album reviews

NOTE: The Monkees didn't come together as most bands do; that is, by having common interests and musical tastes.  So what makes their albums so interesting are the vast differences in musical styles they brought to each album, especially after they gained control of what they were going to record.  What began as a folk-rock tinged sound prevalent on their first two albums quickly changed into an intricate blending of Mike Nesmith's alt-country, Davy Jones' lush romantic and broadway styles, Micky Dolenz's experimental pop and R&B leanings, and Peter Tork's laid-back avant-guard noodlings.  Add to this their unlimited resources in the studio, and you have a vast collection of songs as varied as the individual personalities that made up the group.  The Monkees sound was truly unique - and will probably never be duplicated.

The Albums, Part I (1967-1968)

The Monkees (Oct. 1966)  Colgems 101 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71790

 

The Monkees
1. (Theme From) The Monkees (Boyce/Hart) - 2:21
2. Saturday's Child (Gates) - 2:45
3.
I Wanna Be Free (Boyce/Hart) - 2:27
4.
Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day (Boyce/Venet) - 2:39
5.
Papa Gene's Blues (Nesmith) - 2:00
6.
Take a Giant Step (Goffin/King) - 2:31
7.
Last Train to Clarksville (Boyce/Hart) - 2:47
8.
This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day (Boyce/Hart) - 2:09
9.
Let's Dance On (Boyce/Hart) - 2:32
10.
I'll Be True to You (Goffin/Titelman) - 2:49
11.
Sweet Young Thing (Goffin/King/Nesmith) - 1:58
12.
Gonna Buy Me a Dog (Boyce/Hart) - 2:44
bonus tracks:
13.
I Can't Get Her off My Mind  (Boyce/Hart) - 2:55
14.
I Don't Think You Know Me  (Goffin/King) - 2:18
15
(Theme From) The Monkees  (Boyce/Hart) - :52

The Monkees debut album, overseen by Don Kirschner and featuring tracks by some of the best songwriters in the business, including Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, David Gates and an insistant Mike Nesmith is a memorable introduction to the Pre-fab four.  America gets to hear the amazing pop voice of Mickey Dolenz, the pixie cuteness of Davy Jones, and the folk-rock sensibility of the aforementioned Mike Nesmith.  Unfortunately, Peter Tork gets left out in the cold, despite believing that he would in fact be contributing to the album sessions.  "(Theme From) The Monkees" kicks things off in high style, with a special studio version which differs from the theme heard on TV, but none the worse for it.  Following this with the wonderful, anthemic "Saturday's Child," and the wistful pining of "I Wanna Be Free" leaves the listener immediately impressed with not only the songs, but the singing chops on the performers.  Mike Nesmith's "Papa Gene's Blues" is a welcome change in style, and also introduces the listener to Nesmith's dry wit, which would become more apparent on subsequent releases.  The huge hit single "Last Train To Clarksville" leads off side two of the album, and has rightly become one of the Monkees most played songs.  What's remarkable about the whole album is the seemingly jelling of so many styles and personalities.  The loose, jangle-pop blends with the tongue-in-cheek humor (listen to the goofy, but endearing "Gonna Buy Me A Dog" for evidence of the latter) and prepare yourselves to marvel at the sheer fun these guys seem to be having.  The only down point on the album is the too-sappy "I'll Be True To You" which pointed the way to more Davy Jones sentimental mush to come.  A fine, funny album, and a classic of the times.



More Of The Monkees (Jan. 10, 1967)  Colgems COM 102 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71791


 

More of the Monkees
1. She (Boyce/Hart) - 2:40
2. When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door) (Sager/Sedaka) -    1:49
3.
Mary, Mary (Nesmith) - 2:16
4.
Hold on Girl (Carr/Keller/Raleigh) - 2:29
5.
Your Auntie Grizelda (Hildebrand/Keller) - 2:30
6.
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone (Boyce/Hart) - 2:25
7.
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (Diamond) - 2:16
8.
The Kind of Girl I Could Love (Nesmith) - 1:53
9.
The Day We Fall in Love (Linzer/Randall) - 2:26
10.
Sometime in the Morning (Goffin/King) - 2:30
11.
Laugh (Margo/Margo/Medress/Siegel) - 2:30
12.
I'm a Believer (Diamond) - 2:50
bonus tracks:
13.
Don't Listen to Linda  (Boyce/Hart) - 2:28
14.
I'll Spend My Life With You  (Boyce/Hart) - 2:30
15.
I Don't Think You Know Me  (Goffin/King) - 2:19
16.
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)  (Diamond) - 2:53
17.
I'm a Believer  (Diamond) - 2:52

