2016 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Monkees’ first single, and of their TV show, and so a whole set of events have been planned by Rhino Records, the owners of the Monkees’ trademarks and catalogue.
Some of these (notably the series being issued on Blu-Ray) have been welcomed by the fans. Others (a rather duff-looking set of dolls) have been greeted with derision, while the fiftieth anniversary tour has disappointed fans by having only Micky and Peter taking part, with Michael Nesmith having decided he’d rather not spend much of the summer trekking round the whole US singing the same songs night after night.
Now for me, most of what has been announced is of no relevance to me. The only tour dates announced have been in the US, so while I would still *like* to see the Micky & Peter show again (the two shows I saw last year were fantastic), I don’t have the choice. I’d like to own the Blu-Rays, but since there’s no reliable way to watch Blu-Rays on GNU/Linux and I don’t own a TV, they’re not an option for me.
But what I am interested in is the new album, Good Times
I’ve been following the news about this since the back end of last year, since rumours started circulating, and it has me genuinely excited. The last two Monkees albums (Pool It! from 1986 and Justus from 1997) have their defenders, but even the most ardent fan would say that while they have good bits (Peter Tork’s songs on both are very good, for example), they also have some… less-good bits.
Much of that can be put down to Davy Jones — reading interviews with Roger Bechirian about Pool It!, for example, it seems clear that the original plan for that album was to make a smart New Wave pop album, in the vein of Bechirian’s work with Squeeze and Elvis Costello, but Jones vetoed the plans. While I think Jones was a *huge* element of the band’s success as an entertainment act, I sadly think that without him we have more chance of getting a solid final album.
(And I *do* think that Jones was a huge part of the band’s appeal as performers, even though I’m critical of him as a singer. If, as Jones often claimed himself, the band were more the Marx Brothers than the Beatles, then (a comparison he didn’t make) he was the Zeppo of the group. But anyone who thinks that’s an insult, rather than a great compliment, should compare Horse Feathers with Love Happy. Great straight men are to be treasured.)
And it looks like this *will* be a very solid album. The album’s to be produced by Adam Schlesinger, of Fountains of Wayne. Schlesinger seems a very good choice. He has the ability to make records that capture the kind of feel that Monkees fans will like, without either being slavishly “retro” or self-consciously modern. I suspect we can get some sonic clues as to the direction of the album by listening to the last time he produced an album for an older band (though one I like much less than the Monkees) — here’s a song he wrote and co-produced for America:
That would seem also to fit with Micky Dolenz’s statements that the album will be “that jangly guitar pop sound” and “progressive bubblegum”.
The album will contain a mixture of new material and finished versions of unfinished 60s tracks. For the new material, they have turned to the kind of people that musicians in their 70s think of as those new exciting youngsters — people who have been around for twenty to forty years. Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller have collaborated on a song for the band. Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, and Zack Rogue of Rogue Wave have all written songs for the album, as has Schlesinger himself.
Most excitingly for me, Andy Partridge has submitted at least four songs (not all of which will necessarily be used, though I hope they are). One of these, “I’ll Bring The Summer”, will be the first single from the album, out next month.
There will also be new material from Peter Tork (who has apparently been writing songs in the vein of “For Pete’s Sake”), and a new recording of a Michael Nesmith song from 2012, “I Know What I Know”, with Micky on vocals.
From the initial interviews with Micky about the project, it sounded like Nesmith would otherwise not be involved, and that his contribution to the album would be something like Tom Baker’s to The Five Doctors (and I hadn’t thought what an apt comparison that was until just now, on many levels) — a song he’d already released as a solo track, and some guitar and production on one of the old 60s songs, included so they could say he was on the album. But more recently John Hughes, the Rhino executive in charge of the album, has said that Nez *will* be adding guitar and vocals to the album, though no-one is yet certain quite how involved he will be (and frankly I’ll believe Nez is on there when I hear him — although I hope I *do* hear him. The Nez and Micky harmony blend is one of the greatest sounds in existence.) Micky and Peter will be both playing and singing.
As I mentioned, the album will also be including several 60s leftovers, partly as a way to get all the classic songwriters who’ve written for the band on there. They’re including a reworked version of “Love To Love”, a Neil Diamond song recorded in 1967 and released in the 1990s, so as to have a Davy vocal on the record. “Good Times”, a song by Harry Nilsson, for which Nesmith produced (and played on) a backing track in the 60s but which never had a Monkees vocal, will be turned into a posthumous duet, with Dolenz singing with Nilsson’s guide vocal. “I Wasn’t Born To Follow”, a Goffin/King song also recorded by the Byrds, and for which a backing track, but no vocals, was cut during the sessions for The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees, will be finished, and so will a Boyce/Hart song, “Whatever’s Right”, again recorded without a lead vocal in the 60s. That last one is especially interesting because, at least as far as I’m able to discover, the track has never leaked anywhere, and the song was never recorded by anyone else.
I’ve put together a mixcloud playlist to whet people’s appetites. This is the Nilsson version of “Good Times”, the 90s release of “Love To Love”, the backing track of “Wasn’t Born To Follow” followed by the Byrds’ version of the song, and Nez’s solo version of “I Know What I Know”. None of this is the final version of anything on the album, but it might give an idea of what we’re getting:
The physical versions of the album will apparently come with various extras, like stickers and so forth. Rhino seem to be putting a great deal of effort into this one. And so this may end up a record-breaking album. People buying tickets for Micky and Peter’s shows from TicketMaster are apparently getting free download copies of the album with their ticket purchase. I don’t know how many people each venue holds, but assuming two thousand tickets per venue as a rough estimate, that’s 100,000 downloads. Which would count as first-week album sales.
When you add in any sales in other formats, and any other promotional things (they’d be daft not to do a QVC shopping channel appearance, for example), it’s entirely possible this may go to number one in the US — and that would, I think, make the Monkees the band with the longest gap between number one albums of new material in US chart history.
Which would certainly be a fitting celebration of their fiftieth anniversary, wouldn’t it?
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