I have to confess, I’m a little bit fascinated with the Monkees’ song—if you can call it that—”Zilch.” Buried on side B of their 1967 masterpiece Headquarters, “Zilch” has recently struck me as one of the keys to unscrambling the Monkees’ impressive legacy. Even allowing for the experimental 1960s in which everyone was trying everything, even allowing for the ever-present Beatles influence that constituted part of the Monkees’ damnable raison d’être, even allowing for the possibly amateurish execution, “Zilch” seems to fly in the face of the charge the Monkees were always trying to live down, that they were just a bunch of TV actors looking to cash in on a craze, a charge that was all the more troubling because there was a fair bit of truth to it. The Monkees’ bugaboo always was and always would be “authenticity,” more so than for any other band, and the Monkees’ quest to seize control over the means of production, which ultimately happened but didn’t necessarily lead to long-lasting artistic fruition, should warm the heart of any right-thinking Marxist.
Like almost everyone born after the release of Headquarters, I first encountered “Zilch” as a sample/inspiration for “Mistadobalina,” the 1991 song by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, without the slightest clue where it had come from—at the time it seemed most likely that it was an inside joke among Del and his buddies or something of the kind. The catchy and slightly discombobulating phrase “Mista Dobalina, Mista Bob Dobalina” is such an ideal hook for a rap song, and I’m sure I share with many, many younger DM readers that “Well I’ll be hog-tied!” moment when you have Headquarters on and you realize that the irresistible hook was spoken by Peter fucking Tork! (I notice that even Richard, whom I regard as an unimpeachable expert on all pre-1983 rock music and would have supposed might have been aware of the phrase’s provenance all along, went through this same process as well.)
I’m sure I’m placing waaaay too much stock in “Zilch,” it might not be the secret key to anything. What I do know is that it’s great, and every time I have Headquarters on I raise the needle after “Zilch” is over and play it again.
We’ve all heard isolated tracks for songs by the Beatles, the Stones, the Carpenters, et al., and gaped at the impossible artistry. Here we have a slightly more mundane, and yet entirely pleasurable, version of the same thing—isolated vocal tracks for “Zilch.” They come off Rhino’s Headquarters Sessions 3-CD set, released in 2000, which today is a little hard to find, it sells on Amazon for just shy of $400. (The “Zilch” isolated tracks are not, however, on the sampler vinyl collection Selections from the Headquarters Sessions.)
Here they are, in order of appearance on the track:
TORK: “Mister Dobalina, Mister Bob Dobalina”
JONES: “China clipper calling Alameda”
DOLENZ: “Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense”
NESMITH: “It is of my opinion that the people are intending”