According to all reports, this is the album that got the pot boiling between Mike Nesmith and Don Kirchner, leading directly to the firing of Kirshner and the Monkees taking over the creative reigns of power for all subsequent albums.  Kirchner apparently threw this album together without any input from the Monkees (they didn't even know about its release and had to go buy it at the store to hear it!) But upon listening, it's clear it's not because of the material.  Although "More of the Monkees" is saddled with a couple of lesser songs, there are more than just a handful of classic numbers here to satisfy fans of sixties pop music.  As with their debut, the first three numbers are all gems: "She" is a punchy opening, with Micky Dolenz wailing it out like he's really suffering from a broken heart (pays to have a singer who can act as well, huh?)  Then Davy Jones belts out the swinging "When Love Comes Knocking" which although doesn't have the knock-you-over-the-head intensity of the opening number, is also instantly memorable.  Nesmith's "Mary, Mary" has been covered by alt and punk fans for years, and with good reason: it's the closest to straight-out rock that the Monkees have tackled yet, and they make it sound easy.  Davy again alternates on lead on the next single, the pleading "Hold On Girl," which is another showcase for his over-the-top broadway sensibility.  Peter Tork also makes his first appearance on a Monkees album here, but unfortunately he gets sidelined with the gag track "Your Auntie Grizelda."  For this reason alone, Kirshner deserved to be sacked.  Peter Tork was in fact a fine guitarist and songwriter, but in order to appease the gods of television, he is cast as "The Dumb One" not only on the tube, but on vinyl as well.  Next comes the Monkees next paen to the gods of acid-rock: "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" which would turn into a full-out raver in the Monkees live shows.  The next song "The Kind of Girl I Could Love" is a real piledriver from Mike Nesmith, a great song, but Davy's spoken-word "The Day we Fall In Love" is either sheer torture or a kitchy throw-back to more innocent times. "Sometimes In The Morning" - although a little too sweet, is ultimately disarming, and one of my personal favorites.  Next comes the strange "Laugh" with it's bizarre twisting of broadway and dance-hall sensibilities making it a stand-out cut.  Finally, the Monkees #1 hit "I'm A Believer" closes the album in stellar form.



Headquarters (May 22, 1967)  Colgems COS 103 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71792


 

Headquarters
1. You Told Me (Nesmith) - 2:22
2. I'll Spend My Life With You (Boyce/Hart) - 2:23
3. Forget That Girl (Farthing-Hatlelid) - 2:21
4.
Band 6 (Dolenz/Jones/Nesmith/Tork) - :38
5.
You Just May Be the One (Nesmith) - 2:00
6.
Shades of Gray (Mann/Weil) - 3:20
7.
I Can't Get Her off My Mind (Boyce/Hart) - 2:23
8.
For Pete's Sake (Richards/Tork) - 2:10
9.
Mr. Webster (Boyce/Hart) - 2:02
10.
Sunny Girlfriend (Nesmith) - 2:31
11.
Zilch (Dolenz/Jones/Nesmith/Tork) - 1:05
12.
No Time (Cicalo) - 2:09
13.
Early Morning Blues and Greens (Hildebrand/Keller) - 2:00
14.
Randy Scouse Git (Dolenz) - 2:35
bonus tracks:
15.
All of Your Toys  (Martin) - 3:02
16.
The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Nesmith) - 2:38
17.
Peter Gunn's Gun (Mancini) - 3:38
18. Jericho (Traditional) - 2:02
19.
Nine Times Blue [demo version] (Nesmith) - 2:07
20.
Pillow Time [demo version] (Scott/Willis) - 4:00

After Don Kirshner had been unceremoniously dumped by the band, something very strange happened.  These four guys, who had nothing in common, thrown together to act like a band, decide to actually record their own album.  It should have proven to be a disaster, but instead, the album they made, "Headquarters," became one of the finest of their careers, and a contender for one of the best albums of the sixties.  Adopting a sound between jangle-pop and folk (thanks to the influence of Mike Nesmith), they selected songs (many of which they wrote), and played and co-produced everything here as a cohesive unit; something they wouldn't do again until 1996's Justus.  It produced no hit singles, yet the album is full of fine songcraft, and some remarkable surprises for the fans, including revelatory songwriting turns by Peter Tork ("For Pete's Sake"), Mickey Dolenz ("Randy Scouse Git"), and the still inimitable Mike Nesmith ("You Told Me.")  Sprinkled in with these fine songs were their trademark comedy bits, with "Band 6" showcasing Mickey's determination to master the drums which he had faked on TV so long, and the mesmerizing patter of "Zilch," which is a tour-de-force of cyclic wordplay.  The band was still dependent on other songwriters though, and hand-picked several tracks from associates Boyce & Hart ("I'll Spend My Life With You," the haunting "Mr. Webster," and "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind"), and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (the stunning "Shades of Grey.")  But I don't think I can overstate how unprecedented this album is: for one brief, shining moment the Monkees lived and breathed as a musical force, instead of just voices in the studio.  Headquarters is worth checking out by everyone, not just for the sheer audacity of the project, but because it worked so brilliantly.



Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (Nov. 16, 1967)  Colgems COS 104 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71793


 
 
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
1. Salesman (Smith) - 2:03
2. She Hangs Out (Barry) - 2:33
3.
The Door into Summer (Douglas/Martin) - 2:50
4.
Love Is Only Sleeping (Mann/Weil) - 2:28
5.
Cuddly Toy (Nilsson) - 2:45
6.
Words (Boyce/Hart) - 2:48
7.
Hard to Believe (Brick/Copli/Jones/Rockett) - 2:33
8.
What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round? (Castleman/Murphey) -     3:02
9.
Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky (Tork) - :17
10.
Pleasant Valley Sunday (Goffin/King) - 3:13
11. Daily Nightly (Nesmith) - 2:26
12.
Don't Call on Me (London/Nesmith) - 2:28
13.
Star Collector (Goffin/King) - 3:30
bonus tracks:
14. Special Announcement 
- :36
15.
Goin' Down  (Dolenz/Hildebrand/Jones/Nesmith/Tork) -      4:46
16.
Salesman  (Smith) - 2:37
17.
The Door into Summer  (Douglas/Martin) - 2:52
18.
Love Is Only Sleeping 
(Mann/Weil) - 2:32
19.
Daily Nightly (Nesmith) - 2:31
20.
Star Collector  (Goffin/King) - 4:52

Strangely, after their creative and personal triumph of creating Headquarters, the Monkees tossed in the towel on working together as a recording group, and decided to go their separate ways, each recording their own tracks individually, then choosing the best sides for their next several albums.  PAC&J was the first of these conglomorations, and it laid the groundwork for the rest of the Monkees albums through the end of the decade (until Justus brought the group back together in 1996.)  A good album, with many fine individual songs, PAC&J begins with the honky-tonk twang of "Salesman," which, although not written by Nesmith, is strongly suited to his style.  A better song, "She Hangs Out" gives Davy Jones the chance to get a little down 'n' dirty (in fact, between this song and the later "Cuddly Toy," Davy Jones really shows his seamy side beneath that squeeky teen-idol exterior.)  As a matter of course, Nesmith, Dolenz, and Jones all get their chance to shine on this album, while Peter Tork once again gets the short shrift, having only the novelty sketch "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" allowing fans to know that he's still a part of the group.  But for fans, this is one of the Monkees strongest albums, with the powerhouse "Words," the ultra-lounge of "Hard To Believe," the wistful "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round," the trippy "Daily Nightly," the biting rebuttal of "Star Collector" and the subversive hit single "Pleasant Valley Sunday" all combining to create one of the Monkees finest offerings. 



The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. (Apr. 22, 1968)  Colgems COM 109 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71794


 
 
The Birds, the Bees, & the Monkees
1. Dream World (Jones/Pitts) - 3:16
2. Auntie's Municipal Court (Allison/Nesmith) - 3:55
3.
We Were Made for Each Other (Fischoff/Sager) - 2:24
4.
Tapioca Tundra (Nesmith) - 3:03
5.
Daydream Believer (Stewart) - 2:58
6.
Writing Wrongs (Nesmith) - 5:06
7.
I'll Be Back up on My Feet (Linzer/Randell) - 2:16
8.
The Poster (Jones/Pitts) - 2:21
9.
P.O. Box 9847 (Boyce/Hart) - 3:16
10.
Magnolia Simms (Nesmith) - 3:48
11.
Valleri (Boyce/Hart) - 2:15
12.
Zor and Zam (Chadwick/Chadwick) - 2:10
bonus tracks:
13.
Alvin [#/*] (Tork) - :27
14.
I'm Gonna Try [#/*] - 2:44
15.
P.O. Box 9847 [#/*] (Boyce/Hart) - 3:15
16.
The Girl I Left Behind Me (Sager/Sedaka) - 2:40
17.
Lady's Baby
(Tork) - 2:29

