Week in Rock History: The Monkees' 'Head' Movie Bombs

Plus: Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers dies in motorcycle crash

November 7, 2011 1:20 PM ET
monkees head
The Monkees star in the film, 'Head.'
GAB Archive/Redferns

This week in rock history, the Monkees bombed in theaters, Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers died in an eerily familiar accident, Dave Matthews Band released their debut album, Paul McCartney outraged fans by switching Beatles songwriting credits and Marianne Faithfull triumphed over breast cancer. 

November 6, 1968: The Monkees’ disastrous movie Head premieres in New York
Dissatisfied with their sunny teen-idol image (as befit a pop group created for a television show), the Monkees took a stab at trendy psychedelia in their 1968 movie, Head. However, the effort left them humiliated.

The surreal black comedy, described as "plotless" in more charitable reviews, cobbled together various unrelated images of the era: slapstick chase scenes, furious critique of the Vietnam War, Broadway parody. A recurring, randomly interspersed segment found the band imprisoned in an enormous black box; they were also reduced to dandruff in another actor's hair. Head’s chaotic 85-minute run frustrated even loyal fans, who arrived in theaters anticipating a romance, or a comedy, or a drama, or a musical – and received all of them, in 20-second increments. 

Oddly enough, Jack Nicholson served as co-producer and co-writer for the messy movie, and Frank Zappa and Dennis Hopper made cameos. Perhaps they had their own agenda; as one of the film's hypnagogic trailers chirps smugly, "Head! Head is everything!"


November 11, 1972: Allman Brothers bass player Berry Oakley dies in an accident in the same area where Duane Allman died one year earlier
After the Allman Brothers Band scored their greatest musical success to date, history repeated itself tragically. Just one year and two weeks after the guitarist and cofounder of the rock group, Duane Allman, died in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia, the band's bassist, Berry Oakley, passed away in the same manner – in the same town, no less.

Oakley, another original member of the Allman Brothers Band, was celebrated for his melody-heavy runs, which stitched tightly with the bluesy ensemble's percussion under their noodling guitarwork. Like Duane Allman, he was riding a motorcycle at the time of his death; also like Allman, he collided with a larger vehicle. Oakley left the scene claiming that he was uninjured, but was rushed to the hospital hours later and died from a fractured skull. He was 24.

In the short year between the two terrible deaths, the Allman Brothers released Eat a Peach, a hit double album that secured their highest placement on the Billboard charts.

November 9, 1993: Dave Matthews Band releases first album
In 1991, South African bartender Dave Matthews was slinging drinks in Charlottesville, Virginia when one of his regulars encouraged him to lay down a demo. Shyly, Matthews agreed, and the process led him to local drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, violinist Boyd Tinsely and keyboardist Peter Griesar. They played around town and considered Dumela (Twsana for "hello") for their group name before agreeing on the eponymous one they still carry.

The group's full-length debut, Remember Two Things, landed two years later on their newly created Bama Rags record label. Its cover art was an autostereogram (a distorted image popularized in the "Magic Eye" fad) of a peace sign; the live-recorded tracks were equally pacific, including the still-popular show staple "Ants Marching."

Dave Matthews Band followed the effort with their 1994 major-label debut and crossover hit, Under the Table and Dreaming. All members, minus Griesar (who left shortly after joining) and Moore (who died in 2008), remain in the band today.

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