The Monkees: Head (1968)

At some point in the last few decades, the Monkees transitioned from a guilty pleasure, a cast-off Beatles running joke (see Martin Scorsese's After Hours) to an unironically-enjoyed critical darling, and damn, it's about time.  Because the Monkees' discography offers some of the most hit-packed albums of the 60s, ranging from perfect pop songs penned by the best of the Brill Building to underrated originals to Michael Nesmith's twangy Americana (which I'd posit ranks at least as high as anything Gram Parsons was doing at the time).

Alas, it's hard to call Head one of their best albums, if only because there are only 6 proper songs (the rest filler from the film of the same name), making it more an EP than an LP, and thus lacking the heft of their triumphant '67-'68 run from Headquarters to Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. to The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees.  But even within its shorter running time, Head is just phenomenal, one of the stellar efforts of the psychedelic era and, had it been padded out to full length (as I'm sure a lot of us have done on our own, mixing in some of their other psychedelic offerings) would blow away anything else they recorded.

Opening track "The Porpoise Song" is among the band's greatest singles, a gorgeous psychedelic ballad (and Goffin-King songwriting triumph) that is absolutely haunting, certainly as evocative of the era as more widely heralded psychedelia.  After the "Ditty Diego War Chant" (a brief but frenzied spoken-word piece laying out the entire Monkees mythos) you get another stunning track, Nesmith's frenzied "Circle Sky," which milks a distinctive guitar riff within an inch of its life.  Peter Tork's "Can You Dig It" is another try at psychedelia, a more familiar Monkees sound but with shades of George Harrison mysticism.  

"As We Go Along," another Carole King ballad, is a Micky Dolenz vocal showpiece; it's simply lovely.  Davy Jones finally gets a vocal turn on "Daddy's Song," and while Jones usually gets the sappy stuff, this Harry Nilsson-penned show-stopper, an orchestrated bit of bittersweet pop, is poignant and sad and delightful, and Jones serves the material well (echoes of Harry Chapin's "Cat's In The Cradle" but without the treacle).  Finally, Tork closes it out with "Do I Have To Do This All Over Again," another rousing track that reprises the frenetic "Circle Sky" vibe, a classic Monkees pop tune but with psychedelic shadings and great guitar jams that make it sound more like the Jefferson Airplane than the Monkees.

At 6 songs, it may not be the best investment as a stand-alone album, but song for song it's the most stunning and consistent work the band produced.

As for the movie itself, which provides the narrative filler between tracks, opinions vary widely.  It's insanely weird, written in part by Jack Nicholson with cameos from the likes of Frank Zappa, a metaphysical explosion of the Monkees' manufactured nature, which presumably confused the hell out of fans of the tv show at the time; in my view, it's meandering and brilliant and badly dated and absolutely something you need to watch at least once if you're a fan of the tv show.

Here's "The Porpoise Song" from the film:
...and "Circle Sky":
...and of course "Daddy's Song" (dancing with Toni Basil, i.e. "Mickey"):