Using Spotify to sync music to iPod from GNU/Linux

Just a very quick tip for Linux users with iPods – you can use Spotify to sync music between your desktop and the iPod.

The reason I mention this is that my wife’s well-meaning parents got her an iPod for Xmas, and we quickly discovered that it’s not possible to plug a new iPod into a GNU/Linux computer and have it ‘just work’ (libimobiledevice, which sorts out syncing of older iPods, doesn’t yet have music syncing for iOS5, and nor does it have it planned for the next release). And while Apple have their iCloud thing which allows you to store stuff on their servers and then access it from an iOS device or web browser, to *upload* music to their cloud you need to use their proprietary software which doesn’t work on GNU/Linux.

We could, of course, run iTunes in WINE – except that downloading iTunes requires some Windows-only hackery that means you can’t do it from a browser running on GNU/Linux as far as I can tell.

This sort of thing is why I normally avoid both closed devices and non-free software, and why I have a loathing for Apple and all its workings that sends me into a blood-boiling rage whenever the name of Steve Jobs is mentioned. But happily, I have a single piece of non-free software installed on my machine, and that software provides a solution.

If you have a Spotify premium account (and it is *well* worth it if you don’t and you love music – unfortunately new accounts require a Facebook account (older ones didn’t), but there’s nothing to stop you creating a FB account with a disposable email address and never using it again if you don’t want an account there) and wireless internet you can do the following.

First, allow Spotify to see the local files you want to sync. You do this by going to edit->preferences and then clicking “Add source” under “Local Files”.

Next, create a playlist of those files.

Now connect your iOS device to the same wireless router your GNU/Linux box is connected to, and from the App store, download Spotify. Log onto Spotify with the same ID you use on the GNU/Linux machine. Within a few seconds, your iOS device should show up under ‘devices’. Click on it.

It will show a list of all your Spotify playlists, with a checkbox in the top left hand corner of each. Check the playlist you have created of your MP3s, and they will be copied across to your iOS device, where you can play them in Spotify (you can’t play them in iTunes this way, but you can play them).

While Spotify won’t let the same user play streaming music on multiple devices simultaneously, it *will* let the same user play *local* files on as many devices as you want, so this can be used for multiple iOS devices.

Unfortunately, for those of you who want to watch video, I know of no way to sync video between iOS devices and GNU/Linux computers, but this way works very well for MP3s.

(For those of you running OpenSolaris, one of the BSDs or some other odd OS, Spotify works extremely well in WINE on Debian, and I imagine it will work equally well on any OS on which WINE is supported)

While waiting for Smile, some contemporary albums on Spotify

My Smile Sessions box set is in the post right now. It should be arriving tomorrow. If, like me, you are getting incredibly excited for this box set’s release tomorrow, here’s a dozen or so albums from 1966 through 1968 that go well with the feel of Smile, or in some cases contrast well with it. All can be listened to free on Spotify.

First up, the Beach Boys’ own releases of 1967, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
These are often overlooked because they’re not Smile, but there are a number of incredible moments of beauty on them.

The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson, on the other hand, is much less good. But it’s interesting to note that while Brian couldn’t get his masterwork completed, his dad was able to release his own album the same year.

Song Cycle is what Van Dyke Parks did next after Smile, and is his most Smile-like material. Beautiful, baffling, utterly wonderful, this is unlike any other music Parks made later, and unlike anything anyone else did either.

Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart may seem an odd choice, but at this time, when the boundary between pop music and countercultural rock was far more porous, and the unlikeliest people were having commercial success, Beefheart’s first album actually has a lot in common with the pop music of the time. There’s a definite L.A. *sound* at this time, and there’s a continuum from Zappa and Beefheart at the most extreme end to the Beach Boys and Monkees at the other end, with Love and the Doors somewhere in the middle.

How To Speak Hip by Del Close is a comedy album with which Brian Wilson was obsessed in 1966.

Odessa by the Bee Gees is actually from 1969, so outside this timeframe, but I include it because it’s another example of a resolutely ‘square’ vocal harmony group, with three brothers in, doing something utterly bizarre and uncommercial. Oddly, Black Sheep, Van Dyke Parks’ Smile parody written and recorded for the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, sounds far more like Odessa than it does Smile.

Present Tense by Sagittarius is one of several collaborations under various names by Curt Boettcher and Brian Wilson’s old songwriting partner Gary Usher. My World Fell Down, the main single from this, is sung by Glen Campbell (who had toured as a Beach Boy) and Bruce Johnston (of the Beach Boys) and is possibly the best attempt at a Smile-alike I’ve ever heard. The album also features comedy interludes in some songs, performed by the Firesign Theatre – again, very like Wilson’s idea of doing an album full of humour.

