California Dreaming: Laurel & Hardy

Jan Berry was back from Dead Man’s Curve.

At least, he was part of the way back.

Jan was, if not an actual psychopath (a diagnosis it would be improper to give without knowing him personally, but which is not implausible), certainly an incredibly impulsive, thrill-seeking personality. His car crashes had caused problems for Jan and Dean in the past — they were about to make their feature film debut when Jan was in a serious accident and had to cancel filming — but one was significantly worse than any of the others.

On April 12, 1966, Jan had his final appeal with the draft board. The man who had written The Universal Coward, attacking anti-war protestors, was himself a chickenhawk who was desperate to get out of military service, and his attendance at medical school had so far kept him out, but this like time it looked like he was going to Vietnam.

To this day, no-one knows what the result of his draft board attendance was, because straight after it, he got in his car, sped off — and was in a crash so bad that he was in a coma for two months.

Was it exhilaration from discovering he didn’t have to go? A suicide attempt from discovering he did have to go? Anger and frustration? Just wanting to be on time for his next meeting? No-one can know. But it seems at least plausible that Berry was attempting to get hurt — not badly enough to do himself serious damage, but badly enough that he could have the draft deferred.

If that was the case, his plan backfired spectacularly. When Berry awoke from the coma, he had almost completely lost the power of speech, which had to be regained over a period of months, he was almost paralysed on his right side and had to go through intense physiotherapy, and his brain was sufficiently damaged that the young man who was widely regarded by those who knew him as a genius (it’s been widely claimed that he had an IQ of 180, and while IQ is a very unreliable measure of intelligence, that would put him in the top 0.00003% of scorers if true) now had very severe learning disabilities.

While doctors were using words like “vegetable” about him, Jan still hoped to get better, and that hope was shared by those around him. Dean Torrence, in particular, decided to keep the “Jan and Dean” name alive until Jan was capable of working again. Singles were released of material that the duo had previously recorded, and the promotional material was deliberately vague about how well Jan was doing. Eventually Dean went into the studio himself, and recorded a new “Jan and Dean” album, Save For A Rainy Day.

Dean thought that Jan would be pleased that Dean was keeping their career going, but he was anything but. As far as Jan was concerned, he was Jan and Dean. Dean hadn’t even sung on many of their big hits, while Jan had written, produced, and sung on them. Jan would show Dean who Jan and Dean really were.

After a year of physiotherapy and constant support from his friends, including Davy Jones of the Monkees, who had befriended Jan when he first moved to LA and had become a star while Jan was still recovering, Jan felt that he was ready to go back into the studio. But the problem was, he couldn’t sing — he was still slurring his words, and losing words all the time. He couldn’t write songs — he could get vague musical ideas, still, but he didn’t have the concentration to pull them into coherent shapes. And he couldn’t arrange or play any instruments — he had no control yet over his right hand.

But Jan did have an iron will, an ability to manipulate people, and huge amounts of energy, and he could put those to use. He called in Roger Christian, and gave him ideas — sometimes a few bars of melody, sometimes just a title — and Christian finished the songs for him and gave him co-writing credit, as did Jan’s songwriter ex-girlfriend Jill Gibson. George Tipton and others wrote arrangements, and Jan hired in session singers, including Glen Campbell, Jill Gibson, Tom Bahler, and Davy Jones.

A typical track from the era was Laurel & Hardy. Jan Berry had always been a fan of the films of Stan & Ollie, and Jan and Dean’s between-songs comedy routines had been inspired by them, and he and his collaborators took them as inspiration for a piece of “psychedelic” music, which to Jan apparently meant just that the track had a sitar on it (played by Mike Deasy, a frequent collaborator with Curt Boettcher), while otherwise being highly-orchestrated soft pop.

Two versions of the song were recorded, with slightly different lyrics, one with Davy Jones on lead vocal which didn’t see release until the 2000s, and another with Tom Bahler on lead that was released as a single under Jan & Dean’s new Warner Brothers contract (presumably Davy Jones’ voice was too distinctive for use on a single, given that he was signed to another label — Bahler on the other hand does a fairly decent imitation of Jan’s vocal style.