For the follow up to the successful PAC&J, the Monkees kept strictly to the formula set by the previous album: working separately, each recorded tracks using their own session players, and then brought their work together to form the album.  In fact, The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees could be considered PAC&J part II, but this time the album felt like leftovers.  Davy continued on his songwriting skills, getting the lead-off track, "Dream World," which is a catchy, memorable song, but not strong enough for a single; "Auntie's Municipal Court" is a lazy country pop ditty with Mike purposely choosing a title that had nothing to do with the lyrics.  Next comes Davy Jones warbling the lush, overly sentimental pap of "We Were Made For Each Other."  Mike pulls the albums' biggest surprise out of his hat with what sounds like psychedelic country rock: "Tapioca Tundra" begins in a swirling haze before coalescing into a fairly straightforward pop song.  The huge hit single "Daydream Believer" is next, which seemed to strike a chord with many people despite it's inpenetrable lyrics (even Davy didn't know what they meant), but it's anthemic chorus, memorable alarm-clock opening, and perpetually cheery mood instantly made it a classic.  The rest of the album runs hot and cold: from the finely-tuned pop of "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet," "P.O. Box 9847," and "Valleri" lifting up the second half of the album, while Davy's "The Poster" is charming light pop, "Magnolia Simms" is a retro-1920's novelty piece, and "Writing Wrongs" begins like a drug-induced stupor, dragging itself from an underproduced, lethargic opening then switching to a skittish instrumental jam.  The album closes with the dull, allegorical "Zor and Zam" which unfortunately never rises to the heights of inspiration that the writer seemed to intend.  Overall a middling album, with the best cuts being found on various anthologies.



Head (Dec 1, 1968)  Colgems COM 5008 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71795


 
 
Head
1. Opening Ceremony - 1:20
2. Porpoise Song (Theme from "Head") (Goffin/King) - 2:56
3.
Ditty Diego -- War Chant (Nicholson/Rafelson) - 1:25
4.
Circle Sky (Nesmith) - 2:31
5.
Supplico - :48
6.
Can You Dig It? (Tork) - 3:23
7.
Gravy - :06
8.
Superstitious - :07
9.
As We Go Along (King/Stern) - 3:51
10.
Dandruff? - :39
11.
Daddy's Song (Nilsson) - 2:30
12.
Poll - 1:13
13.
Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over... (Tork) - 2:39
14.
Swami -- Plus Strings (Thorne) - 5:21
bonus tracks:
15.
Ditty Diego -- War Chant (Nicholson/Rafelson) - 4:30
16.
Circle Sky (Nesmith) - 2:20
17.
Happy Birthday to You - 1:02
18.
Can You Dig It? (Tork) - 3:25
19.
Daddy's Song (Nilsson) - 2:06
20.
Head Radio Spot - 2:03

I heard the music to HEAD before I saw the movie, and I think that was a good thing.  The soundtrack album is a masterpiece of psychedelia, with each member of the band finally getting their due.  Interspersed throughout the tracks are snippets of dialogue taken from the film, which only increases the sense of giddy weirdness of the album.  But aside from that, it's the songs here that really shine, beginning with the transcendent and peaceful "Porpoise Song" written by the Goffin/King duo.  The thick, wall-of-sound-ish production is perfect: dreamy and surreal while Micky sings with a detachment that's still captivating.  Also his singing on the dreamy "As We Go Along" is some of the best he's ever done.  I've heard it said that not enough credit has been given to Micky for the tremendous pop voice that has graced so many of the Monkees hits, and here is the proof.  One listen, and you'll understand the depth of his talent.  Next comes the thunderous "Circle Sky" which is a studio take that Nesmith objected to; he favored the more propulsive live concert recording that was featured in the film (it's included here as a bonus track.)  But it's Peter Tork who finally and fully comes into his own with this album: the mystical and winding "Can You Dig It?" with it's ticking guitars leading off is to my mind the best song he ever wrote, and it's one of my favorite Monkees songs of all time as well.  And Peter's whimsical "Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?" is also worth checking out.  More's the pity that he soon left the Monkees after the movie was completed.  Finally, Davy Jones also gets to shine: his song-and-dance number "Daddy's Song" proving that Davy's heart and soul belong to pop music of the thirties and that he is the true precursor of later artists such as Rufus Wainwright.  A remarkable album, and one of my personal favorites.

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