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"We're too busy singing to put anybody down"

Class D

Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Psychedelia, Bizarre
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Monkees fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Monkees fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The greatest artificial band in the world, but that's what everybody knows about them. The only thing I'd like to add is that quite a lot of people treat them as if they were worse than Shakespeare's Sister based exclusively on that well-known fact. 'The Monkees? What kind of shitty awful-tasted reviewer you are,' - they say, - 'reviewing the goddarn Monkees?' As a rule, such people have never actually heard anything by the Monkees and judge according to an old rusty number of Rolling Stone or, well, you know... My answer to these complaints: instead of following obvious trendy biases, go grab a couple of Monkees albums yourself and check out their musical potential. If you're not a complete idiot, it'll be like a revelation.

Yes, I know everything I need to know about the band's 'manufacturing', and I'm perfectly well aware that 'their' early songs were mostly written by corporate songwriters like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, they didn't really play their instruments in the studio, and their popularity was all based on the infamous TV show which I ain't never seen as I was born nearly a decade after it was cancelled. However, for the most part, I'm not really asking you to love the Monkees - namely, the four little dudes pretending to be the geniuses behind their production. I ask you to pay attention to the actual songs, whoever wrote them. And, like it or not, but one has to admit that corporate songwriting was at quite a high level in the States in 1966. The idea was to emulate the Beatles - and emulate the Beatles they did: with jangly, tasty guitars, skilled vocal harmonies, lush arrangements, multiple studio tricks and experiments and, above all, cleverly crafted, memorable melodies - all the necessary ingredients were there.

Of course, even the best product of the Monkees hardly ranks there on the same level with the Beatles' worst. The Monkees and their trusty songwriters lacked inspiration - and lacked that sparkling genius which made even the Beatles' filler so amazingly memorable. This is pure musical mannerism - copying the superficial and missing the deepest essence. But, after all, just as we've learned to love the best in mannerist painting, why not give its due to mannerist music? Regardless of anything, I still enjoy these little ditties: they sound fresh, exciting and sometimes even innovative, although never groundbreaking, of course. But, after all, who ever pretended that the Monkees were groundbreaking? I can easily give them a rating of two, as I fully enjoy the best of their records and can sometimes find good spots even in the worst ones.

And anyway: if it's Monkees we're speaking of and we're speaking of the Monkees darn seriously, why not remember that there's at least a single, but stern BUT to every one of the arguments against them. The main thing is that, contrary to rumours, the Monkees (at least a couple of 'em) were personalities and not just automatons a la Spice Girls. From the very start, Mike Nesmith resented the idea of the band not composing or recording its own songs, and when recording sessions for their third album began, he finally wrestled some control from the recording business thugs. Now the guys didn't play their instruments that good, of course, but they did try some funny things with them (check out the ridiculous instrumentals tacked on as bonus tracks to various albums), and there was even a period when they recorded quite a few of their own, self-composed material. Unfortunately, the 'big breakthrough' came around rather late, around mid-1967, when it was, well, late: the world didn't really need the Monkees by the end of their famous tour with Hendrix as a supporting act. Not that the band never tried to fit in with the times: Nesmith took the bait and led them forward to try and explore the depths of psychedelia, albeit spiced with typical kiddie Monkee humour, and this resulted in a couple classic late Sixties pop albums, totally unjustly forgotten by the cynical critics. By 1969 everything was over, though - the Monkees were reduced to a trio, the recording company thugs managed to quench their thirst for self-domination, and after a few lacklustre albums (which nevertheless betrayed Mike's curious interest for country-rock) they simply faded away. If you just try to judge them by a couple early hits like 'Last Train To Clarksville', or if you have the misfortune to make Instant Replay your first Monkees purchase, I can fully see how it's possible to dismiss them as okay, but passable at best and awful schlock at worst; but digging a little deeper wouldn't hurt. So let me just take you on a small Monkee tour. As they stated themselves, they were 'too busy singing to put anybody down', so don't worry 'bout no consequences. Let's just say that these reviews will also try to revitalize the absolute truth and restore the long-lost justice. Okay?

Lineup: Davey Jones, Pete Tork, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz - everybody 'sings and plays guitar' (ahem). In reality, when the guys really got around to be playing something themselves, they put Dolenz on drums, Tork on keyboards, Nesmith on guitars and Jones on, er, well, tambourine. In other words, Davy just couldn't play a single note. The strangest thing is that Jones is British - the project was supposed to be 'international', eh? As is easy to see, Nesmith, the most musically competent member of the band, turned out to be the virtual leader of the band, but all the three made significant contributions in the future, too. The group disbanded somewhere around 1970 (which is really a surprise - how they really managed to last all of five years?), and even re-convened somewhere in the Eighties to push out some reunion records, but I have no interest in them. At all. I mean, at all... if only I don't have the chance to get each for a quarter. As of now, I'm still missing a couple of the original records, including the notorious Head soundtrack, but I'm looking, I'm looking!

Note that all of the Monkees' original records have recently been re-issued on Rhino; like their early classic Kinks reissues, these are very highly recommendable. The liner notes are extensive and detailed, and in most cases, give the exact scoop on every player who played on any particular given Monkees song; as you understand, this is very important for this band. Also, most of these re-issues are pumped up with bonus tracks, much of which are just alternate versions, but some are unjustly forgotten gems that deserve to rear their head proudly (the best of these come on Headquarters). Try to get the reissues if possible.



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

If this is bullshit entertainment, I must be Papa Nebo.


Track listing: 1) (Theme From) The Monkees; 2) Saturday's Child; 3) I Wanna Be Free; 4) Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day; 5) Papa Gene's Blues; 6) Take A Giant Step; 7) Last Train To Clarksville; 8) This Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day; 9) Let's Dance On; 10) I'll Be True To You; 11) Sweet Young Thing; 12) Gonna Buy Me A Dog; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) I Can't Get Her Off My Mind; 14) I Don't Think You Know Me; 15) (Theme From) The Monkees (early version).

Although all them four Monkees are smiling at us from the front cover in a position not unlike the one adopted by the Fab Four on Please Please Me (geez, their manufacturers did pay attention to detail), they don't really do anything but singing on the album. The lion's share is taken by Mike Nesmith (half of the tunes), with Dolenz and Jones equally partaging the other half. The poor Pete Tork doesn't even sing (as a small compensation, he's given a credit for guitar playing on 'Papa Gene's Blues', the only band member to ever get a playing credit around here). The original release probably contained no credits, since the world was slow to realize the four guys' 'huge' instrumental talents - for some time, people actually believed the Monkees played their instruments themselves. Geez, what a confusion.. Anyway, the new release (which I have the luck to possess) has all the credits, among with recording session data and other small gimmicks. Ah yes, and a couple bonus tracks, too. Makes 'em Monkees look civilized - you know, like all these respectable bands with all their remasters...

But do I care? Nay says I! I quite enjoy the songs, and that's all. For the record, most of them are credited to Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart - two presumably talented blokes who actually did play some instruments on the album, and only 'Papa Gene's Blues' is credited to Nesmith. The songs are all wonderful, of course: American corporate songwriting can make wonders when there's a need. These are short, catchy and thoroughly enjoyable ditties - some slow, some fast, some tight, some sloppy, but all of them cook. Except maybe for a couple ballads sung by Davy Jones - they're not bad by themselves, but they get spoilt by his oversweet, slushy-sentimental intonations that make Paul McCartney sound like Bon Scott in comparison. 'I Wanna Be Free' is the worst of the offenders, with vocals that actually make you cringe in disgust; fortunately, 'I'll Be True To You' is saved by a terrific melody (however, I do advise to check out the far superior Hollies version instead, called 'Yes I Will').