Starting off with a sitar version of the famous Laurel & Hardy theme, the song goes on to talk about how what “Mr. Laurel and Mr Hardy” meant to Berry was “roller coasters on a rainbow reaching far across the sky” (and in the released version, but not the version with Jones singing, that Laurel and Hardy were sat in said roller coaster with the Maharishi behind them — Jan Berry once again trying to leap on every bandwagon going, regardless of logic).

From these sessions, two singles eventually emerged — I Know My Mind/Laurel & Hardy, and Girl You’re Blowing My Mind/In The Still Of The Night (the latter of which featured Jones in a spoken section in the middle eight), but neither was successful. An album was recorded, to be titled Carnival of Sound, but it remained unreleased until 2010.

When it was finally released, it was greeted by some as a lost masterpiece of psychedelic pop, but in truth it’s a mixed bag at best in terms of musical quality. But as testament to someone who was struggling to keep making music despite having lost everything that had made him capable of doing it, using sheer force of will to overcome his incapacity, it’s quite astonishing. On the released CD, one of the bonus tracks is Jan Berry’s guide vocal for Laurel and Hardy. We hear him not even attempting the words, just “la-la”ing through the melody — and the “la la”s are flat, slurred, and off-key. Yet he got the single out, and the album was recorded, if not released.

Carnival of Sound was the last gasp of Jan Berry as a recording artist, but despite the fact that he wasn’t vocally present, it may be his greatest achievement.

Laurel and Hardy
Jan Berry & Roger Christian

Line-up: Davy Jones (vocals), Jimmy Bond, Joe Osborn, Lyle Ritz, and Ray Pohlman (bass) Don Lodice, John Cave, Ronnie Ossa, Roy Caton, and Virgil Evans (horns), Emmet Sargeant, Igor Horoshevsky, Jan Kelley, Jesse Ehrlich, Joseph Ditullio, and Joseph Saxon (cello), Al Casey, Bill Pitman, David Cohen, Don Peake, Tommy Tedesco, and Glen Campbell (guitar), Michael Deasy (guitar and sitar), Don Randi, Glen D. Hardin, and Larry Knechtel (keyboards), Harry Hyams, Joseph Difiore, Leonard Selic, Philip Goldberg, and Samuel Boghossian (viola), Arnold Belnick, Darrel Terwilliger, Israel Baker, James Getzoff, Leonard Malarsky, Ralph Schaeffer, Sid Sharp, Tibor Zelig, and Bill Kurasch (violin), Tom Bahler (vocals on released version). NB this is the list of players on the Carnival of Sound album, not all of whom may be on this particular track.

Original release: The version without Davy Jones on was released as I Know My Mind/Laurel & Hardy, Jan & Dean, Warners 7219. The version with Davy Jones on lead was only ever released on the now-deleted The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees 3CD box set from Rhino Handmade.

Currently available on: The Davy version is not currently available. The version with Bahler on lead is on Carnival of Sound, Rhino CD

California Dreaming: Barbara Ann

Late 1965 was a time when everyone was jumping on the folk bandwagon, no matter how inappropriately.

Brian Wilson had started writing songs for a new album, inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, that would be the Beach Boys’ big album as artistic statement. This would be complex, intricate — and time-consuming, and the Beach Boys needed to get some product out for the Christmas market.

The decision was made to knock out a quick album, one that wouldn’t require much in the way of songwriting or production, like the live album the band had released the previous year. But this time it would have more of a hootenanny feel — it would be the band with acoustic guitars and bongos, recording fairly unrehearsed covers of their favourite songs, and with party noises and chatter overdubbed, and session conversations left in, to make it sound, as the cover put it, “recorded “Live” at a Beach Boys Party!”

The result was a mixed bag, a mixture of covers of Beatles, Spector, and Dylan, versions of old Everly Brothers and Rivingtons songs, and parodies of their own material. Some of it was excellent — Brian Wilson and Mike Love duetting on Devoted to You is beautiful, while Dennis Wilson’s frail take on the Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away is one of the first signs that he would soon become a talented singer in his own right. But other tracks, like Al Jardine earnestly singing The Times They Are A’Changing while being mocked by the partygoers, are less than great.

