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California Dreaming: Different Drum

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on January 12, 2015

The Stone Poneys had broken up several times.

The Stone Poneys had started out as a folk group, focussing equally on their three members; Linda Ronstadt on vocals, and guitarist/vocalists Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards. But the band had been performing for two years, and while they were a popular live attraction, thanks largely to Ronstadt’s voice and looks, their initial attempts at recording, for Mercury records, had been complete flops. Herb Cohen, the band’s manager, summed the problem up in conversation with Kimmel, saying “Well, I can get your chick singer recorded, but I don’t know about the rest of the group.”

However, during the band’s first short split, Cohen had tried promoting Ronstadt as a solo artist, having her collaborate with Frank Zappa (who Cohen also managed) and Jack Nitzsche, but with no success, and so Cohen went back to promoting the full band, eventually getting Nik Venet (who had been working with Zappa) to sign the Stone Poneys as a band to Capitol. Venet and Capitol were convinced that Ronstadt would eventually become a solo star, but that the Stone Poneys were the best vehicle for her to get experience of recording.

Their first album, The Stone Poneys, was consciously modelled on the sound of Peter, Paul, and Mary, with the trio performing a set of songs much like their normal stage act, but with the addition of session player Jimmy Bond on bass and Billy Mundi of the Mothers of Invention on drums, along with a couple of additional guitarists and Cyrus Faryar, formerly of the Modern Folk Quartet, on bouzouki. The album consisted almost entirely of Kimmel and Edwards’ original material, and was commercially unsuccessful, and the band split up again.

However, Nik Venet still thought the band had potential if he could find the right material — or at least that Ronstadt did. The second Stone Poneys album, Evergreen, vol 2, was to spotlight Ronstadt’s vocals. While Edwards and Kimmel were allowed to write five songs for the album, and provide backing vocals and guitars, Linda Ronstadt was to be the lead singer. Indeed, during the recording of one song, Back on the Street Again, a scuffle broke out in the studio as Edwards and Kimmel turned up — they had not been informed that the session was taking place. Nik Venet was now in charge of the Stone Poneys’ sound, and anyone who wasn’t Linda Ronstadt was unimportant.

The band’s biggest hit seems, in retrospect, almost to be about this process of growing apart from the band, with its “it’s not you, it’s me” lyrical theme. Written by Michael Nesmith before he joined the Monkees, Different Drum had been recorded by the bluegrass band The Greenbriar Boys, who had heard Nesmith perform it at a nightclub and had included it on their 1966 album Better Late Than Never (Nesmith had also busked through a deliberately sloppy performance of the song in an episode of the Monkees’ TV series).

The Stone Poneys had added it to their live set in 1967, in an arrangement reminiscent of the Greenbriar Boys’ version — slow, and driven by mandolin, with a bluegrass flavour. However, Nik Venet, after attempting to record it in this style, was convinced the song could be a hit in a new arrangement. He got Jimmy Bond to write the arrangement up and replaced the two male Stone Poneys with members of the Wrecking Crew.

The result turned a country ballad into a midtempo baroque pop piece, rather to the astonishment of Ronstadt, who had believed she was going to be recording the song with her bandmates and was unprepared to deal with the new arrangement. The arrangement confused her, and she was unable to get the phrasing of the song the way she intended, and she has said in many interviews that she can’t bear to listen to her vocals on the track.

Other people disagreed, though, and it’s easy to see why. Over an arrangement led by Don Randi’s harpsichord, Ronstadt sings the rather callous, whimsical lyrics with an urgency and intensity that runs completely counter to the explicit meaning of the text. While for the Greenbriar Boys, or later Nesmith in his own version, the singer is saying goodbye because the woman he’s singing to is mildly irritating to him and he can’t be bothered any more, and he doesn’t really see why she thinks this is a big deal, Ronstadt’s vocal is begging and pleading. “Please accept this,” her vocal practically screams, “can’t you see I’ve thought about this? Please don’t make this any more difficult. It really isn’t you, it’s me.”

There’s a caution to the vocal, a sense of fear at the response the spurned lover may make, and also a sensitivity to the lover’s feelings, that is completely missing from the other versions, which sounds like a conscious choice made by Ronstadt but is actually her trying desperately to get any kind of usable performance while working in an arrangement she hadn’t rehearsed. Either way, it worked, and the song made the top twenty.

The band broke up after the album was recorded, but before the single — released as by The Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt — was released. When it became a hit, Ronstadt and Kimmel (Edwards had decided to travel to India) got back together to form a new Stone Poneys, but the band wasn’t to last.

A third “Stone Poneys” album was released, but it was titled Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III and was deliberately intended as a transition to Ronstadt’s solo career. It showed only Ronstadt on the cover, had only two Kimmel/Edwards songs, and was recorded under a solo contract for Ronstadt rather than the band contract. Various different lineups of the band would perform for a while, featuring neither Kimmel or Edwards, but including Nesmith’s frequent collaborators Bill Martin and John Ware, before Ronstadt became a solo artist in name, as well as in fact.

Different Drum
Composer:
Michael Nesmith

Line-up: Linda Ronstadt (vocals), Al Viola (guitar), Jimmy Bond (bass), Don Randi (harpsichord), Jim Gordon (drums), plus strings led by Sid Sharp. Some online sources also credit Bernie Leadon on guitar. I suspect these are confusing it with a later rerecording, but in the absence of the AFM sheet for the track, I can’t be sure.

