Introducing ABC’s Monkees CDs – Vol. 1 and 2

Welcome to Friday – a cool October Friday at that!

Today as I was browsing through a local Walmart store, something I do very infrequently, I happened upon a bin of cheap CDs and lo and behold I spotted a newer compilation CD I knew had been released but had never seen: “An Introduction to The Monkees”!

And of course since the CD in question was only $5 and I am a sucker for all things Monkee I bought it.

Now I need another Monkees CD like I need a hole in the head but this introduction CD, while bare bones, sounds really nice and has a really groovy cover photo. (Note: Not much of a rationalization I know but it works for me!).

I call this CD an ABC CD because its a basic introduction to The Monkees music, thus an ABC experience, or an “Already Been Chewed” type CD as these songs have been reissued many, many times over the years and most hardcore Monkees fans will just shrug when they see them.

In these dying days of the CD medium these types of hit compilation albums are perfect for stores like Walmart and other supermarket stores that cater to the casual shopper looking for the familiar and inexpensive.

I, of course, think these CDs do have a purpose and fill a need for the record company as I’m sure CDs sales now rely on these casual fans purchasing hits they remember.

This Monkees “Introduction to” CD is just one of a series of “Introduction” CDs put out by Rhino Records that highlights various artists greatest hits. Some of the other CDs in the series feature the likes of Hall & Oates, Gordon Lightfoot, The Drifters, Bad Co. and Andrew Gold.

These CDs on the whole are actually well done and a very inexpensive way to buy some great music that represents some popular older artists biggest hits.

Funnily enough, as I made my way to another local supermarket type store called Meijer (it’s grocery day), I also found the companion to this Vol. 1 CD called “An Introduction to The Monkees Vol. 2” again for $5!

Now this Vol. 2 edition has a really nice track selection featuring a few of my favorite Monkees album tracks including “You Told Me”. “Mary Mary” and “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” as well as the recent and superb “Me and Magdalena” from The Monkees 2016 album “Good Times!”.

These two CDs are basically updated versions of the older Artista “Monkees Greatest Hits” and “More Greatest Hits” albums that now include reunion material like the Top Twenty hit “That Was Then, This is Now” from 1986 as well as the previously mentioned “Me and Magdalena”.

While most fans of The Monkees will undoubtedly own all this material, for the uninitiated these two CDS are a great toe in the water moment for those who may only remember the group from their TV show and are just looking for the hits.

Unfortunately for those Monkee geeks out there these CDs don’t contain any unique mixes but do feature good mastering from mainly the most current remasters and do sound pretty nice. I didn’t find them shrill or overly loud but punchy and warm.

There are also, unfortunately, a couple of misidentified tracks on these sets. “Pleasant Valley Sunday” from Vol. 1 for example isn’t the mono single mix as marked it’s the stereo album version while “Goin’ Down” from Vol. 2 is an alternate mono mix and not the true single mix from the 45 as marked.

While those mistakes certainly won’t matter one bit to the audience that buys these CDs nonetheless it’s a bit mystifying how Rhino manages to keep making these small type of errors when all the information on these tracks is readily available but oh well.

These two CDs sound good and even after all this time it’s still nice to see new Monkees products on store shelves when CDs in general are getting harder and harder to find in any brick and mortar store.

So feast your eyes on some photos above of these two groovy CDs. Both have 2018 copyrights and seem to be readily available at stores like Walmart.

If you need a Monkees CD fix make sure you check threw those large bins of $5 CDs at Walmart I’m sure you’ll find one or both of these CDs swimming among the sea of bargain CDs.

Until next time, be well!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in October – The Monkees “Christmas Party” album (a Review)

Okay, Christmas in October – really?

Well even I think its’ a tad bit too early for all things Christmas BUT tomorrow a new Monkees album is being released and it’s a Christmas album of all things!

That’s right, The Monkees are releasing their first Christmas album ever and it’s full of new songs as well as some nice takes on standard Christmas fare.

The first single “Unwrap You at Christmas” was released online earlier this week and has gotten some good response along with some “meh” comments. The song was written especially for The Monkees by Andy Partridge and is sung exceptionally well by Micky Dolenz and has a retro ’60s sound that’s very pleasing.

I have to say I like the new song, it’s nothing earth shattering but it’s a fun pop song done in the style of the Monkees critically acclaimed 2016 album “Good Times!” which fits since its produced by the same man, Adam Schlesinger.

