Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More of the Monkees

 More of the Monkees
The second album that the Monkees released came as a total surprise even to them. Their TV show was a huge success and they were getting offers to perform live. So during the television shows down time they would perform concerts across the country. In the meantime they were also, especially Mike, trying to get control of playing their own music on their records. At that time Mike was having even a hard time getting to play on his own songs that he produced for the albums. Nesmith was told that he could produce and sing on the records but he was not allowed to play his own guitar on the records.

During one of their concert tour's, the Monkees found out that a second album was released without their knowledge. This was more ammunition in their fight for control of their music. The way the album got released was that the group had recorded so much music that there was too much for the first album. If the group wasn't so successful it may have taken longer to release a second album and some of these songs may not have been released at all. But their executive music producer, Don Kirshner, put together these songs to make up the second album. There were so many producers on this album that, for a while, it held a record as the most producers on one album.

All of the Monkees, especially Mike and Peter, had been trying to get to play their own instruments on their records. They were upset that this album was released without telling them and they were not happy with some of the choices of what songs were put on the album. It was because of this that Mike lobbied successfully for the group to play their instruments on future records. The television producers were okay with this. However, Don Kirshner, was not. During a meeting with Mr. Kirshner and his entourage Mike was so upset that he threatened to quit. Someone in the group told him you better read your contract. It was then that Mike seemed to lose control and turned and put his fist through the wall then he turned and said, "That could've been your face." I recall reading several years later in an interview that Mike said he knew the wall was made of plaster and could see where the two by fours were so he wouldn't break his hand when he hit the wall. The producers of the show were really Mr. Kirshner's boss and told him that the B side of the next single would have the group playing their own instruments. Kirshner play a trick and released the next single, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, in Canada first but the B side had his production of She Hangs Out which only had Davy singing on the song  and no one else from the group. Once the television producers found out they recalled the single and released the correct version with the whole group playing on the song titled The Girl That I Knew Somewhere. Then they quickly fired Don Kirshner.
There first album nearly cemented the Monkees image as a pop rock or, as what it later became known as, bubblegum rock band. However, they start off this album with what at that time could have been a hard rock song. The song is kind of bleak, especially if you take the lyrics on their own. It’s about a man who has broken up with a woman. It isn’t clear if he initiated the break up or if she did. What is clear is that she had him wrapped around her finger. It starts with him singing “She told me that she loved me and like a fool I believed her from the start. She said she’d never hurt me but then she turned around and broke my heart. “ But, along the way in the song he still says he loves her.  In the middle of the song you kind of start to wonder if he has broken up with her because he sings, “and now I know just why she keeps me hanging round. She needs someone to walk on so her feet don’t touch the ground.” No matter if he broke up with her or not he is still in conflict as he knows he needs to end the relationship but he still cares for her. It ends with one of the best endings I have ever heard on a song as Micky sings, “Why am I missing her. I should be kissing her.”The song is about a man in conflict. He loves this woman but knows he is better off without her. The song was written and produced by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. It is one of the best songs they did with the Monkees. It proves that they should have stayed as producers of the group. With songs like this they could have directed the group in a more mature direction with their music.
Around the time that the Monkees recorded the song it was also done by Del Shannon. It was on its way to being a hit but then stations stopped playing it. Why? Because the Monkees had released it on this album. They were huge and nothing could stop the Monkees juggernaut. I heard a rumor that the song was inspired by the movie She that starred Ursula Andress that was out in 1965. The song wasn’t released as an A side on a single in America but it was in other countries and did very well on the charts in those countries ,like Mexico, where it was a top 40 hit.
When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door)

Not much to say about this song but it is one of those little gems that you won’t hear from a band if you only listen to their hits. Listen close and you will hear that there are no drums on the song. There are plenty of great guitar licks on the song but it sounds great when sung a cappella, which Davy, Micky and Peter have done in some concerts.

Mary, Mary

This song proved that Mike Nesmith had what it takes to be a top flight songwriter. Many people wrote in to their record label saying something like, “How dare Nesmith claim he wrote Mary, Mary. It was done earlier by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on their East West album.” They wrote some of them back telling them that he did write the song and they can see it if they looked at the writers credit on the album. The first CD version of the song when this album was released by Arista I believe in 1982, included the extended version of Mary,Mary. It sounded the same up till the last few seconds when you hear Micky scream “Wow! Mary where ya going to? Mary,Mary.” After that the regular version has been released ever since.