Original release: Evergreen, Volume 2, The Stone Poneys, Capitol T2763

Currently available on: The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt/Evergreen Vol.2, Raven CD

Michael Nesmith, Manchester Royal Northern College Of Music

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on October 29, 2012

This will necessarily be brief, because I only had four hours of sleep last night and I was incoherent even before seeing one of my musical idols. But I promised people a report on the gig, so here it is.

Much like the Beach Boys gigs in Italy, today was a day of coincidences. We’ve got a few people doing a six-week residency at my work, and just as I was leaving, one of them pointed to my Monkees T-shirt and said to me “My girlfriend [in the USian usage, for friend-who-is-female] got married by one of them. Mike… Nesmith, is it?” — Nesmith had officiated at her friend’s wedding. Not only that, but my colleague’s husband turns out to be one of The Golden Dawn, a classic 60s garage-psych band I like. So that was nice.

And then at the gig, after buying myself a T-shirt and a cut-priced box set of Nesmith’s last four albums (with free DVD), I took my seat — I had a great seat, third row centre. Not quite as close as Iain Lee’s description of being so close to Nez at Glasgow that he could see the shape of his penis, but then frankly that’s a good thing. Some things are better left to the imagination — or even better left unimagined.

I found myself sat next to the same person I’d been sat next to at the Monkees gig last year. I’m afraid I talked a bit too much at her, because when I’m this tired I have no filters, but on the upside she turned out to be a fan of classic Doctor Who and Canterbury scene prog, and generally to be a very interesting person. Who I’m sure I bored to death, but I shut up once Nesmith came on.

Nesmith’s show is absolutely stunning. His voice is almost unchanged since the 70s, and those rough edges it does have just give it a worn, comforting quality that, if anything, improves it. And he’s such a great natural singer that he manages to work around the limitations his age imposes in much the same way that someone like Tony Bennett does. He’s got a gorgeous, rich baritone, and I hadn’t realised just how *bloody good* he is until hearing him live.

He was backed by Joe Chemay, who he’s played with since 1979 (and who also played with the Beach Boys in the late 70s), on bass and backing vocals, and by Charlie Judge on keyboards and computers.

Because Nesmith has *radically* rearranged some of these songs, to incorporate electronic soundscapes, beats and samples. This has been the most controversial decision of this tour, but it’s both absolutely right and absolutely wrong. On songs like Silver Moon and Rio, it doesn’t work very well, and it ends up sounding a bit 80s cheese, like someone backing themselves with a Casio keyboard. But on the other hand, on Grand Ennui the result was something like Tom Waits by way of the Radiophonic Workshop, while Laugh Kills Lonesome became space age lounge music, something like Cornelius remixing Esquivel.

Possibly the most interesting reworking was Different Drum, which he performed in waltz-time, to a backing of accordion sounds, and which ended up sounding remarkably like Leonard Cohen.

I’d rather see a performer experiment and fail than not experiment at all, and the experiments worked more often than not. But for those who wanted him to do everything exactly as he used to, many of the most famous songs — Some Of Shelly’s Blues, Propinquity, Papa Gene’s Blues, Tapioca Tundra, Joanne — were done pretty much straight, and worked as well as ever. And the computers were also used on the last song to allow them to fly in Red Rhodes’ original pedal steel solo for Thanx For The Ride, which was a beautiful moment.

The songs worked better than ever, in fact — one thing that people have not properly mentioned in reviews is the way Nez has set the songs up. In order to make them fresh for himself and the audience, he tells a little… story isn’t *quite* the right word, maybe scenario?… before each one, describing a context in which the songs could happen. These are very visual descriptions, told in Nez’s wonderful Jimmy Stewart voice, and they do conjure up very vivid images in the head while listening to the songs. It’s easy to see why he took to making videos with such enthusiasm — the descriptions sound like storyboards for videos.

The interesting thing about these is that the contextualising does help give the songs new meanings. Some Of Shelly’s Blues and Different Drum, for example, are both songs I like a lot but which have a macho arrogance and callousness to them that makes it hard for me to love them. The settings Nez describes manage to remove that sting and make them both seem much more compassionate, empathetic songs, and all the better for it.

The best of these, though, was actually one he read from a book — Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling’s conversation about fate, writing and how art becomes the property of the reader, as recounted in Craig Brown’s Hello Goodbye Hello — which manages actually to make Tapioca Tundra’s lyrics make some kind of sense.

To give some idea of how great Nez is as a live performer, when I saw the other three Monkees last year, even when they were posing for photos outside before the show, I was hit with a rush of childhood nostalgia. “That’s Micky! Off of the Monkees! Off of the telly! It’s MICKY!!!” — they were great, but they could have been godawful and I’d have loved them because I reverted to being eight years old.

On the other hand, when Nesmith mentioned the Monkees, which he did two or three times, I actually thought for half a second “Why’s he talking about the Monkees? Oh yeah! Michael Nesmith is Mike out of the Monkees, isn’t he?” — I was so lost in the music and the show that the fact that the little old man who was playing, talking and singing had a connection to a TV show I loved as a kid (and still love as an adult, of course) was about as important as what brand of shoes he was wearing. I was watching someone with a remarkable voice (and, other than Brian Wilson’s, the most infectious smile of anyone I’ve ever seen) performing songs that are equal parts Cole Porter and Hank Williams, that make up one of the most remarkable catalogues in modern popular music, and that’s pretty much all I was thinking about.