The Pentangle by Pentangle is a bit of an odd one. In the mid-late 60s there was actually almost no back-and-forth influence between the LA musicians and their British contemporaries, apart from the huge names like the Beatles. But I think there’s something of the same spirit that animated Smile about this, with its marrying of older, ‘outdated’ forms of music (traditional folk in the case of Pentangle, vaudeville and Americana for Smile) with attempts to move popular music as a whole forward.

And likewise Gorilla by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band mixes 1920s novelty songs, comedy bits, and up-to-the-moment progressive pop.

Da Capo by Love is half of the greatest album ever made (the side-long blues jam rather spoils it for me). Intense and paranoid, yet utterly beautiful, this has a lot of the childlike creepiness of Smile.

Head by the Monkees I’ve already discussed.

Feelin’ Groovy by Harper’s Bizarre combines harmonies that are, if anything, over-sweet, with songwriting by people like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, the last of whom also arranged the album.

(Albums I would have included but which are not Spotifiable – Genuine Imitation Life Gazette by the Four Seasons, Absolutely Free by the Mothers Of Invention, Switched On Bach by Wendy Carlos, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings by Michael Nesmith, Carnival Of Sound by Jan & Dean, Place Vendôme by the Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke)

Spotify Monkees Playlists

I finished the draft of the Monkees book yesterday, and sent it out to my proof-readers, so I’ve not posted much here for a few days because I’ve been working on that. To celebrate completing it, and to show I know better than all those important record producers, I thought I’d do what every Monkees fan seems to do, and put together tracklists for how I would have sequenced the albums.

I’ve limited myself to the material that’s on Spotify, which is not quite everything (some of the deluxe versions are missing, and More Of The Monkees isn’t on there at all), and added a few other rules. Each album has to be twelve tracks long, and consist of material that was available to be released at the time. And there can only be six albums total – the number released before Tork quit – though the last album in my timeline would have been released a few months later than in reality, to get the last few scraps of good material.

If you’ve not listened much to the Monkees, I think these come out as more listenable albums than the original ones:

The Monkees

Side 1:

Theme From The Monkees
Saturday’s Child
Papa Gene’s Blues
Take A Giant Step
Let’s Dance On
Sweet Young Thing

Side 2:
Last Train To Clarksville
I Don’t Think You Know Me
I Won’t Be The Same Without Her
(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love
All The King’s Horses

We might as well call this one The Mi(c)ke(y)s actually, given that Davy only gets one lead vocal on this version. My review of the original is here.

More Of The Monkees
Side 1:
Mary, Mary
Your Auntie Grizelda
The Kind Of Girl I Could Love
Sometime In The Morning

Side 2:
I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone
Of You
Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow
Tear Drop City
Looking For The Good Times
I’m A Believer

It was really hard to get anything at all listenable for this one, but I think I managed – and not only that, I got a better balance of leads – six for Micky, three for Davy, two for Mike and one for Peter. My review of the original album is here.

Side 1:
You Told Me
Forget That Girl
The Girl I Knew Somewhere
Sunny Girlfriend
Randy Scouse Git

Side 2:
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
You Just May Be The One
Early Morning Blues And Greens
No Time
Nine Times Blue
For Pete’s Sake

With this one I’ve changed very little – I’ve just cut out the filler Band 6 and a couple of the weakest tracks, and added in the contemporary hit single and Nine Times Blue (one of the greatest songs ever written). Review of the original here.

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd

Side 1:
She Hangs Out
The Door Into Summer
Love Is Only Sleeping
What Am I Doing Hanging Round
Cuddly Toy

Side 2
Goin’ Down
Daily Nightly
Don’t Call On Me
Riu Chiu
Pleasant Valley Sunday
(hidden track – Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky)

This was *hard* to cut down to twelve tracks – the original 13-track album is near perfect, and I desperately wanted to get both Goin’ Down and Riu Chiu, two of my very favourite tracks, on there too. My review of the original is here.

The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees

Side one:
Daydream Believer
Auntie’s Municipal Court
Can You Dig It?
Tapioca Tundra
PO Box 9847
Writing Wrongs

Side two:
DW Washburn
Magnolia Simms
My Share Of The Sidewalk
Lady’s Baby
Zor And Zam
Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?

And this one bears essentially no resemblance to the album as released. I’d actually have made even more changes, but the box set version of this album isn’t on Spotify. Review of the original here.

Side One:
Porpoise Song (single version)
Ditty Diego War Chant
Daddy’s Song (Nesmith vocal)
As We Go Along
If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again
Shorty Blackwell

Side Two:
Listen To The Band
Circle Sky (live version)
Pillow Time
Some Of Shelly’s Blues
Someday Man

Unfortunately, in salvaging The Birds, The Bees… I somewhat gutted this album, and while I’ve done my best to add as many good tracks from the period and straight after as I can, this still feels a little like a collection of good tracks rather than a coherent whole. My review of the original here.

