The Monkees: She Makes Me Laugh

So we have the first Monkees single in twenty-nine years, written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. I just wrote this on Tumblr and it’s long enough that I thought it would work as a blog post on its own:

The lyrics are ridiculous, but in a good way that’s clearly meant to be ridiculous. A lot of the older Monkees fans seem to find them embarrassing, but I think they’re entirely positive.

The mix sounds a bit too trebly, but that’s likely to be an artefact of it being a low-bitrate stream rather than the track itself. I hope hearing it at a higher bitrate will bring out the harmonies more and allow the hi-hat to sit in the mix better.

On the plus side is… well, everything else. It’s catchy as hell, Micky and MIke are both in great voice (though I’d like Mike to be higher in the mix), it doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of current radio-friendly production which would date it within five years, but nor is it self-consciously retro. If I knew nothing about the track I’d have guessed it was from the mid-late 90s (it sounds like something that could be on the soundtrack of a Kevin Smith film) — unsurprisingly given the producer and writer, but could also have believed it was late-70s powerpop.

Having Mike so prominent in the backing vocals, and having Peter’s banjo get a little bit of time as the most audible lead instrument, also stops this sounding like a Micky solo record — it’s definitely a Monkees record, in a way that, say, “That Was Then, This Is Now” really wasn’t.

It sounds like Micky drumming, and like a single live drum take — some of the drumming sounds slightly off the beat, to my sense of rhythm, rather than the mechanistic, perfect timing you get on most records now. I like that, but I do wonder if that will limit its commercial potential (people never think they notice the drums, but they really do). I bet it’ll get playlisted on Radio 2, but doubt it’ll chart.

But yeah, this is the best Monkees single (as a single, not as a track — “Porpoise Song” for example is a great track but a lousy pop single) since “Daydream Believer”. Lightweight pop, but there’s nothing wrong with that — and I have every reason to believe that the album will have some much more substantial material on it as well.

My main concerns with the album were around the production — I didn’t want to have something like the Beach Boys’ reunion album, which sounded like a bunch of 70-year-old men trying to sound contemporary and failing (that’s not a bad album, mind you, but in another few years people will be saying “that’s *so* 2012! Did they all have hipster beards and vape on the cover?”). This isn’t like that. Adam Schlesinger clearly knows what people want the Monkees to sound like, and has given us that.

On the basis of this, and what we know about all the other tracks, this will be definitely the best Monkees album since Present, and probably since Pisces. A fitting way for them to go out…

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15 Responses to The Monkees: She Makes Me Laugh

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    My own thoughts, having just listened to the song, before having read what Andrew says:

    It’s very pleasant, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of the various Hits collections, except that the slightly screeched chorus vocal doesn’t quite fit. It sounds like what it is — an older man trying to hit notes that he can no longer comfortably reach.

    The big surprise to me is that the instrumental backing sounds so much like early-to-mid Beatles, and not so much like the Monkees. Listen, for example, to the little riff that ends the whole song — that could so easily have been on the Help! album. I’m not sure what to make of that. The Monkees were always perceived, not entirely fairly, as a knock-off Beatles, but their songs actually had their own distinctive quality. Because of the very Beatles backing, that’s not strongly apparent here.

    Perhaps the instrumental parts were just aiming for a generic sixties sound. but landed on early-to-mid Beatles because that’s what most defines the sound of that era?

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    Interesting now to read that Andrew hears the backing as mid-late 90s or late-70s, where I heard is squarely in the sixties. Late 70s I can’t hear at all: mid-late 90s sort of works, as this sound kind of Britpoppy — it could easily have been an Oasis song, come to think of it. But then that aspect of Britpop was self-consciously retro-60s, and especially Beatles-sounding, anyway. So maybe it comes to much the same thing: Andrew thinks She Makes Me Laugh sounds not like 60s but like something that sounds like the 60s.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yep, “not like the 60s but like something that sounds like the 60s” is about right. With the 70s stuff, I’m thinking somewhere in the region of Big Star, the couple of Cheap Trick songs I’ve heard, maybe The Knack, that kind of thing.
      As for the backing, I don’t hear much Beatles in it at all — Ringo would never play a drum part like that, the bass line isn’t at all McCartney, and it has banjo rather than a George Harrison lead. The main similarity is in the twelve-string guitar — but that’s something that was all over Headquarters and Pisces, too. You’re right about the ending though — that’s mostly because it comes to an actual stop. The Beatles’ records *very* rarely faded, they always came to a proper conclusion, because the Beatles started out as a live band and so wanted a way to stop their songs neatly. The Monkees’ records pretty much all fade, because of course they were primarily a studio phenomenon. Off the top of my head I can’t think of many of their records that do stop, rather than fading.

