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.
November 11, 2002: Paul McCartney alters songwriting credits to “McCartney-Lennon” on his new album, enraging Yoko Ono and Beatles fans
Paul McCartney’s double live album Back in the U.S.: Live 2002 carried controversial credits: a newly altered swap of his famous Beatles songwriting handle to “McCartney-Lennon.”
Lennon-McCartney, one of the most beloved and enduring songwriting tags in rock, was an unshakable brand throughout the Beatles’ massive career, and it continued intact until McCartney switched the order on his 1976 album Wings Over America. (At the time, Lennon reportedly did not care.) However, for McCartney’s 2002 live disc, he flipped the credits again; Yoko Ono protested with a wide public campaign, claiming that McCartney was being petulant in response to Ono omitting his name from a recent Lennon hits compilation.
In response to Ono and fans’ outcry, McCartney maintained that Lennon and the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, agreed in the 1960s to reverse the songwriting credits whenever the members saw fit. Although he has not reversed the names prominently since the 2003 debacle, McCartney’s lengthy public statement lives on online, including the exasperated jab, “The truth is that this is much ado about nothing and there is no need for anybody to get their knickers in a twist.”
November 6, 2006: Marianne Faithfull announces that she has beaten breast cancer
The reigning British rock chanteuse of the 1960s, Marianne Faithfull, handled public attention deftly for much of her life. Her romance with Mick Jagger in that decade was world-famous, not least for her double role as his muse; she was the inspiration for the Rolling Stones masterpieces “Wild Horses” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and the band covered her track “Sister Morphine” on Sticky Fingers. After publicly battling drug abuse and health problems throughout the 1970s, she released her triumphant comeback disc Broken English in 1979, an innovative slice of post-punk, dance and husky aggression.
In September of 2006, Faithfull abruptly cancelled the European stretch of her world tour after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was still in an early stage, and she underwent surgery and recuperated in France. Two months later, her publicist announced that Faithfull was in full recovery from the disease.
In the spring of 2007, Faithfull gave an interview to Britain’s Daily Mail describing Jagger’s sweet phone call to her in the hospital – their first conversation in 35 years – and explained, “Having cancer has been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. But life goes on, and it’s up to me to make the most of it.”
LAST WEEK: Carly Simon and James Taylor Tie the Knot