In Praise Of The Future

One of the things it’s very easy to do – and something I do a lot myself – is to romanticise scarcity. I used to be a record collector, because being a record collector and being a music lover were, until very, very recently, the same thing. I remember the excitement of finding a 60s copy, on lovely thick, heavy vinyl, of Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, for 50p in the pile of unfiled albums they always kept in Empire Exchange in Manchester city centre in the back section with the old porn mags. I remember being the first person in the UK to hear a recording of Brian Wilson live with his new band, because of a tape trade I arranged with someone on the internet!. I remember a friend in Sweden sending me a CD in the post, and my dad being worried when he saw the stamp in case I was receiving material from ‘behind the iron curtain’ (this was in 1998).

I remember making a sixteen mile round trip, on foot, to the nearest decent record shop when I was growing up, to order a single. And then repeating that trip a week later to pick the single up.I remember buying my very first bootleg – a terrible double CD of Get Back sessions. I remember treating music as a scarce resource that needed to be hoarded – I have maybe a dozen Johny Cash albums that I’ve not listened to more than once or twice, but which I bought because I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to get them again when I found them in second-hand shops.

No-one growing up today has that experience, and they’re missing out on something very precious.

I can even understand, in this context, the cretins who don’t want the Beach Boys’ Smile Sessions to be released next month because it will stop that music being something ‘special’, for the cognoscenti only. They’re wrong, for many reasons – not the least of which is that the amount of effort it takes to spend £120 on a nine-disc box of what is mostly two-chord plinking harpsichord instrumentals is much greater than the effort it takes to type “Smile bootleg” into Google – but I can sort of see it.

But the benefits of having essentially unlimited access to music are, paradoxically, so great that they’re easy to miss in this nostalgia. I have 26935 MP3s in my MP3 collection (a mixture of five years’ worth of eMusic (RIP) purchases, things I’ve ripped from my CDs, and downloaded bootlegs – only a very, very small proportion is commercially-available but illegally-downloaded music) and if for any reason I don’t fancy listening to any of those, I can use Spotify to find the exact piece of music I do want to hear, or play radio and discover new music.

But the benefits are greater than that, even. I have a huge record and CD collection, too. But I’m mildly autistic (in the actually-autistic sense, not the ‘all men are *so* autistic, am I right girls?’ sense of newspaper columns) and I have a tendency to become fixated on a single band or single album. If I’m left to choose a piece of music to listen to, I’ll often choose the same thing for months on end – right now, for example, I’m in a mid-period Monkees phase, and were you to ask me to choose an album to play, it would be either Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd or The Birds, the Bees And The Monkees – or maybe my live DVD of the Monkees I got last week and have already played ten times.

But this isn’t good for me, because there is so much beauty in music – so much good stuff out there, so much that will move me, give me ideas, make me feel better, make me a better person. And so I can use shuffle.

In fact, I have a playlist in Rhythmbox, automatically updated, which plays only MP3s I’ve not played before (or at least not played in Rhythmbox since I last lost my home directory or whatever – I have multiple pieces of music software on my computer, and if I want to listen to a specific album I’ll use something more lightweight), on shuffle.

So, just as an example, the last five songs I’ve heard as I type this are The 59th Street Bridge Song by Simon And Garfunkel, Density 21.5 by Edgard Varese, You’ll Be Mine by Howlin’ Wolf, The Casket by Mike McGear and Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’ by Duke Ellington. Currently Drowning Butterflies by the Cleaners From Venus is playing.

Now, all those songs have two things in common. Actually, they have three, but the male-centric nature of my music collection is something I am slowly working on. The first is that they are all worth listening to – they vary in quality from astonishingly brilliant (Varese) down to catchy-but-inane (Simon & Garfunkel), but all improve my life in some way – all have moments that make me want to dance, or move me emotionally, or make me think “that’s clever…”

(Imitation Of Life by R.E.M. just came on).

The other thing they have in common is that I wouldn’t have listened to them if I had to play them on a record player. If I had to get up, take the Simon & Garfunkel album off, put the Edgard Varese record on… it would just be easier to just play the same album again.

(Girl On The Phone by The Jam)

But even more than the ease of it, I didn’t remember half those tracks – I didn’t even know I had the Mike McGear album – and so it wouldn’t occur to me to put them on. Yet there’s some genuinely wonderful music there.

(The Allegro from Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto)

So I can hear all this music – music that I know I’ll enjoy, because it’s music I’ve chosen to own, but music that would possibly have lain unlistened for decades had I had to own it physically, and be overjoyed by it. And I can share it with my friends.

