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Monkee Music: The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on September 30, 2011

A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book Monkee Music, available as paperback, hardback, PDF, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK) and ePub (all DRM-free).

For this album, unlike any of the others under discussion, I’m afraid I have to discuss a lot of music which can not, at present, be legally acquired.

By late 1967, the Monkees were working to all intents and purposes as four solo artists, with only minimal involvement with each other’s work. And by the time The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees came to be released, each man had recorded almost a full album’s worth of material, which was cut down into one fairly strong single album, though some of the best tracks were left off.

Some of the tracks made their way onto future albums or onto compilations, but in 2010 Rhino Handmade released a comprehensive, exhaustive three-CD box set which showed the sheer depth of talent that went into making this album. And they made it a limited edition. So much of this music became unavailable within a month of two of release. Apparently Rhino Handmade don’t like money.

But if you can manage to obtain the music (I would of course never countenance the illegal downloading of music, and would suggest instead you purchase one of the vastly overpriced second-hand copies which occasionally come up for sale at a hundred pounds or more, and from which all of the money would go to a speculator and none to the artists or record label) you can see that The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees should have been the Monkees’ White Album.

The album released at the time, though, wasn’t as strong as its immediate predecessor. While Nesmith’s tracks, in particular, are outstanding, the album suffers from having far too many Davy Jones ‘Broadway rock’ tracks, and from the near-complete absence of Peter Tork (whose only contribution to the album as released is a piano part on Daydream Believer). It’s much as if the White Album had been cut down to a twelve-track album by someone with a vendetta against George Harrison tossing coins.

While the album’s production credit is to The Monkees (with the exception of the previously-released Daydream Believer, credited to Chip Douglas), in reality a variety of producers worked on the album, though usually employed as ‘arrangers’ to keep up the pretence, including Boyce and Hart, Shorty Rogers and Lester Sill, though band members did also produce their own tracks.

Dream World

Writers: David Jones & Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

The album opens with the best of Jones’ Broadway-rock tracks, one of several songs written in collaboration with his friend Steve Pitts, apparently for submission for the Monkees’ forthcoming film.

The song seems to have been an attempt at writing in the pre-Beatles early-60s style of Jones’ pre-Monkees Colpix solo album, and has a whiff of Adam Faith about it, though the lyric is at times quite biting (“Always pretending that everything’s fine when it’s not/Why must you lie when you know that you’ll always get caught?”). However, Shorty Rogers’ arrangement, with its harpsichord part and horn solo, brings it up to date.

Still among the weaker tracks on the album, this is a pleasant enough opener.

Auntie’s Municipal Court

Writers: Michael Nesmith and Keith Allison

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Michael Nesmith (guitar and backing vocals)

Nesmith’s first composition on the album, a jangly guitar-led country-psych song, is one of only two songs on the album that could legitimately be called a track by the Monkees, plural, rather than a Monkee singular, having as it does two band members on it – along with several of the band’s regular recent collaborators, like Harry Nilsson, Bill Chadwick and Eddie Hoh.

This is Nesmith at his most psychedelic, stringing together words almost without regard for meaning, in a vaguely skipping-rhyme rhythm (“fine man, crazy man, he can’t see/Sound of the sunset, sound of the sea”), rather than the precise, affecting choices of his earlier and later work. However, the country guitar-picking clearly grounds this in Nesmith’s comfort zone, at least until the psychedelic freak-out reverbed ending.

We Were Made for Each Other

Writers: Carole Bayer and George Fischoff

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

This is actually the Monkees’ third attempt at this track. The first version, recorded three months earlier, and available as a bonus track on the box set version of the album, is quite an interesting track, driven by fast picked banjo, though it’s missing a lead vocal.

The finished version, on the other hand, is horrible. It sounds like Jones’ voice has been sped up, making it sound ridiculously thin, and it’s just a wash of bad strings and tinkling harpsichord, over which Jones sings Bayer’s banal lyrics. The stereo version is moderately better than the mono version in this respect, with the rhythm section more to the fore, and the strings being used as colouring rather than the major feature of the track, but that just elevates it from terrible to bearable.

Tapioca Tundra

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

Another of Nesmith’s forays into psychedelia, this is a surrealistic poem (“Silhouettes and figures stay/Close to what we had to say/And one more time a faded dream/Is saddened by the news”) over a vaguely Latin-inflected backing track (almost all played by Nesmith, apart from the drums by Eddie Hoh), a wash of acoustic guitars and hand percussion.

