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…

 

 

When the Nationals begin their nine-game roadtrip, they’ll do so after flying cross-country and with less than 24 hours between their homestand finale and their roadswing opener.  Usually the west coast swing is something to be feared;  the Nats have dealt with many a nightmare series on the Pacific coast over the last few years.  This year they’re facing two sub-500 teams (Oakland and San Francisco) before visiting a Los Angeles Dodgers team that’s in the playoff hunt (a game and a half behind Colorado in the NL West) and just beginning to get hot (eight wins in their last ten games).  Could the ship that’s 13-11 this month (6-7 on the road) find itself flat-footed as the Braves and Mets gain ground?  Eight and a half games is a wide margin to have…especially on Memorial Day.  But the lead has been in this neighborhood the last few weeks.  Who’s worried?

Woe are the O’s- the Nats’ interleague neighbors to the north are in the middle of a freefall:  seven straight losses (where they’re getting outscored 26-17) and a 3-13 mark that started when they blew a late-inning lead at Nationals Park.  Chris Davis is especially troubled, hitting 3-for-36 since April 19th with 20 strikeouts in that span.  The slide drops them below Boston and four and  half games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East.  The Pinstripes (who look like they’re more than just a passing fad) come to Camden Yards this week.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .429 with 4 homers and 9 RBI…while Trea Turner batted .320 after struggling at the plate for a big chunk of the season.  The one-two combination of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg did not disappoint against the Padres, with Max striking out 13 over eight and two-thirds innings Friday-only to be bested by Strasburg’s 15 K’s the next day.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo went .154 last week…and while nobody’s expecting a ton of offense from the infielder, they are expecting production from Daniel Murphy and he hit .154 last week before missing a few games.  Hopefully the illness that’s kept him on the shelf has passed.  Joe Ross benefited from run support in one start (10 runs) and allowed 5 runs over 4 innings in his other outing.  Jacob Turner also had a rough week, serving up a homer to Nelson Cruz in their series with Seattle.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nationals face San Francisco with Max Scherzer elevating his game (opponents are hitting .179 against Max this month).  Matt Cain went 2-0 against the Nats last year…tossing ten scoreless innings.  Even with the 10:15 pm start time and an early schedule the next morning on WTOP, this is one to stay up for.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Gio Gonzales pitches against Jeff Samardzija, who has a 1-6 record with an ERA of 4.50.  It’s also the night the season finale of “The Americans” airs on FX.  Does the Russian youth commit suicide?  Is Stan Beeman’s girlfriend KGB, CIA or just mysterious?  What will the Mail Robot do?  Forgive me, Gio.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Sir Roger Moore wasn’t the first actor to play James Bond, but the charming gentleman turned out to be the longest-tenured–and for a generation was the 007 they grew up watching.  In an era before VHS, this was the Bond you saw in the theater and heavily edited for television on ABC.  His was the voice you heard if you read the books.  And unlike Connery who publicly chafed at being typecast in the series, Moore proudly wore the tuxedo and basked in the 007 spotlight.

In the aftermath of Sir Roger’s passing, one looks at his body of work as James Bond.  He came to the role in the early 1970’s when the producers had already tried to recast 007 with an unknown, with less than desirable results (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” grossed less than the previous four films in the series).  Connery returned for “Diamonds Are Forever”, but it was clear he would never return to the role (see the 1983 film “Never Say Never Again”).  For a while in this stretch American (gasp!) actors were considered to take the role of the British super-spy…let’s just say the series could have gone in several different directions at the time.

Moore brought a fresh face (despite being three years older than Connery, Roger looked about ten years younger than Sean in 1973) and a certain style to the role.  If one compares the two, Connery was more of a between the tackles fullback type of 007 while Moore was a graceful halfback on the perimeter.  Sean provided power, while Roger fielded finesse.  One made the easy things look hard, while the other made the hard things look easy.  But both got the job done.