  3. TAD says:

    It sounds to me like an REM song, when they were in their poppy mode. Especially the 12-string guitar.

    I like loosey goosey drums, myself. It’s just rock n roll, right? It’s not a math test. :)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Incidentally, TAD, you were asking about the 12-string on that one — it’s Mike Viola, who’s a musician who’s done a lot of different stuff, a lot of it 60s/70s pastiche (he worked with Schlesinger on the That Thing You Do soundtrack, he did the soundtrack for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and he was one of the main people behind the ELO soundalike band LEO), along with his work for his own band, the Candy Butchers.

      • TAD says:

        Thanks for the info. I remember seeing a picture of Mike Nesmith recording 12-string for the new album, so I assumed it was him on this song.

  4. Ben says:

    Great review, very insightful. As far as the silly lyrics or the song charting, I think it’s important to note the last 5 years or so of the most popular “songs of the summer”
    2011 “Friday” Rebecca Black
    2012 “Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen
    2013 “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke
    2014 “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
    2015 “Cheerleader” OMI

    People might forgetting the current state and quality of music out there. Do I think it will chart? Probably not, I don’t think it will have the mass appeal to the younger generation of kids who determine what trends and is the “song of the summer” but my point is that this song has lyrics no more ridiculous than any of the last 5 years top pop songs and is just as if not more catchy of a tune.

  5. ELAW says:

    …it’s a great song…fits the Monkees perfectly…none of the Monkees’ fans that i know of are embarrassed by the lyrics…classic 1960s feeling.

  6. Carl Thomas says:

    Great song and a great review. Not too crazy about any post 69 stuff but this sounds promising. Especially curious about the partridge penned song as i’m à huge XTC fan also.

  7. plok says:

    I’m trying to put my finger on what this reminds me of…not “sounds like”, just “reminds me of”…

    I actually suspect it might be Morrissey!

    • plok says:

      Ha!

      It’s “Every Day Is Like Sunday”.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        I can see that, particularly in the transition to the chorus, in the odd stresses in the melody, and the melisma on “smile” and “cry”. I think this is a better crafted melody than anything Morrisey’s done, but there’s a definite similarity there that I hadn’t noticed before.

      • plok says:

        To see those elements employed in a more upbeat song kind of fascinates me, actually — not that I’m saying there’s anything to be called “influence” there (though if this song had come first, I’d definitely suspect it!), but it’s a bit like the repurposing of blues in “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” that you demonstrated for me, only in reverse…so, a nice game of pattern-matching to play, if nothing else…

        HMM! Wonder what else is in the typical Morrissey toolbox, that could be turned to new uses? I myself tried fusing him with Johnny Cash once, which seemed to work all right…

        The thing is, to have that echo in my hearing, well who says an upbeat poppy song shouldn’t have a little note of sad civet piss in it? Even “Girl Don’t Tell Me” is mighty melancholy for what it is…

        WISTFUL, that’s the word I’m looking for, of course…

  8. guitarspotting says:

    So happy to hear they have a new album coming out, and this is a pretty good choice for the lead single, it’s catchy and has a decent 60’s vibe. First things it brought to my mind were ‘That Was Then, This is Now’ (probably just for the more “mature” sounding Dolenz vocal), and also ‘Saturday’s Child’ for some reason (similarity in the verses, maybe?).

    Smart idea to get people like Rivers Cuomo and Ben Gibbard to write songs, in fact they hit all the right notes here, using Harry Nilsson, Boyce/Hart, Goffin/King songs, including a Davy vocal, etc.

    Can’t wait for the album, also going to try to see them on this tour. Just wish Nesmith was touring as well.

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