There are certain anniversaries that tend to take Baby Boomers by surprise. Fiftieths are like that. Now that 2017 is in full swing, 50th anniversaries of one sort or another are sprouting up quicker than whiskers on a hipster. This past week, Micky Dolenz of the 60’s prefab pop band The Monkees announced the 50th anniversary of the release of Headquarters.
Big deal, some say. The Monkees were a lightweight, bubblegum-flavored artificial confection pulled together for a teenybopper television show and didn’t play their own instruments on their albums, they say. Detractors note that the Monkees were brought into being with the sole purpose of making money, not music. All true, until the release of Headquarters on May 22, 1967. For the first time in Monkees history, drummer Micky Dolenz, multi-instrumentalists Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, and singing percussionist, Davy Jones, contributed virtually all the instruments and vocals on an album. And they did it after Nesmith nearly punched Monkees musical director Don Kirshner in the nose.
In 1967, the Monkees were one of the top-selling acts in the world. Critics complained that they weren’t a “real band” and it’s true that with the exception of Nesmith, none had shelled out the sort of musical dues paid by other contemporary combos. Each of the frolicsome foursome answered a classified ad in the hopes of becoming a TV star. Each had acting experience and/or musical talent, but that wasn’t what the producers were seeking. Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson wanted a “look” and attitude that would rival the omnipresent Beatles, and he found exactly that in Davy, Mike, Micky, and Peter. The four young hopefuls were hired to be exuberant and silly while attracting the attention – and babysitting dollars – of teenage girls from coast to coast. Musical coordinator Don Kirshner perceived the four as vocalists only and never intended to let the boys actually play their own instruments.
This particularly aggravated Michael Nesmith who fervently quibbled with Kirshner on behalf of the band. During one confrontation before the recording of Headquarters, Nesmith put his fist through a wall within inches of Kirshner, noting “That could have been your face” to the shocked musical director, reports Ultimate Classic Rock magazine.
With the exception of Turtles’ bassist-producer, Chip Douglas, practically every note on the quartet’s third album was delivered by an actual Monkee. Nesmith contributed the lion’s share of songs, along with a couple of numbers by pop songwriting sensations Bobby Hart and Tommy Boyce. One track, the haunting “Shades of Gray,” came courtesy of Brill Building denizens Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Cellist Frederick Seykora and French horn player Vincent DeRosa appear on this song.
Headquarters rocketed to the No. 1 position on Billboard music charts within hours of its late May 1967 release despite not spawning a 45 rpm single. The 14-song record was ousted from its chart-topping position one week later when the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band made its debut. Headquarters remained solidly in the No. 2 slot for three months. The original vinyl album was recorded at RCA Music Center of the World Studios and released on the Colgems Records label. Rhino Records released a stereo CD reissue of Headquarters in 1996. In 2007, Rhino dropped a deluxe two-CD set with bonus tracks.
On the 50th anniversary of the release of Headquarters, several key characters who made the album possible are no longer with us. In January 2011, Donald Clark Kirshner passed away at age 76 in Boca Raton, Florida. Later that same year, Berton Jerome “Burt” Schneider, who had a hand in the making of Easy Rider in 1969, passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 78. Fifty-five-year-old songwriter Sidney Thomas “Tommy” Boyce died by his own hand in Memphis on November 23, 1994. Diminutive heartthrob, Davy Jones, died suddenly in Stuart, Florida, on February 29, 2012.