Before I start this blog post proper, a complaint about Rhino’s customer service. Skip to RANT ENDS if you want to just read the review:
I should have written this post a month ago. This box set is only orderable through monkees.com, and I pre-ordered it well in advance. It was meant to come out a couple of weeks before Xmas, and as monkees.com only ships from the US, I decided to get it shipped to my in-laws’ house, as we were going to be there anyway for ten days over Xmas. I’d heard about problems with Rhino customer service in 2016, when they released the Blu-Ray of the TV series, but since I don’t have a Blu-Ray player I’d never had problems with them (my previous orders of CD box sets had been fine).
Four days after this box was meant to come out, when it still hadn’t arrived, I got an email saying “Due to an unforeseen issue, the release date for More Of The Monkees (Super Deluxe Edition) has been pushed from Friday, December 15th, to Friday, December 29th.”
Now I don’t know about you, but for myself, when it’s Tuesday December 19th, I tend to be able to “forsee” what will happen on Friday, December 15th, because it was four days earlier, and if it was Friday December 15th and I wasn’t going to hit a deadline of Friday December 15th because it was the same day and I’d not hit the deadline yet, I’d tell my customers then, rather than waiting an additional four days.
I’d especially do that if it meant that people were going to receive an expensive item, due to arrive just before Xmas, after Xmas instead, because the chances are that if people buy an expensive item due to arrive just before Xmas, it might be as a Xmas present.
So, since I was not going to be in the US by the 29th, I emailed the customer service department to ask them to ship my order to my home address. Two days later, I got a reply:
“Unfortunately we cannot make changes to an order once it has been submitted, we can however cancel your current order so you can make a new one with the correct info. Please confirm this is what you would like us to do.”
However, before I had a chance to “confirm this is what I would like them to do” (I didn’t see the email until the next day, because Xmas stuff), I received another email, saying my order had already been shipped — to arrive at the US address, on the 29th.
So Rhino delayed the release two weeks, then didn’t bother to hold my order until I confirmed the change I’d requested, but sent it out against my request. This meant I had to wait for it to arrive at my in-laws’, then wait for my in-laws to be able to get to a post office (they live in the middle of nowhere) and wait for it to arrive by slow international shipping, and that on top of me paying the exorbitant US postage costs, my in-laws had to pay even more exorbitant international postage costs, *and* I had to pay a ridiculously high customs charge on top, and I didn’t get my CDs, which were meant to arrive on the fifteenth of December, until yesterday.
Because Rhino can’t keep to release dates, and can’t respond to customer service enquiries in a timely manner, and because it’s not available from any competent retailers, I can’t really recommend that anyone orders this box set, unless you don’t care whether you get it or not.
But for those who don’t mind spending money without the expectation of receiving the goods you paid for, what might you theoretically eventually get?
The More of the Monkees “Super Deulxe Edition” (named that way for the same reason as 2015’s similar edition of The Monkees, to distinguish it from an earlier two-CD “deluxe edition”) is the latest of Rhino’s three-CD box sets covering individual Monkees albums (there have been similar previous sets for The Monkees; the Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees; Head; Instant Replay; and The Monkees Present). As well as the three CDs, there’s also a vinyl single, containing a vocals-only mix of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and a new remix of “I’m a Believer”, and a 23-page booklet.
More of the Monkees is an album which has a fairly poor reputation, and understandably. It’s essentially a collection of outtakes from the first album and hastily-completed demos, released without the band’s knowledge or approval, with more attention paid to getting a promotional tie-in with J.C. Penney (who provided the outfits the band wore on the cover) than to the contents. Michael Nesmith, when he heard it, described it as “probably the worst album in the history of the world”. It’s not a coherent artistic statement, as all the other early Monkees albums were (even the first album is a much more coherent listening experience, being largely the work of a single production and songwriting team rather than half a dozen different ones).
And it’s true that the album contains the two absolute worst tracks the Monkees ever released — “Laugh” and “The Day We Fall In Love” — as well as the widely-derided “Your Auntie Grizelda”. Several other tracks are less than stellar as well.