The music seems to show the influence of both the pre-rock country music Nesmith had been listening to recently (especially in the fingerpicked-and-whistled intro, but it shows up more consistently in the acoustic demo of this track, which could almost be Jimmie Rodgers at times, and doesn’t have the psychedelic effects on the intro) and of the newer hard rock music that was becoming popular.

In particular, the between-verses riff, although similar to a lot of the playing with suspended chords that the Byrds and the Searchers did in their early folk-rock songs (and the feel of this track is such that the first comparison that would spring to mind is the Byrds’ Feel A Whole Lot Better), is identical to that used by LA bands Love and The Leaves in their proto-punk versions of Hey Joe from 1966.

It also actually shows Nesmith self-plagiarising slightly, as the melody for the middle eight of this (“Sunshine, ragtime, blowing in the breeze…”) is near-identical to the middle eight of The Girl I Knew Somewhere (“Someway, somehow, the same thing was done…”).

There’s a very strange alternate mix of this with a double-tracked vocal, with one of the vocals emoting very differently to the performance used in the finished version, and with reverb drenched all over everything, but the finished version, with a filter on Nesmith’s single-tracked vocal, is one of the most interesting records the band ever made. Certainly, I can think of very few other surrealist garage-punk Latin country-psych tracks to have made the top forty.

Davy Jones has claimed in recent years that Nesmith got his songs regularly on the B-sides of the band’s singles, and that this made Nesmith far more money than the rest of the band, but in fact this was only the second of his songs to be released as a B-side (as the B-side of Valleri) and the first lead vocal he’d ever taken on either side of a single. Valleri was so popular that this reached number 34 in the US charts on the back of that success.

Daydream Believer

Writer: John Stewart

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals), Michael Nesmith (guitar), Peter Tork (piano)

In many ways, this is the last Monkees record. It’s certainly the last studio recording of an actual song to feature all four band members until 1996′s Justus reunion album. It’s also the last track produced by Chip Douglas to be released during the band’s career, though several of the bonus tracks on the CD versions of this album feature Douglas’ bass playing.

Written by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio, this became the band’s fifth consecutive gold single, and remains probably their most-loved track. Everything about the track is precisely right, from the audio verite at the beginning (“7a” “What number is this, Chip?”, “7A”, “OK, no need to get excited man, it’s ’cause I’m short, I know”), to Tork’s simple arrangement, to the oblique lyric.

The piano part and arrangement for this track turned out to be the only contribution Tork made to the finished album (several of his songs were considered for it, including the two that eventually made the Head soundtrack), but given that this record is such an absolute pop classic, one has to wonder what would have happened had the four members continued to work together, rather than drifting apart.

Incidentally, there was one lyrical change that was made by the band from Stewart’s demo – where he sang “now you know how funky I can be”, the word ‘funky’ was changed to ‘happy’, presumably because the idea of Davy Jones ever being funky was such an absurd one. In later recordings, Stewart himself changed the lyric of the last chorus, singing “and an old closet queen”.

This track was reissued in the 1980s, in a remixed version with a new drum part (full of gated reverb and ‘sonic power’) and handclaps. That version should be avoided at all costs.

Writing Wrongs

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

And here we get to possibly the most controversial record in the Monkees’ ‘canon’.

There are two schools of thought about this track. One of them (which seems to be the one to which almost every Monkees fan belongs) thinks this is dreadful. The other (to which I, and very few others, belong) considers this possibly the best single track the Monkees ever recorded.

An epic at 5:05 (for the mono mix) or 5:09 (for the stereo), this is very much the Monkees’ equivalent of A Day In The Life or Surf’s Up. Nesmith here plays all the keyboard and guitar parts on what is easily his most ambitious Monkees track.

Starting with a two-chord tick-tock rhythm on piano, Nesmith comes in on vocals with his most impenetrable lyrics yet. Seemingly apocalyptic (“Did you know the water’s turning yellow?/Had you heard the sky was falling down?”) the lyrics seem to reference things that have some meaning at least to Nesmith (“Have you heard about Bill Chambers’ mother?”), while the piano keeps tick-tocking and an organ drones underneath.

Suddenly the piano changes to straight fours – “You have a way of making everything you say seem unreal…” – as the organ rises in volume. This, what we must consider the chorus, lasts for two lines, then we get eleven beats in 3/4 time, and a sudden stop.

We then enter the jazz freak-out section. Over latin flavoured drums and a single, briskly strummed, guitar chord, the piano starts playing around with a couple of three- and four-note scalar riffs, while the organ plays different variations of the same patterns.

The whole thing is almost wilfully difficult. There is a consistent pulse to the music, but each instrument is playing against that pulse, rather than with it, and against the other instruments. Were one to listen to this instrumental piece out of context, the first thought might be that it was by Sun Ra or someone rather than The Monkees.