I was kind of worried before I popped the CD into my player because I heard some caustic comments by another prominent Monkees fan online who said he declined to review this CD for a magazine implying that he hated the contents.

Well, after hearing the entire CD I have to say I’m relieved as it’s very well done and has some really wonderful performances on it.

Of the new songs written especially for this album, “House of Broken Gingerbread” (written by producer Adam Schlesinger and writer Micheal Chabon) is terrific with its weird lyrics and rocking yet slightly trippy ’60s feel with great vocals by Dolenz – definitely one of the highlights of the disc for me.

Another highlight is the title track “Christmas Party” (written by Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Scott McCaughey) which begins with some dialogue by Davy Jones from The Monkees 1967 Christmas TV episode and sounds like  “I Was There (and I’m Told I Had a Good Time)” from The Monkees “Good Times!” album meets Jimi Hendrix!

Rivers Cuomo’s contribution to the album “What Would Santa Do” is a good song but a bit quirky. The lyrics are a bit trite but still a fun track that Dolenz sings well. Odd but endearing which is what I thought of his song “She Makes Me Laugh” from “Good Times!” which I’ve come to really love.

Davy Jones is featured posthumously on the album with two songs that feature vocals he recorded in the 1990s – “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Silver Bells” – that were featured on a solo Christmas album that he released.

Both songs are spruced up with new instrumental backings for this album and sound very traditional and feature lovely vocals by Jones which were originally produced by famed Monkees producer Chip Douglas.

It’s so nice to hear Jones voice sounding so young and fit on these tracks. “Mele Kalikimaka” has always been a Christmas favorite of mine and its nice to hear Jones sing it. A bit sappy yes but nice – that’s what Christmas albums are for!

Another one of the true highlights of the album are the two tracks that feature Mike Nesmith – “The Christmas Song” and “Snowfall”.

“The Christmas Song” is done in a beautiful slow country style and features wonderful vocals from Nesmith that remind me of his vocals on the song “Don’t Call on Me” from the Monkees fourth album “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.” from 1967.

“Snowfall” is another lovely track that also features a strong country vibe with great vocals that features sparkling production by Nesmith’s son Jonathan Nesmith.

The one vocal by Peter Tork on the album is also terrific  – a rendering of “Angels We Have Heard on High” that features Tork on the banjo.

Tork recently recorded his vocal which sounds a bit electronically manipulated but really nice and touching especially in the light of Tork just today acknowledging that he has had some heath issues as of late.

All in all it’s a very enjoyable album and after all this time who would have thought we’d get ANY new Monkees album.

Yes, you  have to be a fan of Christmas music. I can see a lot of fans will really get there knickers in a twist as to me the album is meant to be fun and goofy and Christmasey just like most Christmas albums and not be taken too seriously.

This album definitely sounds like a “Good Times!” Christmas but to me that’s a good thing. I can hear Beach Boys, Motown and ’60s flashes throughout the album and since all of that is music I love I really enjoy this album.

Dolenz as ever sounds like he signed a pact with the devil as his vocals are just great throughout the album especially on his bluesy take of “Merry Christmas Baby”.

Dolenz also sings a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” which turned out great in my opinion. It’s a nice understated acoustic approach to the song which really works. I know a lot of people really dislike this song but I don’t, I rather enjoy it. What’s not to love – Micky Dolenz and Paul McCartney, now that’s a Merry Christmas!!!

The production does at times maybe try a bit hard to sound like the ’60s but overall it’s a fun album that I’ll play again and certainly one of my favorite Christmas records – that’s for sure.

Really there’s nothing horrible on the album – it s a goofy run through Christmas Monkees style that’s filled with some fun retro pop mixed with joyous and wistful touches courtesy of Nesmith and Tork.

You might as well not even come to the party if you don’t like Christmas music and are expecting a sequel to The Monkees superb “Good Times!” album.

If you want some well done pop/rock Christmas and are a fan of the 1960s or The Monkees you might be pleasantly surprised to find this album is a lot of fun – to me anyway.

Until next time, be well and pardon me while I dig around for those Christmas lights – I’m in the mood lol!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Lennon “Imagine” Ultimate Edition (The Full Meal Deal) – A Look Inside

 

 

Well, here we are – a nice cool-ish October night and what should come my way but some new music. Err, at least some new “old” music.

Let me explain.