Hold on Girl

This song was written by Billy Carr, Ben Raleigh and Jack Keller. It was produced by Jeff Barry and Jack Keller. Jack Keller was already a hit songwriter with the songs "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "Venus In Blue Jeans" to his credit. In 1966 when Aldon music became part of Columbia Pictures he moved to Los Angeles, CA. Soon he became involved in writing and producing for the Monkees.  His contribution to the Monkees legacy didn’t include any hit songs in the USA but he did some great album cuts and Hold on Girl is one of them.  Later Mr. Keller wrote a couple of hits for Bobby Sherman. They were “Seattle” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.” He moved to Nashville where he wrote for performers like Crystal Gayle, Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes, Ray Charles and more. In 2005 he passed away at the age of 68 from leukemia.
This song isn’t a very fast song but an even slower version was released years later by Rhino records on the album Missing Lings Volume 2.
Your Auntie Grizelda
Jack Keller also co-wrote this song with Diane Hildebrand. The sad thing is that this is where the album takes a dip in quality. The song tries to come off like a pre-teen version of the Rolling Stones song 19th Nervous Breakdown. With the pedigree of the writers and being produced by Mr. Keller and Jeff Barry this should have been a pretty good song. Since it was Peter’s only solo lead performance fans wanted it to be good but let’s face it the song is terrible. Maybe one day a really great singer or group will do a cover and show how good it could be but till then I still say it is terrible. Peter is a fine singer but this song doesn’t show it. The part that sticks in my mind are the awful mouth noises that Peter makes.  I don’t know the reason why Peter was chosen to sing this song. Maybe they wanted to show him a little more since he usually sings background. Perhaps they wanted this song to appeal more to the very young fans and since Peter was the most approachable for the children they asked him.
. Whatever, the reasoning Peter should have respectfully passed on this song.
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
In the early days of the rock and roll era there was what came to be known as the double sided hit record. The A side was usually the song that the label had the most faith in becoming a hit. Sometimes the B side would get air play and show enough strength to score well on the charts. This song was the first B side for the Monkees that gave them a double sided hit. It went to #20 on the charts in the USA. The song was really a cover as it was recorded and released by Paul Revere and the Raiders on their album Midnight that was release earlier in the spring of 1966. More of the Monkees was released in November of 1966. Thanks to it being on the show and doing so well on the charts it has been and always will be seen as a Monkees song. The Monkees are known for being a light pop/bubblegum rock band but with songs like this, She and Mary, Mary on the album it could have been one of their heaviest rock band albums. Since that time many punk and heavy rock bands have released the song. The most popular of those bands was the Sex Pistols. For some reason it really strikes a cord with many bands in England. In 1996 it was a hit on the British charts for the musical/comedy duo PJ and Duncan. It reached the #11 position on the charts for them.
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
Side two starts out with this upbeat tune written by Neil Diamond. It is positive sounding song about a tough decision for a young single man, choosing between two women, Sandra and Mary. The man can’t decide and sees nothing but sorrow when he makes his decision. It is a very good pop tune and if it were released as a single I think it would have done well. It may not have made #1 but I think it would have made the top 10 on the Billboard charts. Most of the Monkees are on the song as Davy sings lead and Micky and Peter are heard in the background. The song has been covered by the Canadian band Forgotten Rebels, Indie rocker Ben Gibbard and even Neil Diamond himself.
The Kind of Girl I Could Love
Here is an upbeat country/rocker written by Mike Nesmith and Roger Atkins. This would be the last time that Nesmith would be listed as a co-author on a Monkees tune except for tunes that were written by all of the Monkees. Vocally the whole group make appearances on this song as they had to stick to Krishner’s rule that they don’t play on the records. Kind of sad that Nesmith couldn’t play the guitar on songs he wrote and produced. That rule still didn’t stop Papa Nez from turning out a good country rock tune. Thanks to tunes like this the Monkees helped paved the way for groups like the Byrds and the Eagles. After the TV series ends their movie and TV special flop Nez tried to steer the Monkees into being a country rock band. They nearly became an R and B band on one of their last tours of the sixties when they were back by Sam and the Goodtimers.
