NOTE: In the beginning there was... The Beatles. And the public and media went nuts. And the Beatles begat the British Invasion, which begat the Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, etc., etc.. And the marketers and presidents of large media corporations saw the money pouring into their coffers and they saw it was good. Very, very good. And they thought within their hearts: "Why can't we just make our own Beatles? It can't be that hard..." And thus borrowed shamelessly from A Hard Day's Night and threw in a rib of Herman's Hermits, and the Monkees were born. And the Monkees begat...
The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night (1964)
United Artists; Written by Alun Owen,
Directed by Richard Lester, 87 min.
REVIEW: Much has been written about how the Monkees' main impetus was this influential film, in which director Richard Lester cannily combined elements of French New Wave and Britain's The Goon Show (which was also the spark for Monty Python's Flying Circus), added the incredibly hot Fab Four into the mix, and made cinematic history. Elements which were directly incorporated into The Monkees television show were the concept of having each character use their own given names instead of using pseudonyms, having a musical group as the core group, using quick-cutting techniques in the editing process, and throwing in a cheeky, off-the-wall sense of humor which defied conventions. Both this film and the Monkees television series played up the image of long-haired rock-and-rollers simply wanting to have fun and play music, softening the deviant image which many adults attributed to the new sound. And the use of contemporary music cut into scenes of the Beatles gambolling around in an empty field was clearly the zeitgiest for the Monkees musical "romps." Watching the film now, it may strike new watchers as quaint, but the ingenuity and revolutionary impact of this film upon release can hardly be overstated. In 1964, this film was like nothing that had come before, and it rocketed the Beatles into even greater fame and respect than before, with A Hard Day's Night being considered an intelligent, intriguing form of art, miles away from the silly "Beach" movies that were to become the norm in the United States. And for Monkees fans, this film is the seed that blossomed into the pre-Fab Four in 1966, with much of the film's off-beat sensibility brought intact to the small screen.
Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart: The Anthology
Polygram International/A&M 525 193-2 [CD];
Released June 29, 1995
REVIEW: It's safe to say that without Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, there would be no Monkees - at least not as we know them today. It was their "Monkees Theme" song that began each show; it was "Last Train To Clarksville" that started the Monkees craze, even before the TV show aired; it was their musical influence that shaped not only their beginning sound, but much of what came after. And it's here, on this chock-full anthology, that you can hear echoes of the Monkees on almost every track. These solo recordings, starting from the Neil Sedaka flavor of Tommy Boyce's "I'll Remember Carol" to the Davy Jones' vibe heard on the lightly psychedelic "For Baby" to thier biggest hit, the incredibly catchy "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" - it's easy to hear how it was Boyce & Hart's sound that helped define the sound of Micky, Davy, Pete and Mike. They have a clear-cut pop sensibility to their sound, with occasional references to rock, folk, psychedelia, and the Beatles, or even the Monkees! (like "Last Train To Clarksville" guitar lick that's found on "Sometimes She's A Little Girl") No wonder they were the perfect choice to launch the pre-fab four: they were able to synthesize the sounds of America's music scene and place them in a popular context for the masses. Not that many of the songs here are as good as what you'll find on the Monkees albums - most of them sound like b-sides or second-place contestants, but with the polish and studio wizardry that B&H put on each song, they become small pop gems. Interesting too for Monkees fans will be the covers of Monkees songs found here: "I Wanna Be Free", "PO Box 9847" and "Teardrop City" receive Boyce & Hart interpretations, which cast the songs in a fresh light. Also - tacked on at the end of the disc are some prizes: five hard-to-find Dolenz-Jones-Boyce & Hart tracks from their long-deleted 1976 Capitol Records album. The tracks, from the drippy "I Love You (And I'm Glad I Said It)" to a cover of the Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers "A Teenager In Love"; and Davy Jones warbling the melodramatic "Sail On Sailor" (NOT the Beach Boys version), to the light R&B stomper "I'll Remember The Feeling" (with vocals by Micky and Davy) and the final track, the morning-after lament "It Always Hurts In The Morning". So while these tracks are not top-drawer Monkee material, this anthology is interesting, and vital for Monkees fans.