But the fast songs are swell! Even the 'Monkee Theme' is fun - they open the record with a hushy scary 'here we come', and immediately proceed to make you happy as a little teenager (for whom the songs were actually intended) with the guitar jangle and the vocal harmonies and all the tasty, professional stuff. The others are even better. 'Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day' has a great vocal hook; 'Let's Dance On' is a ferocious piece of boogie-woogie that would do honour to Jerry Lee Lewis, in fact. 'Saturday's Child' and 'Take A Giant Step' are fun; 'Papa Gene's Blues' is silly retro. 'Take A Giant Step', in fact, features some exciting vocal arrangements that were quite daring for the time - Micky's voice is overdubbed in many layers, and a relatively simple R'n'B tune is converted into a great vocalic show-off. The three real gems on the album, however, are all on the second side. Their earliest great hit, 'Last Train To Clarksville', is on here; I can't say why it is so special, but I think it's just because the melody flurs on so fast, it just grabs you by the collar and makes you stamp and shout. 'Take the last train to Clarksville, I'll be waiting at the station...' ...yeah! Then there's 'Sweet Young Thing', a groovy dance number whose main attraction is a vicious fiddle solo - the most vicious I've ever heard in my life, in fact. Revolutionizing the use of the violin, eh? Turning the fiddle into a hard rock instrument? Whatever. Nesmith takes lead on that one, and a funny lead it is - I mean, I've always misunderstood the line 'And it's love you bring' as 'And it's love your brain'. I think it looks much more cool that way, as most misunderstandings do.

The weirdest composition, of course, is 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog', which could be a fairly pedestrian R&B improvisation, if not for the fact that Dolenz and Jones decided to have a bit of fun in the studio (or, hell, maybe they were told to have a bit of fun - I don't really care) and stuffed it from top to bottom with silly remarks, dialogs and just pure nonsense ('...I've been to Africa, playing cards with the natives...') Not that it's particularly entertaining, although sure sounds funny, but, I mean, wasn't it just a revolutionary move to include this nonsense stuff on a song? I mean, it was all taken from the TV show, but hey, it wasn't a soundtrack, after all. And how does it all tie in with the Beatles nonsense stuff on 'Hey Bulldog', by the way?

Even the bonus cuts on the Rhino re-release are clever: two alternate versions of later hits (the cute shuffle 'I Can't Get Her Out Of My Mind' is particularly good, while 'I Don't Think You Know Me' is kinda unmemorable, but it's okay). Dang! If this is the best bullshit entertainment ever came up with, ya know, in that case bullshit entertainment was sure better back in 1966 than I used to think about it... And sorry for my blurbing out silly words like 'daring' or 'revolutionary' on the way: I'm just painfully looking for every opportunity to redeem the band. Nay, not revolutionary, but far more inventive and creative fun than most of today's bands are ever able to bring into the studio. Them Monkees roole!



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Those who can't get enough of the first, please proceed to the second - no disappointments and no surprises.


Track listing: 1) She; 2) When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door); 3) Mary Mary; 4) Hold On Girl; 5) Your Auntie Grizelda; 6) (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone; 7) Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow); 8) The Kind Of Girl I Could Love; 9) The Day We Fall In Love; 10) Sometime In The Morning; 11) Laugh; 12) I'm A Believer; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Don't Listen To Linda; 14) I'll Spend My Life Without You; 15) I Don't Think You Know Me; 16) Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (long mix); 17) I'm A Believer (early version).

Oh God, what an appropriate title for the album. Sure enough, this is nothing but more of The Monkees - any fan of the debut album should be wise enough to grab this follow-up, released just in a few months (in fact, 'The Monkees' were so prolific that they managed to punch out three albums all in one year). However, put before the choice 'first or second?', I'd rather still vote 'first'. See, the original members still weren't making any serious contributions to the music: nobody was allowed to play nothing, and apart from a couple Nesmith originals, the songs are all still the product of corporate songwriting. Now I know that I lavishly piled some praise on c. s. in the previous review, but in doing that I forgot to mention one serious flaw: it often depended on real songwriters and their style. When this style was imitating the Beatles or imitating generic R'n'B, it worked. Much too often, though, it was based on sentimental love schlock not even fit for Top of the Pops or the Ed Sullivan show. And, since the Monkees depended on what 'party' gave them more songs to sing, it was all just a matter of accident - whether the album would come out well or it wouldn't. So just by accident, they slightly overdid the percentage of schlock on this record which renders it a little bit harder to digest than the hilarious debut. Where there was just one true offender on The Monkees, here there are at least three! 'When Love Comes Knockin' At Your Door' is horrendous, really and truly fit for an innocent teenager's dream (and oh, these vocals! they still send shivers down my back, in a bad way). 'Hold On Girl' is a dismissable primitive pop sweetie, and no faint attempts to perfect its sound with graceful harpsichord lines manage to save the song from disgrace. Poor Davy Jones was just tightening the noose of 'the sappy schlocky one' around his neck. And 'The Day We Fall In Love', sung by Jones in his usual slick sugary I-wanna-be-free voice, makes me vomit on the spot, just because rock'n'roll was primarily born to get rid of that kind of music. EEEK! It's even worse than Elvis' 'soul' numbers. Somebody, please slap the producers for me for beginning the 'song' with that pretty arpeggio stolen from the Stones' 'Tell Me'.

Thankfully, these are just occasional misfires on an otherwise enjoyable record. I have to say that there are some subtle differences between this and the debut - it seems to me that by the time of their second album, the Monkees and whoever manufactured them were keen on 'expanding' the horizons and rip off not just the Beatles, but pretty much every other more or less significant British Invasion band of the time. There's a lot of Stones and Kinks influences on here, and the Hollies, and the Animals, and God knows who else. So the album sounds a bit more diverse than its predecessor, and if not for the schlock which is worse than the worst schlock on the debut, it could have received the same rating or even more.

Indeed, as some of the numbers are even stronger than before: not that it has anything to do with 'em Monkees, but what the hell. There's a great protest (!!??) rocker, 'I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone' that looks kinda Kinkish to me (yeah, I know it's really all about girls, but shucks, what else could they be singing about?) Micky Dolenz does a great singing job on that one, and the way they alternate between the grizzly Kinks/Stones-like main melody and the fast Animals-styled, organ-dominated passages, makes the song an instant Monkees classic. The only significant Nesmith contribution is 'Mary, Mary', another menacing rocker that also shows the boys growing experienced with vocal harmonies. And the fast catchy pop songs are as good as ever, with 'I'm A Believer' and 'Your Auntie Grizelda' the obvious highlights; the former is positively captivating, with the brand new keyboard devices (Moogs? these are hardly Hammond organs) propelling the tune forward in a kickbutt groove, and the latter has Nesmith singing in an almost Ringo Starr intonation (which means that the vocals are off key, but what in the world would you refuse to do in order to imitate mr Starkey?). 'The Kind Of Girl I Could Love' is almost weird, I'd say Motown-inspired? Maybe not, but that beat and vocal intonations somehow remind me of the God-darned place (dunno why). 'She' is entrancing, and 'Sometime In The Morning' is the only decent ballad on here, and 'Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)' barely escaped taking the place of best song on the album (in my mind); this countryfied pop song has one of the most delightful hooks on a Monkees record. Finally, 'Laugh' continues the line of 'Kinks-imitation' on the album, and it's plain funny, although it sure as heck don't make me laugh exactly. So you see, even with all the dreck indicated and stressed, this album still deserves an 8 according to Monkees standards.

The bonus tracks aren't that interesting, though: there's one more version of 'I Don't Think You Know Me', an alternate (inferior) take of 'I'm A Believer', and a couple of new songs all of which will be later found in re-written versions on other LPs. (That's the strange thing with these Monkees bonuses: quite a lot of songs from later albums are often plastered in different versions onto the end of earlier albums). The funniest thing for me is the 'long mix' of 'Here Comes Tomorrow', where a dry announcer voice keeps on coming in and fading out with witty comments like 'This is the instrumental part', (a couple of seconds later) 'this is the end of the instrumental part. Hope you enjoyed it. And now, back to the song', or 'this is called the fade-out. This is where the disc jokey comes in and starts talking over the music' ('scuse me for inexact quoting). I take this as the analog of the pedestrian, but relieving humor on 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog'. Why shouldn't I?



