Posts Tagged ‘The Monkees’

Tonight’s very exciting post is all about – not music in movies, but movies about music!


Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Starring Rami Malek as Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, Gwilym Lee as guitarist and hair farmer Brian May, Ben Hardy as singing drummer Roger Taylor, Joseph Mazzello as dorky bass player John Deacon, and Branson from Downtown Abbey as Super Bad Gay Dude.

From the moment I saw the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, I knew I wanted to see it, even though I have never wanted to see Queen.

My enthusiasm waned when I realized no one could make a movie about Queen without including the dreaded music of Queen. I pictured myself wrapped in a ball beneath my seat while the house speakers pummeled me with “I’m in Love with My Car” (“With my hand on your grease gun/Mmm, it’s like a disease, son”) and “Fat-Bottomed Girls” (“Heap big woman, you done made a big man of me”).

But on a rainy night when our only other choice was Mary Poppins Returns, we grimly fastened our safety harnesses, faced the camera, said, “Let’s do this,” and walked in slow motion into the suburban multiplex while cars and helicopters exploded behind us.

(Is there a musical line I won’t cross? Oh yes, and I know exactly what’s on the other side: Close to the Edge, the Yes biopic.*)

Two and a half hours later, we left the theater wrapped in a happy rock-and-roll daze. What a film! Rami Malek, who had barely heard of Queen before he was hired, resurrected Freddie. When people in the far future envision Freddie Mercury (which they will, despite everything I’ve said about him here in the present), they will think of Rami Malek.

I didn’t like how the film played with Queen’s actual history – Freddie didn’t break up the band by being selfish, Freddie broke up the band by being dead – and there were zero mentions of the glam rock and art rock worlds that birthed them, but I still give this film Four Paws Up for its superlative performances, exceptional sound, and riveting scenes that give us a notion of what it was like to be in the band. The recreation of Queen’s set at Live Aid in 1985 was a spectacle on a level with the “Once in a Lifetime” sequence in Stop Making Sense or the chariot race in Ben-Hur.

Can I do the fandango? Yes, but I prefer not to.

I wanted to see Bohemian Rhapsody because I love films about bands. Naturally, I’ve made a list of all the ones I’ve seen (and some I haven’t). I’ve divided my list into four handy categories (with two subcategories). I don’t claim this list is complete – your nominations are welcome, and will be ridiculed.

Note: Documentaries are off-limits. So no mention of the legions of Beatles docs (such as Imagine: John Lennon and George Harrison: Living in the Material World) or the Decline of Western Civilization movies (punk and metal).

Also, I am arbitrarily striking off all the Star Is Born and Phantom of the Opera movies, including Phantom of the Paradise. This is just too much work.


Tonight, Category A:

Biopics about The Beatles

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The ultimate band movie, this one about a day in the life of a band that’s very like but not exactly like The Beatles, played by real Beatles. A Hard Day’s Night will not be equaled until they start making fantasy RPG movies where you can be Paul’s grandfather.

Birth of the Beatles (1979)
This was the first movie about The Beatles after their break-up. The songs were recorded by a Beatles tribute band with contributions from Paul McCartney. I don’t recall this film as amounting to much of anything, but it might be nostalgic to rewatch it. We’re probably better off with the next entry, even though like most people I can only handle a finite amount of Pete Best:

Backbeat (1994)
Young Beatles on a rampage in Berlin. The film is only above average, but the soundtrack – ooh-la-la! Alt-rock musicians covering The Beatles covering black R&B hits. Sweet.

Now for Beatles films I haven’t seen:

The Hours and the Times (1991)
Two of Us (2000)
Nowhere Boy (2009)
Lennon Naked (2010)

There are no Beatles songs on these soundtracks. The first two don’t even have songs, just the music that follows the actors around. The other two have some Lennon solo tracks. I can’t claim I’m in rush to see them.

Where are the Ringo movies??