Neil Diamond: In My Lifetime
Sony/Legacy 65013 [CD];
Released September 18, 2001
REVIEW: I've always been a little hot and cold regarding Neil Diamond - while there's no denying he's a master craftsman at songwriting, and his live shows have drawn legions of fans even after his chart popularity dried up, he's always seemed to me to be an acquired taste. His rough, gravelly voice, extensive forays into adult-contemporary music, and gaudy, audacious taste in sequined attire have put me off of him for many years. I used to own several of his albums, including the seminal Jonathan Livingston Seagull soundtrack, The Jazz Singer, and Hot August Night, but over the years, my appreciation turned sour, and I simply got rid of all of his works. But I've found I can't really leave him completely alone, and that's where this three-CD retrospective has been invaluable. I mean, two of the Monkees biggest hits are from Neil's pen: "I'm A Believer" and "Little Bit Me, Little Bit You" as well as the excellent album cut "Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow" - all of which bear Diamond's distinctive songwriting stamp. While only his version of "I'm A Believer" appears on this set, it's easily the best overview of Diamond's career to date, with most of the highlights, and little of the dross which mar most of his albums. And it's hard to argue with the success of songs like "Solitary Man" "I Am, I Said" "America" or the simplicity of "The Story Of My Life" and "Play Me". Part of the reason Diamond has been so successful is that he's so hard to pin down - his unique hybrid of Folk/Rock/Brill Building styles, and his ability to pen seemingly effortless hooks make him an anomaly among his peers (if he truly has any), and show why his talents were so instrumental in the early success of the Monkees music, as well as sustaining his own longevity.
Herman's Hermits: Retrospective [Hybrid SACD]
ABKCO 719228 [CD];
Released July 20, 2004
REVIEW: Visually, the Monkees may have taken their cue from A Hard Day's Night, but musically, they were much more akin to these five Manchester lads who were groomed to appeal to the Beatles' fans younger sisters, just as the Monkees were. The Hermit's producer, Mickie Most, even brought in Brill-Building songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King for their lead-off single, "I'm Into Something Good" which immediately tipped off listeners that this catchy, incredibly poppy smash was something the 14-year olds could sink their braces into. For years, I resisted purchasing any related the HH, since after hearing their dual hits "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am" for years on the radio, I thought they would be hopelessly cutesy, (of course, these songs have their musical siblings in the Monkees "Auntie Grizelda" and "I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog") but after hearing two of their other songs, "No Milk Today" and "This Door Swings Both Ways," I rushed out to buy ALL their albums, with good things to report. Although HH weren't a pre-fabricated group, (having performed together for some time before as "The Heartbeats" when they were discovered and redubbed Herman's Hermits) their sound was exactly the templet that would be used for the first two Monkees albums, with established songwriters from both sides of the pond being tapped to write catchy hit jingles for the snaggle-toothed Peter Noone to chirp out. And this twenty-six cut CD, with bright, vivid remastering, is the ideal place to hear such pure pop gems as "End Of The World," "There's A Kind Of Hush," "East West," "Just A Little Bit Better," and "Dandy" as well as numerous album cuts which are far stronger than the casual observer might guess. Filled with huge hooks, melancholy melodies, and crystal clear production touches, Herman's Hermits would often spar with the Monkees over cover space on 16 Magazine as well as the music charts. Worth checking out as true musical counterparts of the Monkees. And their individual albums are worthwhile as well, with new remasters available with bundles of bonus tracks tacked on: Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter, Blaze, There's A Kind Of Hush, and Both Sides of Herman's Hermits.