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Suffice it to say that it's the first schlockless Monkees album. Do you need anything else?


Track listing: 1) You Told Me; 2) I'll Spend My Life With You; 3) Forget That Girl; 4) Band 6; 5) You Just May Be The One; 6) Shades Of Gray; 7) I Can't Get Her Off My Mind; 8) For Pete's Sake; 9) Mr Webster; 10) Sunny Girlfriend; 11) Zilch; 12) No Time; 13) Early Morning Blues And Greens; 14) Randy Scouse Git; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) All Of Your Toys; 16) The Girl I Knew Somewhere; 17) Peter Gunn's Gun; 18) Jericho; 19) Nine Times Blue; 20) Pillow Time.

A major breakthrough for the Monkees. Not only did they write quite a fair share of the songs on this album - they've even gained the right to play their instruments, which they proudly proclaim on the album cover. Yeah, it took the efforts of Mike Nesmith putting his fist through a studio glass door and telling some record executive that this could be his head, but eventually, Mike did wrestle some of the control from the fat guys with cigars and proceeded to lead the band 'into uncharted territory', as one might say, except that the territory was well charted, of course. Strange enough, it doesn't affect neither the melodies nor the quality of the playing - apparently, corporate songwriters and session players decided to let the nestlings out of the nest. For a short while. To spread the wings. Like a first risky test on flying.

But they succeeded! Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork all write their songs on here (Jones doesn't, and maybe that's for the better), and they're good! In general, the album's probably the most diverse and entertaining in the entire Monkees catalogue. It also shows how great they became at ripping off everything and everybody: some of these songs are first-class Beatles imitations, so that, if only the lyrics weren't already much too dumb for the contemporary Beatles, one could easily mistake 'You Told Me' for a Fab Four tune. What the hell, there ain't a bad tune on the whole album. Even the minor jokes are amusing: 'Band 6' showcases the Monkees learning to play, and 'Zilch' showcases the Monkees learning to, well, er, to speak maybe? Whatever. The funniest thing is that they can't do either! Dolenz can't really keep the time, and the phrase 'it is of my opinion that the people are intending' can't be repeated a certain number of times without stuttering. Groovy! Try to repeat that line yourselves as fast as you can, woncha? This was, in fact, a rather brave self-ironizing move for them to do at the time, like a sarcastic reply to all the scandals around the band which originated after it got through the press that nobody of them played their instruments really on the first two albums.

Now let's talk about the songs. Like I said, some of them are amazingly 'sincere' Beatles rip-offs: Nesmith's 'You Told Me' is actually better than 'Doctor Robert' which it is based upon (FYI, that's one song which I'm not quite fond of on Revolver), and same Nesmith's 'Sunny Girlfriend' is as good a countryish ballad as Sir Paul McCartney ever penned before 1965. His third contribution, 'You Just May Be The One' (another 'routine' pop ballad), is slightly less enjoyable, but just because it's overshadowed by songs that are even more stunning. Because the record's major surprise is Dolenz: his 'Randy Scouse Git' is a fairly unique product that manages to marry generic rag-time with booming rock'n'roll, and the lyrics are probably the most unorthodox on a Monkees song ('...why don't you hate who I hate,/kill who I kill to be free...'); you mean they really sang this song on their teenager show? Finally, Peter Tork gets a chance to shine with 'For Pete's Sake', a hippie song that draws more from the Jefferson Airplane than from the Beatles. See the musical growth? Not that I mean that switching to JA from the Beatles is a sign of growth, of course. Maybe 'growth' is not the word here; a 'broadening of the horizons' would be a more decent definition.

However, all of these worthy efforts could have been reduced to nothing by the inclusion of sweet schlock like 'I Wanna Be Free' that always reminded us on the previous records that these Monkees were just 'monkees', held in a firm grip by mainstream corporations, just when we were ready to forget that after hearing 'Last Train To Clarksville'. Eh? What's that you hear me saying? No schlock on the record? That's right, incredible as it might be. A couple of tender ballads come dangerously close, but still distinguish themselves by possessing really really clever melodies. 'Forget That Girl' is catchy, sweet fun, with a little tinge of irony and amusement (it was the first time that Davey Jones actually approached the possibility of being called 'a McCartney rip-off-er'), and 'Shades Of Gray' actually comes through as a magnificent song - add an orchestra, substitute the voice for you-know-whose, and you got yourself a splendid Moody Blues dreamy ballad. And note that both of these are contributed songs - did the Monkees choose them out from the piles of potential waste, or was it that corporate songwriting was trying to adjust itself to the times? Never mind, that's just one more purely rhetoric question.

Other mini-wonders include a better reworking of 'I Can't Get Her Off My Mind', this time based on a tasty sprinkling piano; the strangely Kinks-style 'Mr Webster' (another band to rip off from); the comic Little Richard simulation 'No Time'; and the eery, almost creepy 'Early Morning Blues And Greens'. Blues, R'n'B, acoustic pop, keyboard pop, ballads, hippie anthems, hints at protest songs, and pure mindless fun - oh, what a record. A pop lover's dream. And not one bad song. Not - one - bad - song. If, after sitting through this album, you'll demonstratively kick it off the CD deck and right through the window and throw on your trusty Aerosmith, you're just a narrow-minded snubby little putz. 'Nuff said. No offense meant.

Even the bonus tracks are fabulous! A contemplative (but fast) ballad ('All Of Your Toys'), a terrific attempt at writing a Dylan-ish acoustic number (Nesmith's 'Nine Times Blue', where he even imitates the man's pronunciation and intonations), another hilarious instrumental featuring the Monkees' non-talent in playing their instruments ('Peter Gunn's Gun'), and more silly fun in the studio ('Jericho'). Lemme just give you this advice: if you've been used to despising the Monkees a priori all of your life, but experience a tickling temptation in your soul, get off your feet and surreptitiously purchase this album. You won't regret it.


LIVE 1967

Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

A unique experience - a band that can't play playing to an audience who can't listen.

Best song: MARY MARY for sheer ridiculousness

Track listing: 1) Last Train To Clarksville; 2) You Just May Be The One; 3) The Girl I Knew Somewhere; 4) I Wanna Be Free; 5) Sunny Girlfriend; 6) Your Auntie Grizelda; 7) Forget That Girl; 8) Sweet Young Thing; 9) Mary Mary; 10) Cripple Creek; 11) You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover; 12) Gonna Build A Mountain; 13) I Got A Woman; 14) I'm A Believer; 15) Randy Scouse Git; 16) (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone.

Apparently, the Monkees used to not only fake their existence on TV and in the studio; they had to take a more active part in it by going out on tour and making nice fresh bucks for their employers. This was rendered all the more encumbering by the fact that, as we all know, the Monkees were just a wee bit inexperienced about playing their own instruments. To be more exact, urged on by Mike Nesmith, Talented Monkee #1, they'd finally started getting acquainted with man's musical instrument legacy in the studio, but that's one thing; quite another one is to be able to harness these instruments in a live setting, where you're not allowed to do double takes unless you're a comedy act or something.

Hey, wait a minute. This is a comedy act we're talking about. And the only saving grace for the Monkees, once they were pushed onto the stage and the curtains behind them locked and barred tight until they'd played the entire setlist, was to push on with the comedy - and pray comedy would be comic enough for the audience so as to avoid the rotten tomatoes. I haven't counted exactly, but I have a naggin' feeling that the stage banter during this one hour occupies at least as much time as the actual playing, if not more. (And, for the record, this is the entire length of the show I'm talking here: the new CD release of Rhino's 1987 album adds four "solo" tracks to the former LP, which constitutes the entire setlist for the band's mid-'67 live show).

