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Monkee Music 2: More Of The Monkees

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on August 19, 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).

With the huge success of The Monkees and Last Train To Clarksville, the Monkees’ music became a battleground. The Monkees (or at least Nesmith and Tork) wanted more control over their own music, but Don Kirshner wanted them to have less. He also wanted to move their music away from Boyce and Hart, who he regarded as second-rate, and away from California, to his New York base.

Boyce and Hart seemed, at first, to be unaware of this, and so recorded more than another album’s worth of material, much of which would be released on subsequent albums, as well as a lot of…experimental…material that seemed to be mostly for their own amusement. [FOOTNOTE Much of this material is available as bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of More Of The Monkees, but as most of the songs were later released on other albums, they will be dealt with there..] Meanwhile Kirshner had given primary responsibility for the Monkees’ music to Jeff Barry, who produced tracks with the Wrecking Crew in LA and with unknown session musicians in New York.

On top of this, various of Kirshner’s other writers were producing their own tracks for the Monkees, using LA musicians, and Nesmith was still producing tracks.

The result is a much less focused album than the previous collection, with no sort of coherent artistic vision, not even the sort that comes from just having a single journeyman team produce the bulk of the material. The only vision here is Kirshner’s rigid plan for what he believed an album needed to include – a hit single, a comedy track, a song with a girl’s name in the title and so on.

The Monkees themselves had no input into the final song choices, the cover (featuring them modelling J.C. Penney clothes in a marketing tie-in) or the liner notes (by Kirshner, almost an autohagiography), and weren’t impressed with the final result, which they famously had to buy from a shop, having not been properly informed of its release – Nesmith actually described it in an interview at the time as “probably the worst record in the history of the world”.

This is unfair. The album is clearly packed with filler, but at least six of the twelve tracks are excellent by any standard (though as Nesmith had no taste for pop music he would possibly disagree about some of them). It doesn’t match the more inventive, experimental music that was being made by other bands at the same time – this is no Pet Sounds, Revolver or Freak Out! – but as a collection of pop music, intended to be ephemeral and disposable, this stands up rather well.

Even so, it’s the next four albums, rather than this one, that their artistic reputation rests on, even as this marks their commercial peak.

She

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

Producers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

After dominating the previous album, Boyce and Hart this time only get to provide two tracks for More of the Monkees, but both are far above the weak average of their work on the previous album. She is a stomping garage rocker with a two-chord verse (with a single passing chord), which becomes more interesting harmonically as it goes along, by adding an augmented chord in the bridge and having a Pet Sounds-esque minor third key change to the middle eight.

Despite this, however, She remains fundamentally a garage rock track, driven by fuzz guitar and Hart’s Hammond organ stabbing out chords. While Boyce and Hart may have been journeyman songwriters who would turn their hand to anything, they were definitely at their best with this kind of proto-punk, and Dolenz manages to get across the adolescent lust and frustration of the lyrics perfectly.

Inspired by bands like Love and The Leaves (to whom Boyce and Hart gave Words when the Monkees’ release of that track was put on hold), the sneery punk feel of this song would easily have fit on Love’s first, eponymous album, with lines like “And now I know just why she keeps me hanging round/she needs someone to walk on, so her feet don’t touch the ground.”

I have been critical of Boyce and Hart’s work at several points in this book, but when they were good they were extremely good, and here they were excellent.

When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door)

Writers: Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Producers: Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer

One of several songs on this album recorded in New York, rather than in Los Angeles, this track by Neil Sedaka (then in a post-Beatles career slump that would see him able to write hits for others but not to have any himself) and lyricist Carole Bayer (later known as Carole Bayer Sager) is a typically jaunty Sedaka piece of fluff.

Harmonically more sophisticated than much of the more simplistic music on these early albums, it rather unusually changes key down a tone for the coda, and repeats the trick Sedaka used in his own hit Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by having Jones sing two separate counter-melodies, with different lyrics, over the second half of the song.

