After finally eyeballing this special which had circulated via audio tape recordings straight from the boob tube and clandestine bootleg VCR's for years, all I can say is that I'm really glad I didn't tune it in because if I had the folks would have surely banished me to my room under the guise of some occult infraction while they clicked on something a li'l tamer on the other channel! But hey, fortysome years after the fact I finally get to see this, the first and only of three planned Monkees specials for NBC, and although the general kultur has changed quite a bit since those days and even freakier examples of entertainment have graced our screens in the interim all I gotta say is, it sure was one fun wigout!
Given its use of the right mix of amateur surrealism, mainstream avant garde and teenybopper smarm (all tossed into a rather complicated demi-plot that I'm sure few but producer Jack Good could fully comprehend), I can see how 33 1/3 REVOLUTIONS PER MONKEE coulda been that group' answer to MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR as more'n a few pundits out there have mused. In many ways it was far better than the Beatles' own attempts at a pop art spectacle, at least as far as watching rock stars being placed through the motions in a show that was a pretty keen commentary on the machinations behind being the world's first readymade rock group goes (whew!), but for being something that could appeal to the heads who undoubtedly passed on HEAD and a romp for the iron-haired girls who pressed leaves inside of ancient books...
Well, I gotta admit that Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and the Trinity were fantastic in Geofrey Crozier garb doing their soulful jazz rock moves, acting appropriately sinister (and as perhaps the true stars of this hour-long "experiment in television") while the Monkees were naturally up-to-par playing themselves with a snide sneer telling us on the sly that (as we of course already knew) everything about them was all fake with a wink wink nudge nudge that perhaps points to them as being the REAL innovators of late-sixties rock avant-theatrics. Still, as far as fakes go the group performs fine whether together or during their solo spots, with Mickey doing a great and soulful version of "I'm a Believer" in duet with Driscoll, Peter singing this mid-eastern tinged folk number bedecked in beads, Mike doing a country rock duo with himself (the kind he based his seventies solo career on) while Davey goes for the all-out production number in little boy garb.
And it gets even freakier with enough visual hoo-hah to have gotten more'n a few members of the older generation to do some tee-vee flickin' in totally righteous angst ("Ya mean they postponed DANIEL BOONE for this????"). True the squiggly evolution number with dancers in superhero-esque skin-tight costumes doing these spermy moves would have been just as good an excuse to head for your head as the commercials, though such interludes as the scene where Auger is standing with his electric piano atop a piano holding Little Richard, who's on a piano atop Jerry Lee Lewis, who himself is atop Fats Domino's piano and they all start cranking out this classic fifties staccato beat is something that still has me thinkin' THANK GOODNESS FOR THE PERSUASIVE POWERS OF JACK GOOD! Naturally the fifties revival scene featuring all three of these survivors along with the Monkees in Bryan Ferry pompadours and matching suits was the highlight for me, a total eye and ear explo culminating with the Clara Ward Singers tearin' the set down with a rousin' "Them Bones". Gotta say that I thought Mickey's singing during this segment did show signs of strain, but at least this early celebration of mid-fifties rock et roll exuberance sure makes those seventies variety shows where the same talent would be dragged out over and over again to less-than-stellar effect look pretty lame indeed!
Maybe I could go on, from the musical number with the Monkees in actual monkey suits to a production featuring a pretty astute assessment of the "mechanics" behind their entire existence (why Devo didn't cop this like they did Manson I'll never know), but I don't wanna get too long in the wind! The closing freakout (some say a visual retort to "A Day in the Life" but I disagree) needs to be mentioned, a strange melange in a prop-scattered studio that turns into a massive audio/visual mess complete with the appearance of just about the entire cast as well as...Buddy Miles? Well, I gotta say that even I felt a tad uncomfortable viewing this post-Zappa globule just as much in the here and now as I prob'ly would have had I glommed it as an especially unwary single-digit channel peruser, and maybe that does say something more about 33 1/3 than it does my own emotional immaturity!
But then again, I remember when HEAD popped up on the CBS late movie one Christmas Vacation 1973 or so and I wanted to take it in much to my father's chagrin, he being a staunch Johnny Carson man. Well, dad did relent sorta angrily, but HEAD turned out to be such a visual art project without the zany sitcom antics I certainly was hoping for that I pretty much tuned out during the scene where the hippie-ish girl kisses the group and they awaken reverse-Sleeping Beauty style. Y'know, even this far down the evolutionary line I'm sure glad that there are some things that just don't change, even if the fact that neither the CBS late movie nor Johnny Carson are still around to give us that old seventies sense of comfort!