Not that they should really have bothered, of course. The general agreement is that the Monkees' live audience mostly consisted of 12-year old girls, and it does show: they are receiving the same kind of screaming, hysterical response on here as the Beatles a couple years earlier, and this in 1967, the year that rock "turned serious" and audiences finally began to sit down and listen to what they were being offered instead of using the occasion as a chance to exorcise their demons and experience orgasm over their angels. Regardless of whether the actual jokes that the Monkees are pouring over the audience in bucketloads are corny or genuinely funny (I'd say the proportion is about 70 to 30), nobody laughs: they didn't come here to laugh, they came here to see "the world's most talented midget" as he confesses to them that he wanna be free while plugging his right ear.

The actual tour has, of course, long since gone down in history as the infamous "Hendrix opening for the Monkees" event, arguably the most absurd pairing in the history of rock music, with poor Jimi as the main victim of the situation: people were coming to see the well-established Monkees, not the barely-known Hendrix, and, naturally, it was a bit unusual to accept stuff like 'Purple Haze' as a substitute, or even as an aperitif before 'Forget That Girl' and 'I'm A Believer'. Nevertheless, as far as I know, there was little conflict between Jimi and the Monkees themselves; in fact, they even used to jam together a little bit, which, for Nesmith and Co., must have looked like a God-sent gift. Curiously enough, the hard-rocking version of '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' which closes the concert definitely has some Hendrix overtones to it, with its use of feedback, noise, and almost free-form soloing at times; I do, however, suspect that most of the actual music on that particular track is played by one of their several other supporting bands that, for a few numbers, took the playing over from the Monkees to give them more room for singing. And save them at least some embarrassment.

It's always possible, of course, to look at this from a different side. So the Monkees couldn't play. Doesn't that make them, like, the perfect candidate for the "Number One Punk" contest? So many punk bands that were proud of not knowing how to play their instruments - and then it turns out that they actually knew quite well how to play their instruments, thank you very much, and that it takes considerable prowess to be able to sound like Johnny Ramone or Mick Jones. Here, on the other hand, is a band whose inability to keep it together is worn plain straight on their sleeve, and yet they go ahead and do it, not one little bit afraid of being booed offstage - ain't that true feeling? Ain't that passion? Iggy Pop, eat your heart out!

Okay, I'm exaggerating here. Obviously, "not knowing how to play" is, and has always been, a metaphor; nobody really wants to hear a band that truly can't play, in the most technical and physical sense of the word, just like not even the most radical readers would want to subject themselves to authors who can't (or won't) make their sentences out of subjects and predicates. The Monkees are bad live, no mistake about that. As in, real bad. I could probably learn to drum like Dolenz does over less than a week or so, and even then, I would probably miss fewer beats (and I would be a pretty shitty learner at that). Tork's bass playing is a wee bit more tolerable, but he's a folkie for Chrissake, he's only good with a banjo (which he does get a chance to wield briefly during his solo spot with 'Cripple Creek', for about a minute or so). And the same goes for Nesmith, who plays pretty much every guitar part on here as if he were holding a banjo. In fact, if I say that, due to the grace of Mike Nesmith, there is only one instrumental melody on the entire album, I won't be too far from the truth. The tempos are different, that's all.

And yet, at the same time, when all of this is put together, the album suddenly becomes a one-of-a-kind document of its epoch - and almost as bizarre as Head, and that would be pretty bizarre, too. Little girls yelling at the top of their lungs, wishing to see cute sappy Davy Jones. Cute sappy Davy Jones singing even the sweetest, sappiest of his ballads to an insane guitar/drum racket made by his colleagues, so that, behind the racket and the screaming, the little girls can hardly understand whether cute sappy Davy Jones is actually singing the sweetest, sappiest of his ballads, or is simply busy sexually harassing the little girls. The colleagues of cute sappy Davy Jones exchanging lame jokes in between lame performances, fully pretending that it is not cute sappy Davy Jones but these very jokes that are, in fact, the thing that the little girls have come here for. Lame performances by colleagues of cute sappy Davy Jones of great pop hits, reducing said pop hits to garage pulp, but also occasionally causing the listener to wonder if that is really the song that was announced being played, so much has it changed on its way from the studio. And, on top of it all, an atmosphere of, at once, the utmost fakery and artificial bravoure, and a certain passionate giddiness that is impossible to fake.

The treatment received by 'Mary Mary' is quite typical. Dolenz enters on drums, then somebody (Davey? Mike?) yells 'wait a minute, I'm not ready'. Stop. 'Okay, I'm ready'. Start again. Repeat joke one more time. Play the song. Break it apart during the coda. Play guitar. Yell 'Mary Mary'. Stop playing guitar. Stop yelling. Play guitar again! Yell! Stop playing guitar. 'Okay, I'm over'. Pause. Start playing guitar again. 'Mary!'. 'Okay, I'm really over this time'. Repeat joke five times. You're getting into the spirit of this, aren't you? You should.

Other "highlights" include a rabble-rousing Dolenz performance on 'Randy Scouse Git' and, unbelievable as it seems, 'I Wanna Be Free', which, with added volume, bombastic rhythm section, and Jones' inability to play it subtle and suave in a live setting (he almost literally has to shout out the lyrics), suddenly becomes a good-time folk anthem, perfectly singalongable, particularly if you're busy hiding from bad weather somewhere in your log cabin in North Dakota. Of course, the songs that were previously interesting from a musical point of view are butchered fair and square ('Last Train To Clarksville', 'I'm A Believer'), and the formerly sparkling vocal harmonies are completely out of tune, but here we go complaining again.

By far the most interesting part for fans and collectors will be the four bonus tracks, an integral part of the show that was left out in the LP age - the band's "solo" spots. Tork's country-western sendup has already been mentioned; Nesmith also has one with the equally fun and simplistic, but far more long-winded (and long-titled) 'You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover'; Jones gets himself the cute bouncy ballad 'Gonna Build A Mountain'; and Dolenz kicks the most ass with the lightning-speed rave-up of 'I Got A Woman', finally showing why he really was the best singer in the band and a good candidate for intoxicating frontman as well.

In other words, Live 1967 hangs somewhere in between historical document and independent entertainment - it's a bit too "unimportant" to be recommended as the former, and way too messy to be recommended as the latter, but if you're hunting for unique experiences, don't pass it by. It sounds like nothing else in the world.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

The Monkees' 'Sergeant Pepper'. What a horrendous idea... nah, it's good, only a little uniform.

Best song: CUDDLY TOY

Track listing: 1) Salesman; 2) She Hangs Out; 3) The Door Into Summer; 4) Love Is Only Sleeping; 5) Cuddly Toy; 6) Words; 7) Hard To Believe; 8) What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round; 9) Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky; 10) Pleasant Valley Sunday; 11) Daily Nightly; 12) Don't Call On Me; 13) Star Collector; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Special Announcement; 15) Goin' Down; 16) Salesman (alternate mix); 17) The Door Into Summer (alternate mix); 18) Love Is Only Sleeping (alternate mix); 19) Daily Nightly (alternate mix); 20) Star Collector (alternate mix).

Oh dear, another excellent Monkees album. Of course, we're talking in the Monkees category, right? When I say 'an excellent Monkees album', it doesn't mean that I'm ready to listen to it any day of my life. Rather it means 'I don't have anything against putting this album on from time to time'. In this respect, this record comes close in quality to Headquarters, just a tiny-weeny bit below it because some of the songs sound almost the same; most of them are taken in the same mid-tempo with not very inspired, but still entertaining, melodies. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the 'real' Monkees' songwriting was on the decline again. They were still playing most of the instruments, and Nesmith did contribute a pair of numbers, but Dolenz and Tork are silent once again, and God knows why. However, this time it's obvious corporate songwriting was really trying to adjust to the times: there's not a single minute of sippy-dippy horrid-torrid schlocky garbage, and both the ballads and the rockers are quite respectable.