This has been a wonderful year for gigs. I’ve seen Neil Innes play to an audience of about fifty people, and the Beach Boys fill stadia, I’ve seen Ray Davies play Autumn Almanac with just an acoustic guitar, and Van Dyke Parks play Heroes & Villains with the Britten Sinfonia. In a year of wonderful performances by great eccentric 1960s songwriters, it’s impossible to choose a best, but Nesmith’s show was at least comparable to all of those.

He hasn’t toured the UK solo since before I was born, and has barely ever gigged, so it’s not likely you’ll get to see him if you’re reading this and haven’t (although he’s touring the US with the Monkees in a couple of weeks, doing a very different, but undoubtedly excellent, kind of show). But in the unlikely event you do get a chance, *GO*.

Setlist was Papa Gene’s Blues – Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care) – Tomorrow And Me – Grand Ennui – Different Drum – Joanne – Silver Moon – Some Of Shelly’s Blues – Tapioca Tundra – Rio – Casablanca Moonlight – Crusin – Life,The Unsuspecting Captive – Marie’s Theme – Prison Closing Theme – Laugh Kills Lonesome – Thanx For The Ride

Review: Monkee Business by Eric Lefcowitz

Posted in books, music by Andrew Hickey on December 13, 2011

Rather surprisingly for such a hugely successful band, there are very few actual books on the Monkees. Other than annuals and fan cash-ins from the 60s, some ebooks that appear to be just articles culled from Wikipedia, some self-published fan-fiction on Lulu and a notoriously-inaccurate book called Monkeemania that at one point confuses Micky Dolenz with Micky Kantner from Jefferson Starship, there are only six real books I know of, and luckily for Monkees fans they all cover slightly different areas.

Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz have both written insubstantial autobiographies, there’s an unauthorised biography of Michael Nesmith, there’s my own book (a song-by-song critical analysis), there’s Andrew Sandoval’s day-by-day look at everything the band did (Sandoval has actually written probably another book’s worth of text on the band in his extensive liner notes for the band’s reissues), and there’s this book, the only narrative biography of the band I know of.

Originally published as The Monkees Tale, this was reissued in an expanded version this year – unfortunately just *before* the Dolenz/Jones/Tork reunion tour was announced, thus making what was an up-to-the-minute biography instantly dated.

How interesting it will be for fans will depend on how familiar the reader is with Lefcowitz’s source material. While he conducted a long interview with Peter Tork for the original book, and apparently interviewed Michael Nesmith on more than one occasion, almost every quote in the book from a band member appears to be traceable to two documentaries from the late 90s – Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees and E! True Hollywood Story.

This may not, though, be Lefcowitz’s fault – all the band members, especially Jones, have spent the last forty-five years telling anecdotes about the same two-year period of their lives, and they have refined everything into smooth, streamlined, versions they can rattle off without thinking. Whenever he’s asked about Tork, Jones will say “Hare Krishna, brown rice and waterbeds”, Dolenz will always say of his trip to England “I’m told I had a great time”, and so on. It’s entirely possible that Lefcowitz’s interviews ended up revealing little that was not already available on the public record in the same words.

Rather less forgivable are the occasional factual errors – errors that access to Sandoval’s book would easily have cleared up. Lefcowitz claims, for example, that Tork had little involvement in Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn And Jones, Ltd, when Tork is on almost every track on that album. He also claims that Jones appeared in Coronation Street only after moving to London, when in fact Coronation Street is filmed in Manchester, where Jones grew up, and that Hal Blaine was a member of the Candy Store Prophets (he wasn’t).

The book also has a large number of typos and proofreading errors, possibly because it’s been published by a small press. Coronation Street is, for example, a ‘soap operation’. There are also some unusual stylistic quirks, like an overuse of hyphens, that a professional editor would probably have smoothed out.

Nonetheless, this is an engrossing book. Lefcowitz pulls everything together into a narrative, and one that does justice to the facts (rather than, as all too often, claiming the Monkees’ commercial failures began as soon as Don Kirshner stopped being involved). He is clearly passionate about the band and the music, and while this can be a double-edged sword (he dismisses outright everything the band did post-Pisces, with the exception of the Head soundtrack, and regards some of Nesmith’s best work as attempts at sabotage), his very personal viewpoint allows him to tell this as a story, rather than a recitation of dry facts.

This does, however, mean Lefcowitz plays favourites. The story that clearly comes through in most tellings of the Monkees’ career is a battle for dominance between Nesmith the artist and Jones the star. Here, though, Nesmith’s manipulation of the band (which at times can appear to have been near-psychopathic, though he appears to have mellowed enormously in the ensuing decades and may now be the most well-adjusted band member) is excused at every turn, as Lefcowitz appears to have a huge respect for him. Jones, on the other hand, is pilloried as a talentless, deluded narcissist, quisling and shortarse. It’s not surprising that Nesmith is the only band member who is thanked in the acknowledgements.

In this battle of the egos, the (comparatively) more modest Dolenz and Tork don’t get a great deal of discussion, though Lefcowitz’s admiration for Dolenz’s vocals is apparent. In particular, the Tork/Nesmith feud seems barely dealt with. It’s always seemed odd that the two band members who most wanted the band to be actual musicians fell out so completely, and Lefcowitz never explains this, just stating in passing three-quarters of the way through that the two loathed each other.

