THE BOOTLEG FILES: HEY, HEY, IT’S THE MONKEES

BOOTLEG FILES 369: “Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees” (1997 TV special reuniting Davy, Micky, Mike and Peter).

LAST SEEN: The entire show can be seen on Veoh.com.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The only Monkees production that was never commercially released in home entertainment channels.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Someday, perhaps.

Thomas Wolfe was spot-on when he observed that you can’t go home again – and this seems especially poignant for once-popular music groups that reunite years after splitting up. Belated get-togethers are inevitably a bad idea: the cruelty of time robs most performers of their energy and vibrancy (not to mention their vocal prowess), and this is particularly embarrassing when older performers attempt to recapture magic that evaporated decades earlier.

The wiser music groups resist the siren call of well-funded nostalgia – the four members of ABBA, most notably, have reportedly rejected extraordinary financial offers to team up again for reunion tours. Sometimes, old bands are constituted with a few of their founding members and a lot of new people who had no connection to the past glories. In a way, those hodgepodges are more than disappointing – they represent a genuine cheat.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the launch of The Monkees, and three members of the original quartet are planning a reunion tour across the U.K. and the U.S. However, the last time that all four Monkees reunited was a 1997 one-shot TV special called “Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees.”

Although The Monkees play a significant part in today’s consideration of 1960s pop culture, the band originally had a fairly brief life. “The Monkees” TV show only ran two seasons, from September 1966 to March 1968, and their follow-up projects – the 1968 film “Head” and a 1969 TV special called “33? Revolutions Per Monkee” – were disastrous commercial failures. Even worse, their skein of hit tunes abruptly stopped once their TV show was over. Peter Tork quit the group after the TV special wrapped, which Michael Nesmith left in early 1970. Remaining band members Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones gamely attempted to carry on The Monkees as a duo, but they lost the rights to the Monkees name after a single unsuccessful album was released in mid-1970.

Yet The Monkees never really vanished from sight. Their TV show remained on the air for years, first as a staple of Saturday morning kiddie program and later as a syndicated offering that was rerun to death by hundreds of independent television stations. In the mid-1980s, MTV and Nickelodeon began to rerun the show, and The Monkees’ albums were simultaneously re-released. Dolenz, Jones and Tork reunited in the mid-1980s for a Monkees tour, and a newly recorded single called “That Was Then, This is Now” found its way to the Billboard charts. Of course, the group’s hit songs remained part of the play list of radio stations specializing in “oldies” music.

However, the reunited Monkees were only three-quarters complete. Nesmith, whose post-Monkees career included successful ventures in songwriting and music and video production, was not eager to participate in the revival. He turned up twice in 1989 – once for a Los Angeles concert and once for the dedication of a Monkees star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – but, otherwise, he kept his distance.

By 1996, however, the 30th anniversary of The Monkees brought Nesmith a change of heart. He joined the other Monkees on an album called “Justus” and performed with them at a Los Angeles concert and on a British concert tour. ABC-TV contacted The Monkees for a one-shot special, and Nesmith took it upon himself to write the script and direct the production. And that is where the problems began.

The production, titled “Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees,” picks up where the 1966-68 series left off, with group living and working together as a none-too-successful working band. Their residence is still a chaotic yet funky beachfront house, where they rehearse their gigs and fend off intrusions from a zany world.

Of course, this was funny and charming in the 1960s, when the quartet was young and full of life. In this special, however, The Monkees well into middle age and rather enervated. Except for Dolenz, who was hamming it up as if the fate of the world depended on his wackiness, no one else in the band seemed particularly happy to be going through the old paces again.

A further sense of being stuck in a time warp was the special’s constant references to the original TV series. In this go-round, they claim to be on their 781st episode, with Micky stating, “I wonder if the general public knows that TV shows like ours never die. They just go on and on even though they’re not being broadcast.”

Throughout the production, The Monkees constantly dodge people who try to lure them into adventures that were previously covered in early escapades. The unfortunate comparisons to past glory continued through a medley of old hit songs, where clips from the 1960s where intercut with the much older (but none-too-wiser) Monkees.

As a comedy, “Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees” was a hit-and-miss affair, though it mostly missed the mark. Gags involving the creation of a drink that causes the imbiber to vomit up sparkles (this takes place off-screen, thankfully), a miniature tour bus operating in the band’s refrigerator and a malfunctioning laugh track are painfully unfunny. As for the music, the new material was strictly unmemorable. Outside of an inexplicably updated version of Nesmith’s “Circle Sky,” there was absolutely nothing worth citing.

“Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees” was broadcast on ABC on February 17, 1997. According to the Nielsen ratings, the special attracted 10.3 million viewers, which sounds great – except that the special ranked 73rd out of 106 shows broadcast in prime time that week. The poor audience reaction, coupled with weak sales on the “Justus” album, put a chill on the newly reconstituted act. Nesmith left the group and, to date, he has not rejoined his former band mates in any concert or promotional appearance.

“Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees” has never been released in any official home entertainment format. Bootleg DVDs are easy to locate and the entire production can be seen on Veoh.com. But unless you are hopeless addicted to The Monkees, it would be better to stick with the oldies-but-goodies and leave this afterthought effort alone.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on April 1, 2011 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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