But on the other hand, it’s also the album that produced half the band’s most well-known songs — “She”, “Mary, Mary”, “Steppin’ Stone”, “Sometime in the Morning” and “I’m A Believer” are all absolute classics that make every “Best of” collection for a reason, while Neil Diamond’s “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” is a great fun pop song and Nesmith’s “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” is an astonishing little underrated gem. Despite its quick cash-in nature, it’s probably the Monkees album that is most like what the average person would want from a Monkees album.
The first disc of this three-CD set opens with the original album in both original mono and stereo mixes. This has been remastered, and to my ears sounds slightly better than the previous releases of the album, but I’ve not done an A-B comparison, and have neither great equipment nor great ears. There’s nothing in the remastering to make this an essential purchase if you already have the album, but it still sounds very good — I noticed a handful of details I’d not noticed before.
The remainder of the first disc is familiar material — the early versions of “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet”, “Of You”, “Words”, and “Valleri”, the Peter Tork lead on “I Don’t Think You Know Me”, and alternate mono mixes of “Sometime in the Morning” and “Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow”. This is all material that most big Monkees fans will have, although casuals and people new to the fandom won’t, but again it all sounds very good (the early version of “Words” in particular sounds better than I’ve ever heard it before) and several tracks are in previously unreleased mixes. All of these recordings are good to great, if familiar.
Of the three discs, the first is by far the best listening experience for the casual listener, but has the fewest surprises, as one would expect — this is basically how you’d put out a single-disc reissue of the album these days, and as that it does a fine job.
The second disc is much more interesting for the deep fan or scholar, but comparatively less of an easy listening experience. It’s labeled “Sessions”, and so a good chunk of it is things like the backing track for “Kicking Stones”, three different twelve-second takes of something called “I Love You Really” (I wonder if this is something that appeared at some point in the TV series and I don’t remember it? It certainly sounds like something recorded as a deliberate bit of bad performance rather than an actual song, and I’m far less familiar with the TV series than with the music), and Nesmith’s comedy stumbling through “Different Drum” for the TV show.
But it also contains some absolutely lovely moments — Nez’s version of “I Don’t Think You Know Me” (which was the big absence from the super deluxe set of The Monkees), a new stereo remix of “Some Time in the Morning” which is far superior to the 60s mix (though it unfortunately doesn’t edit out the rather odd sound at 1:35 (just after “her childlike eyes”) and that noise is far more noticeable in this clearer mix) and the full stereo backing track of the same song which is absolutely glorious even without the vocals, and new stereo mixes of the long version of “Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow” and the alternate vocal take of “I’m A Believer”.
(Sadly Andrew Sandoval’s excellent booklet reports that no recordings exist of the other band members’ attempts at the lead vocal on “Believer” — I’d *love* to hear Nez’s go at it.)
There’s also the 60s backing track to “Whatever’s Right”, the Boyce & Hart song that was eventually included on 2016’s Good Times!. This version sounds closer to the Lovin’ Spoonful in laid-back country-swing mode, and while I generally like that style, I have to say that they made the right choice to go with the garage-rock style for the remake.
There’s also a fascinating eleven-minute recording of the vocal overdub sessions for “Mary Mary”, which largely consists of Micky and Davy screwing around — Micky singing a copyright notice, the two of them joking about a woman at the session who from context must have been a teen-mag journalist (Micky: “gotta keep up the old image… headline: ‘Davy is cute and sexy'”), Davy singing “Get Out My Life Woman” over the intro (which a) I’d never noticed before as an obvious influence for the song, and b) shows Davy could actually have done a pretty good job of the soul-growler thing Micky used to do), and Nez getting slightly irritated with them but trying to show good humour — “OK, really honest-to-god, no shit, let’s do it”. But despite that, it shows the ultra-professionalism of both Dolenz and Jones in the studio. It’s especially interesting to hear the harmonies pushed up on this one, and the way Jones fits himself in to a vocal stack of Mickys.