(Henry Lee by Nick Cave and P.J. Harvey)

(My wife just phoned, and Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles by Captain Beefheart came on while I was on the phone).

I can create a playlist of all the songs I’ve mentioned (except the McGear one which isn’t on spotify), and now anyone who wants to hear that music that’s made me feel so good over the last hour or so can hear it too.

And they don’t have to go into the second-hand-porn-mag section of a shop to do it.

New Spotify Playlist: In Memoriam Arthur Lee

I’ve still got quite a bit of writer’s block, and am working on a book and on the Mindless Ones stuff, but didn’t want to let this anniversary pass unmarked.

Five years ago today, Arthur Lee died. I still find it nearly impossible to believe that. While I was never lucky enough to know him, I *was* lucky enough to see him perform live five times between 2002 and 2005, during the all-too-brief creative renaissance he had after his release from prison, when he was planning a new album and being celebrated in the House of Commons (Early Day Motion 1369 – “That this House pays tribute to the legendary Arthur Lee, also known as Arthurly, frontman and inspiration of Love, the world’s greatest rock band and creators of Forever Changes, the greatest album of all time; notes that following his release from jail he is currently touring Europe; and urges honourable and especially Right honourable Members to consider the potential benefit to their constituents if they were, with the indulgence of their whips, to lighten up and tune in to one of his forthcoming British gigs.”).

I’ve never seen anyone more *alive* than Lee was, and I still can’t really believe he’s dead. Even in the last year of his life, he had an astonishing, beautiful voice and was moving like a man half his age, as well as, of course, performing the wonderful songs he’d written.

Here’s a spotify playlist of some of my favourite things by Lee. I’ll try to find time in the next few days to go through it track-by-track, but it’s too hot for me to think right now, and I want to get this up today.

Listen to his song.

New Spotify Playlist: The Twenty Best Monkees Songs

I’d planned to do this later in the week, but Xianrex asked me on Twitter if I had a list of twenty Monkees songs for the neophyte, and in fact just last night I put together this twenty-song playlist. I’m posting it now, before finishing the Cerebus post, because my wife’s not a Monkees fan, and she’s out – I don’t especially want to subject her to multiple plays through of this music while I write about it.

I’ve been asked about this because I’ve been hugely excited that I’ve this week bought tickets to see the reunited Monkees (minus Mike Nesmith, who has decided to spend the time rolling around in his estimated $300M fortune and going “ha ha ha! I have *ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD!” Probably.) and most people have been saying “You mean the Monkees as in on the TV show? Why on Earth would you do that?”

I’m doing that because the run of four albums Headquarters, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees and Head is about as good as any four-album run in popular music, is the simple answer. But to explain why, before I get to talking about the individual tracks here, I’ll just deal with the two most common criticisms of the band.

The first one, and the stupidest, is “they didn’t play on their records!”.
It’s true that on the first two albums (of the nine they released during their original period together) they didn’t play on the backing tracks (though apparently Peter Tork added a few bits of guitar and banjo even there). That was, however, just common practice at that time. The Byrds didn’t play on Mr Tambourine Man, The Beach Boys barely played on anything during their commercial peak, the Mothers Of Invention were ‘augmented’ on their first album by session players, there are a couple of tracks on Forever Changes where Love don’t play, the Rip Chords didn’t even *sing*, let alone play, on their hit Hey Little Cobra… even in the UK, where the notion of the band was stronger, Ray Davies and Mick Avory of the Kinks didn’t play on their early records, Ringo didn’t play on Love Me Do, Jimmy Page filled out the sound of early Who records, and so on.
And unlike those other bands, the Monkees had a rather good excuse – they weren’t, at least to start with, a band. Rather they were performers in a TV show *about* a band. As they often say themselves, “no-one complains that William Shatner never really captained a Starship”.

What *is* worth noting is that after those first two albums, they *did* take control of their own music – even on the first album Mike Nesmith was writing songs for the band and producing tracks, in fact – and that the music *got better* when they got rid of the professional session musicians, producers and songwriters (or hired some of them on the Monkees’ own terms). On top of that they had the artistic bravery to make Head – a film which, as my friend Tdaschel puts it, is in a genre with only one other example, Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. (Head both came first and is far more adventurous than Zappa’s film. It also features Zappa in a cameo, along with Sonny Liston, Victor Mature and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson also wrote the script).

The other criticism is that they were a purely manufactured band. This is true – and it’s actually their greatest strength. Under normal circumstances, it’s impossible to imagine these four people ever working together. Micky Dolenz is a former child star who just happened to turn into one of the great soul vocalists of all time (it’s not just me who says that – Carole King apparently thinks Dolenz is the greatest interpreter of her songs ever, which given that she’s had songs performed by everyone from the Beatles to James Taylor by way of the Righteous Brothers and the Beach Boys says a lot). Mike Nesmith is an intensely literate country songwriter and vocalist, someone who manages to tie the simplicity and emotional power of country music of the Steve Earle or Willie Nelson style to a literate, complex lyrical style. Peter Tork is a folk and blues musician, and a virtuoso on several different instruments. And Davy Jones is a great song and dance man and showman.

