The only real revelation in Rolling Stone's bloated 40th anniversary of "The Summer of Love" issue came on the last of its 146 pages. Past the glittery pap about how the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band "changed rock & roll forever" and how Haight-Ashbury was ground zero for a world-altering movement (yuppies), the 1967 album-sales charts revealed the true heroes of that magical year: not Sgt. Pepper(he barely clung to the bottom rung), but the Monkees. Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith easily outsold the so-called voices of a generation (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, John Lennon), with their two albums—The Monkees and More of the Monkees—claiming the top spots.
The Monkees were gorillas in TV land that year as well, winning an Emmy (for Outstanding Comedy Series) while grabbing a 31.4 Nielsen rating. Who knew TV stardom could turn young music makers into American idols? Or that, some 40 years on, a phony band created by a bunch of suits for a quick cash-in on youth culture might endure through the decades, warranting box sets (both CD and DVD) and deluxe editions of previously slapdash product?
The recent reissues of Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., document the Monkees' transformation from pop-culture darlings into easy targets. Rock & roll turned serious, and apparently, all the free love and moolah that Michael, Davy, Micky and Peter enjoyed wasn't quite enough. When it came time to start recording Headquarters in the spring of 1967, these Monkees wanted to play their own instruments and choose their own songs. Although they split with Svengali "musical supervisor" Don Kirshner and learned to write their own tunes (hello, Kelly Clarkson!), their stumbling efforts didn't diminish their popularity. Headquarters catapulted to the No. 1 spot, though they spent the rest of the Summer of Love beneath Sgt. Pepper's.
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Presented in both stereo and mono, with pointless addendums (though not as ludicrous as the earlier boxed set that included three CDs documenting the band learning how to play drums and guitar), Headquarters is spotty and silly, showing the Monkees flitting around on pedal steel, zither, French horn and the like. They take a stab at garage rock, bubblegum pop and country, all while proving unable to commit to much of anything. While closer "Randy Scouse Git" is a shockingly bilious bit of rock, the sound of them horsing around rules the day (see "Band 6" or "Zilch"). So while it topped the charts, Headquarters says plenty about cult of personality trumping actual musicianship (hello, Paris Hilton!).
It was only after they handed the reins back to the studio musicians and songwriters that the Monkees cut their finest bit of pop: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The title screams "corporate," but the pleasures are irrefutable. Just as they ripped off the Beatles' "Taxman" on Headquarters' lead cut "You Told Me," they do it again here on opener "Salesman." During the breakdown, they show they're hep by making the song go giggly at the word "high."
Sonically, the band anticipates trends rather than merely following them. Nesmith's Texas roots start to show on such coltish country/rock tunes as "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?" while the bridge of "The Door Into Summer" presages Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Southern Cross." Weirdest is the injection of a Moog synthesizer (which Dolenz scored shortly after the Monterey Pop Festival) into the haunting "Daily Nightly." Mostly, though, the Monkees detail perils such as groupie-dom ("She Hangs Out"), groupies with plaster casts ("Star Collector") and underage groupies ("Cuddly Toy"). But such is love.