California Dreaming: Different Drum

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

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

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

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

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.

Monkee Music: Head

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 so we come to the last album the four Monkees would all appear on until the mid-1990s.

Head is a wonderful trivia-quiz question supplier – “What album, compiled by Jack Nicholson, features Neil Young, Frank Zappa and Bela Lugosi?” as an example – and by far the strangest album the Monkees ever released.

In late 1968 the Monkees released their film Head. Written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson from ideas that the group had supplied, the film is a collage of loosely-interrelated sketches and what would now be called music videos, a psychedelic montage which tries to link the Monkees’ status as plastic pop idols with the Vietnam War, with both being regarded as traps of the mind, to be escaped from by attaining mental or spiritual freedom. It features, among many other scenes, Peter Tork punching a female impersonator, the Monkees as dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair, and Davy Jones beating Sonny Liston in a boxing match.

The film is bizarre, and utterly unlike anything you might imagine from the phrase ‘a Monkees film’, but is in its own way a masterpiece. Probably the closest comparisons are Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels and Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life, both of which came out much later, and neither of which were aimed at an audience remotely comparable to the Monkees’. On top of this, the film had an…interesting…advertising campaign, based around the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, which didn’t bother with giving information like the fact that Head was a film, or that the Monkees were in it, choosing instead just to show the head of advertising executive John Brockman with the cryptic slogan “What is Head? Only John Brockman’s shrink knows for sure.”

The film was, understandably, a gigantic flop, and inspires mixed emotions in the band members these days. Nesmith, when he will speak about the Monkees at all, regards the film as a masterpiece. Tork is proud of it as a technical achievement, but dislikes what he sees as its overly cynical attitude. Jones, on the other hand, loathes it, blaming the film for the destruction of the band’s career.

That may or may not be the case, though from singles sales the band were probably doomed as soon as the TV show went off-air, but what Head did do, very successfully, was show future generations of fans that there was more to the band than the TV show and hits, when shown on late-night TV. Tork, Jones and Dolenz acknowledged this in their most recent (as of this writing) reunion tour, by opening the second half of their show with all the songs from Head.

It’s not the place of this book to go into the film in any more detail, but anyone with any interest in the band should read the slowly-updating but exhaustive analysis of the film and its making by comedy site Some Of The Corpses Are Amusing [FOOTNOTE: http://head.sotcaa.net/ ].

The soundtrack album is, in its own way, as interesting as the film. Edited together by Nicholson, the album was inspired by The Mothers Of Invention’s We’re Only In It For The Money, and mixes the seven songs from the film with collages of dialogue (both from the film and from bits of other films excerpted in the film) and orchestral soundtrack music. All of this was taken out of context, so for example the line “Boys, don’t never, but never, make fun of no cripples” from one scene in the film is followed by “Somebody come up and giggle at ya, that’s a violation of your civil rights” from a vox-pop section, while the question “Are you telling me you don’t see the connection between government and laughing at people?” is followed by Tork’s “Well, let me tell you one thing, son, nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humour.”

The result preserves many of the best lines from the film while recontextualising them, and the repetition of different snippets of songs and dialogue gives the album a through-line that’s missing from many of the Monkees’ other records. While this is the Monkees’ most ‘experimental’ album, it’s also, without a doubt, the one that has the greatest feeling of unity to it, thanks largely to Nicholson’s editing.

It’s also, after the largely solo The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees, slightly more of a group effort. While only Ditty Diego (and the live version of Circle Sky used in the film but not the album) features all four Monkees, the majority of the tracks feature two of them. And after Tork’s near-absence from the previous album, and Dolenz’s general lower profile, the two dominate this album at the expense of Nesmith and Jones, who only get one song each. The level of group control over the creative process in this album can be seen by the fact that it’s the only 60s Monkees album to feature no Boyce & Hart tracks.

After this, the Monkees only did one more project as a quartet, the deeply strange and uncommercial TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, the music from which has never been released on CD, before Tork left, frustrated that the four were no longer working together in the studio as a unit.

While the two albums that followed have their moments, this is really where the Monkees meet their end.

All the actual songs on the album are credited as produced by The Monkees, with the exception of Porpoise Song which is produced by Gerry Goffin.

While a 3-CD deluxe edition of this album does exist, it has relatively little in the way of new music, featuring mostly alternate mixes, some live tracks from the concert that was filmed for the Circle Sky scene, and lots of promotional material (radio adverts, interviews with Jones and so on) that doesn’t really come under this book’s remit.