Of course, it was obvious that the Monkees wouldn't have lasted much longer: Sergeant Pepper had already come out and the Summer of Love happened when this record came out. But both the band and the thugs behind it were perfectly aware of the fact, so the Monkees bravely steered the wheel in that direction as well. Just look at the album cover and tell me it ain't a rip-off of the Sgt Pepper one: four faceless Monkees standing in a sea of flowers. Substitute the flowers for people and the lack of faces for uniforms, and there you have it... And the album title? Why Jones didn't have his Zodiac sign listed is way beyond me (maybe he forgot his date of birth?), but it's certainly a 'psychedelic' title. Moreover, 'psychedelia' had even worked its way onto the songs. 'Words' and 'Daily Nightly' are the two obvious examples: the first one is based on an echoey, trippy kind of sound that was becoming a trademark of the Jefferson Airplane, while the second (written by Nesmith) is maybe the Monkees' weirdest number: hallucinogenous imagery in the lyrics (ripped off from 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'), a gloomy, majestic melody (ripped off from 'White Rabbit', and Dolenz sounds exactly like Grace Slick, too!!!!), and astral synth noises (ripped off from 'Astronomy Domine'). By the way, weren't the Monkees the first band to use Moog synths? Which they successfully do on 'Star Collector', the closing number that might be a simple pop song if it weren't highlighted by these menacing (and clever) synthesizer solos.

Not that the album is all psychedelic - just like Sgt Pepper wasn't all psychedelic. There's quite a few happy pop songs on here, too - the ones I complained about because they sound kinda samey and sometimes even hookless. The record's opening number, 'Salesman', is an instant winner, with its cool guitar chords and angry Nesmith (?) vocals again creating that illusion of a protest song. And 'She Hangs Out' is cool as a cacadoo, whatever that might suggest you; I suspect that it's Davy Jones on vocals on that one, and I'm even ready to forgive him his sappy travesties like 'I Wanna Be Free' for the angry, gruff tone he takes on this one. But 'The Door Into Summer' and 'Love Is Only Sleeping' are kinda generic, neither funny nor tender, just 'anthemic without a cause'. Good, and 'Door Into Summer' has a really soothing Nesmith vocal and a really soothing, inoffensive bouncy rhythm, but there's nothing really substantial here. And 'What Am I Doing Hanging Around' and 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' are really the same song, just shuffling around with little significant to say; again, pleasant, but disappointing after all these promising, 'breathing' numbers on Headquarters. The elements of musical chaos at the end of 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' still suggest that these aren't the same submissive, mechanized Monkees as they were before, but still the Monkees were never good masters of musical chaos. Me, I'd rather take 'Cuddly Toy', a terrific piano pop number along the lines of 'I Can't Get Her Off My Mind', but even better because of more intelligent lyrics (and have you ever pondered upon the line 'you're not the only cuddly toy that was ever enjoyed by any boy'?) And Davy Jones' 'Hard To Believe', although being probably the closest thing to a piece of fluff on the album, features his most gorgeous and strained vocal effort ever. So the record sure has a lot of redeeming effects - not exactly a masterpiece, but real solid stuff. And there's quite a bit of fun on the album, too - what about Peter Tork's 'PPPeter PPPercival PPPatterson's PPPet PPPig PPPorky'? That's a glottalized voiceless labial stop that he's doing on there, if you're not informed!

The only thing that sorta spoils my fun is the bonus tracks: apart from one really groovy number, the jazzy 'Goin' Down' that borrows its speedy-rappy lyrics narration from Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', all of them are just alternate mixes which I could quite easily live without the rest of my life. Maybe that's the reason I heartily gave a 10 to Headquarters, one of the few albums where the bonus tracks match the original LP almost perfectly. Nevertheless, if you ever consider the possibility of the Monkees being real artists, this is probably the closest they ever got to a 'serious artistic statement'. It might be purely conventional, a mild psycho-pop album churned out to fit in with the times, but I'd bet your life you'd never have guessed that judging by the music alone. And when it's music we're speaking of, music and music alone must count. I mean, it's essential to understand the background against which the music was recorded, but the background will slowly fade away, while the music will always remain - forever. Say, do you think people will still be enjoying Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. in a hundred years' time? What great fun it would be if they still were - but they probably will not, so it won't.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Nesmith's psychedelic games versus Jones' orchestrated sap? Why didn't they just give the band up to Mike?


Track listing: 1) Dream World; 2) Auntie's Municipal Court; 3) We Were Made For Each Other; 4) Tapioca Tundra; 5) Daydream Believer; 6) Writing Wrongs; 7) I'll Be Back Up On My Feet; 8) The Poster; 9) P.O. Box 9847; 10) Magnolia Simms; 11) Valleri; 12) Zor And Zam; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Alvin (prev. unissued); 14) I'm Gonna Try (prev. unissued); 15) P.O. Box 9847 (prev. unissued alternative mix); 16) The Girl I Left Behind Me (prev. unissued early version); 17) Lady's Baby (prev. unissued alternate mix).

The Monkees were going through some really severe creative, artistic and financial troubles at this stage which they would unfortunately be unable to survive. Still, 1968 was still a fairly good year. Essentially, The Birds... is Pisces... Vol. 2, with two serious differences, one good, one bad. The good news is that the album is undeniably Mike Nesmith's high point with the band: he gets four of his compositions on the album, and at least three of them are instant winners. The bad news is that there's a bit more sap than on the previous two releases, partially due to the fact that Davy Jones had seriously taken up songwriting. The arrangements are getting more pompous, with sweety strings and all that Hollywood rubbish drowning out the little boys - a flaw that totally ruined Instant Replay a year later. Indeed, is it even possible to like generic Jones ballads like 'We Were Made For Each Other' or 'Dream World'? They make me sick!

The main interesting point about the album, however, is that Nesmith's compositions overshadow everything on this record. The trustworthy pair of Boyce & Hart distinguishes itself by contributing the upbeat, hook-hooky 'P.O. Box 9847' that starts out quite deceptively as an Eastern-flavoured psycho number (check out some of the similar psycho-pop songs on the Hollies' Butterfly), but picks up some shuffling energy on the chorus, and throughout the song the pop-rocking and the pop-trippy parts are cleverly interspersed with each other. However, the same trustworthy pair of Boyce & Hart also distinguishes itself with the annoying nostalgic piece of doo-wop ('Valleri'), that, quite perversely, turned out to be the Monkees' last hit single. I think I already mentioned the cheesy cover of Carole Bayer's 'We Were Made For Each Other', and I must also state that I'm in no way a fan of 'Daydream Believer': I'm perfectly aware that as a single it sold loads and loads, but the song's stupid love-bird optimism doesn't exactly get me lifted up my feet. A perfect song for a Disney cartoon, but taken seriously it must be not.

That said, there's at least one non-self penned song here, Bill and John Chadwick's 'Zor And Zam', that stands out as one of the most intriguing Monkees performances of all time. No, I don't mean the obvious anti-war lyrics and the war march drumming on it, but remember how I said they were going for a Jefferson Airplane kind of sound on that last record? Well there you are! Micky Dolenz sings the song in a voice absolutely unidstinguishable from that of Grace Slick! The whole number sounds like a wild, but magnificent rip-off of 'White Rabbit' (okay, I think the melody is more reminiscent of 'Laether', but since Crown Of Creation, the album where 'Laether' was on, didn't come out until a few months after Birds, we'll just have to assume that Grace Slick returned the favour to Micky Dolenz). Isn't that cute? And don't forget to thank me - now you can play tricks on your unsuspecting friends by inviting them to listen to a previously unissued Jefferson Airplane outtake!