Meanwhile, Jan and Dean were also recording their own contribution to the folk-rock craze, their new album Folk ‘n Roll. With their usual studio partners P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, they recorded a mixture of Sloan/Barri pop (like the rather good single I Found A Girl), songs by Jan’s girlfriend Jill Gibson, new originals, and covers of recent folk-rock hits, like a note-for-note remake of the Turtles’ version of It Ain’t Me Babe, a version of Yesterday, and Jan and Dean’s own take on Eve of Destruction.

It was the originals that caused tensions. Jan Berry was convinced he had no need of Dean Torrence in the studio, since P.F. Sloan could sing his parts better anyway, while Torrence thought Berry’s new material was completely wrong for the duo. With the new material including such “classics” as The Universal Coward — a pro-war protest song, parodying Buffy Saint-Marie’s Universal Soldier and attacking draft-dodgers as cowards and Communists with “thick skulls” (unlike those such as Berry who merely managed to not be called up to fight because he was in medical school even though he was simultaneously pursuing a career as a pop star, but of course he was no coward) — or Folk City, a slight rewrite of Surf City, with the melody changed just enough to remove everyone else’s songwriting credit, one can perhaps see Torrence’s point.

A compromise was reached, and Torrence sang on the cover versions, but not the new original material, with one exception — a truly dire “message” song by Berry, Roger Christian, and arranger George Tipton, about a woman dying in childbirth. While Torrence sang on this song, A Beginning From an End, the song disgusted him, and at one point he stormed out and went to visit the Beach Boys in their session.

As part of the spontaneous, jam session, nature of the sessions, the band were inviting various friends to sing along, and so they asked Torrence what they should sing. He suggested Barbara Ann, a doo-wop song that had been a minor hit four years earlier, and which Jan and Dean had recorded as an album track. The band agreed, and after a couple of false starts (with Torrence being semi-jokingly admonished for singing off-key) and a quick rendition of Baa Baa Black Sheep, knocked out a quick version of the song with Mike Love taking the low bass “Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-bra Ann” part while Torrence and Brian Wilson doubled each other on the falsetto lead. Half the band forgot what lyrics they were supposed to sing in the second verse, either Hal Blaine or Al Jardine banged an ashtray as percussion (the line “(H)Al, and his famous ashtray!” can be heard), and the result sounded exactly like it was meant to — like a sloppy performance on a couple of acoustic guitars at a party. Carl said “thanks Dean!” at the end, as a way of crediting him since he couldn’t officially be on the record, and no-one thought anything more of it; it was just one more album track on a quickie filler album.

The problem came when, a couple of weeks after the album was released, the Beach Boys’ new experimental single, The Little Girl I Once Knew, came out. The single was one of the best things they’d done, but it had moments of absolute silence, making it anathema to radio, where “dead air” had to be avoided at all costs. It still charted in the top twenty, but was a disappointment by the band’s usual standards.

The Beach Boys’ label, Capitol, quickly rushed out a new single, one that might actually get some radio play — the song they chose was Barbara Ann. And it became a massive hit, reaching number two in the US charts, and hitting number three, their highest position to that date, in the UK.

The song quickly became what Carl Wilson would describe thirty years later as “the bane of my existence”, with the band having to play it at every show they would perform . For the last forty-nine years, through line-up changes, deaths, splits and reunions, Barbara Ann has been played at every Beach Boys show. A sloppy cover version, full of mistakes and party noises, on which the lead singer wasn’t even a member of the band, has become one of the two or three songs most associated with them in the public mind.

1965 was ending with acoustic guitars, bongos, and protest songs. But 1966 would bring something altogether harsher…

Barbara Ann

Composer: Fred Fassert

Line-up: Dean Torrence (vocals), Brian Wilson (vocals, bass(?)), Mike Love (vocals), Carl Wilson (vocals, guitar), Al Jardine (vocals, guitar, ashtray(?)), Dennis Wilson (vocals, percussion(?)), Bruce Johnston (vocals, bass(?)), Hal Blaine (percussion), Ron Swallow (tambourine)

Original release: Beach Boys Party! Beach Boys album, Capitol DMAS 2398

Currently available on: Beach Boys Party! Universal CD, along with many, many budget compilations.

California Dreaming: Dead Man’s Curve

Dead Man’s Curve was possibly Jan and Dean’s most prescient song.