Opening Ceremony

This track starts as a collage of lines from various parts of the film, over sections of music from Porpoise Song , As We Go Along, Daddy’s Song and Circle Sky, while two people say, as dialogue, “Head” ,“Soon”, over and over.

It then cuts to a speech from the opening scene from the film (the dedication ceremony for a bridge), overlaid by additional sound effects.

Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones

Producer: Gerry Goffin

Other Monkees present: None

This is Goffin and King being all cod-psychedelic, but it works here. While the lyrics are gibberish (where they’re not in-jokes like “riding the backs of giraffes for laughs”, a reference to Dolenz’s child stardom on Circus Boy), the music is perfectly put together.

The verses are, roughly, inspired by A Day In The Life, in their stately rhythm, especially with the piano chords early on, while the bridge and chorus are both tips of the hat to A Whiter Shade Of Pale , being as they are progressions based on a single chord each but with a scalar descending bassline. This is most notable in the organ part, which sounds near-identical to the Procol Harum song.

Both Dolenz (on the verses and bridges) and Jones (on the choruses) turn in stellar performances, but what really makes this track is the extraordinary arrangement by Jack Nitzsche, one of the great unsung heroes of American music in the 60s. He manages to combine a string arrangement perfectly in the style of George Martin (using only double basses and ‘cellos) with the Procol Harum organ, but then adds reverbed, clanking bells to remind the listener of the sea.

This is especially effective on the extended mix used for the single, which features an extended instrumental coda for strings, bells, organ and cymbals that is one of Nitzsche’s most beautiful pieces of work.

The whole thing seems to be a response to the Beatles’ psychedelic work, saying in effect “Okay, we can top that” – an effect which is added to on the album by the police sirens at the beginning, giving a reminder of I Am The Walrus. Unfortunately, the Monkees weren’t able to take the teen audience with them the way the Beatles had, and this single only reached number 62 in the US charts.

Ditty Diego-War Chant

Writers: Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson

Lead Vocalist: All four Monkees

The last pre-reunion track to be released featuring all four Monkees, this is a parody by Nicholson and Rafelson of the Monkees Theme, with verses alternating between skewering the band themselves (“Hey hey we are the Monkees, you know we love to please/A manufactured image, with no philosophies” “Hey hey we are the Monkees, we’ve said it all before/The money’s in, we’re made of tin, we’re here to give you more”) and describing the film’s plot and structure (“We know it doesn’t matter, ’cause what you came to see/Is what we’d love to give you, and give it one, two, three/But it may come three, two, one, two, or jump from nine to five/And when you see the end in sight the beginning may arrive”).

This chant, spoken at times by the full band and at times by individual members, is spoken over a barrel-house piano part reminiscent of silent-film comedy accompaniments, and the whole thing is then sped up and slowed down to sound like the tape is stretched and distorted, before there’s a sharp cut to the band exhorting a concert audience to “Give me a W! Give me an A! Give me an R! What’s that spell?!”

This track is so breathtakingly cynical about the Monkees themselves, it may be the bravest thing ever recorded by a major band. It’s not, however, worth listening to the twenty-two minute session excerpt on the deluxe box set more than once.

One of the oddest moments in Tork, Dolenz and Jones’ reunion tour of the late 80s was that they performed an abbreviated version of this in a hip-hop style.

Circle Sky

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None (studio version)/Micky Dolenz (drums), Peter Tork (bass), Davy Jones (maracas and organ) (live version)

The closest thing to a hard rock track the band ever recorded, this is for the most part just hammering away at a single chord in a manner inspired by Bo Diddley (apart from the instrumental breaks, which are just descending bar chords from B to D, and the middle eight, which is the minor-chord equivalent of the breaks). Lyrically, it’s a stream-of-consciousness description of Nesmith’s impressions of a Monkees tour (“Colours, sounds/all around”), although the themes of circularity and repetition (“it looks like we’ve made it once again”) work well with the themes of the rest of the album and of the film.

This song was very specifically written to work well for the band in a live setting, and the performance in the film is taken from a real live show – possibly the first time a rock band had used actual live footage rather than mimed performances in a film like this. However, strangely, the version on the album is a nearly-identical studio take, performed by Nesmith with studio musicians.