You see last week I  took a look at the new 2 CD set of John Lennon’s “Imagine” album that’s being released tomorrow but tonight I’m highlighting the full set it was taken from – “Imagine” The Ultimate Edition.

This massive new box set takes an in-depth look at the making and recording of John Lennon’s classic “Imagine” album that was released in 1971.

The new “Ultimate” set consists of fours CDs along with two Blu-Rays and a beautiful hardbound book that details the making of the “Imagine” album along with a lot of really nice photos.

I said last week that the 2 CD set would probably be suffice for most Lennon or Beatles fan but having received this nifty box set today I must say this new full set is a thing of beauty!

It’s really nicely done all around! It’s smaller than I was expecting and everything about it is really thought out well and looks magnificent.

The nice thing about the full version  and what really has struck me today is the sound of the 2 Blu-Ray discs. Both Blu-Ray discs sound very impressive and provide such a wide range of material from the “Imagine” sessions.

Not only do you get the “Imagine” album in newly remixed form in HiRez sound but you also get a new 5.1 surround sound mix for the entire album as well as the singles and extras but you also get the Quadrasonic mixes which were done in the 1970s, “Imagine” out-takes in HiRez as well as 5.1, raw studio mixes that feature extended versions of the songs from the album but featuring Lennon’s raw vocals, raw studio mixes of the out-takes, elements mixes as well as evolution mixes plus a John & Yoko interview by Elliot Mintz. Whew!

Now I haven’t had time to listen to everything in this new set but what has struck me most is the terrific sound of the Blu-Rays! Everything sounds so much smoother and clearer and just fantastic on the Blu-Rays – a really nice upgrade from the CDs which sound quite good themselves.

As for the CDs, the first two discs in this set match the 2 CD set from last week while the other two CDs contain the raw studio mixes and the evolution mixes as well.

I’m not going to pretend this is a set you’ll play straight through all the time as it does get a bit tedious listening to various versions of the same songs over and over but in small bites it’s really a great way to get behind this album and really feel as if you’re in the studio with Lennon as he records it.

I must say I was worried about getting the full set but after having sampled it it’s really so well done and sounds so good – especially the raw studio takes – that it’s a no-brainer for me as I really love this album and even more so now that I can hear the tracks in a new light.

Take a glance at photos of the full set above (I’ve even included a few screen shots from the Blu-Ray discs!).

If you’re a Lennon fan or Beatles fan or just happen to really like this album then this set is a must. Buyer beware though – this is a massive listening experience for just one set of songs.

BUT the quality of the remix and the sound of the songs on the Blu-Ray discs is more than enough for me to recommend splurging for the entire  enchilada as they say!

There’s still the lovely 2 CD version for those who want to experience the remix as well as the out-takes but really this full set is done so well I find it hard to believe any Lennon fan being disappointed with the ultimate set if you have the extra cash to buy it of course.

Until next time be well and dream on!

 

John Lennon “Imagine” – New Deluxe 2 CD set (a detailed review)

As luck would have it, today I was lucky enough to get a hold of a copy of the brand new 2 CD Deluxe reissue of John Lennon;s classic “Imagine” album!

The reissue is scheduled to be released next Friday, October 5th but I thought I would give those Lennon or Beatlephiles out there a sneak preview.

This new 2 CD set features the complete album plus some stray single and other songs on Disc 1 newly (and I must say excellently) remixed with Disc 2 featuring some tasty element mixes of the songs as well as out-takes of each song on the album.

I spent the better part of the day listening to this terrific new reissue/collection and I’ve decided to share my first thoughts of it below.

So let’s take a look at this set from top to bottom.

The Remix: Disc 1

Imagine – superb bass, Lennon’s voice front and center. Very respectful of the original mix but MUCH clearer. Certainly not as loud as the re entry Tug of War remix. Love how  the strings stand out but aren’t obtrusive

Crippled Inside – again very clear and clean. Sounds like the original mix but with a layer taken off. Not nearly as loud as previous remix from 2000.

Jealous Guy – this song has never sounded better. The strings, just like Imagine, take on a new freshness and clarity without being overbearing. Bass too. Strings and bass biggest improvements on this new remix

It’s So Hard – the bass and sax just dance in the mix. I’m impressed with how much this sounds like a much improved version of the original mix! Things stand out better like Lennon’s two vocals and the piano but aren’t in your face. There’s a smoothness to the mix that’s very easy on the ears

I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die – very similar to the original mix. Still thick sounding but certainly better than any other version out there and more open separation. Drum work is a highlight but not in your face, just sounds more present than before and so respectful of Lennon’s mix.