To show the differences between them, we just have to look at the songs they perform (or performed) as their solo spots on Monkees reunion tours. Micky will sing the blues song Since I Fell For You (most famously performed by Nina Simone). Mike would perform his solo hit Rio. Peter would perform a Bach two-part invention, and Davy would sing a medley of songs from Oliver! (he originated the role of the Artful Dodger on Broadway).

That combination would never, under normal circumstances, have been brought together. They’re neither musically, nor by all accounts personally, compatible in any normal sense, but it gave their music a breadth and diversity matched by few other bands.

This playlist is a mixture of hits, fan-favourites and genuine obscurities that I’ve put together to try to explain why I think the Monkees deserve to be treated as one of the more interesting, inventive, and talented bands of the 60s. It’s biased towards songs by Mike, and towards songs with Micky on lead, because those are my personal favourites, but I hope it gives a good flavour of the band as a whole.

St Matthew from the rarities collection Missing Links Vol 2 is a country song written and sung by Mike Nesmith. The lyrics to this actually remind me of Leonard Cohen, but musically this – and many of Nesmith’s other songs from this era – could only be described as psych-country, with the ‘heavy’ sound of the era applied to arrangements that are at base standard country songs. This is the kind of thing that Gram Parsons would get a huge amount of credit for several years later.

(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love is a very odd track indeed – a pseudo-Elizabethan, almost madrigal, song by Nesmith’s friend Michael Murphy, turned into a baroque pop track by Nesmith’s production. This was actually recorded with vocals by three different band members – a version sung by Tork appeared on the 331/3 Revolutions Per Monkee TV special, and this backing track with vocals by Jones appeared as a bonus track on the CD release of More Of The Monkees. It’s sung here, though, by Micky, who is far and away the best vocalist in the band. This version is also from Missing Links vol 2.

Randy Scouse Git is written and sung by Micky and is from Headquarters, the band’s third album, on which they played all the instruments themselves. It manages to go through an astonishing array of different musical styles in its 2:34, from angry almost proto-punk to scat-sung semi-jazz. The fact that Micky didn’t actually know what a ‘randy Scouse git’ was when he wrote the song just makes it all the better.

Calico Girlfriend Samba is a Nesmith song that was recorded for The Monkees Present but not released until it became a bonus track on the CD reissue (though Nesmith later recorded it on his solo album Magnetic South. It is, as the title suggests, a samba, and a good one.

Mommy And Daddy is a rather sixth-formish political song by Micky, a bonus track on The Monkees Present, but it’s quite astonishing sounding, sounding to me like an early 80s post-punk thing far more than late 60s pop – until the ending, which is pure 60s pop apart from the dissonant horns and throbbing drums.

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You is a non-album single included as a bonus track on Headquarters. A Neil Diamond song, this shows just what a master songwriting craftsman Diamond is, under his Vegas exterior. Davy Jones does a decent enough job on lead vocals.

Magnolia Simms is a Nesmith song, a gorgeous Western Swing number made to sound like an authentic 1920s 78, right down to the slight speed wobble and the needle hiss. (And note that this was from more than a year before the Beatles did something similar with Honey Pie). Nesmith is the only Monkee credited on this track, the rest of the instruments being provided by session musicians, but as well as Nesmith’s guitar there’s definitely a ukulele on there, and I think either a mandolin or banjo as well. I wonder if they were Tork?

Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care is another Nesmith country song, left unreleased in this version until the Missing Links Vol 3 rarities collection. Nesmith gave this song to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and later recorded it himself on his solo album Nevada Fighter. As with many of Nesmith’s songs, this sounds now ‘just’ like extremely good country-rock, but Nesmith invented country-rock – this was before Gram Parsons and Gene Clark started following in Nesmith’s footsteps.

Cripple Creek is a low-fi live recording from 1967. I’ve included this because Peter Tork is often overlooked in the Monkees, because he took very few leads on the studio recordings (the only ones on the ‘canonical’ albums are the comedy track Your Aunty Grizelda and the second verse of awful ballad Shades Of Grey). However, he was the only first-rate instrumentalist in the band – and a multi-instrumentalist at that. This live performance shows off his banjo-picking on an old-time folk song.

Two Part Invention In F Major and here’s Tork on the piano, playing a Bach piece. He fluffs a couple of notes, but then this was just him playing around in the studio between takes, not intended for release. Pretty good for someone in a band who ‘couldn’t play their instruments’ – especially as keyboard is Tork’s third instrument, after banjo and guitar.