Jan and Dean were always ones to follow the trends, especially trends that the Beach Boys started, so when the Beach Boys put out the album Little Deuce Coupe, which was a near-concept album themed around car songs, with the single exception of the song Be True To Your School (which got in because it had a couple of lines about cruisin’ round with a decal in back), Jan and Dean immediately started recording Drag City. This album was based around their hit single of the same name, a Surf City soundalike written by Jan Berry, Brian Wilson, and Roger Christian, and consisted entirely of car songs, with the single exception of the song Popsicle Truck, which was about popsicles but got in because it briefly mentioned the truck after which it was titled.

And the Beach Boys had included A Young Man Is Gone, a dreadful maudlin song (a cover of a Four Freshmen song with new lyrics by Mike Love) about the death of James Dean in a car crash. Coincidentally, perhaps, Jan and Dean also included a song about a car crash on their album.

The team that wrote the song was Berry, Wilson, Artie Kornfeld (a record executive who co-wrote a huge number of hits), and Roger Christian. Christian was a DJ who Wilson had started working with after he criticised the lyrics to 409 on the radio, because he thought the car wasn’t good enough for a song like that, and who ended up writing the lyrics to almost every car hit not only for the Beach Boys, but for Jan and Dean, as well as collaborating with Gary Usher on innumerable studio band knockoffs and beach party film soundtracks.

The song is structured, musically, very similarly to their previous two hits — a verse based around simple I, IV and V chords, followed by a chorus with a chanted vocal (“dead man’s curve, it’s no place to play”) a low bass vocal stating the song title, and wordless falsetto vocal rising over it, leading to a hook at the end of the chorus. Those vocals, though, were thicker than before — Jan and Dean had often used extra backing vocalists, and here they were joined by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri (who had their own hits as The Fantastic Baggies, and wrote several songs for Jan and Dean), as well as Brian Wilson and Gary Usher, singing “Slippin’ and a-slidin’, driftin’ and broadslidin’” under the second verse. In fact, so many vocalists are on the track that Dean Torrence is inaudible, if he’s even present.

But the influence of Be My Baby on Brian Wilson’s songwriting was already starting to show. The tempo and feel are very close, and the chord sequence for the chorus is identical up to the hook line (allowing for the difference in keys). This might be a car song, but it was a car song with more of Phil Spector than Chuck Berry about it. And as befitted the subject matter, the song was far more of an epic than most of Jan and Dean’s records to that point, featuring a portentous horn section playing a three-note riff, and an extended spoken section (“Well, the last thing I remember, doc, I started to swerve…”) that led into the repeated message “won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve!” — even though, of course, the protagonist of the song did come back from his car crash, since he’s in hospital telling the doctor what had happened, although it’s implied that the driver of the inferior British car he was racing was not so lucky.

The song as recorded is very much a throwback to hits of a few years earlier, particularly the 1960 hit single Tell Laura I Love Her, with its tale of a car crash victim’s last words. But by late 1963 that style of song had gone out of fashion, and so when Dead Man’s Curve was released as a single (in a slightly revised version, with more horns, car crash effects, and a rerecorded lead vocal) in February 1964, it was like nothing else on the radio — especially since between the time it was recorded and the time it was released, a minor British band called the Beatles had released a couple of singles. When Dead Man’s Curve entered the US top twenty, the rest of the top twenty included six Beatles songs (including numbers one and two on the charts), three songs by other British bands (two by the Dave Clark Five and one by The Searchers), and the Kingsmen’s cover version of Barret Strong’s Money, charting off the exposure the song had got from the Beatles’ version. The music scene was completely different from that of December 1963, when the track had been recorded.

Astonishingly, then, this already-dated throwback managed to see Jan and Dean slightly ahead of the curve, as they started a small wave of car-crash songs — the two defining songs of the genre, Leader of the Pack by the Shangri-Las and Terry by Twinkle, both came out in its wake. Somehow, against all reason, Jan and Dean had managed for the first time to start a bandwagon, rather than jump on one that was already rolling.

The song made a very respectable number eight in the US charts, and showed that the British Invasion hadn’t completely killed off the surf and hot rod pop stars of 1963. But would any of them be able to survive much longer?