The Day We Fall in Love
Here is where the album takes another dip in quality. A song where there is no singing. Normally a song like this would be saved for the member of the group that couldn’t sing. But this has Davy as the lead and we know he can sing. All of them can. It is just Davy reading what is basically a love poem with music in the background. This is the one song, if you can call it that, where they didn’t care if the little boys liked it at all. It was all for the little girls who had a crush on Davy. The thing is I think it fell flat even there. Over the years I have heard some female fans tell what their favorite Monkee songs are by Davy. The one I have never heard mentioned is this one.
Sometime in the Morning
This is perhaps one of the most beautiful ballads I have ever heard. In a departure from having Davy sing the love songs they had Micky sing this tune. It was a wise choice but if Davy had to choose between this song and The Day We Fall in Love he should have taken this one. Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote the song but are also listed as co-producers of the song with Jeff Barry. Mainly because when Goffin and King produced a demo they did it so well that it was ready to be released as a single. That is how Carol King got her hit song in England It Might as Well Rain Until September. It was given to Don Kirshner as a demo but he liked it so much he released it as a single. With this song all Jeff Barry had to do was record Micky and dub his vocals over Gerry Goffin’s. If you listen real carefully you might be able to hear Miss. King singing in the background. Recently Micky covered the song again for his solo CD King for a Day, when he recorded some of his favorite Carol King songs.
Another dip in quality but not nearly as bad as the last two. There isn’t much I can think of to say about this little innocent song. Since this is the cast of a sit-com making the record it isn’t hard to imagine them doing a song about laughing at silly things in life at that time. What I did find odd was to see that one of the great Bass players in session music, Carol Kaye, was on it. She started as a guitar player for the first 5 years of her career and only switched to bass when the original bassist didn’t show up for a session. I got that info from her bio on her site at http://www.carolkaye.com/. She has played with everyone from Ritchie Valens to Frank Sinatra, from the Beach Boys to Ike and Tina Turner. She has worked under the direction of Jeff Barry,Quincy Jones,Elmer Bernstein, Hugo Montenegro, John Williams, etc. She has written well received books on the Electric Bass and is the one responsible for actually changing the name of the bass. It was originally called the Fender Bass but with her book How to Play the Electric Bass the name was changed. She is perhaps the one musician who is on more hit records thean any other.
I'm a Believer
Here is the big one, and I do mean big one, on this album. By the time this album and the single was released the TV show was playing worldwide. In every country where the show played this song was #1 on the charts. It held the position for 7 weeks in the USA on the Billboard charts. It helped make a name not only for the Monkees but also Neil Diamond who wrote the song and was in the early stages of his long career. With this as #1 and (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone as the B side reaching #20 it is one of the greatest double sided hits in rock and roll history. With this song the Monkees became superstars in the music business. It became a signature song for the Monkees and Micky Dolenz himself as he sings it in his solo concerts.
Again the Monkees are represented well vocally here with three fourths of the group on the song. Micky is lead and Davy and Peter are in the background.
The album as a whole holds up pretty well. Nesmith said in an early interview that this was one of the worst albums in music history. I totally disagree. There are a couple of songs I would have left off but overall it is a good album. I have a feeling that Mr. Nesmith’s statement was really a way to vent his anger at not being told the album was coming out or being able to play on or choose what songs he wanted on the album. I understand that but there is no way this was the worst in music or even Monkees history.
If you ever thought that the album photo looked familiar there is a good reason for that. It was to look like a Monkees version of the Beatles album cover Rubber Soul. It was also an advertisement for a line of Monkees clothing that JC Penny was selling to kids at that time. The Monkees merchandising machine didn’t miss a trick with this album.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Monkees

