Fifty years ago this month.  Can you believe it was all those years ago that a quartet known for snappy hits and on-stage chemistry came out of the studio with facial hair and unleashed a number one album that would change our perception about them forever?

What’s that, you say?  The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper June 1st?  I’m referring to “Headquarters” by The Monkees. The “pre-fab four” had already posted a pair of #1 albums in 1967 (“The Monkees” and “More of the Monkees”)…but were burdened with the image as a group that didn’t write their material (mostly true) and didn’t play any of their instruments (almost completely true).  This was hardly a unique practice; the Beach Boys used “the Wrecking Crew” to craft most of the backing tracks to “Pet Sounds” and popular TV shows generated albums like “Bonzana: Christmas on the Ponderosa”.  But according to a music press that was beginning to think of itself as reporters of legitimate art, a TV show about musicians releasing an album where the musicians didn’t play their instruments rang false.

That changed with their third album.  Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike doubled down on their hit TV show (that would eventually win the Emmy for Best Comedy) and demanded musical input.  After the dismissal of Donnie Kirshner as their musical director, they had the studio to themselves and brought in former Turtles bassist Chip Douglas to produce.  Faced with the challenge of blending four completely different musical styles (Micky-California rock, Mike-country rock, Peter-folk rock, Davy-Broadway) and a drummer who was still learning (they often had to edit multiple takes by Micky to generate acceptable tracks), they produced a hidden gem.

Headquarters didn’t have any hit singles (although “Shades of Gray” received a ton of airplay and “Randy Scouse Git” was released in the UK as “Alternate Title”)…but went to #1 the week before the Beatles buried the Monkees with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.   One was a record of its time while the other would become a record for all time.

The success of “Headquarters” was both the best and worst thing that could have happened to the Monkees.  It proved that they could piece together an album of their material that they played on…but it also gave them creative control that convinced them to proceed in their separate directions.  “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.” would be released that fall under the production of Douglas and even though they played all of their instruments on just one track (the Harry Nilsson-penned “Cuddly Toy”) PACJ felt like a unified musical effort.  They chose to produce their next LP and “The Birds, Bees & The Monkees” would seem more like multiple solo records instead of one album with four voices.  Combined with the cancellation of their TV series, the run of four straight #1 albums in ’67 ended with Birds & Bees charting at #3.  Future LP’s would chart at #45, #32, #100 and #152 with band members leaving:  Peter first in 1968 and then Mike in 1969 before Micky & Davy finally called it a day after “Changes” in 1970.

The Monkees went from rags to riches to rags in the span of five years…before eventually becoming a pretty productive nostalgia act in the 80’s.  But for one shining moment they went toe-to-toe with the greats of the era…producing music on their own terms and holding their heads high.  Hey, hey…

 

 

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