15 May 2005 | am2star
What might have been
The sole musical special by The Monkees was shot right after their movie "Head." This special was a very strange effort. The producer, Jack Good, was known in Britain for his musical programs.
However, it is unclear as to his familiarity with The Monkees, or American audiences. This special had a script, and it was used to deconstruct The Monkees as television superstars, and present them as musical superstars.
It begins with Brian Auger, of The Trinity, portraying a Wizard who will take four young men "off the street" and make them superstars through brainwashing. Then, he will use them to brainwash the world.
With the aid of special effect, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, and Davy Jones appear. Then, they are encased in tubes and the brainwashing begins. To escape this, each "floats away" to their own personal world.
Micky Dolenz performs a blues version of "I'm a Believer" in a duet with Julie Driscoll. Peter Tork sings "Prithee" in a blissful, gauzy setting. Michael Nesmith performs "Naked Persimmon" in a duet with himself, and Davy Jones performs "Goldilocks Sometimes" in a dance number on an over-sized stage representing the room of a child.
Next, The Monkees perform "Wind Up Man" dressed as toy soldiers complete with key. Next, the Monkees are dressed as apes in performance of "I Go Ape."
Once the group has been brainwashed, they are introduced as 1950s rockers and perform with the likes of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Buddy Miles Express, and The Clara Ward Singers.
Finally, Brian Auger stops the whole affair, introduces himself and Julie Driscoll, and then plot ends.
Davy performs "String for my Kite." Peter performs a piece on keyboards. Micky and Mike join them and begin performing "Listen to the Band." Then, all the guests join them in a jam, with dancers added to the mix.
Throughout the show, there are other performances. The Trinity performs "Come on Up." Paul Arnold and The Moon Express perform a dance number depicting evolution. There is one great scene with Brian Auger playing a small piano on top of a baby grand that Jerry Lee Lewis is playing, which is on top of a grand piano being play by Little Richard, which is all on top of another grand being played by Fats Domino.
One of the biggest problems is that the music was recorded, but the vocals presented "live." Therefor, many of the vocals are lost. Another disappointment is that the numbers have a live performance feel, but are not allowed to resolve. The plot gets in the way of the music.
There are a lot of visual effects, and to move the action along, the plot, though overly ambitious, is interesting for a musical special to skip a more traditional presentation.
Like so many things in the history of The Monkees, this was a great "could have been, should have been." here, for the first time they are regarded as musical performers, in company with greats and cutting edge current stars. Plus, there were problems with the production that forced changes in the recording (shot on videotape) venue.
But, again with The Monkees, it is a testament to their creativity of the moment. Many have regarded the series and the movie "Head" as a statement of the times when they were made. More than just pop-culture, but statements on society. "33 1/3 Monkees per Revolution" does the same thing with emphasis on music. While the classic rock and roll performers survived the changes in the 1960s, their popularity did wane. And Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and The Trinity never achieved the popularity having national exposure might have helped. But, The Monkees welcomed them in this special as equals, and the courtesy seemed to be reciprocated. But, over the thirty-five years, it still seems that The Monkees is the group that people remember the most. And, like their albums, it is the music that supports the special. Too bad there was never an album made of these performances.
Ironic that the special culminates with "Listen to the Band." This performance is unique for several reasons. One being that it is for the special that is centered around music, something that The Monkees were criticized for in their career. Second, it is the last time that all four members of the group played together as an original band.
This is a unique experience. It is worthy of viewing, if nothing more than the nostalgia. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before or since. Too bad that producers haven't tried grand experiments like this since.