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.

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9 Responses to Monkee Music: Instant Replay

  1. TAD says:

    This must have been a labor of love for you, to review this album. In an ideal world, the Monkees would have broken up when Tork left. Sometimes the corpse continues on for a little while, unaware that it’s dead. “Will this do?” about sums it up perfectly.

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    I just want you to know that I come back occasionally to these posts, whenever my pick-a-random-MP3 program comes up with a more than usually weird Monkees track (Shorty Blackwell this time). I know from experience how unrewarding it is to write a long track-by-track breakdown of a loved album and get almost no response; hope it helps a little to know that these posts have lasting value to me.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks — means a lot.

      • Brian Carter says:

        i just discovered this site thru a link due to the new “good times” LP and this is not only the most intelligent writing about the monkees music that i have ever read but the most understood outlook on the material,time period,producers etc. thank you thank you thank you ! it’s wonderful that someone else appreciates “you & i” and “shorty blackwell”. “someday man” what you said about it just makes me almost cry. beautiful. thank you and thank the monkees and rhino.

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    And, and by the way, Micky: there’s a way for you and me, not for you and I.

    • Sadly, I have long since given up on the idea that pop songwriters will understand when to use “you and me” rather than “you and I” — both the Monkees and the Beach Boys are repeat offenders in this :-/

  4. Mike Taylor says:

    “[Me without you] just sounds like the theme tune to a bad sitcom.”

    Nailed it.

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