Don’t Call On Me is Nesmith stepping outside of his comfort zone, providing a gorgeous soft/lounge pop-jazz song in the vein of Paul Williams or Burt Bacharach. Melodically similar to Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying, Nesmith actually wrote this long before joining the Monkees, and it’s hard to see why it was left until the band’s fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, before they recorded this. Nesmith’s lead vocal also sounds utterly different to anything else he did.

Cuddly Toy is another track off Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, this time written by Harry Nilsson. The bouncy, cheery melody covers up possibly the most vicious, misogynistic, nasty lyric ever written in pop music (though Nilsson was, of course, writing in character). Davy Jones takes the lead, and Micky is harmonising with him.

Love Is Only Sleeping a song from the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill songwriting team, this actually sounds like a Nesmith original. A psych-country track in the vein of What Condition My Condition Was In, this has a driving riff in 7/4 time and a great air of menace. From Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.

Goin’ Down was a B-side, now included as a bonus track on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, that grew out of a jam session around Mose Allison’s Parchman Farm. This is one of the most startlingly good vocal performances in the Monkees’ repertoire, with Micky Dolenz apparently effortlessly managing a song whose rapid flow of syllables would tie the tongue of pretty much any rapper. The lyric (about an attempted suicide by drowning who eventually decides just to float down the river on his back) is a great one too, though it takes many listens to make it all out.

Porpoise Song is the theme from Head, the Monkees’ film, and seems to have been written by Goffin and King as a parody of psychedelia – certainly I can’t imagine them writing lyrics like “a face, a voice, an overdub has no choice, an image cannot rejoice” with a straight face (the line “riding the backs of giraffes for laughs is all right for a while” is a reference to the TV show Circus Boy, on which Micky had been a child star). But musically it’s gorgeous, and the vocals (by Micky on the verses and Davy on the choruses) absolutely sell the song. Jack Nitzsche’s arrangement is also stunning – the coda, with diving bells (representing the images in the film, where the band have all committed suicide by drowning at the start) is an extraordinary piece of arrangement work.

She Hangs Out is a great little garage rocker by Jeff Barry, of the sort that could have been done by a thousand bands of the time, but is still enjoyable enough. Davy turns in one of his better vocals here. From Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd

The Door Into Summer is, yet again, from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd (guess my favourite Monkees album? Bet you can’t…) . Written by the band’s producer Chip Douglas and Nesmith’s friend Bill Martin, this is a country rocker based on a Robert Heinlein science fiction novel, with Nesmith on lead.

Someday Man
A gorgeous Paul Williams/Roger Nichols soft pop song, this was the B-side to Listen To The Band and was eventually released on CD as a bonus track on Instant Replay, the band’s first album after Peter Tork left. Structurally, this is fascinating, with all sorts of different little melodies coming and going, and shows again why the easy listening and soft-pop end of the musical spectrum from that time is far more interesting than much of the supposedly more ‘progressive’ music of the same period. Davy Jones sings lead, and does a far better job than you’d expect.

Daddy’s Song is another Nilsson song, this time a Broadway-style uptempo song-and-dance number about Nilsson’s parents’ divorce. In the film Head this was sung by Davy Jones, but this version, a bonus track on the soundtrack album, has Nesmith singing lead in the style he used on Magnolia Simms.

Daydream Believer You probably know, but it’s still one of the best singles ever recorded. Written by folk musician John Stewart, this is sung by Davy Jones and has Peter Tork on piano – apparently the only track on The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees on which Tork features, the band having started to drift apart by that point (Tork would remain for one more album, Head, before quitting). Tork also arranged the track.

Spotify playlist: John Lennon

You’d have thought that after spending much of the last month finishing writing a book on the Beatles which required listening and relistening to every track they ever recorded multiple times, that I’d have had enough John Lennon for a while. And you’d be right. But then, a day after I finished my book and got it published, Lennon’s solo catalogue showed up on Spotify.

Lennon’s solo work gets a bad press these days, and his critical stock is very low. To some extent it’s justified – albums like Double Fantasy and Some Time In New York City would be weak by any standards, let alone when you know they’re the work of someone who could come up with songs like A Day In The Life, Strawberry Fields Forever or Happiness Is A Warm Gun.

But far more of it’s an over-reaction to the way that in the aftermath of his death, Lennon became the Great Untouchable in the eyes of that generation of rock critics, his every note perfection itself. And on top of that, for quite understandable reasons Yoko Ono has maintained a tight grip on Lennon’s public image, presenting St John The Martyr, Who Died For Peace. Frankly, I’d probably be doing something similar in her position – had I seen my spouse shot dead in front of me, I’d probably want to make sure everyone thought as well as possible of them, and not want to dwell on their faults.

