The Bootleg Files: The Monkees’ Tokyo Concerts

BOOTLEG FILES 779: “The Monkees in Japan” (1968 recording of the Pre-Fab Four in a Tokyo concert).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: There is no surviving video of the concert and the audio recording was never commercially released.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: To borrow a line from a Monkees tune: Zilch!

On very rare occasions, this column puts the spotlight on audio recordings that only exist when there is no surviving film element. In this case, the spotlight shines on what might have been the last commercial hurrah of the Monkees during their brief and frenetic spin at the center of the 1960s cultural zeitgeist.

In the autumn of 1968, the Monkees found themselves at the beginning of the end of a wild journey that began only two years earlier when four young men with no previous knowledge of each other were brought together for a sitcom about a struggling rock band. To surprise of nearly everyone – including Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork, the recruited quartet – “The Monkees” caught the imagination of audiences who embraced this unlikely television show and the records released in conjunction with the series.

But the real surprise came when the make-believe band for the TV series coalesced into a real band with very specific ideas for their scripts and their musical material. This unexpected development created friction between the band members and their handlers, and by February 1968 “The Monkees” was cancelled.

Absent of a weekly television series to keep them front and center before an audience, the Monkees launched into the production of a feature film called “Head” that used subversive and surreal humor to dissect the manufactured aspect of their genesis. When production on “Head” concluded, the Monkees were eager to get back in front of their fans lest anyone forget them.

For the fall of 1968, a concert tour was planned for the Asia-Pacific region. The initial multi-nation odyssey was narrowed down to a pair of countries: an 11-day swing through Australia followed by five days in Japan. While in Japan, the Monkees performed three shows over October 3-4, 1968, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo that was videotaped for presentation on Japanese television by the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

What no one at the time realized what the videotaped Tokyo performance would be the last visual record of the Monkees in their original configuration during their initial performance period. Following the commercial failure of “Head” at the U.S. box office in its November 1968 release and the December 1968 taping of an atrocious NBC television special called “33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee,” Peter Tork cited physical and emotional exhaustion in announcing his departure from the Monkees.

Sadly, the video record of the Monkees’ Tokyo concerts no longer exists – Tokyo Broadcasting System has been unable to locate any trace of the recording, which was most likely wiped after its presentation on Japanese television. Even more curious, no fan-shot home movies have turned up. Only a bootleg audio recording survives – and from is preserved on this recording, the performance must have been one for the ages.

The Monkees did not speak Japanese, so the recording includes Japanese narrators introducing their songs. Each number is greeted with rapturous applause – particularly “D.W. Washburn,” which was mildly popular in the U.S. but is greeted by the Tokyo crowds like news of a successful invasion of Manchuria. (I know, I know…like Basil Fawlty told us, don’t mention the war.)

The live performances by the band have a raw, earthy and visceral edge compared to the carefully crafted studio-bound versions that turned up on their albums. Davy Jones seems to bond with the audience with gusto, encouraging the audience to sing along with “Daydream Believer” and unleashing screams of female giddiness in his “Cuddly Toy” spin.

The latter part of the concert enabled each Monkee to have a solo turn that highlighted their unique talents. Peter Tork, who rarely was granted lead singer duties, was given a chance to shine with the bluegrass-hued “Cindy” and the comic recitation “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” (and the ladies were particularly orgiastic over this). Mike Nesmith’ solo is a take on “Johnny B. Goode” (the show’s one dud spot due to weak vocalizing and inadequate music support), while Davy Jones’ riff on the Anthony Newley show tune “Gonna Build a Mountain” provides a vibrant reminder of his musical theater roots and Micky Dolenz’s “I Got a Woman” gives a fine showcase to his vocal prowess.

The concert closes with “I’m a Believer” as the penultimate tune and, curiously, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” as the sign-off – one could image it would have been the other way around but (hey hey) they were the Monkees and it was their show.

The surviving bootleg recording of the Tokyo concerts is on YouTube. Maybe some day the long-missing visual component of this show will emerge. Until then, the elusive video remains lost in scenes of smoke-filled dreams.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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