Tork seems, in fact, to be a fascinating character, and it’s a shame that he’s the only band member not to have had any kind of biography out, as he’s intelligent, articulate and musicianly.

It might seem that I’m being unduly harsh on Lefcowitz, but overall I was very impressed with the book. Yes, it has faults, and it’s not quite a definitive biography, but compared to some of the utter drivel that has been published about some of the band’s contemporaries, it’s a minor miracle that the one Monkees biography is this readable.

It won’t tell the die-hard fans much that they don’t already know, and I’d advise anyone reading it to have a copy of Sandoval on hand to double-check the facts against, but for anyone who wants to read the Monkees’ story, we can be glad that the one place to do it is as decent as this is.

Monkee Music: The Monkees Present

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on October 15, 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).

The last Monkees album to feature Nesmith until the 1990s, and to all intents and purposes the last Monkees album full stop, this is a much better effort than Instant Replay, as everyone seems to have realised this would be the band’s last chance to make an album on their own terms. While still not rising to the heights of the great run of albums from Headquarters through Head, it’s a respectable effort, and everyone involved at least sounds like they’re trying, though by this point there’s absolutely no pretence at this being a group effort – each member gets his solo tracks, and that’s it.

Still, there’s an air of resignation here that there simply isn’t on the albums while Tork was a member, and an utter lack of coherence. This isn’t an album, it’s a semi-random assortment of quite nice tracks, with little to distinguish them.

Little Girl
Writers:
Micky Dolenz
Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz
Producer: Micky Dolenz
Other Monkees present: None

The album opens with this rather charming Latin pop effort by Dolenz, with session guitarist Louie Shelton reprising his blisteringly fast guitar playing from Valleri, and Coco Dolenz adding backing vocals. The lyrics are rather bitter, but Dolenz sings them so sweetly that the track comes out as a light bit of pop.

Dolenz has consistently produced good material on these last few Monkees albums, and it’s a shame he really only started once the band were a commercial flop.

Good Clean Fun
Writers:
Michael Nesmith
Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith
Producer: Michael Nesmith
Other Monkees present: None

What on earth… ? It’s… it can’t be… it is! A Nesmith track where he’s trying, released on a Monkees album rather than saved for his solo albums!

Easily the most poppy and commercial of Nesmith’s Nashville session tracks, this is a wonderful banjo- and fiddle-driven train song (it’s about a ‘plane journey, but the structure is absolutely that of a train song, right down to the boom-chicka-boom rhythm) about returning to a lover the narrator hasn’t seen for a year.

The title, incidentally, is a dig at someone working for Screen Gems, who had told Nesmith that if he wanted to write hits, he had to stop writing that weird stuff and write something that was good clean fun instead.

Released as a single after Listen To The Band became surprisingly popular, this was Nesmith’s second A-side for the band, and it went only to number 82 in the US charts, not helped by the fact that the title isn’t mentioned anywhere in the lyric.

If I Knew
Writers:
David Jones and Bill Chadwick
Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones
Producer: Davy Jones
Other Monkees present: None

According to Chadwick [FOOTNOTE: In Sandoval, p. 244], he wrote this song by himself, and gave Jones credit to get the song recorded. Whether this is the case or not, it certainly sounds tailor-made for Jones, its acoustic soft pop stylings sounding premonitory of The Carpenters.

Jones turns in one of his very best vocals here, especially when harmonising with himself on the middle eight.

Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye
Writers:
Micky Dolenz and Ric Klein
Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz
Producer: Micky Dolenz
Other Monkees present: Davy Jones (backing vocals)

Yes, it’s an actual track by Monkees, plural, as Jones adds some backing vocals to this Dolenz track. This seems to be an early attempt at writing the ‘Indian chant’ section of Mommy And Daddy, but is a great stand-alone track in itself. The driving riff could almost be an early Led Zeppelin one, especially the way it keeps to a four/four beat but varies the stresses within the bars, and the use of a banjo doubling a harmonica to give a sitar feel is reminiscent of some of Donovan’s music of the time.

Dolenz seems to have had a real knack for riffy tracks around this time (see, for example, Rose Marie), and it’s a shame we never got a period where he had creative dominance over the band in the way that Nesmith had earlier.

Never Tell A Woman Yes
Writers:
Michael Nesmith
Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith
Producer: Michael Nesmith
Other Monkees present: None

This track, the last of Nesmith’s experiments in 1920s pastiche, sounds almost like it could have come from the pen of his friend Harry Nilsson, especially in the sections where Nesmith scat sings in clear imitation of him. This is one of Nesmith’s most musically enjoyable songs in this style, all clanking banjo and silent-movie barrelhouse piano, but the shaggy dog story of the lyrics makes the song somewhat overlong.

Looking For The Good Times
Writers:
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones
Producer: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals)

This is another left-over from the More Of The Monkees sessions in October 1966, but is far better than the rejects dug up for Instant Replay. In fact, had it been released in 1966, it would easily have been a Mod dance-floor filler, with its garage-band-by-way-of-LA-sessioneers R&B slickness. Jones turns in a surprisingly good vocal, on a type of track on which he’s normally weedy and underpowered, and Dolenz does a very creditable backing vocal turn (making this one of the increasingly small number of ‘Monkees’ tracks to actually feature multiple Monkees).

