January 19, 2011

THE MONKEES: SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COOL

One of best episodes of The Monkees, The Spy Who Came in From the Cool (1966), is a surreal send-up of spy boom conventions. The band is recruited to bait some foreign agents with microfilm and capture their confession of espionage on tape. In typical mid-60s fashion, the plot quickly explodes into a madcap, disco dance scene- complete with karate-chop dance moves. Didn't we see that on Get Smart a while back here on Spy Vibe? In fact, The Monkees do parody Maxwell Smart in the episode. I enjoy this particular clip for the obligatory gadget-training sequence. If you view The Monkees (1966-68) with the right context, thinking about youth culture, improvisation, surreal humor, pop culture, and catchy tunes written by some of the best songwriters of the era, it's really quite a fun show to re-visit.


Perhaps even more interesting is their feature film,
Head (1968), which was recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection. Reflective of the later 1960s, the band, the film's producers, and Jack Nicholson, pushed toward satire of fame and entertainment and, now free from TV constraints, anti-war commentary. The serious tones of the film, which started with a leap from a bridge into a watery abyss, shocked the teenybopper viewers expecting to see more of the mainstream hi-jinx from the TV show. The film was essentially the band's grand finale as screen idols. The times were changing and there was no going back to playing lovable moptops for the masses. I think that happened to another band around the same time! The guys all went on to other projects, including a few reunions. It's not Spy Vibe in style, but I do recommend Davey Jones' recent recording of the song Your Personal Penguin by illustrator, Sandra Boynton. It's wonderful! The Monkees were originally launched by Don Kirschner. Kirscnher passed away on January 17th at the age of 76. For a very in-depth interview with the band members and producers of Head, see issue #19 of the fabulous Shindig! magazine.



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