Gimme Some Truth – again very similar to original mix. More like getting a two generations better sounding tape than sounding like a modern remix. The guitar has such sting and presence but doesn’t hurt your ears. Sound has been widened and stereo but not losing the vibe of the original

Oh My Love – STUNNING is the only word that comes to mind. Dramatically better sounding mix, everything is defined beautifully and so damn clean and clear. Oh how I wish Tug of War was remixed like this. Perfect sounding.

How Do You Sleep? – again, shit this sounds SUPERB! they certainly made their goal of a much better sounding version of Lennon’s mix. Strings are superb!!! Sounds like stereo and more open but still thick just less murky than the original

How? – again, superb. The strings stand out as never before but aren’t in your face.

Oh Yoko! – the vocals really shine on this mix! Superb bass too but the vocals stand out in such clarity but thankfully aren’t glaringly so. Lovely. Nice extended harmonica at the end.

Power to the People – the bass is superb. Still a bit murky like the original mix but more powerful. Sax stands out more as well as background vocals but still feels like original mix just cleaner and fade goes on longer

Well … (Baby Please Don’t Go) – clean mix, sounds like Plastic Ono Band material with sax added. Actually reminds me of Hendrix funnily enough

God Save Us – If this was remixed you cant tell a huge difference, it just sounds like a cleaner version of an original vintage mix. Bill Elliot sounds so much like Lennon. I prefer Lennon’s vocal but this is a nice punchy mix

Do the Oz – same as above, sounds like a nicely mastered version of the original not overdone unlike the song lol

God Save Oz – Lennon vocal. Much cleaner mix, Lennon’s vocal up front, great mix. Clean and crisp and slightly murky but not as closed in as an original Lennon mix

Happy Xmas (War is Over) – now we’re talking, stunningly clear mix. Great bass, much more presence and the vocals and separation are outstanding. Yoko sounds great too. Best mix I’ve ever heard of this song by far

There’s no contest for me, this new remix is the best remix I’ve ever heard of any of The Beatles or solo Beatles material! So well done and so listenable – no trace of jacked up sound that I can hear.

You never think you’re listening to a new mix, its the same album it just sounds like you’re listening to a much better master – cleaner and clearer, more presence and separation but the same vibe as Lennon’s mix.

I can hear things down in the mix more, more open but they never sound as if they are some kind of reworking of what Lennon created, just improved.

Hands down from now on this is the mix I will listen to when I want to hear this album, it’s that good. I really hope that McCartney takes note of this set. his reissues sound good as well but the way this set was put together with all the out-takes and elements is just great!

Disc 2 – Elements and Out-takes 

Imagine (elements mix) – superb strings only. Reminded me of a 1940’s Christmas movie. Lovely by itself, seems like a whole new song

Jealous Guy (elements mix) – lovely piano  driven instrumental mix with just piano, bass and drums. Damn fine piano playing by Nicky Hopkins. So good I can’t wait to dig into more of this on the bigger box version. Thought I may be bored with elements but this is superb

Oh My Love (elements mix) – Stunning vocal only mix. Just lovely with Lennon’s vocals alone. Great stuff.

How? (elements mix) – just the strings. SUPERB. Like Imagine previously sounds like it could come from some movie  soundtrack, gives the song whole new feeling with just strings, lovely

Imagine (demo) – Fantastic demo with just Lennon on the piano and a ton of echo. The Plastic Ono version of this track

Imagine take 1 – Love this. More hesitant and world weary sounding than the finished take. Sounds more childlike on this take

Crippled Inside take 3 – so clean and laid back. Nice take, the vocals area bit more hesitant than the finished take but instrumentally this take sounds great!

Crippled Inside – take 6 with alt guitar solo – this is where multiple takes can be a bit overkill. Nice take, nice alt solo but I prefer take 3 because it sounds more different from the finished take and is cleaner sounding than this take

Jealous Guy – take 9 – really nice take. Much different feel from the finished version, I may prefer this actually. Reminds me of the alternate version of Across the Universe from The Beatles Anthology disc. Lighter version but nice. Not complete though

It’s So Hard – take 6 – great sounding take  with nice fat bass! Less echo om Lennon’s vocal which is nice actually. Fun listen more bluesy sounding than the finished take.