Dead Man’s Curve

Composers: Brian Wilson, Artie Kornfeld, Roger Christian, and Jan Berry

Line-up: Jan Berry (vocals), Dean Torrence (vocals?), Brian Wilson (vocals, possible piano), Gary Usher (vocals), P.F. Sloan (vocals), Steve Barri (vocals). I don’t have a copy of the AFM session sheets to say for sure, though I intend to track them down before the release of the book version of this (they’re in the public domain), but almost certainly the instrumentalists included Billy Strange (guitar), Ray Pohlman (guitar), Glen Campbell (guitar), Bill Pitman (bass), Hal Blaine (drums), Earl Palmer (drums), plus horns probably including Steve Douglas.

Original release: Dead Man’s Curve/The New Girl In School, Jan & Dean, Liberty Records single #55672 (the earlier album version, a different mix with different lead vocals, was first released on the Drag City album, Liberty Records LRP-3339 (mono)/LST-7339 (stereo))

Currently available on: Surf City/Dead Man’s Curve / New Girl in School BGO Records CD, plus innumerable budget compilations. Note, however, that there are many inferior re-recordings by either Jan & Dean or Dean Torrence working under the duo name, from the last few decades.

California Dreaming: Heart And Soul

Jan Berry may not have been the most original musical force ever, but he definitely knew how to knock off someone else’s sound successfully.

He’d been hanging around on the edge of the music business for years, first as a member of The Barons, a doo-wop group that got no further than playing a handful of high school hops, but which had featured Sandy Nelson and Bruce Johnston on drums and piano, and then in 1958 as a duo with his schoolfriend Arnie Ginsberg.

Jan And Arnie had had one massive hit — Jennie Lee — which had reached number three on the Cashbox chart. But the follow-up had only reached number 81, and the single after that hadn’t charted at all, and Ginsberg had given up on the music business. Another former member of The Barons had just got out of the army, and so despite Dean Torrence’s manifest lack of singing ability, Jan And Arnie quickly became Jan And Dean.

But the new duo had an almost entirely parallel career trajectory to the old — a top ten hit with their first single, Baby Talk, and then a bunch of flops (with one fluke single just scraping the top forty).

They kept going for a few years, putting out singles with any label that would have them — Doré, Ripple, Challenge — with no success. These singles were nominally produced by two young men named Herb Alpert and Lou Adler, but Jan Berry was smart (he was studying at UCLA at the time, soon to transfer to the California College of Medicine to pursue a medical career in parallel with his musical one), and was watching and learning, as well as making sure that he got his fair share of the songwriting credit.

They’d even managed to release an actual album, on Doré records, on the back of their one hit. The Jan & Dean Sound had a cover photo of the two crewcut teens wearing their best sweaters, and contained songs like White Tennis Sneakers and My Heart Sings. It didn’t sell much, even by the small standards of the singles-dominated rock and roll market.

By April 1961 it had been almost two years since Baby Talk. Jan and Dean needed another hit. And so they got one by Jan’s favourite technique — copying someone else.

In February that year, a doo-wop group called the Marcels had had a massive hit with an uptempo cover version of the old standard Blue Moon, speeding it up and basing it around a new hook — bass singer Fred Johnson’s insanely fast “bom bop a dom, b-dang b-dang dang” vocal part.

Two months later, on the seventh of April, the Cleftones released a doo-wop cover version of Heart And Soul, another old standard — a song by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser that had been performed by almost everyone at one time or another. Their version was rapidly rising up the charts when Jan and Dean went into the studio.

Heart And Soul is based around the same I-vi-ii-V chord sequence as Blue Moon (and a million other songs — it’s the standard chord sequence used in almost every doo-wop ballad, which is why those two songs had been suitable for doo-wop revivals), so Berry took the basic arrangement idea from the Marcels’ single (the fast bass vocals, here “bom ba bom-bom ba dip-da dip-dip da du-da-da-dun-dun da dingidy dingidy”) and applied it to the other song, churning out a quick knockoff with very little musical merit — the most notable features being the honky-tonk piano break and the fact that both Berry (who sings the bass part and the abrasive lead) and Torrence (who harmonises and takes the brief falsetto) had quite unpleasant voices.