However, between 1966 and 1969, popular music had been revolutionised at least twice, and this sounded in that context about as dated as a madrigal. A shame, because it still stands up today.

Ladies Aid Society
Writers:
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones
Producer: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals)

Another track left over from More Of The Monkees (and a longer mix of this is available as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of that album), this is an attempt by Boyce and Hart at a piece of music-hall satire in the style of the Kinks’ music of that time. In truth, though, between the lyrics about old ladies wanting to ‘clamp down on the youth’ and the terrible falsetto vocals in the chorus, this is closer to some of Jan & Dean’s music from the period.

As a novelty song, this isn’t as bad as some of the material they’d done at that time, but why on earth anyone thought it would be a good idea to dig this drivel up more than two years after it had been successfully buried, I can’t imagine.

Listen To The Band
Writers:
Michael Nesmith
Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith
Producer: Michael Nesmith
Other Monkees present: None

This song was originally performed on the 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee special, in a slow version driven by Tork’s harpsichord, but here it’s a horn-driven country-rocker. At this point, the three remaining Monkees were touring with a nine-piece band (Sam and the Good Timers) including a horn section, and many of their songs in this period seem to be geared to that kind of arrangement.

As a result, we have what is a more or less straightforward country arrangement, all twangy steel guitars and harmonica, but with a big band horn section overlayed. And just to make the genre-bending complete, there’s a false fade, and we come back into the song with some psychedelic organ music.

This was released as a single – the first Monkees single to have Nesmith on the A-side – and only reached number 63 in the US charts (though it made the top 20 in Australia). Nonetheless, it has since become one of the band’s most popular songs, and a highlight of live performances on the various reunion tours.

Rather oddly, Nesmith re-recorded this on his second solo album, Loose Salute, in 1970, the only time he ever put a re-recording of a previously-released Monkees track on one of his solo albums.

French Song
Writers:
Bill Chadwick
Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones
Producer: Davy Jones and Bill Chadwick
Other Monkees present: None

A rather nice lounge-jazz song, this track really is the epitome of lift music, between its cheesy organ and flute and the vibraphone solo. From the description of the session in Sandoval, it seems the musicians involved were rather unimpressed, but this is still an interesting track, if only because it shows Jones and Chadwick moving in a completely different direction to the rest of the band.

I find it hard to defend this song on any rational basis, but I have an instinctive love of anything with acoustic guitar, organ and vibraphone; thanks to the Beach Boys and Tim Buckley that combination of instruments can be relied upon to enthrall me. But on an objective level, this is one of the weaker tracks on the album.

Mommy and Daddy
Writers:
Micky Dolenz
Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz
Producer: Micky Dolenz
Other Monkees present: None

Easily Dolenz’s greatest production (other than maybe Shorty Blackwell), the version of this on the released album is hamstrung by the insistence of Lester Sill, the music supervisor from the record label, that Dolenz bowdlerise his original lyrics (“tell your mommy and daddy they’re living a lie” became “tell your mommy and daddy that you love them anyway”). Thankfully, the CD reissue contains both versions.

To be truthful, the lyrics here are frankly adolescent, shouting at the hypocrisy of adult society. Apparently parents hide the truth about sex and prescription drug use from their children, the genocide of the Native Americans was bad, war is wrong, and J.F.K. might not have been killed by a lone assassin. Were Dolenz to have written about any one of those topics, he could have possibly come up with something powerful, but as it is this is just one of the many, many songs written in the 60s which seek to lay all the problems in the whole history of the world on well-meaning middle-class suburbanites.

However, Dolenz clearly means these lyrics, and so he turns in an impassioned vocal performance. He may even be playing the drums on this, for the only time since Cuddly Toy, and the song clearly meant a lot to him. Musically, the way the song builds up, with the pseudo-Native American chanting chorus and unusual rhythm, to a huge brass band climax playing cheerfully away while Dolenz sings “living a lie, lie, lie” over and over is a masterstroke. For all its sixth-form lyrics, this is a highlight of the album.

Oklahoma Backroom Dancer
Writers:
Michael Martin Murphey
Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith
Producer: Michael Nesmith
Other Monkees present: None

This is Nesmith’s weakest track on the album, but is still pleasant enough. Written by Nesmith’s former bandmate Michael Murphey, who also wrote What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?, this is a slice of Southern rock about watching a bar-room dancer that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Creedence Clearwater Revival album, and far more straightforward than most of Nesmith’s material from this time. One suspects it was included on the album more as a favour to Murphey than because of its own qualities, though it’s still very listenable.

Pillow Time
Writers:
Janelle Scott and Matt Willis
Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz
Producer: Micky Dolenz
Other Monkees present: None

And we close with another Dolenz track, this time a lullaby originally demoed during the Headquarters sessions (and audible on the Headquarters Sessions box set).

This is another song that seems to owe a lot to Nilsson, more in the arrangement than anything else, but at times it sounds like a very close relation of Nilsson’s own lullaby Little Cowboy. It’s perhaps a little twee lyrically, but a nice performance of a nice melody.

At the end of this album, it’s very clear that Dolenz is far, far more committed both to making good music and to having that music go out under the Monkees’ name than either of his colleagues. It’s a real shame that just as he was starting to flower creatively, his career as someone making new music was essentially ended.

