The Monkees were on top of the world in 1967. They had released a pair of hit singles, “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer.” Their TV series, an inspired mix of Marx Brothers-ish comedy and A Hard Day’s Night style antics, was a ratings success. But behind the scenes, things were starting to fracture. The group, especially Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, were frustrated with the stranglehold placed on them by producer Don Kirshner. He’d steered them toward success with songs by top-notch talent such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Diamond, and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. But he limited their contributions in the studio. While the group members provided vocals, most of the backing tracks were done by studio musicians, such as the supremely talented outfit known as The Wrecking Crew. The group had gained a reputation in the music press for being a fake band, which didn’t sit well with them.
Kirshner had even released the group’s second album, More of the Monkees, without their knowledge. The band found out about it after the fact and was unhappy they hadn’t been consulted about the content of the record. During a tense meeting with Kirshner in early 1967, Nesmith (in a now legendary moment) slammed his fist through a wall and reportedly said, “That could have been your face.” That get-together proved to be beginning of the end for Kirshner. He was later fired, and The Monkees, working with producer Chip Douglas, dove headlong into the sessions for what would become their third disc, Headquarters. The album would initiate a creative renaissance for the band, as they genuinely embraced their newfound freedom, and crafted one of their strongest musical efforts.
Headquarters kicks off with Nesmith’s “You Told Me,” a hearty slice of garage rock which features some fine work on banjo from Tork. Nesmith’s pen also brought forth the country-rock tune “Sunny Girlfriend” and one of the album’s high points, the folk-flavored “You Just May Be The One.” Micky Dolenz receives several showcases over the course of the disc, including his inspired vocal performance on the zany “Randy Scouse Git.” He also displays his inner soul man on the frenzied “No Time” and delivers a nice pop-oriented vocal on “I’ll Spend My Life With You.” Peter Tork, who struggled with being tagged as the silliest member of the group on the TV series, contributes the excellent “For Pete’s Sake,” which he co-authored with Joseph Richards. A shorter version of the song became the closing theme for the show’s second season.
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Tork shares lead vocals with Davy Jones on “Shades of Gray,” a ballad from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Jones also takes center stage on the lovely “Forget That Girl” written by producer Douglas, and the folk number “Early Morning Blues and Greens.” Songwriters Boyce and Hart toss a couple of solid tunes into the mix, including the Simon and Garfunkel-esque “Mr. Webster” and the more pop-oriented “I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind.” Chip Douglas, best known for his work with The Turtles and The Modern Folk Quartet, does a terrific job producing the album and plays bass on several cuts. There’s even a pair of tracks called “Zilch” (a spoken word entry) and “Band 6” (an instrumental), which are experimental outings by the group.
The Monkees clearly enjoyed the chance to flex their musical muscles for the first time, and that positive energy can definitely be felt in the loose, relaxed vibe of the record. The album hit number one on the charts upon release but would hold that position for just one week, when The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band toppled it from that position. But Headquarters would sit firmly in the number two spot for a while after that, and turned out to be a solid critical and commercial success for the band. The album’s sense of group unity and off the cuff spontaneity continued over into their subsequent release, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. But that’s another story!
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