I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die –  take 11 – more raw take. Sounds interesting but I prefer the finished take. This one is a little more tedious to listen to but okay

Gimme Some Truth – take 4 – nice raw take. Sounds good but not dramatically different than the master but no solo.

Oh My Love – take 6 – lovely, does this song ever sound bad! Nice alt take but very similar to released take. Fun to hear though vocals are rougher

How Do You Sleep? – takes 1 & 2 – nice funkier takes on the song! I like the way Lennon sings on these. Nice, one of the highlights of the out-takes. Take 1 superb, with great Harrison slide work. Says takes 1 & 2 but I only heard one take, take 1

How – take 31 – nice alternate take, again not dramatically different but nice. Softer approach.

Oh Yoko! (Bahamas 1969) – Low-fi demo of just John and Yoko. Charming actually. Nice

Power to the People – take 7 – nice raw version without all the echo of the finished master. Nice, another highlight of the set.

God Save Us – demo – love this demo. Better than the actual master. Typical Lennon demo, unfinished but fun with congas

Do the Oz – take 3 – Yoko version, heavier and funkier. Not much of a track but fun

Happy Xmas (War is Over) (alt mix) – love this mix. No choir but really nice. Lovely stripped down version.

There’s a ton packed into this 2 CD set. I feel there’s more than enough to satisfy even major Lennon fans with just this set. You get the terrific remix plus the various elements and out-takes.

Truth be told I could be just fine with this set but the elements were so enjoyable I’d love to hear more. I have the box on order but this set is so nice I’m not sure if more would be overkill or not. I may just stay with this set but odds are I’ll wonder into overkill territory.

The out-takes actually sound a bit more closed in than the superb remix of the album but are a nice listen. Not sure that the box would be better or a bit too much.

Surprisingly the highlight of Disc 2 was listening to the element mixes of the songs. i really enjoyed hearing just the strings and/or stripped down parts of the songs as it gives a whole new feeling to the music and sounded just beautiful.

TERRIFIC SET!!! One of, if not the best reissues of a classic album I’ve ever heard. The sound throughout is great, no added compression, very respectful of the original vision of the material while making it sound improved and more engaging.

Grade: A+

 

Way Back Machine: 1972 – Shopping with The Partridge Family

Okay, it’s Friday. After such a long contentious week I think it’s time for some lighthearted fun.

Lighthearted fun circa 1972.

Ahhh, the 1970s. Bad clothes, questionable politics but oh such good pop music.

Television also wasn’t so bad from the decade of the big yellow smile either – cheesy, yes, but good.

The place where two of my favorite things from the 1970s collided – cheesy television and good pop music – was The Partridge Family.

I know a lot of people find The Partridge Family to be crassly commercial and strictly teen girl magazine fodder but I’m not one of them.

I find that the pop music created under the banner of The Partridge Family is quite good actually and very well sung by David Cassidy. Of course I was very young and grew up with the music and show as a sweet childhood memory but still to this day I enjoy the lush pop sounds of the fictitious Partridges – a fun way to lighten up a dark day.

Which leads me to this blog post.

I was inspired to write it after browsing through Half Price Books the other day and spotting an old cassette of The Partridge Family “Shopping Bag” album for sale in their cassette bin.

Since the cassette was beat up and looked like the tape may not even play I passed on buying it but decided to take a few photos (see above) as you rarely see old Bell Record cassettes from the 1970s anymore and I thought it might be fun to do a blog on some of the vinyl and CDs I own of this album.

The “Shopping Bag” album came out during the second season of The Partridge Family TV show in March of 1972 and was a best-seller being awarded a gold record and spawning the Top Twenty hit “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)” which to this day remains one of my favorite Partridge tracks ever released.

Now I have to say that even at the time the “Shopping Bag” album was released it seemed to me to sound a bit formulaic but still quite good. Cassidy could sing his hind end off and gave the songs an emotional lift that elevated them beyond their teen appeal.

Looking back though the album has quite a few stronger tracks on it then I remembered including “Am I Losing You” (also released as a single and a minor hit), the lovely “Girl, You Make My Day” (written by Monkees songwriters Boyce and Hart), “Something New Got Old”, “Hello, Hello”, “Every Song is You” and the David Cassidy penned “There’ll Come a Time” which reflected his mixed feelings of being a teen idol with it’s lyrics about being human and not just a circus clown attraction – certainly a much more poignant listen since Cassidy’s death last year as a result of alcoholism.