This upset the rest of the band, especially Tork, who blamed Nesmith, but Nesmith himself now says that he prefers the live version and had nothing to do with its replacement on the album. Either way, the live version is now included on all CD reissues along with the studio performance.

The band later rerecorded this for the Justus album, making the only song to have been released by the band as part of two proper albums. That version will be dealt with in that chapter.

Supplicio

Some Moog wind effects, a snatch of orchestral music, a cymbal with backwards reverb, and a voice saying “Quiet, isn’t it, George Michael Dolenz? I said…” (the latter taken from a scene in the film where Dolenz becomes delirious in a desert).

Can You Dig It?

Writer: Peter Tork

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (guitar and vocals)

This is possibly the most 1968 piece of music ever, with pseudo-Indian sitarish acoustic guitar, bongos, and a chorus that goes “Can you dig it?/Do you know?/Would you care to let it show?”, as well as a long instrumental freak-out at the end.

However, it’s also the Monkees track that changed most from its original conception. Before becoming the minor pop-psych masterpiece it started out as a ragtime-ish acoustic guitar piece that sounded equal parts Blind Blake and Bert Jansch (this version can be heard on the Headquarters Sessions box set), with a bridge that didn’t make it to the final version.

To my ears, that version is even better than the finished record, but the track as heard on the album, with its lyrics about the Tao and ‘exotic’ textures, is still one of the best things Tork ever brought to the group.

The song was originally intended to have Tork singing lead, but Dolenz recorded a new (and extremely good) lead vocal at the request of Rafelson, without any objection from Tork. However, the version with Tork singing lead is available as a bonus track on all CD releases, and Tork now sings this song live.

Gravy

Side one finishes with Jones saying “And I’d like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it please”.

Superstitious

A snippet from the 1934 Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi film The Black Cat, briefly seen on a TV in the film. This just consists of David Manners saying “Sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney to me”, with Lugosi replying “Supernatural, perhaps. Baloney, perhaps not.”

As We Go Along

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

This gorgeous little ballad is notable for having possibly the most unnecessarily-stellar group of session guitarists ever. The wall of acoustic guitars in Jack Nitzsche’s arrangement, mostly just strumming chords, includes Neil Young, Danny Kortchmar, Ry Cooder and Carole King.

The only song in the film to feature only one Monkee, this is a delicate, yearning ballad, which Dolenz sings perfectly, despite its difficulty. The song is one of the most metrically difficult things the Monkees ever did – starting out with an extended intro in 5/4, once Dolenz’s vocal comes in we have a verse of three bars of 5/4 (in one of which the bass accentuates the wrong beat, adding to the metrical confusion – the bass seems to be implying that these fifteen beats should be broken up 6,4, 5 rather than the 5,5,5 everything else implies) one of 6/4, three of 3/4 and one of 6/4. The chorus, though, is in pretty straight sixes.

This is the kind of song with which King would later have a huge amount of solo success, but as the B-side of Porpoise Song this failed even to make the top 100 in the US. A shame, as while the song is very different from the rest of the Head material, it’s a beautiful, gentle track that deserves a wider audience.

Dandruff?

A quick reprise of Lugosi’s line, before brief snippets of three sections of the film – a factory tour in which the band are told “the tragedy of your times, my friends, is that you may get exactly what you want”, a policeman calling them weirdos, and the band being directed to act like dandruff in a commercial.

Daddy’s Song

Writer: Harry Nilsson

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: Michael Nesmith (guitar)

This Nilsson song was originally recorded during a Nesmith session, with Nesmith singing lead (this version is available as a bonus track on the CDs, and is much better than the released version, with Nesmith’s heavily-processed vocals working wonderfully with the muted trumpet).

The song is one of Nilsson’s more heartfelt, talking about his relationship with his father as a small child, and his sadness and confusion at his father abandoning his family when Nilsson was aged three. Unfortunately, Jones seems to have ignored the lyrical content and treated this as Cuddly Toy part two – understandably, since the songs share a bouncy tempo and 1920s musical style.

There is a longer version of the track, which features both some Nilssonesque additional scat vocals by Nesmith and a much slower rendition of the verse starting “the years have passed and so have I”, where Jones does seem to sing that part sadly – but there, he’s hamming it up to the point of schmaltz.

It’s a great song, but only an adequate performance. If you want a good version of the song, either listen to Nesmith’s subtler vocal or get hold of Nilsson’s own version (on Aerial Ballet).

