Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rant #613: Go to the "Head" of the Class

Yes, I know that Joe Frazier died. He was a monumental boxer, and in his own way, helped change America. Frazier was a legend, and he will be missed.

And yes, I know that Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. Well, you just knew that someone would be blamed for this, rather than the singer himself. Even in the court of law, evidently no one is responsible for his own craziness. I wonder that if Jackson were alive, would he have been brought in for hiring this doctor to administer to him drugs that are normally found only in doctors' offices? I guess we will never know.

And yes, the Beach Boys' monumental "Smile" LP has finally been released. More a document of its time than a straight reissue, it is nonetheless, a must album for anyone who is interested in rock and roll as we know it.

That moves me to a straight reissue that came out last week. It is also a monumental recording, and while it has been re-released several times, this newest issue came out on high-grade vinyl.

The Monkees' "Head" soundtrack album, like "Smile," is a document of its time. It was 1968, things were changing fast, and the Beatles had moved from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "The End" in a "Magical Mystery Tour" that would screech to a halt just two years later.

The world of cinema was also changing. Using French "New Wave" moviemakers as a touchstone, American filmmakers were starting to push the envelope. New freedoms were being realized, and starting in 1968, just about anything was game.

Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson helped to created the Monkees in 1966, and by doing so, brought the first long hairs to network television. They weren't rapists, murderers, druggies or bums. They were literally the kids next door, and Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz fit those roles perfectly. They even became a real band, and in 1967, the so-called Summer of Love, they outsold the flowery Beatles and Rolling Stones combined.

But this was 1968. The wheels were falling off the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" pretty quickly. Their popular show had surprisingly been cancelled, and a segueway to the big screen was inevitable.

So came "Head."

Written, or really, pieced together by then fledgling actor Jack Nicholson after a weekend binge with the boys, the movie served as a death knoll for the Pre-Fab Four as pop idols and also ripped apart not only rock and roll, but moviemaking at the same time.

It took on everybody and everything in Hollywood, and stands as one of the strangest, and most dead-on, movies about Tinseltown that has ever been committed to celluloid.

The problem was that the Monkees' pre-teen audience didn't get it. This was way beyond them. And it was one of the first movies to garner a rating, and it was "M", which back then, made it something like an "R" rated movie is today. Kids aren't supposed to see those types of movies.

And for hipsters, I mean, it was the Monkees, not the Beatles, and not even an appearance by ultra-hip Frank Zappa could save this film.

The movie flopped, and was destined to fade into the mist with the Monkees themselves.

As we all know, that didn't happen. The Monkees have lived on in one form or another as one of the most popular rock groups of all time. The show is also a document of the times, constantly rerun and repackaged for home video viewing. It was recently re-released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the boxed set celebrating the films of Schneider and Rafelson.

And the movie has had more than nine lives, becoming one of the all-time cult classics of that exciting, bewildering era. I mean, it was released the year that both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. That was some year!

Anyway, the soundtrack to that movie has been re-released again by Rhino Records on high-grade vinyl. I received it in the mail the other day, and WOW!, what a re-release it is.

It is every bit as good as the various CD releases of the soundtrack that have been in the marketplace in the past. Its nooks and crannies are still there, but the sound quality is superb, even better than a CD.

The Monkees perform just six songs, but they are among the best songs the group ever recorded. In between are various soundbites that make the album sort of a aural stew rather than a traditional soundtrack.

"Porpoise Song" might be the greatest psychedlic pop number ever recorded. This Carole King song, sung to perfection by Micky Dolenz, is both rhythmic and daring at the same time, and you just can't get the song out of your head once you hear it.

Jack Nicholson, who also put the album together, pulled a switch here, because the shorter version of the song is on the LP. The longer version is actually on the original single. But the album version holds up as the better of the two.

"Circle Sky" is perhaps the greatest mix of rock and roll and country that there has ever been. The power of the Mike Nesmith song is felt throughout, abetted by appearances by Neil Young and Ry Cooder.

It is a real stomper, and once again, Nicholson fooled us, using the studio version to the far superior live--all Monkees--version. But the song is still fantastic.

"Can You Dig It" is a song of its time, and once again, Micky's vocals stand out, and actually bring the song to another level. Its use of Indian rhythms was certainly influenced by George Harrison's delvings at the time, and it is a great tune, as written by Peter Tork.

Side two opens with "As We Go Along," which pretty much explains the entire movie in a couple of minutes' time. Micky sounds like Grace Slick on this tune, and it is also one of his best vocal performances.

Then we have "Daddy's Song," a cover of a Harry Nilsson tune that is Davy Jones' showcase on the LP. Nicholson fools us again, using a different track on the LP than is featured in the film.

Finally, we have "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again," a true rave-up that, like "As We Go Along," sums up the entire film. Peter Tork stands out here as both a writer and singer, certainly his best performance as a Monkee.

What an LP! And yes, it comes with its original mirror cover--get it? "Head"--you become the cover when you look at it.

Rhino's re-release comes with a bonus single, a different, live version of "Circle Sky" and a killer version of "Can You Dig It" with a Peter Tork vocal.

Whew! What a record.

If "Head" is not the greatest rock and roll movie of all time, it is right up among the best, and its soundtrack is a testament to that.

It is that good, and this new re-release is a must have for rock and roll fans of any ilk.

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