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Magical Mystery Head

The Beatles' and Monkees' film fiascos.

by Dr. Spin
September 23, 2002

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Magical Mystery Head_Dr. Spin-The Beatles' and Monkees' film fiascos. Okay, how about this: could you please compare and contrast the controveries (whether fan-based or media-based) as well as the artistic merit surrounding the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour vice the Monkees Head? I am told there is quite a bit of history surrounding each, but I could have been misinformed. Both were produced within roughly the same timeframe and both are of a very psychedelic nature, so the use of these two rock movies seems appropriate for comparison.
- Puddleglum

Dear Puddleglum,

I am not sure whether you meant controversies or contrivances, but each is appropriate. Let me start by saying both the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Monkees’ “Head” are perfect examples of no matter how popular you are, ideas when you’re stoned are still bad ideas.

Also, both are good examples of the axiom, “Just because someone’s good at one thing, doesn’t mean he or she is good at everything.” Both movies created very good soundtrack/albums. But both are dreadful movies. For the Beatles, MMT was an embarrassing episode in an otherwise almost flawless career. For the Monkees, “Head” was the beginning of the end.

“Magical Mystery Tour” was made in 1967. I don’t know if there was much controversy about the film or the making of it, though the other Beatles seem to pretty much blame Paul McCartney. For those unfamiliar with the movie, the “plot” involves the Beatles, with a bunch of unknown actors, taking a bus trip across England and having “magical” moments along the way. There are also some wizards (played by the Beatles) who are monitoring the tour, and it all ends with the Beatles doing “I Am the Walrus” at Stonehenge.

For years, many critics were looking for someway to attack the Beatles, and MMT gave them the perfect opportunity. Mainly, the Beatles looked just plain silly. The film looks like a college film student cooked it up while getting stoned to Beatles’ music. Its only saving graces are the music (of course) and that it’s mercifully only 30 minutes long.

The fiasco of MMT soured the Beatles heavily, even to the point where they almost refused to make “Yellow Submarine” (the movie). You’ll notice that the Beatles didn’t lend their actual voices to the film and only endorsed it after they saw the finished product.

Further controversy developed around MMT during the “Paul is dead” hoax, as many “clues” appear in the film and in the original album’s booklet (example: Paul is wearing a black carnation during “Your Mother Should Know,” the rest are wearing red carnations).

“Head,” on the other had, was a disaster on all accounts. It has been well documented by the Monkees themselves that they, with producer/director Bob Rafelson and a little-known actor/producer named Jack Nicholson, came up with the idea for “Head” during a pot-smoking session.

“Head” was supposed to be the movie that finally broke the Monkees away from their pre-fab pop TV images. Instead, it broke the Monkees, literally. Already weary of his role with the Monkees, Peter Tork took the universal panning of “Head” as the final straw, and quit the band shortly after.

The problem with “Head” is that it was too much and not enough like their TV series. Still filled with wacky antics, and subtle satire, “Head” shifted the Monkees through a series of unrelated segments trying to escape their bubblegum, pre-fabricated image. It even began with the Monkees jumping off a bridge; surely a startling image for their teeny-bopper fandom. It was too goofy for the mainstream and serious moviegoers and too bizarre for the teenage Monkee fans, who expected something entirely different.

“Head” was pretty much the beginning of the end for the Monkees. Their series was cancelled, Peter left the group, and record sales began to dwindle. “Head” did not release the Monkees from their “made up” image, and made them even more of a joke. “Head” did however give Jack Nicholson the opportunity to produce and act in a film called “Easy Rider,” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today both “Head” and “Magical Mystery Tour” enjoy a cult status, mainly by fans of each band. Both have historical and artistic merit as products of the time and projects gone horribly wrong. If you’re a fan of either the Monkees or Beatles and are curious about either film, I would suggest you rent them.

Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the music both films produced. That is, after all, what the Monkees and Beatles are best at anyway.

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