Subcategory: Biopics about bands based on The Beatles

Head (1968)
Correct me if I’m wrong, Princess Internet, but A Hard Day’s Night and Head are the only movies about a band in which the band is played by the band (The Beatles and The Monkees, respectively). Unfortunately for The Monkees, the distance between A Hard Day’s Night and Head is about as wide as the distance between the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the bottom of an abandoned swimming pool. A living-room full of stoners would vote to watch Mary Poppins Returns.

The opening track, “Porpoise Song,” is a representative sample of late-’60s psychedelia, but other than that, I recommend you watch The Monkees’ old TV show.

The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)
The first Beatles parody. My problem with Beatles parodies is that after I hear the first song, I want the real thing. I’m afraid if tonight I watched All You Need Is Cash, I’d be disappointed.

In our next movies-about-music posts we’ll tackle Biopics about non-Beatles, Totally fictional biopics, and Old biopic crud from Hollywood. Until then, we will, of course, rock you.

The song “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t make sense, but, to be fair, neither does “I Am the Walrus.”

* There is no Yes biopic. I just said that to scare you.

No disqualifications tonight. I briefly flirted with The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. They began their careers 20 years before The Four Seasons but have had barely a third as many members. I enjoyed their one appearance on a Jimi Hendrix tribute CD, but they’re gospel and that’s too far afield. Though they’re certainly better than many of the bands on our list.

Let’s go 5!

Ben Folds Five
Ben Folds plays piano, and his two colleagues don’t play guitars. This gets really monotonous after a while, and it doesn’t help that Folds’ vocal qualities are similar to Weird Al’s. On Ben Folds Five (1995), Folds mostly bangs on his piano à la Schroeder, though he opens up some on “Uncle Walter.” I do like one of these songs a lot – “Where’s Summer B.?” – but mostly I want them to hire a guitar player.

The Dave Clark Five
Awhile back I wrote that “time has not been kind to them.” I’ll stick with that.

This one probably doesn’t count, as the 5 is a stand-in for an s. But what the heck.

Deadmou5’s real name is Joel Zimmerman. He hides inside a mouse’s head because he made a fool of himself at his bar mitzvah and he’s still embarrassed. I love trance and other forms of electronica, but Deadmou5 is not one of my favorites. He can turn out a classic hypnotic number like “I Remember” (Random Album Title, 2008) and he can also be repetitious and annoying, frequently in the same song. People say the same things about me, or maybe just the “repetitious and annoying” part.

Five Finger Death Punch
Don’t throw up your rawkfist just yet. 5FDP is a hard-core thrash outfit with a knack for making all of their pummeling songs sound exactly the same. Vocalist Ivan “Ghost” Moody thinks he’s narrating a horror movie. One of the two super-shredding guitarists is from Hungary – they have a lot of barely checked aggression there after decades of Soviet rule. Their first album was The Way of the Fist (2007); the follow-up was War Is the Answer (2009). Of course they were.

Five for Fighting
Another pianist, though this one likes guitars. John Ondrasik writes self-reflective songs that make me the Chairman of the Bored. At least Ben Folds gets up in my face. Ondrasik is too mellow for a confrontation. Has had two hits this century: “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” which is delicate and boring, and “100 Years,” which is syrupy and boring. Jim Croce without the sense of humor.

Five Man Electrical Band
A Canadian band that hit the big time with the anti-establishment “Signs” (1969). Today the singer railing against all the signs he sees forbidding this or restricting that sounds like a self-righteous little prick. Nice guitar work, though. They also did a song called “It Never Rains on Maple Lane,” which isn’t exactly good but it does make me imagine Harry Nilsson collaborating with George Harrison in 1970.

Maroon 5
It’s difficult to escape singer and TV personality Adam Levine these days. He has a very long neck. I wonder if he’s ever thought of hiding inside a mouse’s head? Probably not.

I’m not crazy about Levine’s near-falsetto singing, but Maroon 5’s music is an entertaining merger of alternative rock with the mainstream and a dash of hip hop. They’re not innovators, but they know how to get you moving. The Monkees could’ve recorded It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (2007) if they’d had the benefit of 30 years of video culture to build on.

“Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” Wayne Kramer yells at the beginning of Kick Out the Jams (1969), and there follows an earthquake that could easily be called the birth of punk. This is an angry album that I still find hard to listen to, and yet there are moments of quiet harmonizing – these boys grew up in Motown, after all. Must’ve been something in the air: another punk forerunner, The Stooges, came out of Detroit at the same time.

Seattleite Floyd Rose was a guitar-tech god of the early ’80s who invented a locking tremelo system. This keeps guitars in tune no matter how trembling the tremelo. We can thank Rose for his invention and ignore his music – 1984’s Steel the Light is routine metal and uninspired singing.

The 5th Dimension
Nixon invited these folks to the White House, which shows you how inoffensive they were. But if you want to experience the hippie milieu, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” will do it for you at light speed. They usually let too much sunshine in for me; exhibits A, B, and C are “Up, Up and Away,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” and “Wedding Bell Blues.”

“One Less Bell to Answer” is a fun song to act out, though I find that people start hitting me before I get much beyond the first line.

The Five Satins
Bobo Holloman was a pitcher who threw a no-hitter in his first major-league appearance in 1953. He won two more games, lost seven, and disappeared. The Five Satins were something like that. Their very first single was “In the Still of the Night,” which right out of the box made them the most famous doo wop act ever. And then nothing much happened. They were immortalized by Paul Simon in “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War”:

Easily losing their evening clothes
They danced by the light of the moon
To the Penguins, the Moonglows
The Orioles, The Five Satins

The deep forbidden music
They’d been longing for
Rene and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war

The Jackson 5
Say this name and we think of “Puppy Love” and “ABC,” or else we think of the family’s sad history. But The Jackson 5 were so much more, as they proved early on with “I’ll Be There” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” and as you can tell from two of their last major albums, Destiny (1978) and Triumph (1980). “Lovely One” from Triumph could easily have won a place on Thriller. The Jackson 5’s contemporaries The Osmonds were a pebble on their shoe.

The Jackson family had problems similar to The Monkees, in that their label refused to let them write or play their own music. The Jackson 5 was Motown’s last great group, but their relationship ended in a bitter legal struggle, a new label, and a change of name to The Jacksons. This at last freed the brothers – and allowed them to grow up.

Victory (1984), I just learned, is the only album that features all six Jackson brothers. (But not Janet.) I didn’t know there were six. It’s not as good as Triumph, unfortunately. Victory also has the bizarre “State of Shock,” which pairs Michael with Mick Jagger. Weird Al’s parody was better.

We Five
Here in the 5s, the two bands that are the farthest apart are Five Finger Death Punch and We Five. Five Finger Death Punch could sprinkle We Five on their pancakes and never notice the difference. I can best describe We Five as The Byrds after they were fixed at the vet’s. In 1966 they turned “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” into a cure for insomnia and then had a hit with Ian & Sylvia’s “You Were on My Mind.” (The British egomaniac Crispian St. Peters, who claimed he could write better than Lennon and McCartney, also had a hit with “You Were on My Mind.”)

These groupings will now start getting smaller. Tomorrow we’ll probably tackle numbers 6 through 10. Thanks as always for following along!


Q: What happened to the end of 1986 Week?
A: It collided with the weekend. Party!

Q: Aren’t you too old to party?
A: You’re never too old to party. You might have to party at 12 frames per second instead of 24, but you’re never too old to party.

Q: Well, how would you rate 1986? What kind of year was it musically?
A: It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.

Q: Since you were writing about 1986, why didn’t you mention The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead? It’s supposed to be their best album.
A: I’ll end with them. Sort of. Like it’s any of your business anyway.

Q: Looking at your tag cloud, I see that the biggest name is Bruce Springsteen. You mention him a lot, but you don’t write about him very much.
A: You have to form a question in the form of a question. Don’t be a sports journalist.

