album reviews


NOTE: By 1969, several major changes had occured to the Monkees.  First, and most damaging, was the cancellation of their television show.  The failure of "HEAD" at the box office was next, and then the dissapointment of their television special "33-1/3."  With no further desire to continue as a Monkee, Peter Tork left the group, buying out his contract, and immediately fading into obscurity for several years.  The remaining Monkees, however, still under contract, and with the Monkees name still a recognizable force, decide to take advantage of the recording studio and released several albums before finally splitting.  The 1980's and MTV brought a renewal of interest, and Rhino records reissue of the original albums and TV series have kept the Monkees in the public eye up to the present day. 

The Albums, Part II (1969-Present)

Instant Replay (Feb. 15, 1969)  Colgems 113 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71796

 

1. Through the Looking Glass (Baldwin/Boyce/Hart) - 2:42
2.
Don't Listen to Linda (Boyce/Hart) - 2:49
3.
I Won't Be the Same Without Her (Goffin/King) - 2:42
4.
Just a Game (Dolenz) - 1:49
5.
Me Without You (Boyce/Hart) - 2:11
6.
Don't Wait for Me (Nesmith) - 2:36
7.
You and I (Chadwick/Jones) - 2:15
8.
While I Cry (Nesmith) - 3:01
9.
Teardrop City (Boyce/Hart) - 1:59
10.
The Girl I Left Behind Me (Sager/Sedaka) - 2:43
11.
A Man Without a Dream (Goffin/King) - 3:04
12.
Shorty Blackwell (Dolenz) - 5:46
bonus tracks:
13. Someday Man  (Nichols/Williams) - 2:40
14.
Carlisle Wheeling  (Nesmith) - 3:11
15
Rosemarie  (Dolenz) - 2:15
16.
Smile  (Jones) - 2:20
17.
St. Matthew  (Nesmith) - 2:44
18.
Me Without You  (Boyce/Hart) - 2:12
19.
Through the Looking Glass  (Baldwin/Boyce/Hart) - 2:48

The first Monkees album to be released without the benefit of a television presence and after the departure of Peter Tork is a mixed affair.  Still able to draw from the rich songwriting well of Colgems, Boyce & Hart, Goffin & King and Neil Sedaka all produced songs for the remaining Monkees, but none of them were hits, and some of the album cuts were utterly baffling.  The album sounds as if there is no clear direction, no guiding hand, and that's very close to the truth.  Produced by each of the three Monkees at different sessions, the album is at best a mish-mash of styles that led to decidedly mixed results.  But there are some gems here: the rocking swing of "Through the Looking Glass" is pleasant enough, although the production sounds a little thin, and Micky sounds strained on his vocal duties.  Davy sings the pretty "Don't Listen To Linda" which sounds in contrast to the previous number overproduced, with strings, horns and guitars all creating a syrupy soundscape.  Mike Nesmith takes lead on the chiming Byrds-sounding "I Won't Be The Same Without Her" with thick, multi-tracked harmonies and curious, winding background vocals.  Micky Dolenz present the first of his two trippy songs "Just A Game" seems like more stream-of-consciousness patter than a proper song, but it makes for interesting listening.  Davy returns with the McCartney-esque "Me Without You" which sounds very much like the Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four."  Mike Nesmith's "Don't Wait For Me" is a solid country-blues number, and "You And I" has Davy returning to a rock stance, but is generally a forgettable song.  Mike also contributes the beautiful "While I Cry" - one of his most beautiful love songs, and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart try to capture lightning in a bottle again with "Teardrop City" but it never catches fire.  Davy adds the mid-tempo "The Girl I Left Behind Me" which is too much like his other numbers to be distinguishable, and the next number, the heavy-handed "A Man Without A Dream" is all bombast.  The album's closing song is the real head-scratcher: "Shorty Blackwell" is an indulgent avant-guard piece that does little except grate on the listener's nerves, despite fine harmonies by Micky Dolenz and his sister Coco.