It is, by any reasonable measure, a far, far worse record than either of the Marcels or Cleftones tracks. The tempo drifts quite sloppily, neither Berry nor Torrence can stay on key, and the whole thing has a muddy sound from too much bouncing down for overdubs. It’s an amateur-sounding record, and certainly doesn’t sound like the work of a man with three years’ experience in the music business and several hits behind him.

But Jan and Dean also had a secret weapon — whiteness. While the Marcels were an integrated group, and the Cleftones were black, Jan and Dean were both clean-cut blonde-haired white boys with crewcuts. So while they didn’t overtake the Cleftones in the charts, they did suddenly have another hit — the single went to number twenty-five on the Billboard chart, and sixteen on Cashbox.

Soon they were signed to Liberty Records, a genuinely big label which had acts like Julie London, Henry Mancini and Bobby Vee. Liberty had turned down Heart And Soul, but had soon realised its mistake, and in 1961 and 62 Jan and Dean released a whole string of new tracks — a cover version of Who Put The Bomp?, a follow-up to Baby Talk entitled She’s Still Talkin’ Baby Talk, anything that would allow Berry to do his low bass scat vocals.

None of them charted. By August 1962 Liberty was releasing a greatest hits album — their career was over for a third time.

Jan Berry needed to find a new model to copy, and quickly — and he found that model in a band whose first single had borne more than a little resemblance to Jan and Dean’s own sound…

Heart and Soul / Those Words (reissued the next month with replacement B-side Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Composers: Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser

Line-up: Jan Berry and Dean Torrence (both vocals)

Original release: Challenge single 9111

Currently available on: Many, many multi-artist compilations, along with similarly public-domain works by the Beach Boys, the Surfaris and others.

Monkee Music: The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees

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.


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


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.


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.


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.

The Beach Boys On CD: The Beach Boys Party!/Stack-O-Tracks

A revised version of this essay appears in my book The Beach Boys On CD. If you like this, please consider buying it. Hardback Paperback PDF Kindle (US) Kindle (UK) Kindle (DE) All other ebook formats

This is going to be the shortest of these Beach Boys articles. Partly, this is because I plan on writing at least two more blog posts this weekend – the Cerebus and scientific method ones (and maybe the first chapter of my novel) (and I’ve also got to get some stuff done for work). Mostly, however, it’s because where other albums have filler tracks, this is an entire filler CD. It can be listened to on Spotify here, if you must.

Of the two albums on this CD, one, 1968’s Stack-O-Tracks consists entirely of instrumental mixes of tracks from previous records, so I won’t be dealing with it at all here – all I’d be saying is “It’s Darlin’ without the vocals – see the entry for Darlin’ under the Wild Honey album.”

The other album, though, Beach Boys Party!, requires at least a cursory glance through.

Beach Boys Party!
band membership – Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston (uncredited)
Also features – Marilyn Wilson (backing vocals), Dean Torrence (vocals), Hal Blaine (percussion), Billy Hinsche (harmonica)

I can name the other participants simply here because unlike the albums that surround it, Beach Boys Party! is as far from being a complex, heavily-orchestrated masterpiece as possible. The band’s next real album, Pet Sounds would not be ready for several more months, but Capitol Records wanted a Christmas cash-in release. The two obvious ideas – a live album and an album of Christmas songs – had both been done the year before (we’ll deal with these when we get to 1969 and 1978, so we can deal with the other albums that share the CDs with them). So this time, it was decided to record a ‘live-in-the-studio’ album as if it were recorded at a party the band were attending,

So the band got together in the studio with a few acoustic guitars and Hal Blaine on bongos, and knocked out a set of incredibly sloppy cover versions of songs chosen seemingly at random, and then got friends to add party noises, and added a few wild tracks of party effects. This means that even the better tracks on the album have mistakes left in and general chatter and noise over the top.

The album might well have made a great soundtrack to a teenager’s party in 1965 – and even today for that matter – but as music, as a listening experience, it ranges from pretty decent to outright horrible, and tends towards the latter.

Hully Gully
A song originally recorded by The Olympics in 1959, this starts the album as it means to go on – a fun party tune with silly lyrics. Generally speaking, the album is split between songs that the band knew as teenagers (like this one) and ones by their contemporary influences. A nothing tune in this version, the original by the Olympics is a nice, strutting R&B track in the style of the Coasters, with a laid-back groove totally missing from this version. Mike takes lead.