The Monkees Present is far from the band’s finest hour, but it’s a much better way for the band to bow out than Instant Replay. But there was still one more album to go…

Bonus Tracks

Calico Girlfriend Samba
Writers:
Michael Nesmith
Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith
Producer: Michael Nesmith
Other Monkees present: None

This cowbell-driven samba track is one of Nesmith’s most upbeat, enjoyable tracks of the period, but was left unreleased at the time, and Nesmith re-recorded it (in a more straightforward arrangement) for his Magnetic South solo album the next year.

Rather improbably, Sandoval [p. 237] states that notes on the tape box suggest that this track was intended for Jones to sing. This would have been interesting, but as it is, it’s hard to think of a more quintessentially Nesmith track.

(Incidentally, Sandoval states that the track as recorded had additional percussion overdubs by unknown people, after the basic track was cut. This track (with Hal Blaine on drums) was recorded at the first of two Nesmith sessions on this date, and on the second session Earl Palmer was the drummer. I’d be prepared to bet a reasonable sum of money that Palmer was the percussionist who did the overdubs, as it sounds very much like his playing – listen, for example, to the Beach Boys’ It’s About Time, which Palmer played on).

The Good Earth
Writers:
unknown
Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones
Producer: Davy Jones
Other Monkees present: None

A horrible piece of Hallmark-card doggerel, a spoken-word piece of ‘poetry’ about the environment, recited earnestly by Jones. Drivel.

Monkee Music: Instant Replay

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on October 7, 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).

And here’s where I start being harsher about these albums. Head was the last truly great album the Monkees released, and after that album and film flopped so badly, the rest of the Monkees’ career was a panic, with the record label alternating between desperate attempts to regain the band’s commercial success and utter apathy about a ‘past it’ band. Meanwhile, the Monkees themselves were getting sick of being in the band, and looking to get out.

The first to leave had been Tork, who had left after the recording of the 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee TV special, and as a result plans for the band’s next album to be a double, with one side for each band member, were discarded. Instead, this hodge-podge was released, a mixture of More Of The Monkees era outtakes (and remakes of those), a couple of experiments by Dolenz and Jones, and two decent-but-not-great tracks by Nesmith, who was clearly saving his best work for the solo career that would start within a year.

It’s surprisingly listenable, but could have been reduced to an EP without anyone even noticing. It’s a fundamentally lazy album, and it’s clear that everyone here is doing this, not because they ‘have something to say’, or even to entertain, but because they’ve got a contract that says they must release two albums of pop-music-like product a year.

Through the Looking Glass

Writers: Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart and Red Baldwin

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Producer: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Other Monkees present: None

This plinky, McCartneyesque song about a girl who remains emotionally distant was first recorded during the More Of The Monkees sessions, but passed over (that version is on the More Of The Monkees deluxe edition, and is driven by acoustic guitar rather than piano, and has less orchestration). It was then rerecorded for The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees, and left off that album, but that recording was chosen to open this one.

It’s not a bad song, as such, just thoroughly nondescript. Boyce and Hart at their best were capable of producing garage-rock classics like She or Stepping Stone, and were also capable of pop like Last Train To Clarksville. Those songs pop and spark with life, but this just sits there and says “Are we done yet?”.

Don’t Listen to Linda

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Producer: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Other Monkees present: None

Oh dear. Another song with the same history as above – recorded for More Of The Monkees, left off, re-recorded for The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees and left off again – this actually feels like a conscious piece of sabotage.

The original recording (available as a bonus track on the More Of The Monkees deluxe edition) is a pleasant piece of chirpy pop, pitched somewhere between the country-pop of the Beatles’ Help! album and the music-hall revivalism of Herman’s Hermits, though somewhat closer to the latter.

Here, though, it’s slowed down and over-orchestrated, and Jones actually attempts to emote (always a mistake). Slowed down, and sung like they actually mean something, lines like “You’ll end up contender for the loser of the year” just sound abysmal.

I Won’t Be the Same Without Her

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Producer: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (guitar)

A truly unusual song for the Monkees, this was actually a left-over from the The Monkees sessions (and a mono version of the track is available on the The Monkees deluxe edition), recorded at the same session as Sweet Young Thing. This track seems to have been modelled on (and possibly intended for) Phil Spector, specifically the Righteous Brothers (whose lead vocalist, Bill Medley, sounded a little like Nesmith), though the stomping chorus is more Ronettes.

Either way, though, this track is very Spectoresque, from its Wrecking Crew backing track (with the Dano bass here used not as Nesmith usually did, to double a bass part, but rather to double a guitar line in a very Brian Wilson touch) to the female backing vocals buried in the mix. (Not that it was all Spector’s influence – the drum pattern here is one that recurred in You Just May Be The One).

But then adding Nesmith’s distinctive vocals on top turns this into a country-soul song of a type that would not become normal for several years. By the time it was released, this song didn’t sound hugely out of the ordinary (though it was better than almost anything else on the album by a long way), but at the time it was recorded it would have been hugely avant-garde. Of all the leftover tracks on here, this is the only one that cried out for a release.

Just a Game

Writers: Micky Dolenz

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Producer: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

And so, with the fourth song on the album we finally get to something that isn’t a reject from a previous album. This song had been demoed instrumentally during the Headquarters sessions (and that demo was released on the Headquarters Sessions box set), but at that time Dolenz hadn’t yet written the lyrics.