Never mind that. I think I'll just dump all that other stuff and concentrate on the Nesmith numbers. As we all know, Mike was the most experimental type of guy among all 'em Monkees, and he does prove it by writing nonsensical lyrics, inserting wild and curious gimmicks, and diversifying the genres. Thus, 'Auntie's Municipal Court' is a precursor of the country-western direction he'd soon be taking, but it's actually better than all these pleasant, but overly pedestrian country rockers he would place on his 1969 records. It's jolly, innocent, fresh and don't you love these 'ummmm. hmmmmm...' in all their glorious stupidity? Then, 'Tapioca Tundra', well, it might be the best song Mike ever did: a vintage psychedelic anthem with words that mean nothing, an 'astral' introduction and a Latin-influenced, steady beat that carries along a brilliant and thoroughly 'friendly' melody; plus, Mike lets his vocals through a gadget that makes the song all the more trippy, like an amusing parody on 'Astronomy Domine', mayhaps? Mike was a great singer! 'Writing Wrongs' is a small letdown, but it was a brave step forward for the Monkees nevertheless: the lengthy, though certainly not very entertaining, piano jam in the middle is the most obvious step away from 'commerciality' on the record. Then again, it might just be Mike's tribute to 1968's 'jammy' fashions. Whatever, I just don't like the song nearly as much as I adore Mike's groovy Twenties stylization on 'Magnolia Simms', complete with crackling noises, a stuck grammophone needle and wonderful vocal harmonies that prove Nesmith could really blow away Davy Jones on his ballads if they only let him. Keep up the good work, Mike! Er, well, sort of...

So really, this record's a great showcase for Nesmith - his best and most glorious period. Too bad the filler takes up so much place. Not as much as on their following albums, of course, but still... but still this is an essential Monkees' record. Jeez! What am I talking about? It's probably 34.5678 times better than your average Hootie and the Blowfish album! Can you prove me wrong? No you can't, so I'm right!



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

The most unpredictable album in the history of mankind, I guess...


Track listing: 1) Opening Ceremony; 2) The Porpoise Song (Theme From "Head"); 3) Ditty Diego - War Chant; 4) Circle Sky; 5) Supplicio; 6) Can You Dig It; 7) Gravy; 8) Superstitious; 9) As We Go Along; 10) Dandruff?; 11) Daddy's Song; 12) Poll; 13) Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?; 14) Swami - Plus Strings (Ken Thorne), Etc.; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) Ditty Diego - War Chant (prev. unissued version); 16) Circle Sky (live); 17) Happy Birthday To You; 18) Can You Dig It (alternate mix); 19) Daddy's Song; 20) Head Radio Spot.

Wow, what a strange record... sure beats Zappa's Lumpy Gravy to hell. The Monkees at this point probably realised that their commercial appeal had gone for shit anyway, and threw off all the conventional shackles by starring in, not just a psychedelic, but rather a bizarre avantgarde movie, called, well, Head. I suppose the movie itself, though I've never seen it, might not be all that impressive. Essentially, it just featured the Monkees relishing in their 'free' style and ironizing on the topic of 'manufactured bands', with lots of gags and jokes and silly nonsensic crap and came-os from Frank Zappa himself (that Lumpy Gravy reference wasn't for naught, you see), all produced and elaborated by Bob Rafaelson and Jack Nicholson.

A lot of the stuff from the movie made it into the soundtrack, though, and - surprise surprise - the 'spoken' pieces and bits of noise look just fine and comfy, sitting around there together with the actual songs. If there is something wrong about the resulting disc, it's that it is way too short, over in about half an hour. They sure could have written some more songs, so speaking from a strictly formal obsessive position, it's a rip-off. Speaking from a strictly informal don't-give-a-damn position, though, it's a near-masterpiece, and people who condemn the Monkees for crap beforehand, yet have never actually took a listen to this stuff, simply do not know what they're missing.

First of all, the songs are ALL good. ALL of them. The major highlight, of course, is 'Porpoise Song', arguably the best Goffin-King contribution ever to appear on a Monkees album: a lush, soulful organ-dominated epic with Dolenz taking lead and the orchestration embarking the band on something in between a Procol Harum and a Pink Floyd performance. I'd even say it's a bit too epic, what with the movie's sarcastic overtones and everything, but hey, the idea WAS to make a huge melting pot of everything. Carole King is also responsible for the folksier 'As We Go Along', where Dolenz also takes lead vocals and again presents us with a funny Grace Slick-alike vocal delivery. The gentle acoustic shuffle and humble, unintrusive flute cannot be beat.

The only other cover is Harry Nilsson's cheesy, but catchy 'Daddy's Song'; goes without saying - the cheesiest bit of the load goes into the hands of Davey Jones, hee hee. Dumb to the extreme, but you gotta believe me: within the context of the movie/album, you don't really make distinction between the dumb and the clever. What's clever turns out to be a hoax; what's a hoax turns out to be a gimmick; what's a gimmick turns out to be a parody, and so on. Head is a perfect name - everything's reversed and standing on its head indeed. Everything but Michael Nesmith, who by now was firmly embedded into the idea of his country-rock schtick and so he rips it up on 'Circle Sky', a great little country-rocker in the true sense of the word, i.e. a country melody arranged in a rock manner and played with rock instruments. Banjos? Nah! Crunchy guitars! Love that descending riff in the intro and throughout.

The other two songs are Tork's - good songs. 'Can You Dig It' is, like, folksy psychedelia a la Lovin' Spoonful with a bit of Neil Young-ish world sorrow. Moody minor guitar chords and sad melancholic refrain. And 'Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?' is more like a Pretty Things rocker. Anyway, split personalities all around: Dolenz the epic hero, Jones the silly tasteless clown, Nesmith the country cowboy, and Tork the sad disillusioned romantic. Mayhaps it was this last emploi that was the last straw after which Tork left the band.

In between you get the WEIRD stuff. Weird stuff includes: noise (undiscernible); bits and snatches of songs mentioned previously; a stoned female voice calling out 'head... head... head...' (I wonder if this could have prompted Lennon to do his 'number nine... number nine...' thing? Now, wait, we're talking Monkees influence on the Beatles? Oh, wait, silly me, Head came out a month after the White Album did); a great little accappella ditty called 'Ditty' (well, actually, the full name is longer, but who cares?) where the Monkees succesfully debunk themselves chanting 'hey hey, we are the Monkees, you know we're here to please, a manufactured image with no philosophies'; noise (undiscernible); space shuttle growls; a Monkee saying 'I'd like a glass of cold gravy with a hair in it, please'; lots of silly dialog; noise (undiscernible); looped chants of 'dandruff, dandruff, dandruff'; pistol shots and cannonshots; wild laughter; noise (undiscernible); heartbeats; an extract from an Indian guru's speech (I love Indian accent); noise (undiscernible); a full-blown symphonic interlude; and noise, noise, noise...

You might think it all sucks, but for me, it works better than Lumpy Gravy. It's funny, for the most part, it never lasts too long to truly annoy, and the very idea of hearing all this shit on a Monkees album of all places is so bedazzling that I'm ready to forgive 'em anything else. It's as if... as if these guys were really at the end of their rope and throwing themselves in all possible directions. They've mimicked teenage pop music, they've mimicked psychedelia, they've mimicked roots-rock, now they're sick and tired of mimicking and yet they're not really intent on establishing themselves as individual artists, so they throw on this bizarre avantgarde collage to make matters even more complicated. It's an attempt at maturity, sure, but I don't think they ever took stuff like Head as seriously as Frank Zappa could have taken his stuff. Or maybe it's just a big fat question mark they slammed at us at this point before finally crashing down and abandoning all hope of becoming a truly significant band. Either way, Head is quite a fascinating listen, and it goes without saying that an attentive listen to this stuff will convince many, many a listener that the Monkees weren't such trivial no-goodnicks as they're pictured by people who mostly slam the Monkees in order to "establish" their snubby persona without even giving the music a fair chance.