After two minutes and ten seconds of this – the length of many normal Monkees songs – we return to a shortened version of the original musical material, with similarly oblique lyrics (“And I hope Bill Chambers’ mother’s better/Oh dear, the moon just disappeared”), and fades on a repeat of the instrumental section.

It’s a draining, exhausting piece of music, quite unlike anything else the band recorded, but quite astonishingly good.

I’ll Be Back Up On My Feet

Writers: Sandy Linzner and Denny Randell

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

This is a remake of a track that had originally been recorded during the More Of The Monkees sessions with Jeff Barry producing. This version is much better, being faster paced, and with a very interesting arrangement by Shorty Rogers, especially a bizarre sound in the bass register which comes from a percussion instrument called a quica which is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

The song itself is not hugely impressive, though, being patterned after the kind of material with which Sandie Shaw was having some success at the time, a sort of cod-Bacharach without Bacharach’s harmonic or rhythmic unpredictability.

What is impressive, though, is the stylistic range of this album, where something like this could follow something like Writing Wrongs and have neither track sound more out of place than the other.

The Poster

Writers: David Jones & Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Easily the worst song on the album by a long way, this is Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite as rewritten by a very literal-minded five-year-old with no sense of poetry or imagery, and sung slightly out of tune. Except not as interesting as that sounds.

Jones got the idea for this song from one Edith Sidebottom, a woman in her mid-eighties who had written a song that ended ‘and the circus is coming to town’. She later threatened to sue him, but he settled out of court.

P.O. Box 9847

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

This is actually a cover of a track Boyce and Hart had previously released under their own names, as a B-side. Boyce and Hart’s original is actually rather better than the Monkees’ version.

This song came from an idea by Bob Rafelson, one of the producers of the Monkees’ TV show, about someone writing a classified ad. It’s actually one of Boyce and Hart’s cleverer songs, with each verse being a classified ad leading up to the chorus, which is just the title repeated, leading back into the verse with a different line each time, but all along the lines of “I’ve described me very poorly, better try again”.

Not only is it an extremely good song as a song, it also manages to work very cynically on the teenage girl listener. Each verse is slightly more grounded and realistic than the one previous, and it’s easy to imagine poor Micky trying vainly to describe himself, while only you – yes YOU teenage American girl – can really understand him.

Listening to Boyce and Hart’s original version, it’s very obviously inspired by John Lennon and George Harrison’s work on Revolver, but the two versions by the Monkees move further from that inspiration (though the piano part in the released version bears a family resemblance to the Taxman riff).

There are two very different versions of this song recorded by the Monkees (both based on the same basic take, but with very different overdubs). The more conventional of the two, driven by an eerie Bernard Herrman-esque string part, is the one that made it on to the album, but the other version, based around a Moog rather than the strings, is slightly better in my view. Either way, though, this is, other than Daydream Believer, the strongest non-Nesmith track on the album.

Magnolia Simms

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

The most straightforward of Nesmith’s songs on the album, this is a note-perfect attempt at recapturing the feel of 1920s and 30s ‘old-time’ music, from a time when country music and jazz were much closer than people now think (see for example Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong recording together).

There was a brief fad for this kind of nostalgia at this time, more in Britain than in the US, with bands like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band recording 1920s novelty songs, and even the Beatles would follow a few months later with Honey Pie, which, like this song, had added surface noise to replicate the sound of an old 78. Nesmith also has a filter on his vocal, to sound more like the 1920s singers who used a megaphone to be heard above their bands.

The stereo mix of this song, in fact, only plays in one channel, because the music it was emulating was in mono. However, the box set reissue of this album contains a true-stereo remix, without the noises.

This is Nesmith’s slightest piece on the album, but accessible and catchy, and shows his mastery of this style, both as a songwriter and a vocalist.

Valleri

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

This is another remake of a song recorded earlier in the band’s career. In this case, the song had featured on the TV show, and was being played by DJs, but had never been released commercially.

The original version, produced by Boyce & Hart, was deemed unusable as all tracks now had to have a ‘produced by the Monkees’ credit. So Boyce & Hart were called back in to re-record it, as close as possible to the original recording, but had to give the Monkees credit for production.

The song itself has been called by Nesmith “The worst song I’ve ever heard in my life,” and there’s some truth to that assertion. Its genesis began when Boyce & Hart were asked by Kirshner if they had a girl’s-name song for the TV show, said ‘of course’, then wrote it in the car on the way to see him. As a result, the song just consists of four chords repeated over and over – a descending sequence by whole tones from I to V7 – with the most moronic possible lyrics (rhyming good with could and door with before, with the chorus just being the word “Valleri”).

