An infinite number of rockin' pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
THE MONKEES: "Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)"
It was over. It was the end. The moneymen knew it. The players did not. The players had no idea how distant the year 1968 was from 1967. The calendar insisted it had been just one year; instead, it may as well have been a lifetime.
The Monkees were on top of the pop world in '67. The made-for-TV quartet--Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith--were at the peak of their popularity, with a hit TV show promoting big, big hit records, successful concert dates to prove the manufactured band could perform as a real band, opportunities to hobnob with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and all of rock 'n' roll's biggest names, and a chance to make their own music after freeing themselves from the yoke of Golden-Eared but shortsighted Musical Supervisor Don Kirshner. By some accounts, The Monkees in 1967 outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined; Nesmith later insisted he'd manufactured that claim himself, and that people took this fib as truth. Whether a lie or a Gospel, it was plausible. 1967 was the summer of love. It was the summer of Sgt. Pepper. If The Monkees weren't really bigger than The Beatles, they were nonetheless awfully big indeed.
And it all went away in 1968.
Those of us who dream of fame, who worship glittery idols from afar, can't even imagine how fame could be so fickle, so fleeting. The swift fall from grace is the oldest story in the world and in the heavens, from Lucifer to Adam and Eve. In '68, The Monkees' TV series was cancelled after two seasons. The Monkees believed they could continue successfully without that exposure. "D.W. Washburn," the first Monkees single released after the TV series' end, barely made it into the Top 20, whereas the six previous Monkees A-sides had hit # 1, # 1, # 2, # 3, # 1, and # 6. No subsequent Monkees single would even crack the Top 40 during the remainder of the group's original run.
The Monkees weren't worried yet. So what if one single underperformed? They just needed to reestablish themselves, away from the TV image. Credibility would come, and success would return. The Monkees would make a movie. Not an extended, goofy 'n' giddy expansion of their now-defunct cathode-ray capers, but something hip, something far-out, something for a turned-on, tuned-in now audience. The film would be called Head, it would be a triumphant exposé of the artificial machinations that fabricated the Monkees phenomenon, and it would surely build a bridge for those hip heads in The Monkees to cross over to new success.
Head was ultimately a dark, bitter, and brilliant film, mesmerizing in its wanton deconstruction of The Monkees, chortling about their manufactured image with no philosophies. It was a box office failure; the kids who liked The Monkees were confused and alienated by the movie, and the hippie clientele the film hoped to reach wouldn't have been caught gratefully dead at a Monkees flick. Head's opening sequence depicted Micky Dolenz running away, jumping off one of the largest suspended arch bridges in the world, and plunging into the presumed tomb of the deep blue sea, that other Davy Jones' locker. Micky's prime mates follow him off the bridge and into the water, all escorted by psychedelic mermaids into the next phase. It was supposed to be the TV Monkees committing suicide; the real Monkees' career was euthanized right along with it.
For all of that, Head's woeful ticket sales and lack of contemporary appreciation don't stop it from being one of my favorite movies. Its existence and its ambition add great depth to The Monkees' story. And its soundtrack music is simply amazing.
I discovered all of this well after the fact. I was eight years old in 1968, and I doubt I even knew that this group I liked on TV had also made a movie. I saw Head on a late-night CBS TV broadcast in the '70s, but it didn't really register with me then; I embraced it in the mid '80s. I got to the soundtrack LP in 1977; that blew me away immediately. "Daddy's Song.""As We Go Along." "Circle Sky." "Can You Dig It." "Do I Have To Do This All Over Again." The snarky-cool "Ditty Diego/War Chant," with the prefabs gleefully declaring The money's in, we're made of tin, we're here to give you MORE! Snippets of dialogue. Strings. Dandruff. Supernatural baloney. I'd like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it, please.
Divorced from its visual image, the record made little sense. As I would later discover, the visual and audio also made little sense when combined together. But it was glorious. Glorious. For those who look for meaning, and form as they do fact, The Monkees might tell you one thing, but they'll only take it back.
Both the album and the film begin with "Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)," a Carole King-Gerry Goffin composition that feels like a communiqué from Other. Actually, the album and the film both begin with an attempt by a long-winded representative of The Man to try to dedicate the opening of the above-mentioned large suspended bridge, pushed aside by seemingly suicidal Monkees. Then the song begin to play, and the Head trip truly begins.
Is it possible for a song to brood and soar at the same time? You wouldn't think so, but "Porpoise Song" somehow manages to simultaneously reflect on its own mysteries while making its leap of faith, to reach toward the heavens while plummeting into the foamy abyss below.
The clock in the sky is pounding away
And there's so much to say
A face, a voice
An overdub has no choice
An image cannot rejoice
Wanting to be
To hear and to see
Crying to the sky
But the porpoise is laughing
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!
And the cuddly Monkees' fate is sealed in a watery grave. Good thing those psychedelic mermaids are there.
Everyone who knows me knows that I love The Monkees. I love the TV series, I love the prefab Kirshner-era records, the hey-hey-we're-a-real band triumph of the Headquarters LP, the Monkees with sidemen compromise of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (my favorite Monkees album), the schtick, the ambition, the songs, the image, the truth behind the image. I'm a believer already. But there's something emphatically special about the movie Head and its soundtrack. It's part of the grit that gives the cotton candy substance.
"Porpoise Song" towers majestically above it all. If it had been the only track ever released under the Monkees brand name, we would still revere the sheer wonder of The Monkees on that basis alone.
The moneymen knew it was over. Monkees producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were gettin' out while the getting was good, leaving Monkeeshines permanently behind them, Rafelson in particular en route to a successful and celebrated career as an auteur. Head was their killing stroke to The Monkees as they moved on; subsequent films Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces were largely financed with Monkee money. The latter film starred a then-unknown actor named Jack Nicholson, who had co-written Head with Rafelson, based in part on rambling, pot-fueled conversations with The Monkees. The Monkees did not receive a writing credit. The Monkees did not know that it was over. But the porpoise was laughing, goodbye, goodbye.
It took decades for the members of The Monkees to come to terms with whatever the hell it was they went through in that short, explosive combustion of fame and sudden seeming irrelevance. They came back, of course. Reruns of the TV series and perpetual airplay on oldies radio assured that The Monkees could never be fully forgotten. When you see the end in sight, the beginning may arrive. They reunited, in varying combinations, with varying levels of success. Even though Davy Jones passed away in 2012, The Monkees managed to become timeless, perennial. The ego sings of castles and kings and things that go with a life of style.
When my first spin of the Head LP immersed me inside this captivating magic of "Porpoise Song," my belief in The Monkees was validated. Each spin renews that. Wanting to feel, to know what is real. The moneymen were wrong: it wasn't the end. It sure looked like the end, with their former puppets descending fatalistically into the water's cold embrace. But the porpoise was waiting. Goodbye? Not yet.
"Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)" written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin' pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins' Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens' track) is also available from Futureman Records.