All in all a very good collection but not quite as strong as the first three albums released under The Partridge Family banner but still worth checking out. Plus the original vinyl pressing actually comes with a plastic shopping bag imprinted with the album artwork on it – what’s not to love lol!

As far as CD releases go there have been three – the first issue on the Razor &Tie reissue label from 1993, an Arista/BMG Heritage reissue CD from 2003 and an imported reissue on the 7t’s Records label from 2013.

The best CD issue in my opinion by far is the first release on the Razor & Tie label. It’s a very good sounding CD and sounds very similar to the original vinyl release – good dynamics and balanced sound.

The other two CD releases sound okay but are much more compressed which makes the bass sound better but you lose a lot of the dynamics and they sound decent only when played a low volume.

Surprisingly my somewhat worn original vinyl copy from the 1970s still sounds pretty darn good I must say! A bit crackly but nice. I usually stick to the Razor & Tie CD if I want to take a dip back into 1972 Partridge land but a good quality vinyl copy of this album is probably the way to listen to this album while you stare at your groovy plastic shopping bag!

Take a gander above at some of my “Shopping Bag” swag and enjoy feasting your eyes on this little trip back in time.

Until we meet again – Have a Nice Day!!!

 

 

So Much to Say … The Monkees “HEAD” – The Movie and The Rhino Handmade Deluxe Box Set (A 50th Anniversary Celebration)

 

“Open your eyes, get up off your chair, there so much to do in the sunlight …” – from “As We Go Along” written by Carole King/Toni Stern and recorded by The Monkees

Today I am continuing my look back at The Monkees “HEAD”, both the film and the soundtrack in celebration if its 50th Anniversary:

The Film

Open your eyes indeed. The Monkees only cinematic creation, the feature film “HEAD”, celebrates its fifth anniversary this year and truth be told is just as confusing and mysterious as when it first premiered in theaters in November of 1968.

For fans of the group the cinematic version of The Monkees was quite a different experience than watching the them on their madcap TV show.

The film “HEAD” encapsulated the surreal and almost nightmarish quality of underground art films while featuring some sublime ’60’s pop/rock music and performances by what was considered at the time as one of the most commercial and safe bands of the era – The Monkees.

The film is a whirlwind of scenes and images that both pay homage yet ridicule at the same time some of the most popular Hollywood film genres of the golden age of film making.

To say that the film is a trip is an understatement.

To me “HEAD” – both the film and its accompanying soundtrack – are much more like a surrealism painting that’s come to life.

For starters “HEAD” has no traditional structure or plot. Instead of a longer version of the television show, “HEAD” consisted of a series of vignettes that featured The Monkees in different places, different times and different movie genres.

Basically the gist of the film is that the four actors who portray The Monkees are trying to escape from this imaginary black box which encases them.

To me the black box represents a brand – The Monkees – that while highly successful creates a stifling environment in which the members are treated like props to be used as cogs in this big Hollywood machinery.

Pop culture mavens have long commented on how “The Monkees” TV series was inspired by avant-garde film techniques but the film “HEAD” is really much more informed by the avant-garde than the television series ever was even taking into account some of the freakier second season TV episodes.

Instead of telling a linear story, the film  “HEAD” features vignettes that create different moods and reactions that end up leaving the viewer experiencing the movie on an emotional level rather than just a visual level.

The film goats the viewer into feeling frustrated, confused, amused, perplexed and entertained all at the same time.

The fact that you can watch this movie a dozen times and still not be able to concretely say what it’s all about speaks to the avant-garde bent the film makers melded into The Monkees project.

“HEAD” also manages to encapsulate the late 1960s counterculture vibe in a much less clichéd way that actually gives the viewer a better time capsule of the era than the typical Hollywood-ized depictions of the 1960s which focus on the stereotypical hippies and flower power slogans that one would see in a print or TV ad.

The film “HEAD” is also one of the first times something very commercial – The Monkees – was analyzed by its own creators and used as a means of jumping off in a new direction of creativity and film-making for that same team.

Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider who created The Monkees TV show and project took the success generated by The Monkees and helped usher in a new era of film-making that stood outside of the old Hollywood system and was grounded more in gritty and real subject matter than traditional Hollywood fare.

Bob Rafelson, co-creator of The Monkees TV show and director of the film, along with screen writer Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) seem to try and expose The Monkees as some sort of fake group much like everything else in Hollywood which is fake, tinsel and disposable.