The Monkees Present (Oct. 1969)  Colgems COS 117 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71797

 
 
1. Little Girl (Dolenz) - 2:00
2. Good Clean Fun (Nesmith) - 2:19
3.
If I Knew (Chadwick/Jones) - 2:08
4.
Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye (Dolenz/Klein) - 2:22
5.
Never Tell a Woman Yes (Nesmith) - 2:20
6.
Looking for the Good Times (Boyce/Hart) - 3:47
7.
Ladies Aid Society (Boyce/Hart) - 2:04
8.
Listen to the Band (Nesmith) - 2:41
9.
French Song (Chadwick) - 2:42
10.
Mommy and Daddy (Dolenz) - 2:25
11.
Oklahoma Backroom Dancer (Murphy) - 2:12
12.
Pillow Time (Scott/Willis) - 2:36
bonus tracks:
13.
Calico Girlfriend Samba  (Nesmith) - 2:32
14.
The Good Earth  - 2:33
15.
Listen to the Band  (Nesmith) - 1:38
16.
Mommy and Daddy  (Dolenz) - 2:46
17.
The Monkees Present Radio Promo 
- 1:03

By this time, Colgems had pretty much given up on the Monkees, but rather than dump them, they simply ignored them, giving them unprecented freedom in the recording studio to do pretty much whatever they wanted.  This was liberating to Micky, Michael and Davy, but it sounds like a little more control is just what this album needed.  All of their worst instincts take over, leading to some interesting, often frustrating songs.  The album begins with what appears to be Micky Dolenz on amphetimines (there's a scary thought), as the jittery, frenetic "Little Girl" unwinds. Next is a very good Mike Nesmith number, "Good Clean Fun" which is a sunny Nashville romp with some stunning banjo picking.  Davy Jones indulges his most purple romantic side in "If I Knew," which sounds much like every other Davy Jones ballad during this period.  The R&B style of Bye Bye, Baby, Bye Bye is next, with Micky's voice miked a little too closely, accompanied only by guitar and harmonica, and again containing the frantic energy of the first track.  Mike pops back up with the tipsy honky-tonk of "Never Tell A Woman Yes," followed by a great Davy Jones rocker: "Looking For The Good Times."  Next comes the tinkling piano and off-kilter humor of "The Ladies Aid Society" which is pretty funny if you're in the right mood, and Mike Nesmith's "Listen To The Band" is a fine thrashed-out alt-country rocker, which has become a standard for the Monkees in trying to win over listeners to their music.  Davy again tortures me with the faux-continental stylings of "French Song" which sounds to my ears like second-rate Barry Manilow, but then comes the kicker of the entire album:  the Micky Dolenz-penned "Mommy and Daddy" - a shocking socio-political masterpiece.  Unfortunately, this is Micky's last creative gasp with the Monkees, but what a way to go!  Closing the album are Mike's smoky bar room R&B track "Oklahoma Backroom Dancer," and the strangely touching "Pillow Time" another Davy ballad which succeeds due to it's simple sentiment and production.


Changes (June 1970)  Colgems 119 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 71798

 
 
1. Oh My My (Barry/Kim) - 3:02
2. Ticket on a Ferry Ride (Barry/Bloom) - 3:29
3.
You're So Good to Me (Barry/Bloom) - 2:33
4.
It's Got to Be Love (Goldberg) - 2:25
5.
Acapulco Sun (Albright/Soles) - 2:54
6.
99 Pounds (Barry) - 2:28
7.
Tell Me Love (Barry) - 2:38
8.
Do You Feel It Too? (Barry/Kim) - 2:37
9.
I Love You Better (Barry/Kim) - 2:27
10.
All Alone in the Dark (Albright/Soles) - 2:52
11.
Midnight Train (Dolenz) - 2:07
12.
I Never Thought It Peculiar (Boyce/Hart) - 2:28
bonus tracks:
13.
Time and Time Again 
(Chadwick/Jones) - 2:39
14.
Do It in the Name of Love  (Bloom/Goldberg) - 2:08
15.
Lady Jane  (Bloom/Goldberg) - 2:45

