‘Head’ trip: Monkees’ weird movie returns

psychedelic monkees movie artworkDerided as the Monkees’ “Magical Misery Tour,” the movie “Head” brought fans the commercial suicide of the Prefab Four. Right there in the opening scene.

That curious and notorious 1968 movie returns this fall, with a new Blu-ray and a CD box set celebrating the group’s lone venture into filmmaking and psychedelia.

Asked today why “Head” retains a cult status four decades later, drummer Micky Dolenz says with a grin: “There’s no accounting for taste”

The movie, a non-linear bomb, was directed by Bob Rafelson, who went on to make “Five Easy Pieces” and “The King of Marvin Gardens” with another “Head” collaborator, Jack Nicholson.

Freed of NBC and the demands of weekly pop stardom, the band fell in with the psychedelic vibe of 1968.

Early on in the movie, the band sing-songs, “Hey, hey we are the Monkees/you know we love to please/our manufactured image/with no philosophy” — dumping on the TV theme song that introduced the fresh young actors to the nation only two years before.

The Criterion Collection will include “Head” on its Nov. 23 release of “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story” box set, along with the Rafelson films above and “Easy Rider.” (The BBS refers to Rafelson and his partners Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner. Rafelson and Schneider created the Monkees.)

Meanwhile, Rhino Handmade, the specialty unit of the Rhino WEA label, resurrects the soundtrack of “Head” with a three-disc boxed set due in late October. (text continues below)

Originally six Monkee songs and a batch of sonic clips (“I’d like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it, please.”), the new version of the soundtrack packs in 21 previously unreleased tracks, outtakes, rarities, and live performances. There’s also a live set from the spring of 1968 and a contemporary radio interview with singer Davy Jones.

While the movie proved plenty strange, predictably the original six “Head” songs were in line with the relatively tame psychedelic songs that were finding a mainstream audience in ’68.

They were “Porpoise Song,” the movie theme written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King; Michael Nesmith’s hard rocker “Circle Sky”; Peter Tork’s “Can You Dig It”; Harry Nilsson’s “Daddy’s Song,” performed by David Jones; and “As We Go Along,” a track penned by Carole King and Toni Stern, and sung by Micky Dolenz.

monkees psychedelic movie imageThe Monkees started playing their own instruments on 1967’s album “Headquarters,” to some fanfare and confusion. For “Head,” they continued to play, supported by artists such as Ry Cooder, Leon Russell, Neil Young, Jack Nitzsche, Danny Kortchmar and Dewey Martin.

None of the “Head” songs found a radio audience, but taken as a whole they hold up well in the new century. Monkees haters could find their minds expanded by this set — or at least its original six tracks.

The “Head” movie last was released on DVD in 1998. Rhino produced via its theatrical unit, still riding the success of its wholesale release of the Monkees catalog four years earlier. A few years back, Rhino created collectors editions of the Monkees’ first four albums, “Head” not among them until now.

Dolenz, in a promotional interview for the new releases explains “Head” as “a deconstruction not only of the Monkees but how people perceived them.” Helpfully, he points out that the bit where the Monkees play dandruff in the hair of actor Victor Mature is “obviously very metaphorical, about the new generation.”

The actor speaks of the Monkees in the same breath with the Beatles and Dylan, adding to the surrealism.

Among the guests in “Head” were Frank Zappa, who wrangles a cow, and boxer Sonny Liston.

We can neither confirm nor deny reports that any sequel to the movie was to be promoted as “from the producers who gave you ‘Head.’ ”

(If you order the BBS Blu-ray set from Criterion, use the promo code rhino.)


  1. “Head” is one of the greatest, most strange movies every made. They threw in everything but the kitchen sink here (oh, yes, the bathroom sink is in the movie), and came away with one of those movies that you can’t just watch once; you must watch it seven or eight times, and I guarantee that each time, you will see something different.

    The soundtrack is excellent. It plays almost like a bootleg, with brief soundbites and sound effects interspersed with the music, which, in my estimation, was the best that the Monkees ever created.

    A terrific followup to this film is the Monkees’ TV special, “33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee”, which touches on the same theme(s).

  2. I wholly agree with Larry Lapka, the movie is brilliant. I never watch it once. It’s been called “self-indulgent” but riddle me this: in the field of “entertainment” why is a “self-indulgence” that is so incessantly entertaining considered by so many a failure? In that sense it’s the most successful “psychedelic” movie ever made.

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