The Monkees first album, while one of their better albums, has always seemed a bit uneven to me. Thanks to their connection to Don Kirshner they had access to some of the finest songwriters in the business. They may not have liked Mike Nesmith pushing to get his songs on the album but the ones they put on this album proved that he could hold his own with the more seasoned professionals.
(Theme From) The Monkees
First let’s talk about the opening song (Theme From) The Monkees. Boyce and Hart contributed a great up-tempo opening song for a sit-com and that alone deserves to place it on the first album. The session musicians are not perfect on the song and Micky Dolenz, the only Monkee on the song, shows for the first time his excellent pop vocals. Those vocals would eventually have many think of him as one of the best vocalist in rock and roll history.  Still this should be the last time the song would be on an album. It was never released as a single in the USA that would reach the top 100 of the charts. Yet every time they release a Greatest Hits album this is always the first track on the album.
Saturday's Child
Next is an early David Gates song called Saturday’s Child. The session musicians seemed to have gotten it all wrong here. They don’t sound professional at all. They sound like a garage band.  But maybe that is what they were going for with this song. After all on their show they were supposed to be a garage band trying for the big time. Still the background vocals sound like the singers are singing from a hole in the ground. The instrumentals don’t sound as full as they could have been. A good song but it could have been better produced.
I Wanna Be Free
Another song by Boyce and Hart is I Wanna Be Free. I don’t think a bad version of this song could be produced. A more upbeat version was produced with vocals by Davy and Micky and that version made it into the pilot episode of the series. The album version is slowed down more and makes the song a ballad. Davy does his usual excellent vocals on this and I am sure this song is what proved to them to hand over the love songs to him. It was produced as an acoustic song. The instruments are at a minimum but there are a few strings and Davy is backed by some beautiful guitar playing.
Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day
Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day is one of the songs that, while preformed by professional session musicians, sounds like a very good garage band. It’s songs like this that show Boyce and Hart knew what they were doing. The songs may not be considered hit material but they kept the feel of the TV show in mind. After all they were supposed to be a very good but struggling rock band. It has quite a bit of bluegrass twang in it and that makes me wonder if Nesmith had any influence in this one. I have read that he was so busy producing his own music in another studio that Boyce and Hart rarely saw him. But I can imagine him sticking his head in and making a couple of suggestions.
Papa Gene's Blues
Papa Gene’s Blues is a Nesmith composition that kind of was a harbinger of things to come with the relationship with Mr. Nesmith. As a matter of fact the album cover itself shows the tension as well. On the cover Nesmith seems to be saying something. Rumor has it that he was getting impatient with the photographer and said he had till the count of three to take the picture. Just as he said the number 3 the photographer took the picture and they used that for the cover. It actually makes the cover better then to see all four of them just smiling as you have the sense that something is going on. Next this song was misprinted on the cover of the album as Papa Jean’s Blues. The album was recalled and the cover was changed to Papa Gene’s Blues. The song itself was a good pop/country tune. Nez really wanted the cast to become a band and was usually successful at getting the others to join him in the audio studios. I’m sure Peter was the easiest to convince as he too wanted the cast to become a band. However, I think if Peter were in charge they would have headed in a pop/folk direction instead of the pop/country direction Nesmith took them in. Peter plays third chair guitar on this song but is hard to hear on the recording. Micky is also rumored to be singing some background vocals.
Take A Giant Step
If any song on the album, other than Last Train to Clarksville, could be a hit song it was, in my opinion, Take A Giant Step.  The record label must have thought it had possibilities as well as  it was the B side to Clarksville. Back then record companies tried to have hit songs on both sides. If DJ’s decided to play both sides then they had a double sided hit on their hands. After awhile this practice stopped and they started putting songs they knew wouldn’t be a hit on the B side so more attention would be given to the song on the A side. But the one thing that held this song back from being a hit is that the production wasn’t as polished as the sound for Last Train to Clarksville.
Last Train to Clarksville
