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.

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13 Responses to Monkee Music: The Monkees Present

  1. TAD says:

    It seems like Dolenz and Jones often tried to involve each other in their recordings, but Mike Nesmith made almost no effort to involve the other Monkees in the last albums. Was it because Mike didn’t get along with them? It seems like a no-brainer to at least get Micky and Davy to do backing vocals, if nothing else. And it might have been interesting for Mike to turn over more vocals to Micky, like he did on “Auntie’s Municipal Court.”

    • I’m not sure. Over the last couple of albums there were quite a few attempts by Mike to do something with Davy – Mike produced the backing track for Daddy’s Song, and there were versions of My Share Of The Sidewalk and Nine Times Blue with Davy vocals. And Mike produced several tracks for the 33 1/3 special, with Davy singing Goldilocks Sometimes and String For My Kite, and all four of them singing Darwin. It’s just none of these ended up making it onto actual albums.

      But also, a lot of Mike’s material around the time of Instant Replay/Present was recorded at sessions in Nashville with Fenton Jarvis, while Micky and Davy were still recording in L.A..

      And really, they were only recording as individuals anyway. There’s only one new track on this album that featured both Micky and Davy – it’s just there are a couple of left-overs from 1966 on there too.

      • TAD says:

        It’s a weird way for a band to work, that’s for sure. I hate to use a Stealth Munchkin example, but even though SM often recorded stuff on different sides of the Atlantic, we always involved other members of the band in overdubbing.

        That is true about Mike trying to work with Davy on a few things, though. Too bad he didn’t work more with Micky (the best singer in the group).

        • Yeah, but we couldn’t afford Hal Blaine or James Burton, either ;)
          Fundamentally, Tork was the only one of them who really wanted to be in a band – Nesmith wanted to make his own music, and that was it, while Jones and Dolenz both thought of themselves primarily as actors well into the 1970s.
          There were actually plans for a Mike & Micky tour in the mid-1990s, oddly enough. I’d have given a lot of money to see that…

          • TAD says:

            I remember once asking you to play something Peter Green-ish, and you said, “You’ll get Andrew Hickey, and you’ll like it.” ha

            It’s a shame Micky in particular didn’t take music more seriously. He wrote a handful of interesting songs, as you’ve pointed out in your reviews, but did it almost as an afterthought. The Monkees were the poorer for it.

            Supposedly when Mike Nesmith toured with The Monkees briefly in 1997, a lot of fans complained that his musical skills had deteriorated quite a bit. A “Mike and Micky” tour might have been a sad affair, in that sense.

            • I don’t remember that, but it does sound like something I’d say. Though actually I did turn in a pretty good Peter Green impression on one or two of your tracks if I remember right.

              From the bootlegs I’ve heard of that tour (and from Tilt’s memories of it) I think the main problem was just that they did the first half of the shows as an unaugmented four-piece. Nesmith’s playing was fine – not wonderful, but perfectly competent – but you simply can’t reproduce a lot of those records without two or three guitar parts.

              • TAD says:

                Yeah, songs such as “Time You Realize” and “Moon Song” had you in Peter Green mode. Came out well. You really need to record some new stuff, you know.

                Interesting take on the 1997 Monkees tour. I can see where that would be true. Fans have been similarly critical of Jimmy Page at times too, when he plays live, but it’s impossible to reproduce the Zeppelin guitar sound onstage with just one guitar.

                • I *do* need to record some new stuff, yeah. Problem is, I’ve just not had the time – in recent years I’ve been overworking myself to the point of exhaustion.
                  I’ve talked about some stuff with Tilt, in a half-hearted manner, though, and I’m doing some music for Plok for a multimedia thingy he’s planning, so stuff will happen. It’s just taking time.

                • Incidentally, I saw Ste and Sam for the first time in ages today (Ste I occasionally see at gigs, Sam I don’t think I’d seen since the band split up). Got seated at the same table as me at a comedy gig.

                  • TAD says:

                    It’s been a long time since the end of SM, so I’m sure any bad blood that once existed is pretty much gone. I have a lot of great memories from those years, and I’m sure all of you guys do too.

                    I occasionally talk to Ste on Facebook, and the odd e-mail here and there. He’s got a few videos on YouTube (Billy Ruffian stuff)….check them out when you get a chance. Most of his stuff has gone in a Fall-like direction. He’s moved away from the poppy and folky stuff that SM used to do.

                    Hope you can find time to write and record some new stuff. Even if you don’t get rich off it, it’s good to keep creating new music.

                  • TAD says:

                    Here’s my latest video/song that I posted on YouTube back in September, by the way. It’s called Fallin’. It’s me in poppy mode (poppy for me, anyway). ha

  2. Dave says:

    I’m totally dismayed and disappointed with Nesmith’s work. For a guy who wanted to write and play music seriously his work in my opinion only is quite drab and narrow. It’s almost as if he tried to follow the “country cliche of music” book and added repetitive ideas and a depressive twang. I have heard a fair bit of his stuff and cannot believe the content. I wanted to like it and him but was consistantly repulsed. Not saying that the others put out great stuff all the time but no stars for his work. Thank God for Boyce and Hart and King. You can have Diamond.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I couldn’t disagree more! Remember, at the time Nesmith was doing this, country-rock didn’t exist in the way it does now – those cliches became cliches after people started imitating him, Gram Parsons and Gene Clark.
      But still, you’ve given his music a chance, and that’s all he wanted in the first place, to make his own music whether people liked it or not.

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