The new direction of the series followed the lead of its lead actor, from a grittier series laden with gadgets and the occasional witty aside to gadgets, asides, bigger sets and lighter moments with the occasional grit.  It was probably a smart move to create a different Bond that wouldn’t have to compete with Sean Connery’s shadow.  And Moore would wind up surpassing his friend in tenure and movies made (7 “official” films to Connery’s 6).

The actor who plays James Bond is often at the mercy of his material;  it’s tough to make ice cream out of garbage (although I’m sure Q has a gadget somewhere which does that).  It took a while for the series to hit its stride with Roger Moore in the role:  “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun” both feel more like “thermometer films” (reflecting Blaxploitation and Kung Fu movies of the day) than “thermostat films”.  “The Spy Who Loved Me”  brought big Bond back in spades- and while “Moonraker” made more money and “For Your Eyes Only” was a better film, this is the quintessential Moore movie (his “Goldfinger”, as it were).  After trying to play off “Star Wars” with “Moonraker”, 007 came back to earth with “For Your Eyes Only”.  It’s a shame that wasn’t Sir Roger Moore’s exit from the role, because it would have been a great way to go out.

Initially that was supposed to be his final bow, but Sean Connery returning to a role he said he’d never take again in “Never Say Never Again” forced the producers to cough up an offer Sir Roger Moore couldn’t refuse for “Octopussy”.  He’d even return for “A View to a Kill”, which was a great song that deserved a much better movie.

So without further ado–ranking Roger’s 007 turns as 007…:

 

7–The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974.  These ratings are fluid, and I keep on rotating the bottom three depending on my moods of the day.  From Lulu’s up-tempo song to sheriff J.W. Pepper’s unwelcome cameo, this feels like a bad remake of “Live and Let Die”.  And there’s no big battle at the end, just Bond and the villain running around a funhouse.  Even more dated than Moore’s outfits:  the energy crisis subplot.  Raised Eyebrow:  the gun is the original “transformer”, made of a pen, lighter and cigarette case.  Rolled Eyes: Tatoo from “Fantasy Island” is a henchman.  “Da Plane!”.

6–A View to a Kill, 1985.  The series was running on fumes, and having a 58-year old play the ultimate action hero is not the way to provide pep.  Christopher Walken and Grace Jones were bright spots in an otherwise lame film.  Tanya Roberts is a less than awesome Bond Girl.  And playing the Beach Boys made casting Timothy Dalton a good idea for 15 minutes. Raised Eyebrow:  Duran Duran delivers one of the best songs of the series.  Rolled Eyes:  there was a dog-robot at the end.  Honestly.

5–Moonraker, 1979.  Ripped for being rather juvenile, but it tries to be bigger than Golden Gun and features a younger Moore which gives it the edge over the previous two films.  It’s basically “The Spy Who Loved Me”, but in outer space.  Michael Lonsdale is a decent villain, but Jaws with a girlfriend takes whatever terror he provided out of the equation.  Bonus points for the late Bernard Lee’s last turn as M.  Raised Eyebrow:  there’s a fantastic fight in a glass factory, and another one on an aerial tramway in Rio.  Rolled Eyes: there’s also a gondola chase in Venice that ends with the gondola becoming a hovercraft.

 

4–Live and Let Die, 1973.  They wrote the script not knowing who would be 007, just with the instructions of keeping things light like they did in “Diamonds Are Forever”.  The Tarot Card motif is pretty cool and there are a few car and boat chases, plus an alligator farm.  And the theme song!  The lack of Bond identity hurts this film, and J.W. Pepper as a redneck sheriff is cute if you happen to be 8 years old.  Raised Eyebrow:  007’s race across a back of alligators.  Rolled Eyes: the villain blows up like a balloon at the end.

 

3–Octopussy, 1983.  Many view this entry as one part 60’s seriousness combined with one part 70’s fluff.  There’s  a yo-yo saw to add tension, but also 007 swinging and shouting like Tarzan.  Louis Jourdan makes a solid villain, and it’s nice to actually see Roger Moore hit on a woman his own age (or at least within two decades).  A sassy pre-credits sequence gets things going and there’s another countdown to armegeddon 007 has to foil.  Lamest theme song of the series.  Raised Eyebrow:  the train ride to the US base.  Rolled Eyes:  Q joining 007 for a raid on the villain’s lair.