Next on the album was the big hit song Last Train to Clarksville. What can I say about this song that hasn’t been said before? Not much actually. It was one of the best produced songs on the album and a wise choice for them to release as the first single for a new group. I say a new group as the single was released before the television series so few new this was part of a soundtrack to a new TV series with vocals by members of the cast. By now most fans know that Boyce and Hart wrote it as a war protest song.  A solider is calling his girlfriend to take the last train to Clarksville before he ships out to war. There is no mention of the military or war in the song so it could very well be sold as a pop tune to the little children who would think it was about puppy love. The song is a little bit of an odd mix. They lyrics are kind of a downer on their own. When he says “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home” he is talking about his possible death. But the tempo is upbeat and fast and breezy enough that you don’t think about that at the time. Of all the songs on this album this was the one most influenced by the Beatles. Bobby Hart turned on the radio and heard the end of the Beatles new song Paperback Writer. He thought they were singing “take the last train.” That misunderstanding was the inspiration for the song. The team also knew of the potential musical/comedy series that would become the Monkees and they were looking for songs for the show. At that time the Beatles were famous for saying the phrase “yeah, yeah, yeah” in most of their hits. So, in answer to that, they included the phrase, “Oh no, no, no” in this song. As you can see, it worked. Many think this was a huge hit worldwide. It was in America as it went straight to number one. It did well in other countries but didn’t top the charts worldwide. That would have to wait a few more weeks for another song when the show was playing in those countries.
This Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day
This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day is a fast breezy song for Davy that was perfect for almost any of their episodes were things went from bad to worse. Of course that fit almost all of their episodes. It was used for more than one musical montage in the first season.  Davy was the perfect choice for this song as it tells of a love gone wrong and Davy was on screen the heartthrob that fell in love at the drop of a hat. The instruments used were typical to use on a pop tune and kept the music flowing with its upbeat tempo but there was a sound that was out of the ordinary for a tune dedicated to younger children. There was an instrument that had recently been used by the Beatles, the Sitar. The Sitar wasn’t on this song but an instrument, I believe it was the Harpsichord, that sounds a little like a Sitar. You hear it more plainly when the singing stops. It gives an added dimension to the song and the story it tells.
Let's Dance On
Let’s Dance On is in the mode of the typical dance tunes of the day. It even mentions some of the dances that many teens were doing at local high school dances. The lyrics go “You’re doing the Pony. Now you’re doing the Jerk.  Come on baby. Let me see how you work.” The Monkees may have been televisions answer to the Beatles but to me this song sounds like an early Beach Boys tune. In some way it is kind of an answer song to their tune Dance, Dance, Dance. It was the B side of the single Warmth of the Sun in 1964 and included on their 1965 album titled Today. 
I'll Be True To You
I’ll Be True To You is the typical love song that Davy would quickly become known for as he handle those songs well and was being guided in the direction of becoming known as the cute Monkee in the same way that girls were referring to Paul as the cute Beatle. The song is well produced and typical of the love songs that many TV personalities were recording back then. It would be easy to hear someone like Paul Peterson or any other teen idol sing this song. What young girl wouldn’t love to have Davy proclaim how he would be true to them even when the other girls go by. The song was originally release by the Hollies under the title Yes I Will.
Sweet Young Thing
Sweet Young Thing, like Papa Gene’s Blues, is another song where Nesmith shows his innovation. Papa Nez could see Country Rock coming down the pike and produced a first class country rocker here. Rumors about this song did cause a stir but very briefly. The lines “I know that something very strange has happened to my brain. I’m either feeling very good or else I am insane,” was seen to be a reference to drugs and the title was a reference to a man attracted to an underage girl. If those rumors were true there is no way this song would have been on the album. Ever the one to strive for a unified group sound Nez has Peter playing one of the guitars and he also sings background with Micky.
I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog
The song that got on the album in a format other then intended was I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog. After long days spent filming their show, Boyce and Hart were happy to see any of the Monkees show up for their recording sessions. Micky and Davy were both present for this session but kind of slap happy at the end of the day. They started making jokes to see who could make the other laugh during the session. The jokes actually helped make the song memorable and brought the spirit of the television show to the record. It is the gentle humor of things like Micky asking Davy to not ruin his song and Davy replies that it was already ruined. Davy needles Micky in how he can’t train dogs he can only train elephants. This is gentle teasing to Micky’s days as a child star on the NBC series Circus Boy. At the end Davy says "They're Coming to Take Us Away, Ha Ha” referring to the then current hit novelty song by Napoleon XIV.
All in all this was an enjoyable first album. No matter if it was from a new garage band or from the cast of a TV show. While the producers of the series only saw it as a way to promote the show it is clear that Don Kirshner saw their albums as a way to make hit records.
When I started this review I said the album was uneven. I still stand by that statement as some songs sound professional and some just sound like a very good garage band. However, in the course of this review my appreciation for this album has grown as it was an inventive way to keep rock and roll available to the pre-teens that the Beatles had now outgrown.