Only the second song Dolenz wrote for the band, this is stylistically different from anything else the band did, even Dolenz’s other songs. It seems, in fact, to be styled after French chanson, with flurries of conversationally-sung words gesturing at a melody, rather than singing every note precisely on the beat, and with Dolenz’s feather-light vocal belying the lyric, which is painfully paranoid and insecure. The arrangement’s lovely, as well, being mostly harpsichord and a few strings, but with some jazz clarinet noodling on the instrumental fade.

It’s not hard at all to imagine someone like Scott Walker performing this on one of his early albums, and while it’s only one minute and forty-nine seconds long, it has more invention in it than half the rest of the album put together. Tork has often said that in his mind the great tragedy of the Monkees is that Dolenz never fulfilled his creative potential, and on the evidence of the handful of songs he submitted to the band, it’s definitely true. A lovely little track.

Me Without You

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist:
Davy Jones

Producer: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Other Monkees present: None

Oh look, this Boyce and Hart song was only rejected from one previous album (The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees, the box set version of which contains some very slightly different mixes of this). And it’s not actually terrible, as such, it just sounds like the theme tune to a bad sitcom. There’s also a mix, included as a bonus track, with some hideously inappropriate fuzz guitar and lazy ‘bop shoo-wop’ backing vocals.

Don’t Wait for Me

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Producer: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

This is a generic Nesmith country song in the same way the previous track was a generic Boyce and Hart song for Jones. Admittedly that makes it one of the better songs of the album so far, but still the ultimate feeling one gets from this track, as with much of the album, is a sense of “Will this do?”

It’s pleasant enough – I’d go so far as to call it good, in fact – and a definite highlight of side one. But it’s hard to imagine that this mattered to Nesmith, in a way even a potboiler like You Told Me feels like it matters.

You and I

Writers: David Jones and Bill Chadwick

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Producer: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

Now this is more like it!

Not to be confused with the song of the same name on Justus, this is far and away the best Monkees track for which Jones ever took responsibility, and one of the highlights of the album.

This is utterly, absolutely unlike anything else Jones ever did. The structure of the song is actually closer to his ‘Broadway rock’ than it might appear, with its drops into 3/4 time to emphasise the end of verses, but it’s utterly transformed in the production.

Neil Young takes lead guitar here, and the track actually sounds far more like Young’s own work with Crazy Horse than anything else – but while Young’s guitar style is, of course, one of the most distinctive in rock music, this is actually a much harder rock track than anything Young had attempted himself at this point. In fact, given that Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere wouldn’t start recording til six months after this track, and given the incredible similarity in sound, it’s not unreasonable to say that this track is where the loud, grungy Neil Young style starts.

But what really makes this track is the lyric. Originally by Chadwick, but rewritten by Jones, it’s an attempt to look back calmly and understandingly at the way the Monkees’ career had rapidly gone downhill. It starts resignedly (“You and I have seen what time does, haven’t we?”, probably the best opening line of any of Jones’ songs) but soon becomes very bitter (“In a year or maybe two, we’ll be gone and someone new will take our place/There’ll be another song, another voice, another pretty face…”)

For once Jones is singing about something that matters to him, personally. He’s clearly utterly furious about what he perceives as his mistreatment by the record label and TV producers, and the result is Davy Jones inventing grunge in mid 1968. Utterly astonishing.

While I Cry

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Producer: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

A leftover from The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees, this is one of Nesmith’s better ballads from this period, and has some nice backing vocals from Nilsson.

The problem is that at this point Nesmith’s dragged his own baseline up so high that a merely very good song like this leaves little to discuss. We expect miracles from him, so when all we get is a nice country song, there’s a vague feeling of disappointment. It’s still one of the best things on the album, but it’s just average for Nesmith.

Tear Drop City

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Producer: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Other Monkees present: None

Dug out of the vaults and sped up, this recording dated back to October 1966 (the recording can be heard at its original speed on the More Of The Monkees deluxe edition, but was hugely improved by being sped up), and was essentially a reworking of Last Train To Clarksville , being based like that track on a train rhythm and three seventh chords.

This would have been rather racy had it been released at the time, with its mild drug reference (a sound of inhalation right before the line “I was high on top but I didn’t know it”), but while it’s pleasant and catchy enough, it’s a filler track that should have been used for a romp scene in the TV show. As it is, though, it was released as the album’s single, and only reached number 56 in the US chart.

The Girl I Left Behind Me

Writers: Carole Bayer and Neil Sedaka

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Producer:
Davy Jones

Other Monkees present:
None

This Sager/Sedaka schlock had been tried three times in total, first during the More Of The Monkees sessions, then for The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees (that version can be heard on the The Birds… deluxe version and on the Music Box box set) and finally here.

Frankly it didn’t deserve even one go. It’s not that it’s bad, as such, although it is. It’s just that like much of the rest of this album, this song is just there.

A Man Without a Dream

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist:
Davy Jones

Producer: Bones Howe

Other Monkees present:
None

This track was produced by the legendary Bones Howe, who amongst other accomplishments was just about to produce the music for Elvis’ comeback special. As a result, it feels more alive that most of the album, and Howe’s pop-soul arrangements suit Jones very well.

There are hints in various parts of this album and the outtakes around it that the Monkees were considering going in a direction similar to, say, Dusty In Memphis, with slick, horn-driven soul-lite arrangements of pop songs. If you put together this with, say, Rose Marie, I Won’t Be The Same Without Her,Changes, Little Red Rider and a couple of others you could have had a truly interesting album in that style. But as it is, Instant Replay seems the work of people who aren’t sure what they want to be doing. This track, at least, is the work of people working towards a clear goal, and it shows.