I Should Have Known Better
The first of three Beatles covers on the album – all covers of Lennon songs (lending credence to my belief that Lennon, rather than McCartney, is the closer songwriter to the Beach Boys’ style). This features just the first two verses and middle eight of the song, sung in unison by several people. At various points the most prominent voice in the mix is Al (always the strongest vocalist in the band), Brian or Brian’s wife Marilyn (a singer herself, with girl-group the Honeys, though not a particularly good one). Mike tries to add some character with some “bow bow bow” backing vocals in the middle eight, but this is just a crowd singing along with an acoustic guitar…

Tell Me Why
The second Lennon cover, this is a more creditable performance, as the song’s simple block harmonies and four-chord changes make it perfect for this kind of atmosphere – especially since the band don’t bother with the instrumental intro from the original (like the previous song, on the A Hard Day’s Night album). Even so, the performance falls apart at the end of the middle eight like before.
I’m still unsure who’s singing lead here – Wikipedia says Carl and Al, and it could be them – but it could also be Brian and Carl or Brian and Al. No matter how many times I listen (and I’ve listened multiple times just now to the finished version and to two outtakes) I can’t decide for sure – this is in precisely the range where those three sound most similar.
In a nice touch, Brian added this to the acoustic ‘party’ set when he performed in Liverpool in 2004 on the Smile tour, in this arrangement (such as it is).

The best track so far, this was actually the second time the band had recorded this song, originally by The Rivingtons, in a year – it had appeared on the Concert album the previous year. This is actually the better of the two versions, because the fun in this song is almost entirely in the vocal performance – Love growling the ‘papa oom mow mow’ part in a comically low bass voice, while Brian screeches, yowls, whoops and wails in falsetto. The looseness of this setting allows them to go to ridiculous extremes with this, and the result is genuinely enjoyable.

Mountain Of Love
Originally by Harold Dorman, a one-hit wonder, this had been a hit the previous year for Johnny Rivers, and it’s Rivers’ arrangement the Beach Boys are clearly copying here, down to the backing vocals. A simple twelve-bar blues with little going for it, the song obviously stuck with Brian Wilson – twelve years later he copied the middle eight note for note for his song Little Children (which remained unreleased for another eleven years and eventually became a track on his first solo album). Love sings lead, and rudimentary harmonica is provided by Billy Hinsche, of the minor teen-pop band Dino, Desi and Billy. Carl Wilson would marry Hinsche’s sister Annie the next year, and Hinsche became a regular member of the Beach Boys’ touring band from the early 70s, adding keyboards, guitar and backing vocals until the mid-90s.

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
The third Lennon cover on the album, and one of only two tracks that could really be counted as in any way good here, Dennis takes lead and plays the song straight (though the party crowd do all join in on the “Hey!” parts). While it’s spoiled by the party noises (this is anything but a party song), Dennis’ soulful croak is perfect for this song, one of Lennon’s best and most mournful. It also, more than any of the other tracks, puts the lie to the ostensibly spontaneous nature of these recordings – Dennis is very sloppily double-tracked here.
This song actually entered the band’s setlist as Dennis’ vocal spot (taking over from The Wanderer ). If you want to hear just how good the song sounds without the party noises, at least three concerts featuring the song have been widely bootlegged (two from Michigan in excellent quality soundboard recordings, one from Japan as an audience recording with some nice added harmonies), not that I could ever recommend taking such action of course, but even here this is far and away the best thing on the album so far.

Devoted To You
And this is the best thing on the album full stop. A rather light little ballad written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant for the Everly Brothers, here Mike and Brian sing it, with Carl accompanying on the guitar, and they are absolutely stunning. While the Everlys are possibly the greatest vocal harmony duo of all time, Devoted To You isn’t one of their better efforts – giving the melody to Phil while Don sang low harmony (usually Don would sing melody while Phil would take high harmony) means it doesn’t play to their strengths. On the other hand here Brian and Mike still have the vocal similarity that comes from being family members, but Brian gets to sing the song in a gorgeous falsetto while Mike harmonises in a rich baritone.
Off the top of my head I can’t think of another time when Brian and Mike have harmonised so closely – the signature Beach Boys style required the two of them to be almost antiphonal, playing off each other while the rest of the band did block harmonies in the middle. And later on, of course, the band moved away from harmony to a great extent and towards counterpoint.
But this shows how much this was a conscious choice – these two voices, alone, are absolutely spellbinding. Much as I love Brian’s more complex vocal arrangements, I’d still kill to hear an album of Brian and Mike singing two-part harmony a la Simon & Garfunkel, the Everlys or the Louvin Brothers.
The party noises are mixed down for this one, but if you want to give the track the respect it deserves, the rarities CD Hawthorne, Ca has a mix of this with the noises mixed out altogether.