Q: Right. Bruce – WTF?
A: Springsteen has been around so long and recorded so much that it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s a handy measuring stick. Dylan has been around even longer and has recorded even more, but he doesn’t have the same impact on our culture. Bruce has remained relevant, or at least topical. Bob has not. Plus I don’t like Dylan’s voice. But to answer your question, I don’t know what I could add to the existing mountain of Springsteen music journalism that would make a difference or sound original by even one gram. So I’ll go on referring to him and trying not to refer to Dylan. Or Donovan.

Q: How are you getting along in the novel-writing sector?
A: I’ve written 15,000 words.

Q: Is that a big number?
A: If I keep them, yes. If not, no.

Q: Would you say that writing a novel is an iffy proposition?
A: I’d say I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Q: What did you listen to today? Sweatin’ to the Oldies?
A: Today I listened to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011). The radio hit, “Midnight City,” sounds like vintage Depeche Mode. I’m still wading through the rest of this two-disc set. This French band is kinda arty, like Arcade Fire but without the beat. I might have to counter with Oingo Boingo. I might spend this week listening to M83, blink-182, Haircut 100, Matchbox Twenty, Heaven 17, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark Five, The Bobby Fuller Four, 3 Doors Down, and Fun Boy 3.

Q: Fun Boy 3?
A: I bet I’ll be able to dispense with some of these guys in a song or two!

Q: Where’s Deadmau5 on your list?
A: I just learned that the 5 should be pronounced as an s. I feel as ridiculous as the day someone busted me for pronouncing R.E.M. as “rem.” Which reminds me of something I read recently. What a way to begin a review: “I don’t ordinarily like to think about sex and R.E.M. at the same time…” I don’t even care what the rest of the sentence is! (Review of the film Fourplay in Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Q: Let’s get back to The Smiths. Are you hating on them?
A: As if. I like half a dozen of their songs very much, but they’re scattered across their four studio albums, so their 1986 disc, The Queen Is Dead, didn’t move me.

I have tons of respect for Johnny Marr, their guitarist, but not much for Morrissey, even if he’s still being treated like a god. If all bands can be explained by The Monkees, then Johnny Marr is Mike Nesmith and Morrissey is Davy Jones.

Nevermind all this Q&A BS. Here’s a real interview for you. In the April 9 Seattle Weekly, Duff McKagan, the original bass player in Guns N’ Roses, interviews Marr. (Marr has a new album, The Messenger. It has some surprisingly strong tracks for a guy whose heyday was in 1986.) The interview is not only fun, it produced this gem:

McKagan: You were sort of the anti-guitar hero. I’m just so fascinated by your guitar style. I try to picture you guys in 1979 or whatever. I don’t know what he was listening to to get that sound.

Marr: Joy Division were rehearsing in the room above my band. They were scary guys just to look at because they wore old man’s clothes. With haircuts like they just came from the second world war. And that was much scarier than looking at someone who looked like the New York Dolls, or one of the Rolling Stones.

A: Everyone have a good week. Sweat to the oldies all you want, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: I didn’t ask a question!
A: Deal.


Tommy Tutone

In 1969, Sheraton Hotels forced television viewers to memorize their new toll-free reservation number. The fact that after 40 years I can still recall their campaign of flashing numerals and insanely cheerful female voices singing Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five proves that advertising works. And the fact that in 40 years I have never called 800-325-3535 proves that advertising doesn’t work.

In 1982, history repeated itself, as Tommy Tutone had a hit with “867-5309/Jenny.” (Tommy was the name of the singer; there was no one in the band named Tutone.) The song rose to #4 on the charts and the phone number imprinted itself on our psyches.

“867-5309/Jenny” is about working up the courage to dial a number you found on a bathroom wall. Let’s not think about that again. In the ’80s, Special D and I danced many times to “867-5309/Jenny,” which we heard in bars, clubs, and the midnight dances at science fiction conventions. It’s 3 minutes and 46 seconds of irresistible. It’s perfect for dancing, drinking, and making out. If you’re an air guitarist like me, you know the instrumental break is easy to mimic and short enough not to wear out its welcome.