I’m not sure if Rafelson’s aim was to completely wash his hands of the group but Peter Tork has said in interviews that Rafelson tends to focus on the dark side of life so that does seem probable.

But I don’t think Rafelson really took into account that while yes The Monkees on the one hand are fake – they were created to be a TV show not a group – with the success of the music from the show the group sort of morphed into being a genuine group thus becoming what they pretended to be.

I don’t think the producers and creators of The Monkees took into account the quality of the music produced for the project.

Since they hired other people to produce and create the music – and later the group itself took on that role – they didn’t see the music (at least initially) as anything other than promotion for the show.

But like most quality music produced whether in the 1960s or now, the quality of the music transcends its origins.

It didn’t and doesn’t matter how or why the music was created, the lasting quality of The Monkees music is just as much of a driving force for their continued success as the television show. They both enhance each other and are equally important.

Looking back, the film “HEAD” also seems to appeal to a lot of rock performers as I think they can see their own story.

In the late 1960s being genuine was “hip” and “cool” and not being genuine was lame. BUT dear friends ALL rock groups then and now cultivate an image and try to brand themselves in some way.

The Beatles manager Brian Epstein took them out of leather and put them in suits and cultivated the “Fab Four” cuddly image.

The Rolling Stones cultivated the “anti-Beatles” blues grunge image while all the Motown acts were groomed to be stage performers and their music was part of a large machine created by Barry Gordy that cranked out hits featuring a stable of songwriters and studio musicians.

Even Elvis, the “King” himself, was branded and Hollywood-ized into a product to be consumed by a mass audience.

Music is and always was “show business”. There’s a lot of fake aspects to most musical acts but in the end its the music that was created which either stands the test of time or it doesn’t.

So the fact that The Monkees had their origins on the TV screen, one of the most divisive things about the group at the time, matters little when looked through the lens of 21st Century entertainment where everything is a brand and everything has become a product.

What the film “HEAD” portrays – the Hollywood effect on entertainers where they are manipulated and controlled – is the by product of all fame no matter what genre – be it music, film or now politics.

The film “HEAD” was just more honest and took an artistic and avant-garde way of peeking behind the curtain of The Monkees project in a way that actually endures The Monkees project to future generations rather then tear it down.

The film “HEAD” and the morphing of the group from television show to real performers is what makes The Monkees so interesting and so relevant today.

It’s amusing that at the end of the film The Monkees are carried away in a tank of water on a truck driven to be filed in the prop department at Columbia Pictures.

Little did the film makers realize at the time but The Monkees never would stay on the shelf and be forgotten like the props from a TV show – they live on like Frankenstein’s monster only to live again and again!

The Soundtrack

The soundtrack to the movie “HEAD” is also a unique and interesting thing itself.

Put together and sequenced by the the film’s writer Jack Nicholson, the soundtrack album creates a separate yet equally mystifying listening experience that mirrors the oddness and beauty of the film itself.

Dialogue from the film is liberally sprinkled through out the soundtrack which gives the listener a rather trippy and odd listen as most people who bought the record never saw the film and have no context for what the dialogue represents.

Yet the dialogue does convey the same subtle message that film does – there’s manipulation going on and who’s putting on who?

It also doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack contains six of the best songs The Monkees ever recorded: “Porpoise Song (Theme from “HEAD”), “Circle Sky”, “Can You Dig It?”, “As We Go Along”, “Daddy Song” and “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again”.

For anyone who is really interested in all things Monkee or all things “HEAD” related the best and most complete representation of the “HEAD” soundtrack is the terrific three CD Deluxe box set that was released online in 2010 by Rhino Handmade, a division of Rhino Records who owns The Monkees catalog.

Not only does this box set feature every possible version and mix (both mono and stereo) and demo of songs from the film but it also includes some really tasty outtakes from the “HEAD” recording sessions and filming.

Chief among these outtakes are live 1968 recordings of The Monkees that were recorded in Salt Lake City while filming the “Circle Sky” segment of the film.

This short live set features lovely and searing versions of “You Just May Be the One”, “Sunny Girlfriend”, “You Told Me” and “Circle Sky”.

While a bit rough and crude, the vocals were recorded too low, it’s nonetheless a very exciting and lively recording that illustrates just how powerful and grungy the band sounded live playing as a foursome.