Poll

A collage of spoken snippets from the film, starting with Frank Zappa’s response to Jones’ performance – “That song was pretty white”, and followed with Nesmith saying “And I’ll tell you something else too, the same goes for Christmas”, from a different section of the film, before various other lines of dialogue, sound effects, bits of the vox-pop sections and snippets of Circle Sky.

Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?

Writers: Peter Tork

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: Davy Jones (backing vocals)

This song was actually intended to have an even longer title, as Tork introduced it in a rare solo gig in the 1970s as “Long Title, colon, Do I Have To Do This All Over Again, question mark, Or , comma, The Karma Blues”

An enjoyable rocker with some extraordinarily mobile bass playing by Tork, this song’s lyrics (“Do I have to do this all over again?/Didn’t I do it right the first time?”) do seem to sum up some ideas about karma (as does the music’s brief drop into waltz time, like a turning wheel always getting back to the same place) but were written about Tork’s frustration with being in the Monkees.

Another hard-rock song in the same style as Circle Sky, this is obviously from the heart, and Tork is almost screaming with frustration by the end. It also, though, makes a perfect end point for the film, which ends at the same point at which it starts.

Swami–Plus Strings, Etc.

Abraham Sofaer, the actor who played the head Genie in I Dream Of Jeannie recites some warmed-over Timothy Leary (with a bit of Thomas Kuhn thrown in, and a touch of Buddhism) as a Maharishi-esque character, while various other bits of the film are heard under him, before we get a chunk of the Porpoise Song and a sprightly Mozart-esque string instrumental by Ken Thorne from the film soundtrack.

The key part of this – and one of the messages of the film – is “Where there is clarity, there is no choice, and where there is choice there is misery.”

Bonus Tracks:

Happy Birthday

Writers: Mildred and Patty Hill

Lead Vocalist:
Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones

Other Monkees present:
None

Some sepulchral (and very effective) block harmonies over a spooky church organ lead into an off-key rendition of Happy Birthday To You sung to Nesmith in the film.

California, Here It Comes

Writers: Buddy DeSylva, Al Jolson and Joseph Meyer

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

A snippet from the end of the 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee special, this track consists of a heartbeat, TV producer Jack Good repeating “the end”, and a busked banjo-and-trombone run-through of the old musical number for a few seconds. The lyric change to ‘it comes’ from ‘I come’ was apparently meant to imply an earthquake that will supposedly destroy California.

This is the only track from 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee to have been released on CD in any form, as most of the master tapes for that special are missing (and also it wasn’t very good, musically), but it’s fitting, as this really was ‘the end’ of the Monkees, at least as a four-piece band.

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.

Valleri

Writers: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

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

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

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

Zor and Zam

Writers: Bill & John Chadwick

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

Bonus Tracks

Alvin

Writer: Nicholas Thorkelson

Lead Vocalist:
Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

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

I’m Gonna Try

Writers: David Jones & Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

Lady’s Baby

Writer: Peter Tork

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

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

D.W. Washburn

Writers: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

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

It’s Nice to Be With You

Writers: Jerry Goldstein

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

Carlisle Wheeling

Writer: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (banjo)

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

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

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

Rosemarie

Writer: Micky Dolenz

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Peter Tork (acoustic guitar)

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

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

My Share of the Sidewalk

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones/Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

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

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

Little Red Rider

Writers: Michael Nesmith

Lead Vocalist: Michael Nesmith

Other Monkees present: None

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

Ceiling in My Room

Writers: Don DeMieri, Robert Dick and David Jones

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

Come On In

Writer: Jo Mapes

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

Tear the Top Right Off My Head

Writer: Peter Tork

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: Micky Dolenz (backing vocals)

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

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

Merry Go Round

Writers: Peter Tork and Diane Hildebrand

Lead Vocalist: Peter Tork

Other Monkees present: None

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

War Games

Writers: David Jones and Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

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

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

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

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

Laurel And Hardy

Writers: Jan Berry and Roger Christian

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

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

Shake ‘Em Up and Let ‘Em Roll

Writers: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Lead Vocalist: Micky Dolenz

Other Monkees present: None

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

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

Changes

Writers: David Jones and Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

I Wasn’t Born to Follow

Writers: Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Monkees present: None

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

The Party

Writers: David Jones and Steve Pitts

Lead Vocalist: Davy Jones

Other Monkees present: None

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

I’m A Man

Writers: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill

Monkees present: None

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