Well, this is where it all fell apart.  Mike Nesmith decided to cut ties with the Monkees after The Monkees Present, leaving only Mickey and Davy to fulfil their contractual obligations.  I shudder at the thought of having to listen to an album made strictly for business purposes, but unlike most Monkees fans, I like this album a lot.  First, it was produced and mostly written by Jeff Barry, one of the great Brill-building songwriters of the early sixties; second, it introduces a completely new sound to Mickey and Davy, one which seems to suit them well.  It's a soul record, with slight touches of psychedelia and R&B thrown in, and it's all very well produced.  Of course it flopped - it's not by any stretch of the imagination an album for the heavy-breathing teenagers who once worshipped at Davy's throne - this is an adult album, and a surprisingly effective one.  It begins with the hushed insistancy of "Oh My My" which is a dirty R&B number which Micky whispers his way through.  Next comes my favorite track: "Ticket On A Ferry Ride" which is the Monkees last stab at psychedelia, it's a very dreamy song with rich harmonies.  Davy then tackles "You're So Good To Me" which is a complete change of persona for him - it starts with hazy guitars and churns into a nice R&B number.  Next comes the driving honky-tonk of "It's Got To Be Love" and finally, the song I consider to be the first real clunker on the set: "Acapulco Sun" which is just a half-baked reggae number complete with whining background vocals.  The album bounces back again with Davy (!) roaring out white soul (!!!) on "99 Pounds."  I LOVE IT.  But the album takes another artistic dib with the simplistic three-note "Tell Me Love," and sinks a little lower with old-school Davy rearing his sentimental head to plead "Do You Feel It Too?" (with horrible 'me and you too' lyrics.)  The next song, "I Love You Better" is a first for the Monkees: hot R&B fused with Gospel - and it works very well.  "All Alone In The Dark" is a curiosity: a bouncy novelty number that sounds like a cross between The Lovin' Spoonful and Paul Williams.  The album winds down with Mickey's wonderful patter song "Midnight Train" which receives a fine chugging production from Jeff Barry, and the album closes with Davy singing "I Never Thought It Peculiar" which with it's tap-dance rhythms and changing time signatures, makes for an interesting cut.  Altogether an intriguing album and worth checking out.



Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart (1976) Capitol Records ST-11513 [LP]


1  Right Now (Boyce/Hart) - 3:39
2  I Love You (And I'm Glad to Say It) (Boyce/Hart) - 3:05
3  You and I (Dolenz/Jones) - 2:45
4  Teenager in Love (Pomus/Shuman) - 2:56
5  Sail on Sailor (Trevor) - 4:35
6  It Always Hurts Most in the Morning (Boyce/Dolenz) - 3:27
7  Moonfire (Martin) - 3:29
8  You Didn't Feel That Way Last Night (Boyce/Hart) - 2:23
9  Along Came Jones (Leiber/Stoller) - 3:28
10  Saving My Love for You (Dolenz/Jones) - 3:24
11  I Remember the Feeling (Boyce/Hart) - 3:19
12  Sweet Heart Attack (Boyce/Hart) - 2:50
Although it wasn't a Monkees album proper, in 1976, this was the closest thing to it, with the two main lead voices of the Monkees (Micky and Davy) and the two songwriters (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart) who were responsible for the Monkees string of early hit singles.  Trying to capture lightning in a bottle again, the foursome came up with a group of original songs and covers.  The album begins with the "Porpoise Song"-like "Right Now" which devolves into a syrupy ballad with Davy crooning over a large group of backing vocalists.  "I Love You" is an OK mid-tempo ballad typical of the "sensitive" confessionals which satuarated the airwaves in the 1970s, but I'm already thinking while I'm listening to this, where's the fun?  The first half of the album is filled with dismal tempos, when it should have had some hot guitar licks and pop hooks kicking things off.  The third track is the original version of "You And I" which later showed up on the Monkees Justus, and here it sounds like a lost John Denver song, with prominent slide guitar and reverb-drenched vocals.  The cover of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers "Teenager in Love" is a clunky anachronism, which only serves to remind the listener than these pop idols are no longer on the cover of Sixteen magazine.  "Sail On Sailor" is a dull, pedantic ballad by Davy, but produced with nice harmony vocals.  The final track on side one is the most interesting, with the chugging, upbeat rocker the first of two "morning after" regret themes found on the album.  Side two is much more engaging, however, with the interesting dark metal rocker "Moonfire" kicking things off, sung with only somewhat restrained histrionics by Micky, and containing baffling pseudo-mystical lyrics.  "You Didn't Feel That Way Last Night" is another high-energy rocker, again with morning-after lyrics, and again with a barely reigned-in Micky tackling the vocals, with some interesting spacey sound effects.  "Along Came Jones" is easily the wierdest song here, a country/story-song/melodrama which manages to recapture some of the zany Monkees vibe which has been sorely missing on other tracks.  Unfortunately, "Saving My Love" is a torturous, dumbell rocker saddled with lyrics which make no sense, but "I Remember The Feeling" is one of the best tracks, with a catchy hook and a Monkees folk-rock feel, and has the bonus of having Micky and Davy trading off lines.  The final number, the R&B churner "Sweet Heart Attack" has a terrible lyric (again), but is carried off by Micky, and finishes the album nicely.  There's some interesting things here, but this album is too scattershot in its successes to be considered necessary.