There’s also a really fun 22 minute session excerpt of all four Monkees being directed by Rafelson and Nicholson to record the “Ditty Diego” chant.

Three CDs may seem like overkill for the small number of songs that are a part of the soundtrack but really as a fan it’s fun to hear all the alternate takes and mixes just maybe not all at once. It’s really nice to have them but I usually don’t play them back to back but cherry pick from the set.

As per usual take a glance above at photos of the Rhino Handmade box set.

This box set, like all of the Deluxe Rhino Handmade sets, is the definitive look at the “HEAD” soundtrack and recordings and is a must to try and track down if your at all a fan of this Monkees album or film.

If you’ve never dipped your toes into the waters of the film “HEAD” or its soundtrack you must seek them down and give it a whirl. Just don’t expect the same Monkees experience from the TV show and you’ll find yourself digging a whole new Monkees vibe!

Until next time, be well and enjoy the onset of Fall this week!

(Note: There’s a brand new Monkees album being released in three weeks – The Monkees “Christmas Party” – more on that soon!!!)

 

 

 

 

Whiter Than White – Three Shades of “The BEATLES” (White Album)

 

 

When this year began, I mentioned that throughout the year I would post some blogs celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles landmark “White Album.”

Well now that the year is almost over I decided to hop to it and finally share some posts about a few of the different copies of the White Albums I have in my collection.

Now as most rabid Beatle fans know there will be a super nice (and expensive I’m sure) White Album box set coming out probably in November of this year which will feature all sorts of goodies like outtakes, remixes and who knows what else.

So until that collection comes out and possibly readdresses the best sounding version of the album, I thought it might be nice to take a look at some of the best sounding versions of “The BEATLES” I own.

(Note: the album is actually just called “The BEATLES” but its nickname of the “White Album” has become so prevalent that it’s now mainly known by that name but I’ll refer to it both ways.)

Today I am featuring two of my favorite White Albums: one vinyl and one CD and both stereo versions. I’m also throwing in a first pressing U.S. vinyl copy of the White Album I acquired earlier this year not because its the best sounding but because it’s in great shape and fun to see.

In my opinion out of all the vinyl pressings you may find of The BEATLES (White Album) the best in terms of quality of sound would have to go to the 1978 UK white vinyl pressing.

This pressing is superb and I think sounds so clear and so vibrant that it easily takes the top spot of all the pressings I own.

Don’t get me wrong,  a first pressing UK regular black vinyl issue is right up there neck and neck with the white vinyl pressing from 1978 but there’s just something special about the sound of the 1978 pressing that makes it stand out from all the others.

And I happened to stumble on a really beautiful condition copy of the white vinyl issue (see photos above) a couple of years ago at a record show. The dealer must not have known what he had as he only charged me $40 for it and it goes for well above that most places online as its sought after by collectors for its sound and is relatively rare these days.

My other favorite way to listen to The BEATLES (White Album), if I’m listening to a CD version, is the first pressing numbered CD issue that came out in 1987.

I just love the sound of the original 1987 mastering as its not as pumped up with bass as the 2009 remaster CD and just sounds right – lovely, nice bass and sounds near the first UK vinyl pressing in terms of dynamics.

I like the 2009 remaster but tend to reach for the 1987 CD whenever I’m in the mood for listening to the stereo version of the White Album.

(Note 2: For the mono version hands down the 2009 mono CD wins but that’s not a part of this blog post so never mind lol.)

And lastly take a look at the beautiful U.S. Apple numbered pressing copy of the White Album (also see above) I got just this year. It has the song “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” listed as just “Bungalow Bill” which indicates a first issue label but also has a higher number on the cover which is almost 2 million.

I’m guessing the cover and album are both first pressings as the album sold in vast quantities but I thought the first issue labels were found with lower numbers but who knows if it was switched over the past fifty years or so – still a very lovely copy.

And the cover is actually still pretty white as most U.S. pressing get very grimy and dirty over the years but this is is still in really nice shape!

As for sound, I’ll never say a U.S. pressing is the best listening experience for this album as British copies beat it hands down, but this U.S. copy does actually sound pretty nice.

So take a gander at some of the photos above!

As usual you’ll see hype stickers (the person who had the UK white vinyl pressing actually kept the hype sticker yay!!!) and the CD longbox for the 1987 CD issue as I’m a pack rat with music and love to see them as most people threw them away.

More on more versions of the White Album soon!

Until next time be well and TTFN!!!