Watch Frank Zappa Play Michael Nesmith on The Monkees (1967)

In Decem­ber 1967, The Mon­kees blew their audi­ence’s minds by host­ing Frank Zap­pa, “par­tic­i­pant in and per­haps even leader of” the Moth­ers Of Inven­tion.

Or did they?

The tidal wave of affec­tion that com­pris­es twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry Mon­kees mania makes us for­get that chil­dren were the pri­ma­ry audi­ence for The Mon­kees’ tit­u­lar sit­com. (One might also say that The Mon­kees were the sitcom’s tit­u­lar band.)

But even if the kids at home weren’t suf­fi­cient­ly con­ver­sant in the musi­cal under­ground to iden­ti­fy the spe­cial guest star of the episode, “The Mon­kees Blow Their Minds,” we are.

It’s a joy to see Zap­pa and The Mon­kees’ supreme­ly laid back Michael Nesmith (he audi­tioned for the show with his laun­dry bag in tow) imper­son­at­ing each oth­er.

Zappa’s idea, appar­ent­ly. He’s in com­plete con­trol of the gim­mick from the get go, where­as Nesmith strug­gles to keep their names straight and his pros­thet­ic nose in place before get­ting up to speed.

It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that it’s not Frank, but Nesmith play­ing Frank who accus­es The Mon­kees’ music of being banal and insipid.

Zap­pa him­self was a great sup­port­er of The Mon­kees. “When peo­ple hat­ed us more than any­thing, he said kind things about us,” Nesmith recalled in Bar­ry Miles’ Zap­pa biog­ra­phy. Zap­pa attempt­ed to teach Nesmith how to play lead gui­tar, and offered drum­mer Micky Dolenz a post-Mon­kees gig with The Moth­ers of Inven­tion.

Their mutu­al warmth makes lines like “You’re the pop­u­lar musi­cian! I’m dirty gross and ugly” palat­able. It put me in mind of come­di­an Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis’ Between Two Ferns, and count­less oth­er loose­ly rehearsed web series.

After a cou­ple of min­utes, Nesmith gets his hat back to con­duct as Zap­pa smash­es up a car to the tune of the Moth­er’s Of Inven­tion’s “Moth­er Peo­ple.”

Watch the full episode here, or if pressed for time, per­haps just Zappa’s cameo in the Mon­kees’ movie Head, as a stu­dio lot bull wran­gler who coun­sels lead singer Davy Jones on his career.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Young Frank Zap­pa Turns the Bicy­cle into a Musi­cal Instru­ment on The Steve Allen Show (1963)

In One of his Final Inter­views, Frank Zap­pa Pro­nounces Him­self “Total­ly Unre­pen­tant”

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday


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