Pool It! (1986)  Rhino R1-70706 [LP] / Rhino CD R2 70706


 
 
1. Heart and Soul (Byrne/Howell) - 3:53
2. (I'd Go The) Whole Wide World (Goulden) - 2:55
3.
Long Way Home (Eastman/Hart) - 3:49
4.
Secret Heart (Fairweather/Page) - 3:43
5.
Gettin' In (Tork) - 3:01
6.
(I'll) Love You Forever (Jones) - 3:20
7.
Every Step of the Way (Clarke/Hunter) - 3:19
8.
Don't Bring Me Down (Teeley/Wyka) - 3:37
9.
Midnight (David) - 4:27
10.
She's Movin' in With Rico (Howell) - 3:19
11.
Since You Went Away (Levine) - 2:34
12.
Counting on You (Green) - 3:47

Boy, lots of Monkees fans hate this record, and with good reason: it tried to update the sound of the Monkees, but unlike Changes, it didn't do it well, and despite Pool It! being made sixteen years after Changes, it sounds more dated than the latter.  Recorded during the big Monkees revival during the mid-80's, Pool It! has a few things to recommend it, so let's start with those: first, who would've thought that Peter Tork would ever return to the Monkees and become the best thing about a new album?  His two songs are by far the most interesting on Pool It!, with the surprising new-wave synthesis of "Gettin' In" showing a remarkable up-to-date (at the time) knowledge of trends and styles that compares favorably to other, contemporary artists.  His other song, "Since You Went Away" is hilarious - a comic farce with strong echoes of ELO's "The Diary of Horace Wimp."  The rest of the album fares somewhat worse, although the over-blown arena rock of "Heart and Soul" still manages to impress, and "Midnight" is a better than average rocker, with a slinky sensibility about it.  The rest of the album ranges from forgettable 80's rock (the poorly written chest-thumper "Whole Wide World,") the generic disco of "Secret Heart" and "Don't Bring Me Down," and the syrupy, why-won't-they-die ballads of Davy Jones ("Love You Forever," "Long Way Home.")  Then there are the Davy Jones crash-and-burn songs: apparently his then-current wife goaded him into believing that he was on par with Bruce Springsteen and so here we have the heavy-metal histrionics of "Every Step Of The Way" with Davy's hiccupping whoops, and the infamous, less-said-the-better soap-opera fodder of "She's Moving In With Rico."  Davy does have one redeeming moment on the album: to my ears the simple sentiment found in the closing number "Counting On You" works - it's played and sung very gently, and Davy's interpretation finds the truth in the admittedly contrived sentiment.  So, there you have it - approach this album with extreme caution.