(Incidentally, this shows that at least one of the credits in my Monkees book is wrong — everything I’d seen about the credits for this suggested that Dolenz was the only Monkee on the track vocally, but Jones is clearly audible recording the harmonies, and there’s at least an attempt to get Peter involved vocally)
Disc three is labelled “Sessions, Rarities, and Live”, and has Micky’s vocal on “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love”, another glaring absence from the The Monkees super deluxe set, and one of the best things in the band’s catalogue, again in a new 2017 stereo remix — indeed, between discs two and three one could put together a very good alternate album just of the 2017 stereo mixes, including “Teardrop City” at the original speed, “Mary Mary”, “Words”, and “Valleri”. These stereo mixes are, pretty much without exception, better than any previous version we’ve heard of these songs (those who’ve heard Andrew Sandoval’s other work, including his remixes for Nilsson and the Kinks as well as his other Monkees archival releases, will know how good he is at this). Even the remix of “Your Auntie Grizelda” is worth a listen for all the previously-buried details Sandoval’s mix brings out. There’s also more of the mono TV mixes, and songs like “Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears” (again in a new mix).
But the big draw on disc three for fans will be the ten previously unreleased tracks from a 1967 live show. Several of these (“She’s So Far Out She’s In”, “Papa Gene’s Blues”, “I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind”, and “I Got A Woman”) are songs where we’ve never had an official release of any live versions by the band in this era — and in the case of “She’s So Far Out”, we’ve never even heard a full studio version of it before.
This live recording shows the Monkees as a loud, garagey, live rock band, very different from the sound of their studio output — and it also shows how dominated the live band were by Nesmith at this point. Five out of the ten songs are Nez lead vocals, and these show a band that wasn’t actually very far at all off from the Who in terms of style at that point — inventive but rhythmically unsteady drumming from Dolenz, Nez slash-scratching away at his guitar sounding like nothing so much as a psychobilly take on the Beatles’ “She’s A Woman” (no matter what the song), and Tork providing all the instrumental cohesion, playing some quite astonishingly inventive bass for the time period and generally holding the band together.
(Peter Tork is the most underrated Monkee, because he contributed least to the band’s hit records, but his contribution to the band’s live act can’t be overstated — he’s an incredibly versatile musician, as well as a great Harpo-Marx-esque visual comic.)
This really works for Nez’s country-rockers — although even there, the band is getting by on enthusiasm rather than skill (although allowances must also be made for the fact that the band likely couldn’t hear themselves), but on Davy Jones’ slower numbers (“I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind” and especially “I Wanna Be Free”) it sounds… well, I’ve played in some bad live bands myself. I don’t think I’ve ever played quite that badly. It’s easy to see, listening to these live recordings, why the executives were so opposed to the idea of the band playing their own instruments on record — from these, you’d get the impression that Peter Tork was the only one who *could* (and indeed, he was the only one who did on the first two albums).
But on the other hand, the CD ends with the band members’ solo spots from that tour, backed by the Candy Store Prophets, the same band who provided the studio backing for the first album and several songs on the second. And yes, they’re better than the Monkees as instrumentalists, but not *that* much better — they’re still a sloppy mess. But the whole thing is a *fun* sloppy mess.
So, despite my gripes about Rhino’s customer service, I’m very glad to have this box. It’s not as revelatory as something like the The Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees deluxe edition (PLEASE bring that back into print, Rhino), which turned the other comparative failure of the band’s early albums into something close to their equivalent of The White Album, but it’s a great listening experience, and many of the new mixes in particular will be my go-to listening versions of those tracks from now on.
As always with a project masterminded by Andrew Sandoval, the sound quality is excellent throughout and the booklet well-written and full of sessionographical information (my only gripe is that on some pages the small print and low contrast make it difficult for my ageing eyes to read).
It is, of course, a collection for Monkees obsessives only — the only one of these box sets that transcends that market is the The Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees set, which is frankly the only way to listen to that album — but if you are a Monkees obsessive you will find that it won’t let you down. This is a set that does everything you could want from a More of the Monkees box set.
Assuming, that is, that your copy ever arrives with you.
This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
And if you like my writing on the Monkees, my book Monkee Music covers their entire catalogue, while California Dreaming: the LA Pop Music Scene and the 60s puts their story into context with other bands of the time.