However the production and arrangement are a truly impressive piece of turd-polishing, with a fuzz-guitar riff inspired by Satisfaction (though sounding more like Hungry Freaks, Daddy by the Mothers Of Invention), a Stax-esque horn section and blisteringly fast acoustic guitar playing from Louie Shelton. While the song may be dreadful, the record is a great piece of pop music.

This was the Monkees’ last top ten single in the US, peaking at number three and going gold. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the last single they released to feature in their TV show.

Zor and Zam

Writers: Bill & John Chadwick

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

A rather intense nursery-rhyme like song telling the story of two kingdoms preparing for a war that never happens because nobody showed up, this song is possibly best known for popularising the anti-war slogan “what if they gave a war and nobody came?”, a paraphrase by the Chadwicks of “Suppose they gave a war and no-one came?”, the title of a magazine article, which was itself a misremembering of a line from a poem by Carl Sandburg.

The line as used by the Monkees became one of the most powerful slogans of the Vietnam era, though few remembered where it had come from.

Bonus Tracks

Alvin

Writer: Nicholas Thorkelson

Lead Vocalist:
Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

A charming 24-second a capella piece by Tork’s brother, about missing a pet alligator who’s been flushed down the toilet.

I’m Gonna Try

Writers: David Jones & Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Described (accurately) by Jones as ‘just a throwaway thing, really’ [FOOTNOTE: quote taken from Sandoval, p. 172], this harmlessly pleasant example of Jones’ ‘Broadway rock’ style would nonetheless have made a much better track than The Poster, which was recorded at the same time.

Lady’s Baby

Writer: Peter Tork

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

This simple ballad by Tork, which went unreleased until the 1990s, was his obsession at this period, taking twelve sessions to record, including musicians like Stephen Stills, Dewey Martin (the drummer from Buffalo Springfield) and Buddy Miles.

It’s odd it took so long, and went through so many versions (of which several are included on the box set version, and one more on a bonus single that came with the initial copies of the box set), as the basics of this simple song were in place from the start, and any of the multiple takes and mixes that have seen the light could easily have been released.

A nice, gentle song about being at peace with his then-girlfriend and her son, this is much better than much of the material that made it to the finished album, and it’s a shame Tork’s perfectionism drove him past a point of diminishing returns.

D.W. Washburn

Writers: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

This was the first Monkees song to be a flop, ‘only’ reaching number 19 on the US singles charts, thanks to being the first single the band released not to be featured on the TV show, and to The Coasters releasing a version almost simultaneously.

It’s a shame, because this is an enjoyable Dixieland pastiche in a style that was suiting the Monkees well at the time, being stylistically close to Cuddly Toy in its mixture of rather dark lyrics (from the point of view of a homeless alcoholic refusing the help of the Salvation Army) and upbeat music. And Leiber and Stoller were one of the most reliable songwriting teams of their age.

Nonetheless, while this was not a big hit (though still far more successful than any singles from the rest of their career), it’s still a great track, with the clanking banjo and Dolenz’s mannered vocal bringing the song to life beautifully.

It’s Nice to Be With You

Writers: Jerry Goldstein

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Written by the co-writer of I Want Candy and My Boyfriend’s Back, this sappy ballad unfortunately has little of those tracks’ energy, being exactly what you imagine Davy Jones singing a song called It’s Nice To Be With You would sound like, with a plinky, over-orchestrated background. As the B-side of D.W. Washburn this scraped to number 51 in the US charts, but did better internationally.

Carlisle Wheeling

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (banjo)

Musically, this is almost a rewrite of Nine Times Blue, although lyrically it is very different, looking back with age at a happy romance that has almost but not quite dulled into complacency.

Nesmith was never very happy with this song, but nonetheless he attempted recording it several times – this version, a similar version during the Instant Replay sessions, a version on his big band instrumental album The Wichita Train Whistle Sings and a solo version in the early 70s.

It’s easy to see both why he was unhappy with it and why he tried to make it work. Melodically it’s quite beautiful, but lyrically the metaphors at times grow very strained. But then there are also moments of lyrical brilliance – “So forgive me my dear if I seem preoccupied/And if the razor edge of youth filled love is gone” is as good a couplet as Nesmith has ever written.

Rosemarie

Writer: Micky Dolenz

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (acoustic guitar)

This horn-driven riffy soul track is as close to being funky as the Monkees ever got, and wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-70s blaxploitation film. There are three versions of this track, all with different lyrics. The version on the The Birds… box set is an early mix with no lyrics at all on the bridge, the version on the Missing Links CD has the most properly-thought-out lyrics, but the best version by far is the version released as a bonus track on Instant Replay.