Justus (Oct. 15, 1996)  Rhino CD 72542

 
 
1. Circle Sky (Nesmith) - 3:33
2. Never Enough (Dolenz) - 2:58
3.
Oh, What a Night (Jones) - 3:12
4.
You and I (Chadwick/Jones) - 2:57
5.
Unlucky Stars (Dolenz) - 3:11
6.
Admiral Mike (Nesmith) - 3:23
7.
Dyin' of a Broken Heart (Dolenz) - 3:09
8.
Regional Girl (Dolenz) - 3:16
9.
Run Away from Life (Tork) - 2:43
10.
I Believe You (Tork) - 3:41
11.
It's My Life (Dolenz) - 3:41
12.
It's Not Too Late (Jones) - 4:03

My hopes were high when I heard rumors that The Monkees - all four original members - were convening in a recording studio to do something they had done only once before: create an album all by themselves.  The last time they did this, in 1967, they had created a minor masterpiece with Headquarters, and now they apparently wanted to do it again.   But even more, they were not only going to do it alone, they were going to do it completely insulated from anyone else - they were going to write, play, sing and produce every song without outside help of any kind.  To my thinking it was audacious, but I was certain they could still pull it off.  Unfortunately, when I heard the finished product, my hopes were dashed - Justus is about as light and carefree as a trip to the psychiatrist, and as fun.  The sound the Monkees created here is decidedly lo-fi, almost garage-rock, with heavily distorted vocals on some songs, and grungy playing and heavy-handed songwriting mixed rather carelessly.  Mike Nesmith apparently wanted to "show" the critics exactly what the Monkees could do -  but the sheer youthful inventiveness that sparkled on their early recordings is gone here - now it all sounds grim and, well, old.  There are some bright points: Davy's "You And I" is winning, despite it's simple sentiments, and Mickey's "Regional Girl" is memorable as a dark, slightly menacing tale.  Peter's two songs both sound skewered and off-kilter, and not in a good way, and Mikes two songs, one a ferocious remake of "Circle Sky," and the second, the slightly autobiographical "Admiral Mike" are just heavy, thudding clunkers.  [Note to Mike: next time you write a song, don't try to prove anything, just write a good hook, OK?]  Of the rest of the tracks, only "Never Enough" proves to have any catchy hook to it, and by the end of the album, I can honestly say I've had enough.



Good Times!
 Rhino R2 553592 [CD/MP3]
Released May 27, 2016


1. Good Times 2:46
2. You Bring the Summer 3:00
3. She Makes Me Laugh 3:01
4. Our Own World 2:45
5. Gotta Give It Time 2:17
6. Me & Magdalena 3:33
7. Whatever's Right 2:00
8. Love to Love 2:29
9. Little Girl 2:42
10. Birth of an Accidental Hipster 3:31
11. Wasn't Born to Follow 2:53
12. I Know What I Know 3:30
13. I Was There (And I'm Told I Had a Good Time) 2:15

REVIEW:  Wow.  Twenty years since the last Monkees of all-new Monkee material, here comes, in time for the 50th Anniversary, comes Good Times!  A stunning album of material culled from old, uncompleted tracks, new tracks by modern-day alt-pop Monkees fans, and even some new material from the Monkees themselves!  Producer Adam Schlesinger as well as Andrew Sandoval had the brainstorm to put together a Monkees album in the time-proven way the band used to do it at the beginning of their careers; namely, get top-flight songwriters who understand the Monkees legacy and sound, and have them submit songs.  Fortunately, Micky, at 71, still has the vocal chops to pull off the sweet pop slices served up here, but even Mike and Peter (74) make mighty contributions, with Mike's and Micky's sweet duet "Me & Magdelna" a real highlight, and Peter's rambling, easy-going "Little Girl" and Mike's superb "I Know What I Know" fitting additions.  Davy shows up via a polished-up "Love To Love" as well, but Micky's the real star here, along with the songs which easily could have shown up on The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees or Head.  If I have any criticism, it's that the sound is a bit too slavishly attempting to mimic the sweet jangly psychedelia which the Monkees excelled at in the late Sixties - the sound is firmly rooted in that era.  Backward glances, such as in the "Circle Sky"-inspired rocker "Birth of An Accidental Hipster" and Micky's "I Was There (And I'm Told I Had A Good Time)" turn the album's chronometer firmly in reverse, while still having all the modern polish Schlesinger can bring to the table.  Fave tracks include "You Bring The Summer," "She Makes Me Laugh," "Our Own World," "Whatever's Right," and "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster", and "I Know What I Know" but there's not a clunker on the whole album.  Right on.  Make sure you check out the iTunes-only release, which has several bonus tracks unavailable elsewhere.


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