2–The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977.  Hold on–that year had Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit and this movie???  Basically a riff off “You Only Live Twice”, but when you haven’t had a “traditional caper” checking all of the boxes in ten years the heart grows fond for a little formula.  Precisely the movie I wish they’d let Daniel Craig make, instead of what amount to four origin stories.  From the world in danger to a great ski chase, from a well-written villain to a big battle, Moore never did it better.  Raised Eyebrow:  the pre-credits ski chase was the best of the decade…and Carly Simon’s theme song answers the challenge.  Rolled Eyes: first appearance by Victor Tourjansky  in the series as “guy who is drinking during a 007 car/gondola/ski chase and double-checks his bottle to make sure he can believe his eyes”. 

1– For Your Eyes Only, 1981.  Probably next to “From Russia With Love” as the best Cold War tale in the entire series.  An older, wearier Bond has more than a few tough moments.  Moore has a good cast to work with, the action scenes are realistic and the gadgets don’t get in the way of a good story.  For those who wanted the perfect mix of seriousness and commercial appeal, I refer to 007 late in the film: “That’s détente, comrade:  you don’t have it…and I don’t have it.”  Raised Eyebrows:  the villain tries to kill 007 by running him over the reefs.  Rolled Eyes:  the pre-credits sequence starts strong but slides into silliness.  The 70’s weren’t over just yet.

 

 

 

It’s good to be in the NL East.  Instead of falling back in a hotly contested race after losing 4 of 6 on a road trip, the Nationals remain seven games ahead of Atlanta.  The bats that were so hot in April are hitting just .243 in May, yet the team still stands atop the majors in runs scored.  The bullpen resembles a poorly wrapped cigar (reliever’s ERA ranks 29th in the majors), yet the Nationals own the fourth best record and fifth best run differential in the game.  Sometimes hiccups are uncomfortable…but right now they aren’t deadly.

Concerns for Starters- four of the top five pitches per start in the NL belong to Nationals pitchers:  Tanner Roark is tops with Max Scherzer ranking second; Gio Gonzalzez is fourth while Stephen Strasburg is fifth.  Thank Jon Lester for breaking up the quartet.  If Koda Glover can keep up his consistency (four earned runs allowed in 13 innings over 15 appearances) and stay healthy (he’s already done a stint on the DL due to his hip)?  If he can make the ninth inning safe, that allows a lot of flexibility for manager Dusty Baker.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .400 with 3 homers while leading the team in runs scored and RBI.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 innings.  His 11-K performance against Atlanta not only ended a four game losing streak, but was his highest total since May 24th of last year.  Koda Glover as mentioned is closing well at the moment (one save over two games, allowing three hits over 2.1 innings).

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner each hit under .200 for the week.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The team also made five errors over its three game series with the Pirates.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats host San Diego…with Stephen Strasburg facing his former hometown team.  Stras is coming off his best performance in almost one calendar year, and even though they no longer play the Rick Astley-inspired “fan behavior” video on Fridays, it’s cool to remember those times.

Game to Miss- Sunday the starter is “TBA”.  The opponent is the Padres.  It’s a 1:35 start (when it might be warm outside).  And it being Memorial Day Weekend, the pools are open and “The Dirty Dozen” is being broadcast somewhere on cable.  Cook up the hot dogs…

Rain interrupted the Nationals inter-league series with the Orioles last week…while their bullpen is weighing down their 2017 hopes.  The relief corps less than one-quarter into the season has already blown 8 save opportunities (they had 14 blown saves in all of 2016) and owns the fourth worst ERA in the majors.  Initial closer Blake Treinen has watched his ERA balloon to 8.10…and he’s not the most flammable arm coming out in the late innings (Joe Blanton’s holding strong at 9.49).  Look no further than last years San Francisco Giants:  they owned the best record at midseason before 30 blown saves turned them into a wildcard club…and the pen came back one more time to bite them in a Game 4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It’s only May…but a leaky pen usually gets worse before it gets better.  Buckle up…it could wind up being a very bumpy summer.

