Desert Island Discs: “Headquarters” by The Monkees (1967)Posted: May 30, 2013
I was told in no uncertain terms The Monkees were a “fake band,” a statement that had a far different effect then was clearly intended. My ‘60s adulation took on a whole new wrinkle; how great was a decade where even the fake bands made awesome records? – Joseph Neff
Appreciate it as The Monkees being a real band, warts and all. Peter’s singing is a bit flat, Davy’s songs are a wee bit too cutesy for my tastes, they couldn’t jam their way out of a strawberry patch, and those pseudo avant-garde tracks are on the silly side. But this was released as a straight-up pop album. That’s both cool and admirable… “Headquarters” was a short-lived phase, but they responded to the skeptics with aplomb. That’s got to mean something. – Alex DiBlasi
“Headquarters” not only stands as one of the crowning jewels in the Monkees catalog, but one of the finest albums by any band from the era. It is a true garage band rock and roll album circa 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… Pardon the poetry, but this is where the caterpillar became the butterfly. – Dave Swanson
To think that both this album and “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones Ltd.” came out the same year! Most bands would be lucky to have two albums this good come out their entire career. – Tim Sendra
If you’ve known me any length of time, you know I’m a fan of The Monkees. Their repeated rejection for entry into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame is an ongoing indication of the pathetic joke the R’n’R HOF has become, and Exhibit A of the douchebaggery and dickishness of Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner who blocks them repeatedly. (Another story for another day.)
By now everyone knows the story of The Monkees. The band was assembled through auditions from an ad in the trades, like Led Zeppelin. They gained their initial fame through a TV sitcom, like Rick Nelson. They used session musicians in the studio, like.. well.. everybody in the ’60s. And then, while on tour, they discovered in a record shop that their second LP had been released without their knowledge. And they staged a palace revolt against the star maker machinery.
They struggled for creative autonomy. They threatened to ditch the TV franchise. Mike Nesmith famously punched a hole in a wall and told a record company exec, “That could have been your face.” They were given the reins, allowed to sink or swim. They made “Headquarters,” an album where they wrote the majority of the songs and played (almost) every note themselves. (This was in between concert appearances and filming a TV series.) And as Micky Dolenz described, it was the Pinocchio story: the puppet musicians became a real-live band. No less an icon than Frank Zappa said that The Monkees became “the most honest band in L.A.”
In 1967, one of the best years ever for rock’n’roll, “Headquarters” debuted on the charts at #1. It stayed there for a week until knocked off by.. anyone? anyone? Bueller? Bueller?.. “Sgt. Pepper.” It then spent eleven consecutive weeks at #2, all through The Summer Of Love. Suddenly, it became very uncool to diss The Monkees. And let’s face it, not every kid was ready for “Sgt. Pepper” in 1967.
Mike sowed the seeds for country-rock with his songs on “Headquarters.” I mean, banjo and pedal steel on a teenybopper pop record?! How could they?! All his contributions are first-rate, but my favorite is “Sunny Girlfriend.” Mike was the most adept of the four in writing lyrics: this is a great song about the head rush of new love.
Oh, while I am sleeping
Then she comes creeping
Into my thoughts at night
Gazing down through eyes
As bright as wonder
She can send you on your way
She’s only started
After you think that she is there
Well, she’s my sunny girlfriend
And she just doesn’t care
Yes, she’s my sunny girlfriend
She doesn’t really care
Peter Tork and his roommate wrote “For Pete’s Sake,” and Peter gave it to Micky for the lead vocal. It later became the closing theme for the TV series. Even though nowadays the lyrics could serve as a Sunday school lesson, it was quite folky and trippy in the ’60s.
Davy Jones, the teen heartthrob of the band, turns in a contemplative soulful ballad in “Early Morning Blues And Greens.” I think Lou Rawls or Percy Sledge could have taken this one to the top of the charts.
“Randy Scouse Git” was written and sung by Micky. It was inspired by a trip to London, where the band had audience with who else but The Beatles. (This inspired the line, “The four kings of EMI are sitting stately on the floor.”) The title loosely translates to “horny Liverpool idiot.” Needless to say RCA demanded an alternate title for just the UK release. So Micky renamed it… “Alternate Title.” And it reached the Top 5 there.
And of course there’s “Zilch,” one of the first ever recorded rap songs. Four nonsense lines that drove high-school bus drivers crazy in my formative years.
In the summer of ’67, my family was moving from the rural house I grew up in to a metro-area suburb. Life was, to put it mildly, chaotic. I was in the right place at the right time for this album, and it’s been one of my benchmarks for music ever since. Even the warm fuzzy teenybop songs (like “I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind”) are ones any band looking for a Top 40 hit would have happily rescued from the dustbin in 1967.
The Monkees went on to make more albums and rack up more Top 40 hits, but none had the impact of this one. “Headquarters” is the album that proved they were a real band.