Run-DMSteve’s Old Technology Shop
“867-5309/Jenny” has joined a class of songs that have become obsolete as the years have flown by. Tommy plans to contact Jenny on a pay phone. A call costs a dime. The same fate has befallen Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” in which it’s still possible to receive extended assistance from a human representative of the phone company:

Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
You can keep the dime

Gary Brooker’s “Switchboard Susan” is also about customer service. It may seem as old-fashioned as “Operator,” and it’s not as sophisticated, but it’s fun to listen to if only because Gary Brooker was once the leader of pretentious twits Procul Harum:

Now when I look at you girl I get an extension
And I don’t mean on Alexander Graham Bell’s invention
Switchboard Susan can we be friends
After six and at weekends

Kodak has stopped making Paul Simon’s Kodachrome. Life before the invention of Amtrak is a central theme in The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarkesville” as well as in “The Letter,” in which The Box Tops sing, “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane/Ain’t got time to take a fast train.” R.B. Greaves dictates a letter to his secretary in “Take a Letter, Maria.” Today of course he would’ve texted her. And sent a crotch shot.

Tommy, Tommy, who can I turn to?
Tommy Tutone, you’ve given us something that we can hold on to. Despite its message of empowerment through anonymous hookups and communication through devices that no longer exist, “867-5309/Jenny” is a killer song that will live forever. Just like Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five. Except you can dance to it.

A Rush of Blood to the Head

My three regular readers know that I use the term “Coldplay” as a handy benchmark meaning “inoffensive crap.” Is the case against Coldplay really that simple? Probably, but let’s consider it anyway.

Coldplay offers expertly crafted, atmospheric soft rock that implies other, harder, kinds of music. They’re not manipulating anyone; they’re sincere. That makes them The Monkees, minus the laughs and the bouncing-puppy energy. I’m guessing that they answer a need for people to be part of something cool created by guys who look like them. That makes them The Who, without all the philosophy. If you like to rock but you secretly enjoy music that makes you float on a cloud, Coldplay rocks just enough to give you some cover. That makes them Pearl Jam with the corners sanded off.

Coldplay is often compared to U2. I admit that both bands are insanely popular, that there are four men in each group, and that all eight of them come from islands off the coast of continental Europe. The similarities stop right there. Coldplay will never be as pretentious as U2, which is a mark in their favor, but neither will they take the chances U2 took on The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. And Coldplay seems to have skipped their hellcat period. It’s too late now for them to clobber us with their versions of War or Under a Blood Red Sky.

“Am I/a part of the cure/Or am I part of the disease?” (Coldplay, “Clocks”)
I’ve written before about guilty pleasures. Here’s another one: Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head.

The album showcases Coldplay’s strengths: Their flair for simple-yet-dramatic musical moments and their skill at constructing relatively short, punchy pop songs. Some of them are short and punchy, anyway. Unfortunately, A Rush of Blood also showcases their weaknesses, like their habit of repeating all of their simple-yet-dramatic musical moments. You can do a lot with half a dozen keys on the piano, but must it always be the same half dozen? Then there’s Coldplay’s Yes-like tendency toward bloat, and finally we have their singer, Chris Martin. Mr. Martin’s voice is breathy, high, and at times whiny. When Bono gets worked up about another issue bedeviling the world, which is every day, his voice goes striding across the land. Martin’s goes flat. It doesn’t help that he married Gwyneth Paltrow.

But man, does this album whip up a mood! At least it does in me. Playing A Rush of Blood on my headphones has made many a task zip right along. How did Coldplay win me over? My theory is that I first heard A Rush of Blood on a temporary job where I spent much of the day feeling sorry for myself. Coldplay is the band for you if you’re feeling sorry for yourself! They are melancholy without being terminal, cathartic without making you curl into a ball. They provide a valuable public service.

My conclusion on the Coldplay question is that these boys are all in their 30s. They work hard, they love their fans, and they take care of themselves. We’d better learn to live with them because they are not going away. And that makes them The Rolling Stones without all the egos.