Dissecting the Division– after taking two of three from Philadelphia, the Nats are seven and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East.  They’re the only team over .500 in the quintet…and the only team with even a .500 win over the last ten games is the oft-injured New York Mets.  Will a race that never starts be a help or a hindrance for a team focused on producing in October?

Oh My Goodness- after coming to Nats Park and chanting “OH” during the anthem, Orioles fans find themselves saddled with a four game losing streak and a much tighter AL East.  They’re a half game behind the Yankees (who own the best run differential in the bigs) and three and a half games ahead of Boston in the East.  All this, while ranking 17th in MLB in scoring and 25th in opponent’s batting average.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .417 with 3 homers and 7 RBI while inking a 21+ million dollar contract for next season.  Did we mention he delivered a walk-off homer in Saturday’s win?  Michael A. Taylor homered twice, with both blasts coming in huge spots of wins over the Orioles and Phillies.  Matt Albers tossed three scoreless innings over four appearances, notching a win in relief as well.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman hit .136 from the cleanup spot while Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner also batted under .200 for the week.  Shawn Kelley’s 20.25 ERA over two appearances let Enny Romero’s 7.71 fly under the radar.

Game to Watch- Saturday in Atlanta Max Scherzer meets Bartolo Colon in a duel for the ages.  Meaning that the Braves pitcher is 43 years old and has enjoyed a career that actually lasted longer than the life of the Braves’ former home Turner Field (1997-2016).  After two starts where Scherzer was let down by either his offense or his bullpen, Max may be looking to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of win #5.  Colon is 1-4 with an ERA of 7.22…and may be one or two starts away from Jeremy Guthrie territory.

Game to Miss- Wednesday in Pittsburgh the Nats will trot out “TBD”, meaning they’ll be calling up somebody from the minors or having Jacob Turner on the mound against hard-luck Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.  Either way, I’m watching “The Americans” from the previous night because I can’t justify preempting a Stephen Strasburg start.

Thanks, Major League Baseball.  You’ve scheduled the annual interleague showdown between the Nationals and Orioles for early May.  A week where the Capitals are playing Pittsburgh in the NHL Playoffs and the very same week where the Wizards have all the momentum in their second round series with Boston.  Don’t they know the history of the teams inside the beltway?  If MLB had only scheduled this for next week…aka during the Eastern Conference Finals (neither the Wiz nor the Caps have reached that round this century).  Instead, we get one of the most-anticipated series of the regular season being played at the same time as a Game 5 (Wiz-Celtics Wednesday) and 6 (Capitals-Penguins Monday).  Who’s ready for baseball?

Dissecting the Division- at 21-10 the Nats are six and a half games ahead of the pack…with the other four teams in the NL East all under .500.  Only Philadelphia owns a positive run differential (+2), but the Phillies are the only team in the division with fewer wins at home than on the road (Nationals are a big-league best 12-4 on the road).

Breaking Down the Beltways- the Nats and O’s boast two of the top three records in the big leagues (thanks Yankees for taking the top spot):  while the Nationals rank 1st in MLB in hitting, runs scored and quality starts the Orioles have been doing the little things right.  Despite allowing the 8th highest batting average the Birds’ pitchers have the 12th best ERA. Despite ranking 19th in runs scored, Manager Buck Showalter’s team is 12-3 in games decided by fewer than three runs.  Both teams are on a course to reach the postseason…because of and in spite of themselves at the same time.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman stays hot by hitting .500 with 2 homers and 5 RBI.  In other words, he’s two homers and 12 RBI shy of last year’s totals. Anthony Rendon began may by hitting .333 with 2 HR and 8 RBI.  Max Scherzer struck out 11 over 7 innings against Arizona while Jacob Turner tossed six scoreless innings over two bullpen outings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trea Turner hit .154 with nine strikeouts over 26 at bats…the shortstop gets Monday off to recharge.  Michael A. Taylor struck out 10 times in 22 at bats.  Former closer Blake Treinen took the loss in Sunday’s extra-inning gmae and allowed 4 runs over 3.2 innings.  Joe Blanton’s yet to wake up from a nightmare season;  after allowing 2 runs in one inning of work last week his ERA for the season balloons to 10.64.

