Co-writer Jack Nicholson actually compiled the movie soundtrack in its final form, with snippets of the movie dialogue between songs, and is so credited on the album cover. (When he saw Michael Nesmith at work in the studio and asked if he could help, Nesmith let him take over, because "I just want to go home".) Nicholson had unwavering enthusiasm for the movie, joining in a stickering campaign to promote the premiere, and declaring later that "I saw it, like, 158 million times, man. I loved it!"
Veteran actor Victor Mature agreed to appear in the movie after reading the script, admitting none of it made sense to him: "All I know is it makes me laugh." His character "The Big Victor" is presumed to be a comic jab at RCA Victor, which were the distributors for The Monkees records, and whose parent company also owned NBC, which aired their TV series.
The Coca-Cola Co. reportedly wasn't amused at The Monkees' take on then-current Coke commercials (desert wanderer Micky Dolenz faces off against an uncooperative soda machine, as a jingle plays), and tried to get an injunction against the movie. When the movie reappeared on cable and home video in 1986, Columbia Pictures was owned by Coca-Cola, and the issue apparently forgotten.
Five years after its premiere, the movie was shown in a 1973 Raybert retrospective, along with Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Easy Rider (1969), and finally gained a positive response from fans and critics.
The "box" shown in several scenes in the film was inspired by the lounge area built for The Monkees during the filming of their TV show. Between takes, they grew bored and wandered around the studio, often getting lost, so Screen Gems brass added a special room next to the soundstage. They would spend time there studying their scripts, composing and playing music, and smoking (which they were forbidden to do on the set). Colored lights were added to the room to page whoever was needed on the set.
A misleading ad campaign (featuring John Brockman's face and no mention of The Monkees), combined with a poorly timed release date (due to postproduction delays) of 6 November 1968, two months after The Monkees (1966) show was canceled, likely sabotaged its performance at the box office. It made a meager $16,111 in ticket sales.
Toni Basil who is the dance partner of Davy Jones during "Daddy's Song" and also credited as the film's choreographer would later go on to gain commercial success for her 1982 song "Hey Mickey" which refers to Monkees drummer and vocalist Micky Dolenz whom she met during production.
When it was finally edited together into a cohesive whole, it ran 10 minutes short of an unprecedented 2 hours! A poor audience response at an August 1968 screening in Los Angeles eventually forced the producers to edit the picture down to 86 minutes.
Peter Tork was the only one of The Monkees to appear on the set for the first scheduled day of filming (February 11, 1968). The others had decided to strike, in protest against not being allowed to write and direct the movie themselves. While they soon returned, feeling they'd made their point with producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the unity between the band and the producers was forever broken. For their part, Rafelson and Schneider began playing albums on the set by other groups like Electric Flag, claiming, "That's REAL rock-n-roll."
Michael Nesmith's birthday party sequence was shot at Paramount Studios on a set from Rosemary's Baby (1968). It featured 100 extras and pop artist Edward Kienholz, whose 1964 sculpture "Back Seat Dodge '38" was featured on set.
The movie's origin was in Ojai, California, where The Monkees, producer/director Bob Rafelson and writer Jack Nicholson spent a weekend in a resort motel verbally tossing story ideas into a tape recorder. This became the basis of the script. The Monkees weren't credited because, according to Micky Dolenz, "We didn't write any of the actual dialogue".
Had its television broadcast premiere on "The CBS Late Movie" (1972) Monday, December 30, 1974 (Michael Nesmith's 32nd birthday, and Davy Jones' 29th), at 11:30 pm (EST), airing opposite The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) on NBC and The Gator Bowl (Texas Longhorns versus Auburn Tigers) on ABC. CBS repeated the film on Monday, July 7, 1975, also @ 11:30 PM (EDT), against "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" on NBC, and "Wide World Mystery" (1973) on ABC.
One of the many stories about how the movie got made centered around the classic counter-culture film, "Easy Rider". As the story goes, Monkees producer Bob Rafelson had met Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda and wanted to produce their film. Rafelson went to Columbia Pictures (Who produced The Monkees TV Series) and pitched "Easy Rider" to the execs. Columbia agreed to finance the picture on the condition that Rafelson made a Monkees movie. Rafelson agreed and got Jack Nicholson, who was also a screen writer, to write the film. Nicholson hung out with The Monkees for several weeks, even going with them on tour. Once "Head" was made, Rafelson abandoned The Monkees (as told by Peter Tork) and went off to bigger projects, starting with "Easy Rider".