Alley Oop
Originally a country single for Dallas Frazer, this song about the cartoon caveman had become a hit for the Hollywood Argyles in 1960. The Hollywood Argyles were a studio creation put together by Kim Fowley (a schoolfriend of Bruce Johnston who managed to be involved in a minor way in almost every major music event for thirty years despite having no discernible talent – he made some of the first surf records, played on Frank Zappa’s first album, is the announcer on John Lennon’s Live Peace In Toronto and so on – he’s the LA hipster equivalent of Zelig) and their take on the song was essentially to turn it into Hully Gully (and indeed they had a hit with a cover of that song in 1961).
This is also (along with The Monster Mash) one of two songs covered by both the Beach Boys and the Bonzo Dog Band, who presumably came across both songs from the Beach Boys’ versions.
I mention all this because there’s little to say about the song itself, which is just Hully Gully with lyrics about dinosaurs.

There’s No Other (Like My Baby)
A four-chord doo-wop ballad written by Phil Spector and Leroy Bates for the Crystals, this is played fairly straight, sticking close to the template of the original record, with Brian singing the Darlene Love lead part, and the rest of the band and ‘party guests’ singing the unison vocal choruses. Other than You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and Devoted To You this is the most straightforward, respectful cover on the album. Unfortunately, it’s a straightforward, respectful cover of a plodding dirge, but you can’t have everything.

I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe
A ‘hilarious’ comedy medley of two of the Beach Boys’ own hits, where Mike Love tries to improvise funny parody lyrics and fails miserably.An example is that after one of the “I get around” bits he sings “square”. Oh my aching sides.

The Times They Are A-Changin’
Al Jardine, the band’s resident folkie, here gets a chance to sing a Dylan song. One always gets the impression from Jardine, with his whitebread earnestness, that he wishes he’d been in one of the bands parodied in A Mighty Wind – whereas Brian Wilson obsessed over the Four Freshmen, Jardine was a Kingston Trio fan, and his later contributions to the band are often either attempts at protest songs (Lookin’ At Tomorrow, Don’t Go Near The Water) or clean-cut versions of old folk songs (Sloop John B and Cottonfields. It tells you everything you need to know about Jardine that it was his idea to do Sloop John B but that at the recent reunion performance he added “but not too much!” after the line “drinkin’ all night”).
Jardine obviously likes the song, and does a very creditable job, punctuated by random shouts from the crowd, who seem less than impressed.

Barbara Ann
Oh dear…
Dean Torrence, of Jan & Dean, was known as a nice person. However, it was equally well known that he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, even if that bucket were inside another bucket with an easy-carry handle, and if he were aided by two professional bucket-carriers and a bucket-carrying machine. He sometimes wasn’t even allowed to sing on Jan & Dean’s own records, the falsetto parts being as likely to be sung by Brian Wilson or P.F. Sloan as by Torrence himself.
Nonetheless, he was there in the studio, and it was decided that he’d be allowed to sing lead on this, a cover of a song written by Fred Fassert for The Regents, which Jan & Dean had recently covered themselves. After all, this was a filler album, no-one was going to pay attention, right?
Carl Wilson, thirty-one years later, called this song “the bane of my life”. Released as a single by the record company without the band’s knowledge or permission, this sloppy, hideously off-key (Brian can be heard during a session outtake groaning “Hey Dean, sing on key! Jesus!”) cover version, where the band forget the words half-way through and with someone who isn’t even in the band on lead vocals, somehow became one of their biggest ever hits, and they had to sing it every working day for the rest of their lives.
Just goes to show that you should never just pump out filler crap for the money, or it can come back to bite you…