P.S. The bonus tracks on here really add to the flavour - most are just remixes of songs like 'Can You Dig It', but there's a goofy session chat bit from the recording of 'Ditty Diego War Chant', and a Goth version of 'Happy Birthday To You'. Okay, maybe not Goth, but I hope you're interested already.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

The kind of banal Hollywoodery that nobody could expect from the Monkees in 1969 already...


Track listing: 1) Through The Looking Glass; 2) Don't Listen To Linda; 3) I Won't Be The Same Without Her; 4) Just A Game; 5) Me Without You; 6) Don't Wait For Me; 7) You And I; 8) While I Cry; 9) Tear Drop City; 10) The Girl I Left Behind Me; 11) A Man Without A Dream; 12) Shorty Blackwell; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Someday Man; 14) Carlisle Wheeling; 15) Rosemarie Smile; 16) St Matthew; 17) Me Without You (alternate mix); 18) Through The Looking Glass (alternate mix).

Peter Tork left the band right before this album, but, since his influence on the band was more or less minimal, that didn't make much difference. (Maybe that was just the reason behind his leaving). At least, I can't link this crying disaster to his departure. Let me explain: this is just the kind of record that you mustn't even know about if you're willing to get into the Monkees. At least don't make the mistake of making this your first listen - even if you're offered it free when you have to pay twenty bucks for any other album. Indeed, these songs are the kind of stuff I was expecting to hear on their debut record, namely, adult orchestral pop. And when I heard The Monkees, one can only imagine my gladness that my expectations weren't justified at all, I mean - at all. So the natural question is: WHY THE HELL DID THEY GO OUT AND DO THIS? Of course, by 1969 they had no show, they had small commercial success, but was that really a sign that they should try to fit into mainstream adult pop? Micky Dolenz is no Frank Sinatra, after all.

The album is actually a grab-bag: only about half of the material is new, while the rest of the songs are at least a year old, and some are even outtakes from the earliest recording sessions. A couple of them actually save the record from the depths of humiliation. 'Tear Drop City' is a fine rocker in their early style (in fact, it's so close to 'Last Train To Clarksville' that it makes one wonder), and the best song on the album is the bombastic, ponderous and vocally immaculate 'Through The Looking Glass' that could be easily mistaken for a good Hollies song. However, the enemy has inserted its saboteurs even here: some of the outtakes are crappy outtakes (the stupid 'I Won't Be The Same Without Her'), and some of the good outtakes have been marred by overdubbed strings and trite production values ('Don't Listen To Linda' sounds nothing like the far superior early version you can find on the re-issued version of More Of The Monkees).

Most of the new tracks, however, are a damned load of shit. The schlock is back on overslick, nauseating ballads like Dolenz's 'Just A Game' or 'The Girl I Left Behind Me'. Nesmith's two contributions are a horrible disappointment: he's moving on from psychedelia to country-western territory, and his first 'serious' contributions to that genre are generic, totally unmemorable and pointless. And the orchestrated numbers just don't have anything to do with the classic Monkees - it's just routine Hollywood garbage. The biggest blow, however, is that they forget all about the hooks - where are the hooks? These songs don't grab my attention nohow! To top it off, they end the record with a five-plus minute, multi-part, ultra-long 'epic' ('Shorty Blackwell') that goes absolutely nowhere; the ponderous brass section and elementary piano chords that the song's based on are trivial and forgettable. Maybe they were trying to 'artsify' their traditional pop stylistics a little; in fact, the number reminds me very much of Queen - it's basically the same 'opera-meets-rock' stuff you meet on Sheer Heart Attack. But unlike Queen, the Monkees' arrangements are completely trite and simplistic, and contain basically no hooks at all.

The only major surprise among these new numbers is 'You And I' that could be just an ordinary faceless Jones ballad if not for the wonderful guitar part that almost elevates the song to a soaring, emotional rock number level. When I first heard it I thought: 'hmm, they must be having a guest star guitarist on that one, like Clapton or somebody', although I was really in doubt that Clapton would ever want to play on a Monkees record. So here I am looking up the credits and see that some of the guitars on that one are played by... Neil Young! Ain't I clever? Of course, Neil ain't no Clapton, but they were real lucky to have at least this kind of talent on a song of theirs. Maybe they should dump the orchestras and just do some songs with Neil Young? What do ya think? That could have sent those little rating numbers popping up like mad!

Nah. Good as it might be, that's only one song. 'Me Without You' is the only other song among these new numbers that I can sit through with enough calm and coolness. And I won't even mention the insipid bonus tracks on here because it's no use - I can't say anything good about them, and I've already poured as much shit on this album as I could. More orchestrated pap and simplistic Nesmith country-western. Except for maybe one - the previously unissued Jones ballad 'Smile' which is actually memorable because of that wonderful chord progression in the verses (it was later used on John Lennon's 'Bless You' off Walls And Bridges). Oh, and the brass arrangements on 'Rosemarie' are rather exciting - sounds a lot like early jazzy King Crimson, although the song itself ranks among the weakest of Dolenz's excesses. It's no 'Randy Scouse Git', for sure. The others are just as bad as anything. What happened?

Aw, maybe the main reason why this album is so bad lies in the fact that it ain't funny. I mean - not funny at all. Either they suddenly thought of themselves as a serious band, or corporate songwriters just didn't care about the material any more since the Monkees were no longer a successful commercial investment. But anyway, that's the fact I gave you. There's nothing to have a good laugh about on here, and the Monkees were nothing without a good laugh.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Whoa-hoo, at least the fun is back (partly), and the Hollywoodery is retreating. But what's with that ranch sound?


Track listing: 1) Little Girl; 2) Good Clean Fun; 3) If I Knew; 4) Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye; 5) Never Tell A Woman Yes; 6) Looking For The Good Times; 7) Ladies Aid Society; 8) Listen To The Band; 9) French Song; 10) Mommy And Daddy; 11) Oklahoma Backroom Dancer; 12) Pillow Time; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Calico Girlfriend Samba; 14) The Good Earth; 15) Listen To The Band; 16) Mommy And Daddy; 17) The Monkees Present Radio Promo.

An improvement, but, as is usual with the Monkees, that's not saying much. Ironically, the album is probably the Monkees' most significant independent album - they quietly regained some studio control that they'd totally lost on Instant Replay, and wrote most of the songs on here - at least seven of the twelve tracks are credited to Nesmith, Jones and Dolenz, while the usual warhorses - Boyce and Hart - only get two credits in all (the worst credits in their life, probably). Apparently, the album was a sort of test, like on Headquarters: were they finally able to rip through the corporate songwriting and become a significant band on their own? Well, no, no chance. Because this kind of album had no chance of selling in 1969 - just like the Hollies' and the Beach Boys' contemporary efforts, it was destined to be hopelessly dated before they even started recording it. The world needed quite a lot in 1969: blues, hard rock, early prog rock, but not dated keyboard/guitar pop. So Nesmith had nothing left to do but to quit after the record predictably flopped (didn't it?)

Before that, however, he demonstrated a real affluent passion towards country-western, seminating it all over the record. Perhaps his was the idea that what the world really needed was another mediocre country rock group - after all, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and Nashville Skyline had already demonstrated the power of cowboys to the average rock-loving public, and they weren't commercial bombs either. In a certain way, he had a point, because some of the songs he contributed to Present are actually better than the Byrds' efforts at country. Why? Because they are genuine 'country rockers', while the Byrds' songs could only be called 'country rockers' because the Byrds were rockers who suddenly began singing country. Not so with, say, 'Listen To The Band', the best song on the album: while sharing all the pleasures of ranch music (banjo, steel guitar, etc.), it also has enough power in it to be truly rockin' out, not to mention a special 'manly' voice which suddenly puts Nesmith in the top range of country singers, Johnny Cash though he certainly ain't. These countryish melodies aren't really all that innovative or unexpected, but they're nice. Some of them are also fast ('Good Clean Fun', or the rambling demagogy of 'Never Tell A Woman Yes' which completely baffles me as to what was actually the moral of the whole story), and I'm ready to forgive anything for a fast country song now and then - unfortunately, that's what Sweetheart Of The Rodeo forgot to present me. 'Oklahoma Backroom Dancer' is no slouch, too, and anyway, while all of these damn tunes wouldn't cause an eyebrow to be raised after listening to Pisces, they are more than a great relief after Instant Replay and certainly display that Nesmith was not completely burned out, even if none of these songs actually stand up to his songwriting level of 1967-68.

