Yes — SUPER Deluxe.
Eight years ago, Rhino records started putting out deluxe editions of the Monkees’ albums on CD — double-CD sets with mono and stereo versions of the albums, plus bonus tracks. However, when they got to the band’s fifth album, The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees, they started putting out limited edition box sets instead — triple-CD sets with added vinyl singles — available only from monkees.com .
They now seem to be going back and giving the first few albums the same treatment, minus the vinyl singles, and so we now have the SUPER deluxe 3-CD version of the first Monkees album, put together as carefully as ever by Andrew Sandoval, to whom I really should just send my bank details, as I’m bound to buy every single thing he works on anyway and it’d save time.
The first disc is the familiar album, in mono and stereo, with a few of the different mono mixes used for the TV show at the end. The album itself is possibly the most interesting one, if not the best, of the Monkees’ career, as it’s here we get to see what are essentially three different visions of the band at work — there’s Don Kirshner’s view that the band should be a vehicle for pure, simpleminded pop, Michael Nesmith’s attempts to do something closer to Tex-Mex country rock, and Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider’s view that the success of the project lay in yoking together these completely incompatible artistic visions. The result leads to some bizarre juxtapositions, like Nesmith’s proto-Velvets garage-fuzz-with-country-violins Sweet Young Thing coming between Davy singing “I never promised this to any other girl, but I’ll be true to you, yes I will” and the comedy track Gonna Buy Me A Dog, but at this point everyone involved was, if not working toward the same goals, at least trying to work with each other, and the result is a very strong pop album, possibly the band’s second best after their masterpiece Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. While the bonus tracks on this disc are for the most part just slightly different mixes of the songs on the album, we do get the TV mixes of two Nesmith tracks that weren’t on the album, the rather tepid All The King’s Horses and the astonishing The Kind Of Girl I Could Love.
Disc two consists entirely of previously-unreleased mixes and recordings. The whole thing follows a fairly consistent format — some studio chatter is followed by an instrumental outtake or the backing track, which is then followed by a new stereo mix of the finished track, usually highlighting a backing vocal or instrumental part which was buried in the final mix. For whatever reason, this is dominated by Nesmith’s recordings, with Nesmith having nineteen tracks to Boyce & Hart’s twelve (of which four are the godawful I Wanna Be Free, which we’d already heard three times on the first CD), and it allows one to get a very good picture of what Nesmith’s vision for the band at this point was — all the band at least singing backing vocals (unlike the Boyce & Hart tracks, on which only the lead vocalist would appear), and a harder sound, closer to the blues-pop of the Animals or the Sir Douglas Quintet than to Herman’s Hermits or the Hollies. Had Nesmith been given slightly more say over the band’s direction at this point, one suspects they would have been slightly less commercially successful, but that they would have had a little more respect from critics and their peers.
The disc includes sessions for a lot of songs that weren’t included on the album — I Don’t Think You Know Me, So Goes Love, I Won’t Be The Same Without Her, You Just May Be The One, Jokes, I Can’t Get Her Off Of My Mind, Of You, and (I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love. Almost all of these are Nesmith productions (only Jokes and I Can’t Get Her Off Of My Mind aren’t), and they’re also tracks that definitely deserved a release. Of particular note is the new mix of Of You, which has Micky Dolenz doubling Nesmith’s vocal — Nesmith and Dolenz’s vocal blend is one of the most wonderful sounds ever made by human voices. I’ve never been a huge fan of the song, but in this mix it’s just lovely. The mix of (I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love here is also probably the best of the multiple versions that have been released. While it’s credited as Davy’s lead, Micky’s vocal is mixed up to double him on the bridges and choruses, and Nesmith joins them, creating a beautiful harmony mix.
I have only one minor criticism of the second disc, and that is that two tracks from the original deluxe version of the album — the version of I Don’t Think You Know Me with Nesmith on lead vocal, and Nesmith’s demo of Propinquity — aren’t included. Had they been, this set would have rendered the original set totally superfluous, but as it is people who want *every* great track that the Monkees have released will need both. Hopefully those two tracks will be included on a More Of The Monkees super-deluxe set — certainly Sandoval said on Facebook of another review of this set “The one track that they are upset that is missing – Michael Nesmith’s vocal version of “I Don’t Think You Know Me” – was actually completed after the first album. So, it really belongs on a “More Of The Monkees” Super Deluxe Edition. I sure hope it does, at least.”
Disc three is… less good, though understandably so. It’s pre-Monkees stuff, and consists of Davy’s pre-Monkees solo album, David Jones, in both mono and stereo, plus Davy’s non-album single tracks Take Me To Paradise and The Girl From Chelsea, Michael Nesmith’s pre-Monkees singles as Michael Blessing, and yet more sodding versions of I Wanna Be fucking Free.
Davy’s album is… interesting. It’s a clear attempt to replicate the success of Peter Noone, who like Jones was a Manc who had appeared in Coronation Street. Noone’s band, Herman’s Hermits, had had a string of hits with old music-hall songs, which Noone sang in an irritating pseudo-Cockney accent, and so Jones, too, sings in a fake Cockney accent, and performs songs like Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner and Any Old Iron, while also occasionally nodding towards folk-rock and pop. Even the liner notes to this release by Andrew Sandoval, who is about the biggest Monkees fan in the world, use words like “a sheer feat of skillful marketing”, “considerably dated”, “a lamentable mix of producer Hank Levine’s poor instincts” and “cynical”.
It’s nice to finally have it properly remastered on CD, however — a previous CD release only had the mono mix, taken from a not-great vinyl source; this is still sourced from vinyl, as the tapes have been lost, but it’s been taken from multiple sources, and is in both mono and stereo for all but one song, and Sandoval’s attention to detail means that the sound is close to perfect. But it’s of historical interest only, rather than musical interest.
The “Michael Blessing” singles are more interesting, and show Nesmith casting around desperately to find some kind of persona. The New Recruit is an attempt at a protest song written as a cash-in by record executive Bob Krasnow, A Journey With Michael Blessing is a Link Wray-esque instrumental played by session musicians that possibly doesn’t have any Nesmith involvement at all, Until It’s Time For You To Go is Nesmith’s performance of the Buffy St. Marie song, over-orchestrated but with nice vocals, What Seems To Be The Trouble Officer is a pisspoor Dylan parody (though Nesmith does get Dylan’s early folk-troubadour voice down perfectly), and Who Do You Love and Get Out Of My Life Woman are previously unreleased covers of R&B classics. Nesmith’s version of Who Do You Love is actually fantastic, and easily the best thing on this CD.
The last four tracks are four of the eleven versions of I Wanna Be Free on this set, and while I’m sure they are of interest to people who don’t think that particular song is a psychopathic dirge with literally no redeeming features, it’s a shame that given the wealth of pre-Monkees material by Nesmith out there, more of that couldn’t have been included instead. Presumably there were rights issues — the Blessing and David Jones material was all on Colpix, the same label that released the Monkees’ records, while the other pre-Monkees Nez material wasn’t — because otherwise I can’t imagine that Sandoval would have missed putting on at least the version of All The King’s Horses by Nesmith’s band Mike, John, & Bill.
Like all archival releases, this is a compromise, and I’ve quibbled with some of the details here, but for anyone with a love of the Monkees, this is an essential release. Let’s hope that we get similar releases for More Of The Monkees, Headquarters, and Pisces, and that the The Birds, The Bees, box set gets a reissue. There are only a few hundred copies of this left, so get it while you can.