That version has Dolenz singing gibberish lyrics and imitating various musical instruments vocally, and is just superb. But all the versions of this – all of which derive from the same basic track – are an intriguing look at a musical direction the Monkees never really took, but which Dolenz in particular was well suited for.

My Share of the Sidewalk

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones/Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

Lyrically, this is about as simplistic as Nesmith gets, but musically it’s more interesting. This is the most metrically irregular thing the Monkees ever released.

Starting with an intro of four bars of five/four, it then goes into a first verse which breaks down as two bars of seven/four, two of four/four and one more of seven/four. The second verse, while sounding similar, is actually six bars of four/four and one of seven/four. There’s then a vocal bridge of eight bars of twelve/eight, an instrumental break of four bars of twelve/eight, then the whole thing repeats from the start, then repeats again til end of verse two and fades on a repetition of the five/four intro.

What’s interesting about this as well is it shows what a difference each Monkee could make vocally. When Nesmith sings this, in a rough version without the full orchestration, it sounds like a cool jazz piece, like it could be sung by Mose Allison or someone. By contrast, when Jones sings it, it sounds like the kind of all-round family entertainment that could easily have been used on any variety show of the period.

And while I’ve sometimes been harsh on Jones’ vocals in this book, this shows that when he puts his mind to it he can do a remarkable job. He sings this in his ‘Broadway-rock’ style, but manages to navigate these horrendous changes (and some bad syllabics – the stresses to this lyric don’t fall at all well) without sounding like he’s even trying, as well as managing the rangey melody far better than Nesmith (who croaks his way through the high notes in what is, admittedly, a demo).

Little Red Rider

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

There are two versions of this recorded as The Monkees. The version on the The Birds…box set is a simple acoustic demo, while the version on Missing Links vol 3 is a country-soul number that sounds a lot like the music Elvis Presley was making at the time, or the country-soul blend Dan Penn, Chips Moman and Spooner Oldham had come up with. An enjoyable track, it’s possibly more of a stylistic experiment than a proper song (though again, like Rose Marie, it’s interesting to see the soulful direction various band members were taking). Nesmith later rerecorded this with The First National Band on his first solo album, Magnetic South.

Ceiling in My Room

Writers: Don DeMieri, Robert Dick and David Jones

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

A dreadful, dreadful song, this is some kind of self-pitying cross between My Way (though of course this was before that horror was ever written) and It’s Nice To Be With You, with some inspiration from the Beach Boys’ In My Room, and with backing vocals that are more bellowed than sung. Abysmal.

Come On In

Writer: Jo Mapes

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

This song, in a sunshine pop version, was a hit for harmony-pop band The Association, but this is a drastically different arrangement. In fact, this track sounds like Lady’s Baby part two, having the same slow/fast tempo changes, and like that track features Stephen Stills and Lance Wakely on guitars, along with Dewey Martin.

A nice, gentle song performed by excellent musicians, with a heartfelt vocal, this is nothing mindblowingly special, but it’s a nice track. This kind of music would become incredibly popular a couple of years later, performed by people like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jackson Browne or James Taylor, but by that point Tork had retired from music.

Tear the Top Right Off My Head

Writer: Peter Tork

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals)

On the other hand, this kind of thing never became hugely popular, being as it is a novelty banjo-and-harmonica driven love song which occasionally turns into a hippy comedy hard rock number for a few bars.

There are a few versions of this track on the box set – Tork’s original vocal, a version with Dolenz singing which doesn’t really work, and a version (with Tork’s vocal) sped up to be about a tone faster, which comes together much better than the other versions, but this never quite works, though no matter how often I listen to it I can’t put my finger on why.

Merry Go Round

Writers: Peter Tork and Diane Hildebrand

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

Musically an interesting track, this mournful organ-and-piano driven waltz was recorded in a few different versions. Easily the best version is the solo acoustic version on this box set. The two fuller versions that have been released, here and on Missing Links Vol 3, both have interesting production choices, but are taken at too slow a speed for Tork’s comparatively weak voice, and then fatally damaged by Tork double-tracking himself sloppily. There’s an interesting idea in here, but other than the acoustic demo it’s not something you’d want to listen to regularly.

War Games

Writers: David Jones and Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: Michael Nesmith (acoustic guitar, version one only)

Attentive readers will have noticed that I’m not the hugest fan of the songwriting talents of Jones and Pitts, and the two of them trying to write an anti-war protest song is about as poor as you’d expect.