Game to Watch- all four games with the Orioles are must-watch; the most must-watch being Tuesday’s tilt at Camden Yards with Scherzer on the hill.  Max makes one more start this week…and that’s the one I have my eye on. Sunday they host Philadelphia as Scherzer squares off with Jeremy Hellickson. Sorry, mom.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats host Philadelphia with Tanner Roark on the hill.  While that’s nice, there’s definitely a Game 6 at Verizon Center.  One that could send the Wiz to the conference finals for the first time since 1979.  Sorry, Tanner.

 

Well…that was one interesting month of baseball.  Make that one ridiculous week.  Or perhaps just one scintillating Sunday?  What is going on?  One can write off the Colorado air for the 15 and 16-run explosions…but 23?  And all in the same week? One month into the season the Nats boast the best bats in the bigs…and are threatening to run away with the NL East.  Which is great, because we all know how Washington teams fare when they coast their way down the stretch.

Plan B in CF- the loss of Adam Eaton to a torn ACL for the season means Michael A. Taylor takes over in centerfield and Jayson Werth likely returns to the #2 spot in the batting order.  The Nats offense really took off in 2016 when Turner and Werth settled into the one and two spots…and there’s no reason to think it won’t be a solid engine again.  But what a shame for the Nationals to lose their sparkplug in Eaton.  The 28-year old ranked second on the team in walks, runs scored and steals while boasting the third-best on-base-percentage.  His clubhouse energy was contagious…and now the Nats will have to play the final 137 games of the 2017 regular season without last winter’s major acquisition.

Early Returns from the East- after one month the Nats lead the NL East by five games…and the other four teams are all under .500.  Philadelphia’s the only other team with a winning record against the East…and they’ve just lost three in a row.  The Phillies may have Cesar Hernandez (.323 with 20 runs scored) and Jeremy Hellickson (4-0 with an ERA of 1.80), but their lineup walks the 7th fewest times and the team’s ERA ranks 21st in the majors.  Add in four games with the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, they might not be in the best shape to face the Nats this weekend.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .500, scoring 11 runs while notching 5 homers and 13 RBI.  Zim finished April with 11 home runs and 29 RBI…after a nightmare 2016 where he was held to 15 blasts and 46 runs batted in.  Trea Turner and Matt Wieters both hit over .400;  getting production from less-offensive positions like shortstop (Turner scored 13 runs while driving in 11) and catcher (Wieters belted 3 homers) are the little things that lift an offense.  Reliever Matt Albers went 1-0 while pitching 5.1 scoreless innings over 4 games…allowing 1 just one hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- in a week where EVERYBODY HIT, Jose Lobaton batted just .091 with 3 strikeouts. Joe Blanton’s April wraps up with three appearances and 6 earned runs over 2 innings.  Joe Ross posted an ERA of 10:38 over 2 starts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Gio Gonzalez tries to top what’s been a stellar April (3-0, 1.62 ERA) by facing a team that he hasn’t beaten since 2011. In 2016, Gio had an April ERA of 1.42 before posting a May ERA of 5.23.  Arizona counters with former Nats draft pick Robbie Ray.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Kentucky Derby takes front and center.  Sadly, the Nats play Philadelphia at 7:05…with Joe Ross pitching against Aaron Nola (who may be scratched as he’s dealing with back issues and has missed two turns in the rotation).  Even if the Capitals get swept by Pittsburgh (they’d host a Game Five that would be played Saturday), if you’re going to skip a game against the Phillies…