Unfortunately, the other stuff is highly selective. The good news is that there's almost no orchestration left anywhere; the bad news is that Dolenz and Jones are responsible for quite a few uncomfortable musical ideas ranging from weird to horrid. Dolenz has suddenly started writing children songs (the decent, bouncy-bumpy 'Mommy And Daddy'), as well as crappy bubblegum pop ('Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye', the slightly better 'Little Girl'); Jones sings the abominable 'French Song' which has little to do with French songs except that the lyrics look like a bad translation of a bad French avantgarde poet, and the substance-less ballad 'If I Knew'. Finally, the two Boyce-Hart numbers, stuck in the middle of the album, are so bad that I can't call them anything but intentional sabotage of their former pets' careers; 'Ladies Aid Society' has got to be one of the worst songs ever created in the Sixties, much as I hate tossing such accusations around. Perhaps the lyrics are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but you can't really say; it's just cabaret crap with a strong misogynistic scent, obnoxious to the extreme.

Whew, which leaves us with four listenable country rockers and two or three fair enough children tunes. I think I forgot to mention that the early lullaby 'Pillow Time' gets reprised here as well; it ain't no 'Good Night', but at least it's an improvement over that wretched demo version on Headquarters.

The bonus tracks are totally dismissable, one being a ridiculous parody on a samba and the other one just a silly recited verse ('The Good Earth'; there are also alternate mixes of 'Listen To The Band' and 'Mommy And Daddy', but that don't interest me much). Altogether, I now doubt that the album really deserves a 6, but everytime I keep thinking of Instant Replay, I can't help thinking that this one is at least one point higher. It gives a kinda sorrowful but nice overall feeling - like a misguided, but not uninteresting swan song of the band. Of course, that wasn't exactly the end: Jones and Dolenz released a Nesmithless album next year, called Changes, whose review you'll be reading pretty soon. And it wasn't exactly a piece of shit... but without Nesmith, just feel free to badmouth the Monkees - I give you my leave. By the way, Nesmith formed a kind of a weird country-rock band afterwards which some people actually have heard and liked. That seems quite possible to me.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

The Monkees go out with something vaguely listenable. That's pretty cool.

Best song: 99 POUNDS

Track listing: 1) Oh My My; 2) Ticket On A Ferry Ride; 3) You're So Good To Me; 4) It's Got To Be Love; 5) Acapulco Sun; 6) 99 Pounds; 7) Tell Me Love; 8) Do You Feel It Too?; 9) I Love You Better; 10) All Alone In The Dark; 11) Midnight Train; 12) I Never Thought It Peculiar; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Time And Time Again; 14) Do It In The Name Of Love; 15) Lady Jane.

You will never ever never ever see even a mildly positive review of this album. (The main reason for this site's existence has always been to give a nice review to Changes, see? The meaning of my life is quite transparent now). And why? Because all the circumstances taken into account, this could NOT have been a decent album by any means. Nesmith quit, so the Monkees were now a duo - deprived of their main musical force, not to mention that Tork was also quite crucial to the band with his tinges of melancholy and philosophy. That leaves us with Davey Jones, the good-for-nothing part of the band, and Dolenz, who's nowhere near as despisable but also, you know, more of an actor and goofy dude than songwriter.

Naturally, the best thing would have been to sink the ship entirely, but for some reason the guys decided to carry on. That meant totally falling back on corporate songwriting, here mainly represented by Jeff Barry. Boyce and Hart didn't bother with the guys any more, and neither did Carole King. Nobody just needed them. The only original composition is Dolenz's 'Midnight Train', a funny fast countryish outtake from the 1969 sessions; and even the Barry dude didn't provide them with enough material, so once again they save the situation with some 'golden oldies' from sessions dating to as far back as 1967. This is unquestionably the end of the road and the album hardly charted at all and never yielded even a single 'classic' track like 'Listen To The Band' or something. And with the only 'serious' musician gone, the goofiness and corny fun are the only things that remain out of the whole Monkees legacy.

Now skip this generic description which you'll find in any review of this album over and let's just take a listen to this album, okay? Surprise surprise - it's not bad at all. In fact, it's full of catchy songs! I was shakin' all over with sweat on my brow trembling over the prospect of a million Davey Jones-dominated schmaltzy cornball sludgefests... not at all. 'You're So Good To Me' and 'I Never Thought It Peculiar' and 'Tell Me Love' are corny, yes, and forgettable in the long run, but there's not a single song on the album I could actually be ashamed of blasting out loud, like 'I Wanna Be Free' or something like that. In fact, a lot of 'corn' on the album is arranged as mighty powerful soul numbers with instrumentation that's not often met in schmaltzy songs - instead of spluttering the usual strings glucose over 'You're So Good To Me', for instance, the guys choose a radical guitar/organ approach. Okay, maybe they just didn't have the budget for orchestration any more? In which case it's just a lucky coincidence.

Anyway, even if we throw out the pseudo-emotional ballad stuff, there's still a lot of mild silly forgettable but enjoyable fun on the album. On a few tracks, the "band" experiments with the funky approach, as on 'Oh My My' and 'I Love You Better' - both have catchy vocal melodies and would have certainly benefited from some fiery guitar workouts (the soloing on each of them sounds as if it's been done by George Harrison around 1963), but I'll take them even as they are because a solidly composed song is a solidly composed song no matter what. Sure they both got no long-lasting value whatsoever, but... hmm... as long as I live, at least, I'll never badmouth these songs.

I won't even badmouth 'All Alone In The Dark'. I just love that song. The Mickey Mouse vocals can be hard to take, I warrant that, but we're not talking Jose Carreras here, we're talking Monkees standards. You ready to have silly fun to some cheesy Mickey Mouse vocals? Come with me and I'll show you 'All Alone In The Dark'. And 'Acapulco Sun'? The title alone would make a deeply sensitive soul cringe, but I dig it with its poppy Latin motives. See, as much as popular tastes suck (and this song is obviously directed at popular tastes), that doesn't mean they suck objectively - there sure have been thousands of better songs than 'Acapulco Sun', but since its commercial schmaltz is done pretty well as far as commercial schmaltz goes, I sure don't feel the need to dismiss it. And oh yeah, count the above philosophizing on behalf of the entire concept of the Monkees. God bless the Monkees. Would a serious band call themselves 'Monkees' anyway?

Unsurprisingly, though, the best song is still a Sixties outtake - the ferocious rocker '99 Pounds' (okay, pseudo-ferocious if you're in a dissing mood; that doesn't mean it doesn't rock anyway), among the, er, "heaviest" Monkees songs recorded. Nice idea to harden up the record with at least one song like that. The bonus tracks suck, though - two undistinguishable ballads without any hooks to speak of, and a 'Lady Jane' that has nothing to do with the Stones' track; rather it's a very weak attempt at a funk-rocker, which, unlike the other two funkers on the record, is based around a repetitive groove rather than a real melody, and the groove gets REALLY repetitive and REALLY monotonous. Sly & The Family Stone these guys sure were not. 'Nuff said.

In any case, Changes is simply not the idiotic horror it's often made to be by people who haven't really listened to it. Rather it's just a "zero significance" record - normal songs, not particularly offensive, not particularly breathtaking either. Nothing to add, nothing to lose. Well, maybe it's just the kind of swan song you'd expect from a band like the Monkees.


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