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The creator of The Monkees praises academic’s book


The creator of 60s pop sensations, The Monkees, has praised Leeds Beckett academic Dr Peter Mills’s book about the band: The Monkees, 'Head' and the 60s.

The Monkees 'Head' lobby card

Bob Rafelson, who created The Monkees and directed the group’s 1968 film, Head, among many other Hollywood films, was alerted to Peter’s book by actor Jack Nicholson, with whom he co-scripted Head.

Writing to Jawbone, the publisher of Peter’s book, Bob said: “Jack Nicholson actually brought the book to my attention. Since neither of us are inclined to read books talking about ourselves—or for that matter about the movie world—I was surprised with this one. Peter Mills is a scholar and teacher but began as a musician, so his appreciation of The Monkees both as phenomenon and critic is well-founded. The Monkee history is astonishing. As for “Head”, no-one has so thoughtfully elaborated on its meaning. The movie is elusive. But not to him or anyone who reads the book. And that includes me.”

Jack Nicholson backstage with the Monkees Salt lake City April 1968
Jack Nicholson backstage with The Monkees, Salt Lake City, April 1968

The Monkees, 'Head' and the 60s was published in October 2016 and charts the band’s prevailing success as the first in a new generation of manufactured groups and multimedia pioneers, who paved the way for modern day musicians on stage and television.

Peter, who is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Popular Culture and Course Leader of the BA (Hons) English and Media degree, explained: “Groups from the initial eras of pop are almost like ‘Adam’ figures – they are the first of their kind and then a pattern is set – like Elvis, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. I would put The Monkees in that lineage.

“They were the first manufactured band: put together for a TV show, so effectively the cast of a TV show, playing the part of a group striving for success. In the real world outside of the TV show in which they were scrabbling for gigs, they actually became very successful very quickly, far outstripping the success of the TV show. So they existed in this space between reality and fantasy; confirmed by Monkee Micky Dolenz who once described the ‘real world’ success of the band as being ‘like the cast of Star Trek joining NASA’.”

The Monkees performing live

Also unique was the way that they took control of their own affairs, firing the people who created them and who dictated which songs they would record, treating them as the cast of a show rather than the authentic band that they wanted to become.

The Monkees, 'Head' and the 60s explores the significance of The Monkees, not only at the height of their fame in the 1960s, but in shaping what we know about popular music and culture today. From being the first ‘made for TV’ band, The Monkees project used TV as a way to market music in a way that kick-started a new relationship between popular music and the moving image which still continues to develop to this day.

Peter explained: “Once the TV show was a success there was demand for them to appear ‘live’. They were the first to use big video screens in concerts, showing a mix of specially-made clips, montages from their TV show and live footage – something that is now standard in live performance. They also started people thinking about what success could mean – why did they fire the people that made them so successful? What were they after that they didn’t already have? Part of this was wanting power and responsibility over their own output, despite risking failure at the height of their success.”

The book is the first serious study of The Monkees and the first to fully acknowledge their importance to the development of pop as we know it. Peter said: “I have been a fan of The Monkees for 40 years, since my childhood, and, whilst there have been several books written about the band, I was waiting for the one that picked up on what I thought was a kind of hidden significance to the group and their story. So I ended up writing it myself.”

Peter has brought together years of original research from sources not available online, including fanzines, American magazine collections and the British Library. Additionally, new interviews with key figures such as Bobby Hart, who alongside Tommy Boyce wrote some of the most famous Monkees’ songs including the TV show’s theme; Chip Douglas, the band’s producer since their split with their original team; and representatives of Rhino Records, a key driving force behind the initial Monkees mid-80s revival which continues today.

Monkees film poster

As well as exploring the origins and personalities of the four Monkees and looking in depth at their work together on screen, on stage, and on record, Peter analyses The Monkees’ 1968 film, Head.

Peter commented: “Head was probably originally conceived by Columbia Pictures as a 90-minute version of the TV show, but ended up being something totally different. Co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson, the film was an effort to undermine the band’s public image and then remake it. At the time, it was a major flop, but has since become a cult classic.”

With a copy of the original script, Peter gives a scene-by-scene analysis of the film, and the book includes an exclusive essay on the impact of The Monkees and Head by KLF founder, Bill Drummond. Peter added: “I show the film as part of my teaching on the Media, Communication, Cultures degree course at Leeds Beckett, and reckon around 2,000 young people have now seen and studied the film and contributed their insights to my research.”

Peter's research even uncovered a local link - he discovered that Mancunian Monkee Davy Jones's first appearance on national media was in a radio play entitled 'There Is A Happy Land', by Keith Waterhouse, which was recorded in February 1961 at the old BBC Broadcasting House on Woodhouse Lane in Leeds, a building now occupied by staff of Leeds Beckett University.

Dr Peter Mills is the author of several books, including works on Van Morrison and Samuel Beckett. He was singer and lyricist for Innocents Abroad, who made two albums, Quaker City and Eleven. A fan of The Monkees since his childhood, he began using the band and Head in his teaching as soon as he could.

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