Lyrically, though, it’s a little more disturbing, with Jones urging an unnamed girl who’s afraid of loving him to stop fighting and “open up and let him in”…

A precursor to the “Broadway rock” style Jones would use on several later albums, this is inventive enough, and at 1:46 short enough, not to outstay its welcome, but is still a comparatively weak track.

Mary, Mary

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (guitar)

Producer: Michael Nesmith

The Monkees were having to produce so much material for their TV show that this track was actually recorded at the same time as Last Train To Clarksville, in a different studio – Nesmith using his usual Wrecking Crew members while the Candy Store Prophets were recording with Boyce and Hart.

This Nesmith track seems to have been written in an attempt at compromise with Don Kirshner, whose set formula for albums included as many songs as possible with girls’ names in the title (so the girls with that name would buy them).

Based around simplistic two-chord riffs (I-IV in the verses and IV-V in the bridges), this was intended as a bluesier track than it became, as Glen Campbell’s attempts at playing the distinctive riff came out more country than blues. Nesmith had previously given the song to the Paul Butterfield Band, and claims their rougher version is closer to his intention.

Nonetheless, of all Nesmith’s songs this is probably the closest to the Monkees formula, with a Dolenz lead vocal, a simple hook, and simplistic, easily-learnable lyrics (though lines like “this one thing I will vow ya” and “I’ve done more now than a clear-thinking man would do” are still distinctively Nesmith), as well as being another one with vaguely creepy sexual politics (“Where you go I will follow/Til I win your heart again/I’ll walk beside you, but until then…”).

Of the non-single tracks on the album, this is definitely the one that most deserved more exposure.

Hold On Girl

Writers: Ben Raleigh, Billy Carr and Jack Keller

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals)

Producers: Jeff Barry & Jack Keller

After having been an experienced studio hand helping Boyce and Hart with their early Monkees sessions, Jack Keller was granted two songs on More Of The Monkees on condition that he co-produce with Jeff Barry, who had been put in charge of the hit-making portion of the Monkees juggernaut by Kirshner. The first, and better, of the two Keller tracks is this baroque-flavoured pop song with Davy on lead.

A very pleasant, but rather generic, pop song livened up by a nicely inventive keyboard break, and driven by what sounds like a sped-up electric piano (an earlier, slower take of the song, available as a bonus track, had a harpsichord playing the same part and a more authentically baroque arrangement), this is a decent piece of album filler that would never even have been considered as a single.

Your Auntie Grizelda

Writers: Jack Keller and Diane Hildebrand

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

Producers: Jeff Barry & Jack Keller

The second of Keller’s tracks, this time co-written with Diane Hildebrand, who would go on to collaborate on several further Monkees tracks, was this three-chord song modelled very closely on the Rolling Stones’ 19th Nervous Breakdown.

However, while the music was a fair approximation of that track, lyrically Keller and Hildebrand were aiming at a “protest song” and missed completely.

As a result, Tork, who was completely contemptuous of the song even though it was his first solo lead vocal (and one of only two he would get released during the Monkees’ original career), and Barry decided to play it for laughs. Tork did a single take of the vocal, and spent most of the instrumental break making a variety of funny noises, squawks, screeches and clicks.

This saved the song, which was now given the I’m Gonna Buy Me A Dog Ringo-style novelty song place in Kirshner’s album formula, and it’s at least more imaginative than that track.

(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

Producers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Originally given to Paul Revere and The Raiders, this became the B-side to I’m A Believer and charted separately at number 20 in the US.

Another proto-punk number like She, and again driven by Hart’s organ playing, this is if anything even simpler, being just a four-chord riff, all major chords, repeated over and over, except for the double-time bridge/coda, which reduces the number of chords to three.

One of the catchiest of the Monkees’ early records, as well as one of the best-sounding, this shows that Boyce and Hart – and the Candy Store Prophets – were at their best as garage rockers. This especially goes for Larry Taylor whose simple, prowling bass-line drives this song, and who would later go on to play with Canned Heat and Tom Waits.

Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)

Writer: Neil Diamond

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz & Peter Tork (backing vocals)

Producer: Jeff Barry

Neil Diamond had already had two hit singles, Solitary Man and Cherry, Cherry when he was asked by Kirshner if he had any songs which could be used for the Monkees. One of the songs he provided, I’m A Believer, became the band’s second number one single, but this one was destined to be just an album track.

A simple four-chord song, based on a variant of the three-chord trick substituting ii for IV in the verses, with a key change to IV in the chorus, this bears some slight musical resemblance to Diamond’s later hit Cracklin’ Rosie. Its simple melody, with very little range, also suits Jones’ voice; a natural baritone, Jones was always made to sing in the tenor range to suit his light and youthful image, causing pitching problems for him on anything rangey, but here he does a sterling job.

On the choruses, especially, Jones lets rip in a way that he very rarely managed, and this is his most convincing rock and roll performance by some way, nicely contrasted to his more mannered, actorly performance on the verses.

Lyrically, the song is as nakedly commercial as it gets – Jones is having to choose between two women, both of whom he loves, which gives him a chance to say both “Mary, I love you” and “Sandra, I love you”. Chalk one more name up for Kirshner’s plan. Possibly there was some inspiration here from the song Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind? by the Lovin’ Spoonful, who had been one of the bands used as inspiration for the original Monkees idea.

But for all its simplicity and brazenness, this is still one of the highlights of the album, and probably the best track with a Jones lead vocal until Daydream Believer three albums later.

One oddity that was released as a bonus track is an alternate version of this with Tork “narrating” – “Ladies and gentlemen, you are listening to the instrumental…thank you, we hope you enjoyed it, and now back to the song” and so forth. This was apparently done in order to give Tork slightly more involvement with the album than he would otherwise have had, but was wisely dropped.

The Kind of Girl I Could Love

Writers: Michael Nesmith and Roger Atkins

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: all (backing vocals)

Producer: Michael Nesmith

This Latin-flavoured Nesmith song, which bears a slight resemblance in melody, chord sequence and arrangement to Mickey And Sylvia’s recent hit version of Love Is Strange, is the first track to be released to feature all four Monkees, as well as being the first to feature an instrumental contribution from Nesmith, who plays the rather hesitant steel guitar part.

Like Sweet Young Thing, this was a collaboration between Nesmith and a co-writer forced on him by Kirshner, this time Roger Atkins, who had recently written It’s My Life for the Animals.

Driven by a wonderful dual-drum part played by Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon, this is Nesmith at his poppiest, while still retaining his unique blend of Latin and country influences. Probably the closest thing to this in the charts at the time (other than the Mickey And Sylvia track) was the Sir Douglas Quintet, whose blend of Tex-Mex and ersatz Merseybeat landed them in a very similar musical place to this. But other than that, there was really nothing like this being made in pop music at the time.

The Day We Fall in Love

Writers: Sandy Linzner and Denny Randell

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Producer: Jeff Barry

Over a gentle instrumental backing, Davy whispers a “poem” about what it’ll be like when your favourite Monkee falls in love with you, yes YOU teenage girl listening to this record.

As well as being the most calculated, cynical thing ever, this is also just offensively bad on an aesthetic level.

Incidentally, this is one of the two tracks that Carol Kaye, who claims to have played on most of the Monkees’ hits, actually did play on…

Sometime in the Morning

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Davy Jones and Peter Tork

Producers: Jeff Barry, Gerry Goffin and Carole King

To all intents and purposes this is a Carole King record by another name. Goffin and King recorded the backing track in New York, and along with it King recorded a three-part-harmony vocal demo whose arrangement and phrasing the Monkees replicated precisely under Jeff Barry’s supervision.

A pleasant, simple ballad with a slightly confused lyric [FOOTNOTE The lyric is mostly addressed to a second person, who will in turn discover the love of a third (female) person – except that sometimes the second person appears to be the (female) lover of the protagonist, so either the protagonist of the song is a lesbian who refers to herself in the third person or the writers got confused somewhere.], Dolenz sings this winsomely enough over a folk-rockish backing of jangly guitars and organ, but it’s somewhat inconsequential. The main musical point of note is the way the vocal line continues over the change between verse and bridge (“You will realise how much you never knew before”) – this is a trick that Paul McCartney used to great effect later in The Fool On The Hill.

