawbone Press on September 13 in the United Kingdom and October 25 in the United States. The Monkees Live Almanac would like to thank both Mr. Mills and Tom Seabrook of Jawbone Press for allowing fans to have an early glimpse at the book! You can pre-order at both Amazon US and Amazon UK.
CHIMES OF FREEDOM, OR EVERY LAST STINKIN’ LITTLE NOTE: HEADQUARTERS (1967)
The Beverly Hills Hotel opened in 1912, just as the cogs of the cinema industry began turning, and it is partly responsible for turning the surrounding area into the fabulous adjunct to the Hollywood Life it became, with its elegance, exclusivity, and rows of bungalows later used by legendary writers or actors or lovers or all three. Reclining in lush, water-sprinkled languor just off Sunset Boulevard, its walls are rightly famous for their easiness on the eye: flamingo pink on the outside, wedding cake iced-white within. I got to visit it one hot August evening at sunset and it was like passing through a portal to paradise; life could be a dream, sweetheart. So closely is it associated with the idea of California and Hollywood in the popular imagination that it became symbolic of that life long before it appeared, looking mysterious and not a little Hispanic, on the sleeve of the 1976 Eagles album Hotel California. Yet that image isn’t the hotel’s only claim to pop music fame; as the taproot of the very idea of Hollywood, it is somehow appropriate that it was at the Beverly Hills Hotel on January 25 1967, at a meeting to decide who controlled the music of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith put his fist through a wall in one of those exclusive bungalows (‘$150 a day’, according to TV Guide’s report of the incident later that year) and began the ‘palace revolution’ in such palatial surroundings.
Later Mike told his ‘angel of peace’, the ever-conciliatory [Bert] Schneider, ‘I blew it. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. But it’s horrible to be the number one group in the country and not be allowed to play on your own records.’ Schneider said, ‘Well it’s rewarding to see you guys act as a group rather than four egotists who don’t pull together.’ To which Mike replied, ‘It’s the first time we’ve had a wagon to pull.’
His mixed feelings are laudable, his advocacy of the strength of the group remarkable. Once that $150 a day wall was broken through, a special kind of freedom lay on the other side. For The Monkees, in the short term, that meant shutting down the TV show and prioritising the music. So even though they had started to work on their own material in advance of Kirshner’s formal dismissal later in the year, that declaration of independence in a cool and moneyed room unlocked a huge store of energy and ideas – to whit, Headquarters. It was recorded in a flash of white-hot activity between Micky returning from London on February 23 and the band’s next live gig in Winnipeg, Canada, on April Fool’s Day.
It was a little rough at first because we had never worked together. As things developed and Headquarters evolved there came a kind of camaraderie, and we were all pulling together to make this album that was supposed to be only them playing on it. In fact maybe my best contribution to The Monkees was that I wanted to see them doing everything on their records, with nobody in the background who wasn’t a Monkee. So if you hear a vocal part, you’re gonna hear Micky or Davy or Peter or Mike, and nobody else.
The album is the sound of liberty itself. The count-in at the opening of the first track, ‘You Told Me’, is a playful nod to the squonky equivalent on Revolver’s opener, ‘Taxman’, but also a gleeful little shout of autonomy, followed by those opening chimes of freedom on a 12-string guitar. Likewise, the reclamation of Nesmith’s second number on side one, ‘You Just May Be The One’, from the ‘TV version’ is complete, as the track does indeed feature just them – the four Monkees. Chip Douglas handled the bass on some of the tracks to allow Peter to add extra colours on keyboard and guitar but on this tune, already played in on a dozen gigs between New Year and February, it was the quartet alone:
Peter did play bass on a couple of songs – in fact he played on ‘You Just May Be The One’, and he really did a great bass part on that too. He played in a little different style to me, playing with a flat pick and I don’t. Maybe you can hear that on the record, I don’t know.
The album showcases Nesmith’s flourishing songwriting styles – pop-folk (‘You Just May Be The One’), country-pop (‘You Told Me’), a sound greatly assisted by Tork’s banjo, and pure ’67 pop with a gloss of psychedelia (‘Sunny Girlfriend’, complete with backward cymbals). It also allowed Peter Tork to expand his musical contributions many fold – playing guitar, banjo, and keyboards, arranging for cello and French horn (‘Shades Of Gray’) and writing ‘For Pete’s Sake’ (with his flatmate Joey Richards) which became the end-title theme for the second series, signalling the changes in the TV show as well as in the studio. It is a freedom song for the group as well as a claim on the rights of a whole generation. As Tork’s lyric declares, ‘We gotta be free!’, echoing sentiments of the first album’s ‘I Wanna Be Free’ while remaking and expanding it, exchanging the individual wish for the collective assertion. In spring ’67, youth culture was on the threshold of the Summer of Love, and this song, with its bluesy guitar picking, washes of organ, and effortlessly soulful vocal from Dolenz, chimes perfectly with that. The Monkees’ apparent escape from their gilded cage is a fine metaphor for a cultural transformation and a flight into freedom.
© 2016 Peter Mills / Jawbone Press