But in fact, one of the two versions of this, the first version, works quite well. With a backing band led by Nesmith, the two-chord verse is slashed through at quite a fast pace, and the arrangement is a straight rip-off of 1965 Dylan, all Hammond organ and acoustic rhythm guitar.

Version two, though, is taken at a much slower speed, and mixes tinkly harpsichord with a marching band feel, to horrible effect.

Laurel And Hardy

Writers: Jan Berry and Roger Christian

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

This isn’t actually a Monkees track at all. It’s a Jan And Dean one, though neither Jan nor Dean appear.

To explain – Jan And Dean were a successful pop duo in the early and mid sixties, consisting of Jan Berry, who was a driven, unpleasant, ambitious man who wrote their hits (usually in collaboration with Roger Christian, Don Altfeld and/or Brian Wilson), produced them and sang on them, and Dean Torrence, a nice person everyone liked, who didn’t. [FOOTNOTE: This is probably an exaggeration. But the vocal parts Torrence took live were, often, performed in the studio by P.F. Sloan or, less frequently, Brian Wilson].

Jones was friendly with both of them, and when Berry was seriously brain-damaged in a car accident stepped in to help, spending a lot of time helping Berry re-learn basic life skills.

Both Jan and Dean, separately, decided to record new ‘Jan and Dean’ material to try to keep the brand alive, with Torrence’s solo concept album Save For A Rainy Day being released as a Jan And Dean album while Berry was still in hospital.

Berry responded with Carnival Of Sound , a psych-pop album that remained unreleased until 2010, and Jones assisted with some of the vocals, as Berry was at the time unable to sing.

This track, which is based on a sitar rendition of the Laurel And Hardy theme before going into more familiar Jan And Dean musical territory, was written by Berry with lyricist Roger Christian, who had co-written many of Berry’s previous hits as well as Beach Boys songs like Little Deuce Coupe and Don’t Worry Baby.

The track is very much in the novelty vein of albums like Jan And Dean Meet Batman, although this version, with Jones singing lead, doesn’t go so far in the novelty direction as the version, with a different lead vocalist, released on the Carnival Of Sound CD, which has a verse about Laurel And Hardy on a roller-coaster with the Maharishi.

Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

A generic twelve-bar rock-and-roll track, this sounds like the kind of thing that could have been a minor hit for Danny And The Juniors in 1958 or Shakin’ Stevens in 1981. It has absolutely no distinguishing features.

Shake ‘Em Up and Let ‘Em Roll

Writers: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

There are two different versions of this track, both identical but for the vocal take used. It’s a pleasant R&B number with an incongruously amusing trad jazz clarinet part, and in fact was recorded in 1970 as a single by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.

Astonishingly, though, this is the second time, after D.W. Washburn, that Dolenz would sing a Leiber/Stoller song very shortly after the Coasters recorded a version. In this case the Coasters’ version was recorded less than a fortnight before the Monkees’ version, and one has to wonder what they were thinking. Perhaps wisely, after the Coasters’ release had helped sink Washburn on the charts, this remained unreleased despite being a very pleasant, though outdated, song.

Changes

Writers: David Jones and Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

A Jones/Pitts collaboration intended as a title track for the Monkees’ forthcoming film (later retitled Head), this is actually not half-bad. The arrangement is in the same sort of muscular soul-rock range as that of Little Red Rider, and while the song itself isn’t particularly good, this has a nice Dusty In Memphis feel to it.

I Wasn’t Born to Follow

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Monkees present: None

An instrumental backing track of a country-rock (with harpsichord) song which had recently been released by The Byrds, no vocal was ever recorded for this.

The Party

Writers: David Jones and Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

A very pleasant track, and one of the better Jones/Pitts collaborations, this has something of the feel of Changes about it, but a less impressive (and more string-dominated) arrangement. A minor piece, but enjoyable on its own terms.

I’m A Man

Writers: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill

Monkees present: None

An unused backing track, produced by Chip Douglas in clear, blatant imitation of Phil Spector’s style, this is actually one of the better Spector imitations I’ve heard, though the instruments are much clearer and more separated than Spector’s usual style.

Linkblogging For 29/09/11

Posted in linkblogging by Andrew Hickey on September 29, 2011
Tagged with:

The Return Of The Pulps… And What I’m Going To Do About It

Posted in books by Andrew Hickey on September 28, 2011

Earlier today, I was looking through the Webscriptions catalogue of ebooks. Webscriptions is both a great site and an annoying one. It sells DRM-free, multi-format science fiction ebooks – and it gives them away free to disabled readers. It sells them cheaply – average price is $6.

