The most psychedelic album of the 1960s…

When you’re looking to pitch the most psychedelic album of the 60s, there are a few obvious starting places, such as the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album (though worth noting that the Beatles themselves described Revolver as their ‘LSD album’).

Where you probably wouldn’t look is from a manufactured-for-TV group producing high pop songs for pre-teens. It would be like expecting Westlife to produce an album like [Radiohead’s] Kid A. But that’s what the Monkees did with amazing skill with their album (and film) Head.

Dolphins from the introductory sequence to the film Head

In what has to be the most amazing commercial suicide note in history, what was America’s biggest pop group (eg US best selling album of 1967) managed to alienate both their huge pop audience (by going all counter-cultural and ‘strange’) and the counter-cultural set (by being the ‘manufactured’ Monkees – or the ‘prefab-Four’ as their critics dubbed them).

If psychedelia is all about challenging your senses, perceptions and preconceptions and taking your mind to an entirely different place, then what the Monkees achieved with Head is a much greater jump than Sgt Pepper – after all, people expected the Beatles to be ‘strange’ by then, particulary with John Lennon telling listeners to ‘turn off your mind relax and float downstream’ at the end of the last album.

Enlisting then-unknown Jack Nicholson to bring together and shape the script alongside the producers of the TV show, took the film to a whole new dimension – jumping from the ‘slightly surreal’ of the TV episodes to ‘seriously-out-there.’ This time the boys weren’t fighting Scooby-Doo style villains to get the girl, they were battling against the military-industrial complex, the commercial constraints of sponsorship and studio system – and the restrictive cliche that The Monkees had become on them as individuals.

Alongside this, the album itself was independently crafted as a complementary, but separate, endeavour to the film itself – taking apart songs and snippets from the film reassembling and rearranging them to form a creative product with a life and spirit of its own.

Lulling you into a psychedelic summer with the wonderfully trippy Porpoise Song, the album aims to mess with your head with Ditty Diego (War Chant) which goes from ‘Hey Hey we are the Monkees…’ (so far so familiar) to ‘…a manufactured image with no philosophies…’ (did they really just say that? It’s like a magician telling you how their trick is done, or Reynard the Fox spilling his guts all over the stage.

Continuing the mix of clips of found sound, clips from the film, with some great little tunes – and rearranging these to form a piece that stands on its own without needing the film at all.

And as a piece-de-resistance, the original LP came with a shiny plastic coating whose mirror finish let you put your own face on the album cover – and caused all manner of chaos at the cover printing plants – years before Factory even contemplated sandpaper record sleeves – with the covers setting fire to the presses.

So if psychedelia is all about challenging your perceptions, preconceptions and sense of reality – taking you to a different place – then Head has all of this in spades, while sounding and feeling like the real thing. The challenge is made all the greater as it comes from a made-for-TV boy band who have dared to rip apart their fabricated world with cynicism and vision.

So leave your outdated notions at the door, check your head (as the American’s would say, and settle down to a real classic of its genre.

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