But of course, naturally, then people find out about the man’s real faults (and he had some tremendous faults – he was at times a horrible person), presume that his public image now is how he presented himself in life, and conclude he was a horrible hypocrite, and let that judgement reflect on their view of his music.

But of course Lennon was neither a saint nor Satan, and nor did he ever claim to be either. He was, rather, someone who by instinct was an unpleasant, vicious, mysoginistic, near-psychopath, albeit one who was very charming, bright and funny. But he was someone who *didn’t want to be that way* and tried to change. Nobody desires peace quite as much as someone whose every instinct is telling him to go for the throat, and has seen where that gets you. Nobody is as sincere a feminist as a repentant former wife-beater.

And that complexity fuelled his music. While outside books like Ray Coleman’s hagiography nobody would claim Lennon was as good post-Beatles as during the 60s, and very few people would seriously argue his inspiration didn’t drop off, at the same time he *was* still one of the two or three greatest songwriters of his generation, and probably *the* greatest vocalist. Cutting this complex man down to the banality of Imagine and a load of songs about how much he loved his wife misses the point.

So I’ve put together this playlist of my personal favourite Lennon solo tracks. Listening to the new remasters via Spotify, they’re not the best mastering I’ve heard of this material – there’s a sheen to them I don’t like, and there’s even more reverb here than on the original recordings, which were already reverb-heavy thanks to Lennon’s desire to cover up his voice and Phil Spector’s obsession with echo. But I’m still glad to have Lennon’s music on Spotify, and I hope that when his critical reputation settles down, it will be higher than it is right now (though still not at the “Angela and John Sinclair are masterpieces” levels of the early 80s).

Well (Baby Please Don’t Go) is a live version of an old blues track by the Olympics, performed onstage live with Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention (the “Flo & Eddie” line-up – this was actually recorded on the second of the two shows that became the Filmore East June 1971 album). In general, I prefer the mix of this show that Zappa put out on the Playground Psychotics album to the version on Some Time In New York City, but on this track I prefer Phil Spector’s mix, just because the massive reverb works so well with Zappa’s astonishing guitar solo.

#9 Dream is from Lennon’s other solo masterpiece (the first being Plastic Ono Band), Walls & Bridges. Lennon’s last great single, it’s actually a rewrite of Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross. Lennon had recently produced a rather poor Harry Nilsson album, Pussycats, on which Nilsson covered that song, and Lennon took the string melody he’d written for the backing track and used it as his vocal melody here.

The other song I’ve included here from Walls & Bridges is Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out. Originally written for Frank Sinatra (who turned it down), I *love* Lennon’s vocal here, the hesitant, croaking, laid back verses contrasting with the screamed “When I get up in the morning” section, and the way the backing track is mostly going for a lounge singer kind of feel, except that the horns do the occasional dissonant squawk and the strings are being faux-Oriental. The whole thing’s wonderfully put together, down to the way that the “ooh wee”s and “what it is”s that Sinatra would have ad-libbed are actually part of the lyric proper.

Gimme Some Truth from Imagine is actually the last Lennon/McCartney song to be recorded, though not credited as such. If you listen to the Get Back sessions, you can clearly hear McCartney singing the “no short-haired yellow-bellied” part (originally “No freaked-out narrow-minded son of Gary Cooper”) in his Little Richard voice, and studio chat referring to it as Paul’s bit of the song. It’s one of those things that once heard can’t be unheard – of course McCartney wrote that bit. George Harrison provides the great slide solo on here.

Woman Is The Nigger Of The World is the one real song worthy of the name on Some Time In New York City. Inspired by a quote by Irish revolutionary leader James Connoly, via Yoko Ono, this rock & roll waltz, musically very like some of the later Beatles material, is the perfect example of the zeal of the recent convert, and one of the greatest feminist songs of all time. “We insult her every day on TV/And wonder why she has no guts or confidence” “If she’s real, we say she’s trying to be a man/While putting her down we pretend that she is above us”. These may be obvious sentiments now, at least to that proportion of people who hold “the radical belief that women are human beings”, but in 1972 they were not especially widely-voiced sentiments.

And Lennon includes himself in his condemnation – every line is “we”, not “you” – he’s not preaching to other men from a better position, he’s a member of the patriarchy saying “this is what we’re doing”. But this would mean nothing were the music not so good, from the great sax part at the start to the end, where Lennon screams “we make her paint her face and dance!” over relentless, driving, horns and strings.

Crippled Inside is an almost-perfect track. An upbeat skiffle-flavoured 12-bar, with some lovely dobro work by George Harrison and some nice piano playing by Nicky Hopkins, it manages to turn what lyrically is a vicious put-down of person or persons unknown (probably McCartney, though as with many of Lennon’s attack songs he later admitted the lyrics seem aimed far more at himself than anyone else) into a jaunty country track.

