Friday, June 22, 2007

The Porpoise is Laughing

Another psychedelic soundtrack worth hearing.

When The Monkees produced Head--the film and the LP--they were no longer the darlings of popular culture, but outcasts--or, worse, kiddie fodder--while their older fans left them for more daring pop music. "Daydream Believer," after all, was a song your mother could like, and you'd hunt in vain for hip drug references such as you could find with The Rolling Stones and The Who. But their first (and last) feature film, Head, which may have been greenlit as an obligatory afterthought, a hey-thanks-for-the-ratings, was actually a postmodern, semi-sophisticated satire directed by a director who'd shortly earn critical respect (Bob Rafelson), written by an actor who would become a superstar (Jack Nicholson), and featuring some very good psych-songs from the usual assembly line of Monkees lyricists (Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Michael Nesmith--plus Harry Nilsson and even, gulp, Peter Tork). The one true overlooked classic was "Porpoise Song," sung at the opening of the film while the Monkees suicidally dive over a bridge! While the lyrics can be a bit cookie-cutter, like many of the bands eagerly imitating Sgt. Pepper at the time, the haunting chorus--"The porpoise is laughing, goodbye, goodbye"--sticks with everyone who's seen the film. And the film is pretty interesting, if not exactly a neglected masterpiece. Rafelson and Nicholson deliberately dissect the Monkees formula, pulling it apart so that the sketches no longer make sense--punchlines without set-ups, dopey mugging without provocation, non sequiturs within non sequiturs. We see the band exploited from every angle, pushed and pulled by television crews and advertising agencies (at one point they're trapped within a shampoo commercial), and each time they escape they're pulled back into a tinier box than the one before, leading to a pretty grim finale. Unfortunately, since the Monkees were seen by 1968 as juvenelia, the intended audiences never found the film--and kids were left confused (or, who knows, enlightened).

The foil-cover soundtrack was personally compiled by Jack Nicholson as an EP's worth of songs buffed up by thick collages of dialogue and sound pulled from the film. Kind of like an early mix-tape. Peter Tork's songs are weak but fun; the standouts are, apart from "Porpoise Song," Nesmith's rousing "Circle Sky" and the gorgeous "As We Go Along," straining Mickey's vocals to their utmost. The latter formed a strong single with "Porpoise Song." Today's MP3 is the single version of "Porpoise," which has an extended ending not heard in the album version.

The Monkees - Porpoise Song (single version)

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