The problem is, for every one good book on there (and there are some astonishingly good ones, like Greg Egan’s most recent three novels or the two Dangerous Visions collections), there is an entire metric shitton of right-wing sub-Heinleinery, mostly published by Baen (who run Webscriptions) on there that reads like:

“Goddammit!”
Trooper Jones’ sinewy thews glistened with the strain as he threw his blaster-rifle aside. It was jamming again. He pushed his manly hands through his crewcut blond hair, as he scrunched up his bright blue eyes and tightened his chiselled jaw.
“Goddam beancounter faggots back on Earth won’t give us the money to do the job they sent us here for!”
Since Barry O’Bama had wormed his way to the top of Earth’s government the previous year, the funding for the Space Marine Corps – the only body that stood between the earth and total annihilation by a swarm of stinking lizard men from the desert planet Qari – had been slashed, in order to pay for free medical care for pedophile serial killers.
Now as the fiendish Qarabians approached, wielding their laser-scimitars to finish him off, Jones knew that only good old-fashioned moxie, of the kind his old dad had shown on his farm in Iowa, would be enough to see him through.
But moxie, of course, was something Jones had in spades.
“All right, you bastards, come and get me.” he grunted, and ran toward them.

And so on, for 500 pages.

So after looking through some of these, I tweeted, rather stroppily – “Wish I had less self-respect. I could turn out hack genre novels by the dozens if I could bring myself to do it…”

But then I started thinking. I could never write that kind of thing and live with myself, but looking at the successes in e-publishing, a clear pattern appears:

They all write ‘genre’ books, whether that be thriller, horror, ‘paranormal romance’, or whatever.
The books are short – 200 pages or less – not huge blockbusters.
They’re mostly stand-alone novels, but featuring recurring characters.
They’re cheap – 99 cents to three dollars.
And they’re written very quickly (see for example writer Dean Wesley Smith, who when he publishes short stories as ebooks notes down on his blog the time in hours it took him to write them).

These are books as pure entertainment, rarely if ever actually *about* anything. In other words, what we’re really seeing with self-published ebooks is the return of the pulps in all but name.

Now, while I can’t write *crap* for money, I think I *can* write entertainment for money. I think I could do that, have fun doing it, and write something that people would enjoy. And there’s a grand tradition of writing quickie pulp adventures – see this by Michael Moorcock on how to write a novel in three days.

So what I’m going to do is write a series of cheap, short, ebook-only pulp-adventure novellas in parallel with the other books I’m writing. These won’t be serialised here, because this blog is where I talk about ideas, and those books won’t have many ideas as such – they’ll just be adventure and entertainment. Pulp. I will, however, let everyone know when they’re out.

And I’m going to write them under a pseudonym – I’ll be using the name Olsen Bloom (the name I use for my music).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this.

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Doctor Who: The God Complex at Mindless Ones

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on September 26, 2011

Where I mostly talk about Patrick Troughton, for some reason.

(This is the first of these I’ve written without the aid of caffeine. I wonder if it shows.)

DC Liveblogging Part Two

Posted in comics by Andrew Hickey on September 25, 2011

Today I’m going to go through the next batch of new number one issues from DC’s ‘new 52′. And like last time, I’m going to read each comic straight through once, then blog my immediate reaction, rather than a more considered one.

As always, I’m only buying those comics which I think have at least a chance of being decent, so if you want my opinion of the Rob Liefeld Hawk & Dove, or anything written by Judd Winick, you’ll have to pay me large amounts of money.

Today is my fifth day without caffeine, and the first of those days I’ve managed to make it as late as 1:30 PM without having a little nap. Will my caffeineless state make these comics seem like psychedelic, hallucinatory masterpieces? Or will their lack of Thrill Power force me into a coma? Read on, as I delve into…

Blue Beetle #1
Writer Tony Bedard
Pencils Ig Guara
Inks Ruy Jose
Colours Pete Pantazis
Letters Rob Leigh

Well, that was a whole lot of rubbish. The series that John Rogers and Keith Giffen did with this character, a few years back, was not the greatest comic ever or anything, but it was fun, funny, and a decent way to spend ten minutes a month.
This, on the other hand, tries to recap most of the background that was dribbled out over a year or two by Rogers et al in a single issue, turning it into foreground. And it does so charmlessly, with not a single memorable line or event.
And the incompetence makes it borderline racist. It’s certainly not *intended* that way – Bedard says in the back-matter that he’s Puerto Rican and so identifies with the hispanic immigrant experience – but having all the characters speak in perfect English *except* for a very few Spanish words, which we could be expected to guess from context (“N-no–! Por favor… we ran tests in Mexico City!– That is the real escarabajo azul in the backpack–! I swear it on the virgin…!”)
This tries to do too much in one issue, and ends up being a confused mess. I accidentally swallowed a filling while reading this, and it was far more dramatic than anything in the comic.