Shorty Blackwell

Writers: Micky Dolenz

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz, Coco Dolenz

Producer: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present:
None

But the album ends on Dolenz’s masterpiece, an attempt to write something in the style of A Day In The Life, about Dolenz’s cat.

Well, ostensibly about his cat, anyway. How many cats are involved in the record-making process (“Everybody’s talking faster, “Hurry up, get me a master,””), are unhappy, spend a lot of money on cars, “speak very crude”, own a house on top of a hill, and could be said to have “finally gotten everything you wanted/and you’re taunted by the power/that you really don’t want anymore,” ? It just might be possible that this is about someone else.

Whoever the mystery subject of the song might be, this is a psychedelic masterpiece. We start with a huge bombastic fanfare, before cutting to Dolenz singing, off tempo and a capella in a silly voice, before the first verse proper starts, with McCartney-esque tack piano and Coco Dolenz singing lead (the first time on a Monkees record that someone other than the four band members has sung a lead vocal).

We then get the addition of horns, bass and Micky Dolenz doubling his sister for a second verse. So far, this sounds like a typical sunshine pop record of the kind that the Association or the Cowsills might make.

But then we get two verses with doomy orchestration, all trombones and tympani, both ending with the line “he’s going mad”. The song has started to get very strange. And it continues to as we have a long section with the Dolenzes singing “he’s going mad” over and over more frantically as a trumpet squeals the opening vocal phrases, slowly turning into a full horn section fanfare.

We have one more verse with the same musical material as before, before going into a completely different section (“Black and shiny…”) based on a tick-tock musical phrase, which then goes into a performance of Sobre las Olas, with the Dolenzes eventually joining in and singing in sarcastic, high-pitched voices. We then get another verse with an orchestra overwhelming everything else, before going into a jazz version of the Sobre las Olas musical material in 5/4 time to fade.

It’s quite, quite bizarre, one of the most ambitious pieces the Monkees ever did, and comparable with great pop-psych tracks like My World Fell Down or Heroes And Villains. This just shows what this band were capable of when they bothered.

A demo of this can be heard on the The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees box set.

Oh, and on a totally different subject…

“The house, originally owned by Doris Day, sat high on top of a hill in Beverly Hills and cost Michael $200,000. Then he proceeded to spend an additional $50,000 in remodelling the house that he named “Arnold”.”

Total Control: The Monkees Michael Nesmith Story By Randi L. Massingill

Bonus Tracks

Someday Man

Writers: Roger Nichols and Paul Williams

Lead Vocalist:
Davy Jones

Producer:
Bones Howe

Other Monkees present: None

Another Bones Howe production, this song shows how desperate for a hit the record label were – or how little concern they had for the Monkees at this point – as it’s the first time they were ever allowed to record and release a song from a publisher other than Colgems.

And it’s an absolute masterpiece. Easily the best Monkees single to feature a Jones lead, this song should have been as big a hit as Daydream Believer, which it resembles slightly in the chorus. It’s a dizzying kaleidoscope of different musical styles, but Howe’s arrangement (which writer Paul Williams duplicated almost exactly when he used this as the title track to his 1970 solo album) guides us through the shifts in tempo and style so smoothly they’re almost unnoticeable. And Jones steps up to the challenge, delivering one of his best vocals.

In a just world, this should have rekindled the Monkees’ career. Certainly it’s the first thing since Daydream Believer to have felt like ‘the next Monkees single’ (D.W. Washburn and Porpoise Song are great but don’t feel like singles, and Tear Drop City feels like ‘the Monkees single from two years ago’). Unfortunately, this isn’t a just world, and this track only hit number 81 in the US charts.

Smile

Writer: David Jones

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Producer: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present:
None

One of Jones’ best ballads, this sounds like nothing so much as early McCartney, with its brief descending chromatic guitar passages and two-part harmonies. It could very easily have been an album track on Beatles For Sale or something McCartney gave to Peter & Gordon. It also ends rather cleverly, building to a big climax that never actually happens. The only problem is some very poor multi-tracking on Jones’ lead vocal.

St. Matthew

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Producer: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present:
None

And finally, in an unreleased bonus track, we get Nesmith on top form. This great sludgy, violin-led production sounds very like his early Sweet Young Thing. Nesmith’s yearning melody (with his vocal put through a Leslie speaker in the mix heard here, though not in the early mix available on Missing Links Vol 2) contrasts wonderfully with the driving rock riffs underneath. This track sounds like nothing more than a country Phil Spector, with no individual element audible on its own; there are guitars, organs, violins, drums, but they all just merge into one great noise.

As for the lyric, it’s one of Nesmith’s most inscrutable. Fortunately, he’s tried to explain it (that explanation can be found in the Sandoval book and in the liner notes for Music Box). Unfortunately, that explanation seems to bear no resemblance to the lyric itself. Apparently, this song was intended as a commentary on what Nesmith saw as Dylan’s subconscious incorporation of the Biblical figure of the Holy Ghost into his lyrics.

But it doesn’t really matter what it’s about, this is one of the great Monkees-era Nesmith tracks, and it’s a real shame this got left on the shelf while merely decent tracks made the album.

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