50 Years Ago: How the Monkees Declared Their Independence on ‘Headquarters’
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All was not sunshine in early 1967 for the Monkees. Sure, their TV show was a huge hit and More of the Monkees, their second album, was a massive seller. But the band sought creative freedom, and they found it with the follow up Headquarters.
That, along with a No. 1 hit single “I’m a Believer,” had made them the biggest-selling band in the land. But they wanted more, specifically to be a real band that had control over their career. But that was kind of tough to do when they were under the thumb of Don Kirshner. As musical supervisor of the TV show, he pretty much called all the shots. That didn’t sit well with the Monkees – and Michael Nesmith, in particular. Nesmith strenuously argued on behalf of the group. At one point, he even confronted Kirshner, putting his fist through a wall. “That,” he told Kirshner, “could have been your face.”
Kirshner was fired and the lunatics took over the asylum – which, in this case, was a wonderful thing. Headquarters, the resulting album, not only stands as one of the crowning jewels in the Monkees catalog, but it’s also one of the finest albums by any band from the era. It’s a true garage-band rock ‘n’ roll record from early 1967, before everything exploded into psychedelic bliss and confusion. It’s part folk-rock, part garage-rock, some pure pop, with a hint of psychedelia and a little country thrown in.
Almost every note on the recording was played by guitarist Nesmith, drummer Micky Dolenz, multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork and percussionist Davy Jones. The exception was bass, which was played by Chip Douglas, who also produced the album. The songs were primarily written by Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork, with two contributed by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and one by Brill Building legends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Songs such as “You Told Me,” “You Just May Be the One” and “Sunny Girlfriend” showed that Nesmith was a great songwriter. “For Pete’s Sake,” written by Tork, became the closing theme music for the second season of the group’s television show, and Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git” managed to name-check Andy Warhol, the Beatles and the counterculture in general in one fell swoop. The song was a hit in the U.K., though the title was changed to “Alternate Title” as a jab at the U.K. label, which demanded it be swapped because in British slang the title translated to “horny Liverpudlian bastard.”
Released the last week of May 1967, the album didn’t spawn any single in the U.S. But that didn’t stop the album from topping the chart. It was summarily toppled from the No. 1 position the following week by the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, however, though Headquarters would plant itself firmly at the No. 2 slot for nearly three months.
The Monkees went on to make more great records over the next couple of years, but this was really the end of an era. By the time the second season of their show was on the air, the zeitgeist had shifted. Their teen appeal was no match for the brooding underground about to overtake the party. Still, this is where the caterpillar became the butterfly.
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