When the Monkees stepped into MGM studios in November of 1968 to tape their NBC television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, they were just two years away from their commercial peak: selling records by the millions, a hit TV show and battling with the Beatles for chart supremacy. But their show went off the air that March, and their psychedelic movie Head stiffed in theaters just a couple weeks earlier. It was clear they were in free fall.
Their only saving grace was their recording career. Their most recent LP, The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, reached Number Three on the charts and generated the classic single “Daydream Believer.” It was enough to get NBC to green light a TV special, though wheels were in motion before critics got a look at Head. After that debacle, the Monkees could have created a television in the same zany, carefree style of their old show in an attempt to win back some old fans, but they decided to double down on psychedelic insanity.
Simply speaking, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee is about four men stripped of their identities, sent through the stages of evolution and thrown back in time to the early days of rock & roll as performers. Along the way, they come into contact with rock pioneers Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, all of whom play themselves. It ends with a wild, 10-minute version of “Listen to the Band” that quickly devolves into a wild psychedelic freakout crammed with guest stars. Check it out above.
This insane version of “Listen to the Band” marked the end of the road for the original lineup of the Monkees. Peter Tork told his bandmates during filming that he was leaving the band. They carried on as a trio until 1970. When Michael Nesmith left, they continued briefly as a duo with only Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz. All four of them wouldn’t share a stage again until 1986, and they wouldn’t play a full show until 1997. The Monkees are touring behind their 50th anniversary album Good Times! later this year, but this time it’s just Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork on the road. In Monkee world, lineups change quite a bit.