I can recall years and years ago a record reviewer remarking while reviewing Alice Cooper how excited the Warner Brothers’ art department must’ve gotten whenever they heard another Alice Cooper record was in the works: it meant that in a few months they’d be able to let their creativity flag fly high because Alice’s albums (and Rolling Stones albums now that I think of it) always had to be palpably different from other albums on the market. The art department was given artistic license to drive way went way past plain old gatefolds, and so School’s Out came with a pair of girls panties and resembled a school desk; Billion Dollar Babies was a wallet with play money. Rhino releases are like that nowadays: very inventive.
Take for example Rhino’s “handmade” Deluxe Edition of The Monkees’ Head. The 7-inch box cover has the same Mylar cover of the original elpee so that when you pick it up and look at it you see your head. Get it? Your head? Inside there’s a very informative, 28-page booklet (with an essay, liner notes and production photos), three CDs, a 7-inch vinyl single, even a badge.
Still, I was disappointed when I opened mine. As I reviewed the track listing I wondered: ‘Why the hell did I buy this?’ (Well, I knew why: four vocal mixes (two stereo, two mono) and one instrumental mix (stereo) of the film’s theme song ‘Porpoise Song’, a song so good that even Bongwater once covered it.) ‘I paid nearly sixty bucks for this?’
I reread the track listing. Yes, I do like ‘Circle Sky’ and ‘As We Go Along’, but how did I overlook the fact that one disc is basically a Davy Jones interview. The soundtrack to Head was never that good and three discs of outtakes and alternate recordings didn’t make it much better. This was such a disappointment after Rhino’s box set of The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees. Yes, The Monkees do have a few albums I can vouch are underrated. They’re even good. And with ‘Daydream Believer’, ‘Zor And Zam’ and the glorious paean to coitus that is ‘Tapioca Tundra’, The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees is their best.
I read Andrew Sandoval’s informative essay about how the television series The Monkees funded Bob Rafelson’s later, generation-defining series of films, including Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces; saw a picture of pre-fame Jack Nicholson (who co-wrote the Head script) smiling and admired the life he’s had: you could say it’s been Reaganesque without the politics; checked out who contributed to the ‘Porpoise Song’ session.
No wonder I love this song. I knew that he had been written by Gerry Goffin and Carol King when they were still boffin’ one another. I knew that. But I had forgotten that Goffin also produced the track. (It was the only song on Head that he did; the other songs were produced by The Monkees.) Danny Kortchmar (who later played with James Taylor) and Leon Russell (who later played at George Harrison’s Madison Square Garden bash for Bangladesh) contributed their musical talents. Jack Nitzsche arranged it, probably right around the time he was arranging songs on Neil Young’s debut album. No wonder I love ‘Porpoise Song’. It’s the result of a musical orgy between some of California’s best musicians.
I played all five versions of ‘Porpoise Song’ and felt it was worth the price of admission after all.
But it just so happened that I had just rented Head (the movie) from Netflix, and concluded that the flaw with Rhino’s repackaging of Head was the absence of the movie itself. Viewing Head brought me back to my seat in Prospect Theatre in Flushing, New York in November 1968. Some scenes were so cinematically memorable to me that even having seen thousands of films and movies since, they still impressed. The opening – where The Monkees crash an opening ceremony for a bridge – was still skin-tingling. Watching Micky Dolenz jump off the bridge only to be swallowed by the river’s psychedelic waters is apparently still a high point of cinema for me. It holds up. More importantly, however, it makes sense of the disjointed soundtrack (although I still don’t understand why ‘Porpoise Song’ doesn’t reappear at the end of the soundtrack like it does in the film. I guess I need to ask Jack Nicholson as he assembled the soundtrack. As evidenced by this reissue, they had alternate tracks. Heck, they even had the longer, single mix (that’s right, somehow the album version is shorter than the single.)
I know this is an unreasonable beef because Rhino couldn’t have included the DVD even if they wanted to. They no longer have the rights to it. Criterion Collection does. In fact, the Rhino Deluxe Edition probably only exists because of America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, the box set of seven Bob Rafelson-produced films – including Head – that Criterion Collection just released; Rhino probably reissued Head in hopes of piggy backing and cashing in on the draft created by Criterion Collection’s publicity campaign forAmerica Lost and Found: The BBS Story.
Still, if Rhino’s Deluxe Edition of Head included the DVD it would be so much better, and would make the whole artistic enterprise more comprehensible to any member of the public jumping into Head (the soundtrack) for the first time.