Can You Dig It? ‘The Monkees, Head and the 60s’ reviewed

❉ A new book takes a serious look at the Monkees’ significance as a pop culture phenomenon, and the legacy of their cult movie ‘Head’.

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‘The Monkees, Head and the 60s’ by Peter Mills is the latest book about the Monkees to hit the shelves, on this their fiftieth anniversary year. The Monkees were a genuine ‘Sixties phenomena crossing over from television to music and finally over to film, and yet half a century on people still erroneously dismiss their contribution to culture with the erroneous line “They don’t play their own instruments’ (They could play their own instruments, as their live performances attest, but time constraints often meant that in the ‘sixties, backing tracks for their vocals had to be made by session musicians because the Monkees themselves were recording their television show at the same time!)

Peter Mills tackles new ground with his book by giving the Monkees a more academic treatment than they have been granted before. He has skilfully drawn together information from a wealth of sources to produce a work which is both informative, and thankfully, very readable.

The book traces all of the key players in The Monkees story from their earliest days through to their involvement on the Monkees and then sweeps elegantly through the turbulent time of the Monkees in 1966 and 1967 when they were juggling a triumphant TV career,concurrent pop music success, live gigs and personal appearances, before Mills turns his attention to dealing in some depth with the Monkees’ time spent making their own feature film.

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The book is divided roughly in half, with the first few chapters dealing with the Monkees career leading up to their feature film ‘Head’ and the second half of the book tackling ‘Head’ itself.  In the first half Mills deals with both the Monkees’ time spent recording music, working on their television series and performing live in various countries around the world. He succeeds in giving a vast amount of factual information without getting the narrative bogged down with it.  Placing ‘Head’ in its context of what preceded Mills then turns to this vastly underrated film and gives it  the kind of examination it has always deserved. The key scenes are dissected and discussed, exploring not only what happens onscreen but what the meaning could be, what was happening behind the scenes and Mills also neatly intersects this with relevant quotes from the key players regarding making the film. The fact that Bob Rafelson, the director, was trying to push to boundaries of what was technically possible in film making of the time is also explored, and Mills goes so far as to slow down his DVD playback of the film to note that Rafelson at one point is cutting captions into the film images rather than overlaying them. It is this attention to detail that makes this book outstanding.

The book is well worth buying for the treatment of ‘Head’ alone, and should be a ‘must buy’ for any fan of the Monkees, or indeed Sixties cinema or Cult films. For those that don’t know, ‘Head’ was co-written by living legend Jack Nicholson, and he was also heavily involved with the soundtrack album, producing a very modern sounding album of songs intercut with dialogue from the film and that also holds up very well to modern ears.  ‘Head’ was ultimately more than just the film that brought together the team that created ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Five Easy Pieces’, it is a distinctly creative piece in its own right, and this book will hopefully mean some revision of the film’s place in cinematic history. As Mills notes towards the end of his book ‘Head simply does not behave like any other movie you’ve ever seen.’  If you’ve not seen the film, I’d recommend trying it, and using this book to help to decode what you see on screen – you may need it!


❉ ‘The Monkees, Head and the 60s’ by Peter Mills was published in the UK by Jawbone Press on September 13, RRP £14.95.  It is also available as an Ebook from Amazon and Apple iBooks.

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