REVIEW: Proving the old adage that it's not what you know, but who, Gary Lewis, son of Hollywood screen star Jerry Lewis was able to finagle a record deal and, with his insider's connections, squeezed songs from some of the most talented songwriters in the music business, making cutesy little pop gems which, fully a year before the Monkees hit, aimed for the same teenage girl demographic which Micky, Davy, Mike and Peter would storm in 1966. With Gary's limited vocal range, the songs here are built to match, with simplistic chord structures and narrow melodic ranges which, while making them sound akin to nursery-school rhymes, are blessed with memorable hooks and strong, chunky production, which make every song here instantly likable. And unlike Herman's Hermits above, whose catalog bears digging deeply into, this slim, ten-track collection may be all that most people will need to own from GL and the Playboys. Each of these tracks is still played on oldies stations, and each one is familiar and likable, from the tribute to his father "Everybody Loves A Clown" to the light pathos found on "This Diamond Ring", to the panoramic, summery "Green Grass" and the instant classic "Sure Gonna Miss Her" make this CD a near-perfect collection of bubble-gum pop for the gum-snapping teen crowd. The Monkees in their inception were all about this exact same ethos: songs for the sheer enjoyment of music - no drugs, shattered dreams, or depression, but music to dance to while we're young. If, after you hear this collection, and want more, I would suggest checking out their original albums, which have been reissued on two-fer collections on Collector's Choice Music: This Diamond Ring/A Session With Gary Lewis & the Playboys, and Everybody Loves A Clown/She's Just My Style.
REVIEW: ...And the Monkees were a smash hit, and pride entered their hearts, and they said in their hearts, "Hey, we don't need that snake Kirschner! We can do it all ourselves!" And so they banished the serpent Kirschner from the Garden of Monkeeland, and thus was born... The Archies. Don Kirschner, having seen first-hand what a bad case of the Egos could do to a profitable music franchise, took his cut of the settlement from being outed from The Monkees, and had an immediate hit with a group of fictional, animated characters who had no egos to bruise. Pulling in the popular comic book series Archie Comics and tying it to the same roster of Brill-Building songwriters that had sparked the Monkees phenomenon, and hiring the pure pop voice of post-Detergents member Ron Dante, Kirschner had all the ingredients for a second television hit show, this one squarely aimed at an even younger demographic than the Monkees pubescent fan base. The Archie Show, which aired Saturday mornings during 1968, used the same overall formula of music and comedy which the Monkees had abandoned by that time, and had hits with the bubble-gum goodness of the classic "Sugar, Sugar," as well as "Jingle Jangle" and "Inside Out, Upside Down" and released an asounding five albums and eleven singles between 1968 and 1972. This collection, which only has sixteen of the estimated 100-plus songs which recorded by Ron Dante for the Archies project, is a good sampling of the incredible quality and output the Archies produces in their short, but intense lifespan. Songs like "This Is Love" and "Feelin' So Good" are examples of the huge hooks these songs used to catch the pre-teen crowd's ears, and they hold up well today as prototypical pop songs. And though this is an OK sampling of the Archies hit songs, other songs, like "Everything's Alright," "Over and Over" and "Sunshine" which can be found on other compilations, are just as good, and worth seeking out as well. I would love to see a comprehensive box set collection of the songs recorded for the Archies put out, but that seems to be a pipe dream for now.
REVIEW: Columbia/Screen Gems, which had produced The Monkees television show and released their albums on their own label, desperately wanted to reproduce the hit formula which had brought so much filthy lucre into their coffers, and with Monkees creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider having moved on to motion pictures, they turned instead to songwriter Wes Farrell and producer Bernard Slade to recreate a safer, more family-friendly musical television series. Music overseer Farrell smartly pulled together Brill-Building songwriters like Cynthia Mann, Barry Weill, Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Carol Bayer to augment his own songwriting, and using members of the legendary "Wrecking Crew" studio musicians, built a sound around the prevalent use of harpsichord and the rich harmonic vocal sound of the Cowsills. Also key to the Partridge sound was the surprising rock/pop vocals and look of David Cassidy, which added an element of legitimacy to the project. But even though The Partridge Family drew a wider demographic than the Monkees ever did, their music never hit the same commercial heights as the former group; but still, their singles and albums reached the top ten several times, and the music is, if anything, a continuation of The Monkees hit sound, with strong pop/rock hooks with a definite American sound which moved even further away from the folk-rock flavorings of the Monkees, turning hit singles like "Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque" "I Think I Love You" "Together We're Better" and "Echo Valley 2-6809" into baroque-pop cantatas for AM radio. And whereas the Monkees had to answer charges of their not being true musicians, the problem was clearly addressed on The Partridge Family, with each episode carrying the disclaimer than supplemental musicians were used on all the songs. And even though thematically the Partridges were nothing like their free-spirited progenitors the Monkees, the family resemblance between the two groups is unmistakable. This CD, released on conjunction with the TV series debut on DVD, is easily the best compilation released for the Partridges, with remastered sound, extensive liner notes, and several unreleased songs finding their way for the first time onto CD.
