The Monkees’ strange and gutsy Head helped spark a new independence in Hollywood

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More than 45 years later, Head remains one of the strangest, gutsiest, uproariously funny things the Monkees ever did. Released as a film in September 1968, with a crazy soundtrack to follow in December of that year, Head was produced by Jack Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson — both of whom would later work on such mainstream Hollywood hits as Five Easy Pieces and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Head, however, wasn’t anything like that. Instead, it found the Monkees breaking completely away from the tightly scripted caper-based structure of the television show that hurtled them to fame. Psychedelic and completely free form, Head was as bold as it was surprising — and it had broad implications for the industry.

“I love it,” Micky Dolenz tells Steve Guntli of the Northern Light. “Basically, it was using the Monkees as a metaphor for the deconstruction of the Hollywood studio film industry, and deconstructing the Monkees at the same time.”

Nicholson made a cameo appearance, as did Dennis Hopper, and the seeds for one of Hollywood’s most important movements were sown, Dolenz says. “Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper came by the set, and they used the money they made from Head to make Easy Rider, so those young bucks basically created the independent Hollywood film industry. Jack was brought in to write it; we all contributed, and he wrote that really bizarre script.”

Of course, along the way, the Monkees got some curious looks, both from studio honchos and even some of long-time fans. In one fell swoop, the group had reset its image entirely.

“When they came to us and said they wanted to make a movie, we didn’t have to deal with the kind of censorship and control issues they had on network television in those days,” Dolenz says. “I can’t speak for the other guys, but I was all for it. There was talk of doing a 90-minute Monkees movie, meaning a 90-minute version of one of the episodes — but then we met Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson.”

Both film and album initially underperformed, but in time the importance of Head has become more clear — and, in turn, it’s evolved into a cult favorite. The movie, for instance, was just screened at November’s Leeds International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, the Head album includes six full-length tracks, including the single “Porpoise Song,” along with incidental elements from the movie — designed to approximate the flow of the original script. Embedded inside are some of best songs in all of the Monkees’ discography.

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