Red Lanterns
Writer Peter Milligan
Pencils Ed Benes
Inks Rob Hunter
Colours Nathan Eyring
Letters Carlos M Mangual

This is, in its own way, an equally bad comic – probably, on any objective scale, a worse one. Certainly, the art is as bad as one would expect from Benes, and Milligan clearly can’t be bothered at all. It’s just generally sloppy – as an example, an old man in the UK says he “fought a war for you”. The old man’s age is later given as 73.
Now, 73-year-olds in the UK actually lived their young adulthood in the most sustained period of peace in British history, so unless he fought in Suez when he’d just turned 18 (almost impossible, as only highly-trained troops were sent there, and British troops were only there for two months- only 16 British soldiers died in that war) he *might* have been a professional soldier in his mid-40s during the Falklands conflict, but in general people of that generation are the least likely to be able to say “I fought in the war for you” in the whole of history. And that level of can’t-be-arsedness seems to pervade the writing.
But at the same time… there’s an *energy* to this comic, a sense of over-the-top grand guignol ridiculousness, that’s totally missing from Blue Beetle. This seems to be aimed precisely at the hearts of 14-year-old boys, and is like listening to ten Iron Maiden albums in a row then watching a slasher film while drunk on a single pint of cider. There’s an energy, and an intensity, here, that make it worth reading despite being, frankly, terrible.
This is going to be the new All-Star Batman And Robin, with people making great claims for its subversive genius precisely because of its apparent incompetence. And given that Peter Milligan, one of the most intelligent and able of comics writers, is writing it, those people may well be right. I’ll certainly pick up at least the second issue.

Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.
Writer Jeff Lemire
Line Art Alberto Ponticelli
Colours Jose Villarrubia
Letters Pat Brosseau

This is the kind of comic that should be the staple produce of the Big Two, but isn’t. Full of nice little touches and ideas, this is very much the Frankenstein ongoing series that we could have expected coming straight after Seven Soldiers.
If anything, the only problem is that Lemire might be slightly too in thrall to Morrison, but in an age when so many comics are about little more than mopey superheroes sitting around complaining, seeing Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf, a vampire, a mummy and a black lagoon creature sent into a town overrun by monsters on a rescue mission is certainly refreshing.
Best of the bunch so far, by a long way, but little to say about it.

Demon Knights
Writer Paul Cornell
Pencils Diogenes Neves
Inks Oclair Albert
Colours Marcelo Maiolo
Letters Jared H Fletcher

In many ways, this comic shows more potential than any of those I’ve read so far, but it’s not yet living up to it. Cornell is here very much just putting his pieces in place – moving Vandal Savage, Jason Blood, Madame Xanadu and Sir Ystin together, and planting a few seeds. This is clearly influenced both by Kirby’s original Demon comics and by Seven Soldiers, and like those starts with a fall of Camelot, and seems to be leading up to the creation of a team of seven.
Cornell’s a good writer when he wants to be, and these characters have a lot of potential, especially given that they appear to be mostly immortals. And the multiple falls of Camelot are obviously going to be a major plot point, given how heavily they’re referenced in this issue. But like many of these stories, it seems that this issue is all set-up and no pay-off – although the cliffhanger, dinosaurs crashing through a pub wall, promises something more for the next issue.

And last but, I presume, best…

Batwoman
Writers J.H. Williams III and W Haden Blackman
Line art J.H. Williams III
Colours Dave Stewart
Letters Todd Klein
Look at that list of people. You don’t really need to know anything else, do you?
This does have a script (one that actually has some of los mismos problemas as Blue Beetle, with people speaking Spanish only when it can be understood en el contexto), but is competent enough, setting up a new storyline while connecting it to the past – though this is clearly the story that was meant to happen months ago, straight after the Detective Comics run with the previous Batwoman stories in it.
But this isn’t a comic you read for the script. This is drawn by the single best artist working in mainstream comics, coloured by the best colourist, and lettered (though he doesn’t get much chance to show off) by the best letterer. Every single page is a masterclass in putting together a comics page. Every image is beautiful.
It has faults – Mr Williams is slightly too fond of objectifying the female form – but this is a beautiful, gorgeous piece of work from a master of the form, and is as far above the rest of the comics I’ve reviewed here as Pet Sounds is above Jan & Dean Meet Batman

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