In March of 1968, the last episode of the TV show “The Monkees” aired in America. The rock group that had been assembled by a television studio for the purposes of the programme alone, had lost its raison d’être. The group’s commercial potential, in terms of both selling albums and singles as well as attracting advertising dollars, had elapsed.
Were this to take place in the 21st century, the group would have been thouroughly legally extirpated, with every member getting a carrot in the form of a healthy financial send off, along with a potential stick waiting in the wings should any of them decide to either break their confidentiality clauses or – worse – attempt to reform a rogue, relaunched version of the prefab entity while the corpse was still warm.
This is partly because today’s entertainment industry suits learned a valuable lesson all those decades back when Bob Rafelson, the man who had directed most of the Monkee TV episodes, was allowed off the leash to make a Monkee movie with his misfit mate Jack Nicholson (then a burgeoning nobody) in tow. They could do anything they wanted with the moribund franchise. So they duly went to town.
A good place to start should you wish to understand the Monkee movie as much as possible before you view the thing, is that the reason it’s entitled “Head” is because Rafelson and Nicholson thought it would be hilarious if, should the film with the Monkees become a success, they could put on the poster for their follow up picture: “From the people who gave you Head”. The film has no plot and wanders from anarchic situation to anarchic situation. As much as it’s about anything, it’s about trying and failing to make a coherent movie involving the Monkees, as the band members wander across a film lot most of the time after an attempt to film a scene reaches another dead end.
It has cameos from Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa and Annette Funicello (beautifully sending up her Disney persona in a scene with Davy Jones). I think it’s great, and it’s become a cult hit, belatedly (it was a total flop upon release). However, like anything unique, it has its detractors. I recall my Chicago Connection watching it and telling me how much he hated it. “Just a bunch of random crap broken up by the occasional Boyce/Hart throwaway. The only good bit is the Zappa cameo, which is like, 45 seconds long”. While that’s harsh, it isn’t the worst explanation of the movie ever devised.
Anyhow, to the ultimate point of this article: when faced with career death, it’s usually better to go out with a bang. Given it’s all going downhill anyhow, best to have your last say be a memorable one. For a start, if people didn’t occasionally think this way, the Heads of this world would not exist. Also, the risk is non-existent, if the Monkees are anything to go by. The show ended up being a massive hit in syndication; Rafelson went on to be a reasonably successful film director; Nicholson became an A-list celebrity. The moral: someone gives you a chance to make “Head”, take it, sod the possible downsides. There are only so many times in life an opportunity like that comes along.