REVIEW: Although the basic formula for the Monkees was kept intact for The Partridge Family, there are distinct differences: the producers eschewed the wacky, free-form A Hard Day's Night-stylings, and instead formed a straightforward sitcom format, which incorporated music as straight ahead performances, instead of using them as "romp" music to forward the plot, as The Monkees had done. Also, instead of using established comedy types, as the Monkees did with their characters, The Partridge Family filled in the gaps for all demographics with simple types: a teenage boy to appeal to young girls; a teenage girl to appeal to teen boys; a mother figure to appeal to parents, a smart-aleck kid for comedy business, and two young children to bring in the young demographic. The plots were threadbare contrivances for the most part, used to create family conflict, and there was also a surprisingly noticable amount of social commentary thrown in, especially in the character of teenage daughter Laurie. Adding the character of Reuben Kincaid as a token father figure and comic foil for Danny Bonaduce completed the mix. The core idea of the show, that a family breaks into show business after the death of the father, was patterned directly off real-life rock group The Cowsills, but otherwise is completely ludicrous, with the colorful school bus they use to travel from concert to concert a memorable prop, and the plots each week veering from believable (the children's trepidation over the possibility of the mother remarrying) to unbelievable (10-year-old Danny being drafted into the Army), but the sincere gravitas of Oscar-winning actress Shirley Jones, the wise-cracking genius of the aforementioned Bonaduce, and the teen-idol good looks of David Jones and Susan Dey making it all work as prime-time entertainment. The music is almost incongruous to the rest of the show, usually bringing everything to a grinding halt while the family stops to rehearse or perform the week's song plug, unlike The Monkees successful incorporation of music to further the plot or story, condensing story points or serving as a deus ex machina device to solve a problem. The first season set is supplemented with a four-song CD sampler taken from the CD above, and fans of the series will love this set.
It's A Sunshine Day: The Best Of The Brady Bunch
MCA Records 10764 [CD];
Released March 2, 1993
REVIEW: And The Partridge Family was fruitful, and mulitplied, and begat... The Brady Bunch? Well, not exactly - but with the success of Keith Partridge & Family, the producers of that other huge family hit, The Brady Bunch, figured that if they could break into the music biz, it would just generate that much more moola for them! So the producers pulled in house producer Tim O'Brien who proceed to record a series of albums for (as he termed it) "six little kids who could not sing." And a sensational singing act was born! Well, no. The main problem was exactly that the producers, instead of following the Partrige Family's lead and using mostly studio singers to lay down the vocal tracks, they used the actual actors; none of whom had a great voice - on the contrary, most of them were seemingly tone deaf! But plunging ahead with aural blinders on, such horrors as "American Pie," "I Just Want To Be Your Friend," "Sweet Sweetheart" and "Born To Say Goodbye" were all laid down, along with sugary-sweet bubble-gum pop in the form of "We Can Make The World A Whole Lot Brighter," "Keep On," "Time To Change," and "Merry Go-Round" force-fed to youngsters around the globe who tuned in each week to see their favorite TV family wear fringe-laden polyester jumpsuits and become pop stars. Along with the music, the TV writers churned out hackneyed plots which wrestled the treacly pop songs into episodes, with the kids getting together to audition for a talent show and record a single in order to raise money for their family. This uber-comprehensive CD unleashes all these horrors for now-grown baby-boomers to recapture their youth with, along with numerous other "rare" (read: should have been burned) album tracks and singles, such as the lispy "Frosty the Snowman" featuring little Cindy, Maureen McCormick's uh, interesting "Truckin' Back To You" and the "what were they thinking" Christopher Knight single "Road To Love." For me, this music was best served in the hilarous feature film parodies which used the best-known songs to hilarious effect. This CD, sure to make your ears bleed, is fun for Brady Bunch affeciandos (and they are legion), but for the sake of music, MAKE IT STOP!!