Jealous Guy is one of Lennon’s best ballads, and one that I’m sure almost everyone can identify with. What’s amazing is that this started during the White Album sessions as Child Of Nature, with a totally different feel and different lyrics (“I’m just a child of nature/I don’t need much to set me free”) and still worked almost as well. One touch I particularly like is that he sings “thought that you was trying to hide” rather than you were. That little bit of vernacular Scouse sells the whole lyric as being honest.

Nobody Told Me is a wonderful little piece of nonsense (“There’s Nazis in the bathroom, just below the stairs”, “Everybody’s running and no one makes a move/Everyone’s a winner and no one seems to lose/There’s a little yellow idol to the north of Katmandu”) from the posthumous Milk And Honey album. Clearly a guide vocal, it’s entirely possible that had Lennon lived, he’d have added a much more polished, but much less fun, finished vocal. But as it is, his wit shines through here in a way it does all too little on his later recordings generally.

Grow Old With Me is a piano-and-beatbox demo of a song Lennon never got round to recording properly, and you can hear how even though he was only recording on a boombox for himself, he nevertheless still double-tracked his vocal to disguise what he thought were its flaws. Actually, it’s astonishing how different his voice is here – right at the top of his falsetto range, this sounds vocally like the Bonzo Dog Band track Piggy Bank Love. This song, one of my very favourites of his later tracks, was written in response to Ono writing the song “Let Me Count The Ways” – Ono’s song was based on a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, so Lennon wrote a song starting with a line by Robert Browning.

Look At Me is an acoustic track from Plastic Ono Band that was writen in Rishikesh when the Beatles went there in 1968, and is very much of a piece with other songs from that era that made the White Album, like Mother Nature’s Son and Julia, that are based around a finger-picking technique Donovan taught them while they were there.

God is one of the most well-known songs here, the climax of the Plastic Ono Band album where, over “Love Letters” piano, Lennon throws away his past and all his beliefs, climaxing with “I just believe in me/Yoko and me/that’s reality”. This has been seen as the worst kind of navel-gazing solipsism, but in fact it’s Lennon trying to get away from his own past mistakes and his own worst attributes – Lennon was always looking for a father figure, a leader, whether that be Elvis or the Maharishi, and was disillusioned by all of them. And he was, after all, singing “I don’t believe in Beatles” while Ringo Starr was drumming behind him (and indeed ‘fifth Beatle’ Billy Preston was on piano, and Klaus Voorman, who played bass, was the cover designer for Revolver. For someone who wanted to leave the past and the Beatles behind he wasn’t doing a very good job)…

Mother, the opener of Plastic Ono Band is another song that comes in for criticism for being too self-centred. But while it is very obviously based in Lennon’s traumatic upbringing – and since when did it become a bad thing to draw on personal experiences to create art? – it was, as Lennon said when introducing it in his 1972 New York concert, “about 90% of all the parents”. While I am lucky enough to have had a relatively (all things considered) stable upbringing, those people I know who haven’t can identify *VERY* strongly with this song (about Lennon’s memory of being forced to choose which parent to stay with – the father who abandoned him, or the mother who left him to be brought up by her sister). And even I am utterly astonished by the feeling when Lennon screams “Mama don’t go, Daddy come home”. One of the truly great vocal performances of all time.

Working Class Hero is essentially a rewrite of Dylan’s Masters Of War. A lot of people misread this title as triumphalist, but in fact the song is not even about class, as such, but about the way society harms everybody – “then they expect you to pick a career/when you can’t even function you’re so full of fear”, “there’s room at the top they are telling you still/But first you must learn how to smile as you kill”.

Cold Turkey is one of the greatest singles ever made. The arrangement is one of the simplest ever – Ringo’s kit damped to the point where it’s almost a click track, Voorman’s bass low in the mix, leaving empty space for that vocal and Eric Clapton’s greatest guitar part ever. What’s fascinating is to compare this to the version on the Live Peace In Toronto album (with Clapton, Voorman, Alan “the one from Yes not the one from Oasis” White, and Yoko on extra screams), which is far rawer, faster and more primal than this one, and a near-perfect performance in itself (even though none of the band had heard the song til the plane trip over). But whereas that one was angry and exciting, this is tense and scary. What amazes me is that Clapton actually started taking heroin after recording this – what kind of fool makes a record like this and then thinks “That sounds like a good idea!”?

And finally, from Lennon’s Rock & Roll covers album we have Just Because, a Lloyd Price song that Lennon probably knew from Larry Williams’ version. This is mostly fun for Lennon’s intro and outro banter as “Doctor Winston O’Boogie”.