When Two Wrongs Make a Wrong, Right? The Monkees Tour With Hendrix and Make an Acid Album

 

monkeeshendrix monkees

It’s 1967, and the hottest touring band in the country is the television show band, the Monkees. Desperate to show their chops as real musicians, they embark on a Summer of Love tour showing off their talents—manning the drums, guitars, bass and keyboards themselves. In an attempt to further reinforce their credibility, they engaged the little known (in America) Jimi Hendrix Experience as the opening act. In retrospect, it is easy to ask: “Who in blazes thought this was a good idea?”  A testament to the efficacy of LSD on decision making has to be considered as a strong possibility here. And although this sounds like the beginnings of a fake Onion article, this in fact is exactly what happened.

 

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Mickey Dolenz  and Peter Tork had attended Monterey Pop in the spring of 1967, and like most who attended, dropped acid, and were blown away by Hendrix’s astounding pyrotechnic performance. Mike Nesmith had heard Hendrix in England earlier in the year, so 3/4 of the band were huge fans already. The tour started in July 1967 and Hendrix was on board for seven shows, ending in NYC. The Monkees show featured liquid light psychedelic projections, one of the first touring bands to have this. They also used screens onstage to project scenes of them playing, goofing around and some civil rights era protest footage, predating this common current concert feature by a good three decades.  While for a limited twisted few this would be a dream line up, fans were generally horrified. Most Monkees fans needed parental chaperoning for the show, and Moms and Dads of 1967 were completely unprepared to deal with a rainbow coated blisteringly loud Negro humping the air with a phallic Stratocaster. Chants of ‘WE WANT THE MONKEES!” were often heard,  the only time that Hendrix was ever flushed from the stage. But it is easy to see how Purple Haze and Wild Thing would be too much for establishment parents. The story that Hendrix was thrown off the tour after the Daughters of the American Revolution complained was an invention of a European rock writer, but much repeated through time and reported as fact for years. In retrospect, this wasn’t as bad an idea as it seems now, for Hendrix brought them needed respect, and the Monkees brought him needed US exposure.

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Building on their attempt to gain credibility with the main rock scene, In late 1967 the Monkees had another plan, a film and album that showed their budding psychedelic attributes. They had worn black armbands onstage in London to protest the arrest of Jagger and Richards, and had some elite rock stars as fans that were willing to help them out: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Brian Jones, Eric Clapton and the Who were fans. If they had convinced the rock royalty of the UK that they were cool, how hard would it be to convince America?

 

Head_film_posterMonkees-Head

Production began in 1968 on the film Head. This movie had its origins in stoned meetings between the band and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson had just come from the psychedelic film The Trip with Peter Fonda, and took the tape recorded ramblings of stoned Monkees, dropped more acid,  and turned it into a free flowing script that was about……nothing? Change? Free Will? No one really could tell as it was filmed in the stream of consciousness style that was popular at the time with critics and acid heads and pretty much no one else. Frank Zappa made a guest appearance. In the accompanying soundtrack album (used to be insanely rare lp until reissued in the 80s) the Monkees did their best to deliver some material that was not only their best but could stand with some of the strongest tunes from anyone of the era. The Porpoise Song written by Goffin/King, Circle Sky by Nesmith and Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? by Tork are the three strongest songs, and though ignored by critics, still sound fresh today. The band manned all of the instruments for this whole album, and lambasted their own career as puppets on the song Ditty Diego-War Chant:

 

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies.

You say we’re manufactured.
To that we all agree.
So make your choice and we’ll rejoice
in never being free!

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
We’ve said it all before
The money’s in, we’re made of tin
We’re here to give you more!
The money’s in, we’re made of tin
We’re here to give you…

Written by Nicholson, each verse was sung by a different Monkee. In one song, the band essentially disavowed every single thing they had done up to this point, declaring war on the industry that had manufactured them. In the late 1960’s, credibility and integrity was what was desirable in the changing values the psychedelic era had brought to America. Fame and money were now secondary. But this level of candor was troubling for most of their fans. In the long run, they effectively destroyed their careers in one fell swoop. The teeny boppers that had brought them riches were horrified and positively freaked  at this blast of adult psychedelic honesty. The Monkees had gone weird. And the intended audience? Established psychedelic hipsters would not touch the Monkees with a proverbial ten foot pole. It was viewed as a pathetic attempt to cash in on the movement. Everyone abandoned the band at once.

Looking back, it is hard to blame the Monkees for trying to shed the saccharine image that coated everything they did. They didn’t write songs, didn’t play instruments, and often had back up singers to reinforce them in the studio. Nothing was theirs. So this was a reaction to the times to become a creative force and participate in the revolution. You have to admire a band that is willing to risk it all, and ended up alienating every single fan or potential fan they hoped to gain.  If you can find the album Head, let me assure you that it is highly worth the time, and may become an odd but treasured part of your collection. And although the above story is one of the coolest and weirdest psychedelic moments lost to time, the album is definitely one of the top lost gems of 1968. And it is Zappa approved.

 

 

 

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