Laugh

Writers: Philip Margo,Mitchell Margo,Henry Medress and Jay Siegel

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Producer: Jeff Barry

A dreadful, dreadful track, with Jones and the Wrecking Crew plodding through an appaling piece of drivel that stays on two chords for the most part (with a third poking in briefly in the middle eight). Apparently intended as a comedy track, the lyrics (“laugh/’cos the music is funny/yeah the bass sounds off-beat/ain’t that neat?”) might even have worked had the music in fact been funny, or if the bass had been even slightly off-beat.

As it is, this is (along with The Day We Fall In Love) definitely the low-point of the album.

I’m a Believer

Writer: Neil Diamond

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork and Davy Jones (backing vocals)

Producer: Jeff Barry

The Monkees’ second single – and second number one – was this Neil Diamond track. A simple, catchy, four-chord pop track with a slight country feel, Jeff Barry originally asked Nesmith to sing this (rather embarassingly for him, Nesmith said “I’m a producer too, and that ain’t no hit”) before eventually getting Dolenz to sing it.

Originally intended as a track for Diamond’s own second album, this was rightly a massive hit, though the fact that it sold a million copies before anyone had even heard it says more about the promotional juggernaut that was the Monkees phenomenon than it does about the record’s quality.

This is an almost-perfect pop track, from the adolescent misery of the verses (“what’s the use in trying/all you get is pain/when I needed sunshine I got rain”) to the joy of the chorus, while the simplistic organ riff is a precursor to the later Barry hit Sugar Sugar (which was offered to the Monkees). Dolenz turns in one of his best vocals, while Jones is very audible in the backing vocals, making this seem more of a group performance than their previous hit.

Likewise the organ solo (which sounds to my ears inspired by The Surfaris’ Wipe Out) is exactly right – simple, but melodic, and adding a new element which works perfectly with the rest of the track. The one fly in the ointment, to my mind, is the bass line, which is far too busy and sounds improvised rather than properly thought out (though it again shows a certain Wipe Out influence).

But that’s just nit-picking. This is a glorious, wonderful pop single. In general I take Nesmith’s side in his dispute with Kirshner, but this time he was just wrong.

Bonus Tracks

Apples, Peaches, Bananas & Pears

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

Producers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

While Boyce and Hart turned in some of their best work for this album, almost everyone involved was agreed that they were writing and producing too many tracks for the Monkees, and that much of what they were doing was sub-par.

This is a perfect example – “to show how much I care/I’ll bring you apples, peaches, bananas and pears”. Dolenz does his best, but clearly nobody could care less, and this remained unreleased until the 1980s.

Kicking Stones

Writers: Lynne Castle and Wayne Erwin

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

Producers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

A song about a ‘teeny tiny gnome’, with words by Boyce and Hart’s hairdresser. According to the liner notes for the More Of The Monkees deluxe edition, Bert Schneider sent out a memo saying this track was ‘of dubious value’. He was probably being over-generous.

To be fair to Boyce and Hart, they were producing a lot of material at this time, including many tracks that would become hits when released on future albums. But there was clearly no way that tracks like this could ever have been considered remotely releasable, and they must have known it.

Of You

Writers: Bill and John Chadwick

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals)

Producers: Michael Nesmith

Written by two of Nesmith’s friends (Bill Chadwick had been in folk band The Survivors with him, and had actually auditioned to be in the Monkees as well), this is another recording from the session that produced Mary, Mary, and is quite a pleasant country song, with some nice guitar picking from James Burton and Glen Campbell, but it’s easy to see why it didn’t make the quota of two Nesmith productions for the album.

Nesmith obviously liked the song – he tried rerecording his vocal in 1969 – but while it’s infinitely better than some of the throwaways Boyce and Hart submitted for inclusion on the album, it’s not up to the quality of Nesmith’s own better work.

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