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.
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
I saw this recently rewatching some old Monkees episodes. It was pleasantly surprising and funny, although I knew he’d also been in “Head.”
In another episode, Liberace takes a sledgehammer to a grand piano.