REVIEW: When Don Kirchner was fired from The Monkees' music business, it didn't take him long to pinpoint what the cause of his ouster was: rebellious actors - so for his next project, Kirchner insisted that his main characters be animated - FAR easier to deal with egos which weren't actually real! He also tapped into a rich vein of Americana with The Archies - these characters had been around for a couple of decades already, and had shown their staying power in old-time radio shows, television programs, and films, and had done a remarkable job of staying relevant during the turbulent Sixties. The television show ran for several years, in several incarnations, and resembled The Monkees television show in many ways: a slight plot, several visual and verbal gags, and with every show, a new dance was introduced with an accompanying short original song, followed immediately by a full-length original song, all quick cut together in a Monkees-style romp that prefigured modern music video styles. Watching the show 30 years on, I'm a little disappointed in the thin plots, wooden characters, shrill voice talents, and canned laugh tracks which fill every episode. But on the other hand, it's very clean humor, with not a single instance which would make parents blush, and the animation, although repetitive and flat, is buoyed by the quick-moving scripts which never linger long. And then, there's the music, which, although not at the chart-topping bubble-gum best that it would achieve later, still has it's share of catchy numbers, which is sure to bring back good memories for adults who saw then in their childhoods, and even for their children today.
REVIEW: An interesting thing happed to the Archies series in 1969: it evolved from the episodic, plot-driven vehicle it was into a quick-cut joke and music machine much like Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Hardly surprising, since the writers of that series were brought in to work on this second series. Even more interesting is that The Monkees themselves had approached Screen Gems with the idea of doing the exact same metamorphosis to The Monkees TV show, but the powers-that-be nixed that idea, and canceled The Monkees TV show instead. Watching The Archies animated version of Laugh-In gives a pretty interesting take on how The Monkees show might have been, with audience reaction, machine-fire jokes, many of which fall flat, but at the speed they come, several stick; and some which are remarkably sophisticated in their execution. The program isn't a complete free-for-all - there are frameworks in place which hold everything together: Big Ethel's How to Catch a Man, Thunderbolt Theater, The Giant Jukebox, Betty's Diary, and Sideshow - giving the viewers a sense of continuity amid the seeming anarchy. Funhouse is a better show than its predecessor: it has more style, more laughs, and the music, overseen by Kirchner and Brill Building vet Jeff Barry, was finding its niche, which consisted of tightly-written pop songs with the barest hint of an edge to them, expertly sung by Ron Dante, whose bright tenor voice was perfectly suited to the task. Archie's Funhouse seems perfectly suited to today's attention-deficit child, and should provide a fun time-warp for the parents as well. The DVD's are house in a cardboard sleeve, protected by a transparent slipcase, and the restoration looks very nice - and all in all this is a welcome addition to a family library.
REVIEW: In 1987, due to the MTV-fueled popularity spurt for the original Monkees TV series and music, auditions were held for a new TV series, with new actors, an updated sound, and (hopefully) similar smash chart and ratings success. Unfortunately, this being 1987, the sound, instead of being the charming folk-rock of the original Monkees, saddled us with Wham-like synth clones, with all of the glam hair and none of the charm. The album, released in conjuction with the TV series, bombed, drawing unflattering comparisons to the original group, and the television series was canceled after 13 episodes. Listening to the album now, it's clear that, while it's nowhere near the brilliance of the original Monkees albums, as an artifact from the eighties, it certainly stands up well with other albums of the era. And if you can divorce yourself from comparisons with the original Monkees, then New Monkees can be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure from a decade full of guilty pleasures. Listening to it now, it's evident why it bombed - not that it's "bad" - but unlike the original Monkees, who blended pop, rock, country, folk, and broadway influences in a broad tapestry of instantly-memorable music, the New Monkees were very much one-note artists - everything here is a thickly-produced dance track, with lots of shiny guitar and drum loops pounding out of every song. It's a very metallic-sound, cold and faceless, which, while appealing on its own merits, fails to generate even a milligram of the charm of "I'm A Believer", "Daydream Believer" or even the hard rock of "Circle Sky". And, instead of appealing to the tween-set, this music is highly sexual, with "What I Want", "Burnin' Desire" and "Do It Again" all ramping up the entendres to levels that the original Monkees would've blushed at. Out of print, and starting to garner collector's prices, this album will appeal to new-wave fans from the 80s who are looking for rare touchstones from the era.
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