Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Monkees Headquarters

This was the big one. The Monkees were now free of the supervision of Don Kirshner and able to do what they wanted. However, they needed a producer. They didn't go with Boyce and Hart, who did their first album and a few on their second album. Now they wanted someone who had little to no ties to Krishner. The obvious choice in the group would have been to go with Michael Nesmith who produced a few track s on the previous two lp's. But instead they went with Chip Douglas. Douglas, whose real name is Douglas Farthing Hatlelid , had been a bass player for the Turtles and did the arrangement on his first record with them. That record was their monster hit Happy Together. After seeing them play at the Whisky A Go Go, Michael Nesmith asked Douglas to be the producers for the Monkees.  He actually turned it down saying he had never produced a record before. Nesmith told him that if he would quit the Turtles to produce the Monkees then he would teach him all he needed to know to be a producer. So in a roundabout way Michael Nesmith did produce the albums.

Everyone involved with this album have a lot to be proud of as it was the first time that the cast of a TV show took control of their music and produced a first rate album. To this day people talk about how the Monkees had a situation handed to them and didn't let it go. It was even listed in the book of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

You Told Me

The album opens with the countrified rock that was starting to come to light in the mid to late sixties.  The Monkees and Mike Nesmith led the way with songs like this. The opening is a spoof of the Beatles song Taxman from their Revolver album. It includes the rare appearance of a banjo in a rock and roll song. All of this with superb lead vocals by Nesmith  and more combined together to make a first rate pop song and a great opening song to a first rate album.

I'll Spend My Life With You

This song was written by Boyce and Hart. It is the first lead vocal on the album by Micky Dolenz  which I find a bit odd. The song is actually a ballad. While Micky has a great voice for any song it is odd to hear him on some ballads as most of them were usually handed to Davy Jones.  The song itself is actually a remake of an earlier version that they did with studio musicians in hopes of it making one of the first two albums.

Forget That Girl

This song was written by the producer under his real name. It contains what I consider to be the best vocal performance ever by Davy Jones. The production is first rate. You can tell this was a labor of love for the producer. The song was originally presented to Don Kirshner when he was still supervising the Monkees music. He turned it down because he thought the song was too negative. The song is about a man who was dumped by his girlfriend. Douglas actually thought the song had a positive message as the man was getting advice to forget the girl and get on with his life.  The background vocal harmonies gave a wonderful added dimension to the song. However, Chip wasn't pleased with the outcome. He wanted the bass to have more of a Motown feel. He said that no one could get the right riff and it sounded more bubblegum then he wanted.

Band 6

Band 6 isn't really a song. It was an attempt to show the work process on the album as well as bring some humor to the LP that they showcased in their TV show. Douglas didn't really have much patience for the guys horsing around but put up with it since they were also a comedy troupe. So he wanted the comedy to come through on the records. Really the only Monkees on this are Micky and Mike. It started with Mike trying to play a tune on the guitar. Micky, not even listening to what Mike is playing, is attempting a different tune on the drums. Chip noticed that the two songs had a similar rhythm and gets them to play together.   It is the voice of Chip Douglas that you hear say, "I think you've got it now Micky!" When they join together you can hear the tune they are recording. It's the Merrie Melodies theme song.

You Just May Be the One

This is another Nesmith stand out that is actually a remake of an early production that had Mike only sing while backed up by studio musicians. As I believe I stated earlier on this blog, Kirshner would let Mike produce and sing on his songs but wouldn't allow him to play on his songs. So in the early days Mike had to use studio musicians. The earlier version featured Glenn Campbell on guitar and was the version that you heard on the first season of the TV show.  The group had been playing the song in concert and suggested the song for the album to Douglas. He jumped at adding it to the album. He heard Nesmith play it at the Troubadour in 1965 before he joined the Monkees and loved it. What really impressed him was the harmonies that Bill Chadwick did that night. When he asked about if they could do the same harmonies that Chadwick did that night Nesmith said, "Sure! Micky can do it."

Shades of Gray

Shades of Gray is a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and was a cover of a version that was released a year earlier in 1966 by the group The Will-O-Bees. It is the first song on any of their albums to show they were growing up as men as well as serious musicians. It features the rare, at that time, vocal pairing of Davy Jones and Peter Tork on lead vocals. Micky comes in as the background harmony singer on this one. However, his background is so strong it is almost overpowering. He comes close to taking over and becoming one of the lead vocals.

The San Francisco based group Sons of  Champlin also recorded the song around that time. However, the Monkees version was release first. It is one of the more covered songs on the album. In 1970 it was recorded by P.K. Limited for the soundtrack of the film Getting Straight. In 1999 it was released by Big Beat UK who spelled the title Shades of Grey.

I Can't Get Her Off My Mind

A song written by one of the more frequent outside the group songwriters, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. It too is a remake of one of their early studio musicians only days. It has the feel of one from the early days of vaudeville. It was tailor-made for the vocal styling's of Davy Jones.  Not one of the best songs on the album and it pales in comparison to Shades of Gray as the follow up track on the LP.  Not bad for an acoustic or unplugged, as a few generations later would call it. The only instruments I hear on the song are the piano played by Peter and Micky keeping the rhythm  by tapping a wood block. Still it holds its own in this stellar company of pop tunes.

For Pete's Sake

Finally Peter Tork came into his own as a songwriter for the Monkees with this song. He co-wrote the song with his then roommate Joseph Richards. The lyrics pretty much summed up the flower power generation that was emerging at that time and showed the street credibility that Peter brought to the group. The producers of the show liked it so much that it became the closing theme song for the series in the second season.
Peter had a hard time deciding on the title. It was Mike Nesmith who suggested For Pete's Sake. Peter liked that and made it the title of the song.

Generations would later hear Mr. Tork himself sing the song in their reunion concerts. However, the first released recording of the song has Micky as the lead. He and Davy had proven they could deliver the vocals on hit tunes so they may have hoped for this to be a single when the album was released. Sadly that would not be but it is still a popular tune to this day.

Mr. Webster

Another good song that still kind of slows the album down a little bit. It too is a remake of  their Boyce and Hart productions that didn't make the cut for the first two albums.  Peter grabbed a moment here to shine as the arranger of this tune. The only spot that the fought over was when they stopped for a second when they sing "Sorry stop." They got to the original tempo and Peter really likes this tune. In some ways it almost sounds like a Paul Simon song.

Sunny Girlfriend

This song is a homespun country-rock tune with a little sarcastic bite to it. Much in the vein of a previous Nesmith tune on this album You Told Me. This is the song Peter says they were playing in Japan after the show was cancelled and they finally felt they had jelled together as a group. Davy looked at Peter and shouted to him over the music, "We're gonna form a group."


Proving once again that the Monkees were a group a head of their time is Zilch. This is probably the first song that could qualify as the first rap tune. It started when they heard an announcement with someone paging "Mr. Dobalena, Mr. Bob Dobalena" at the airport. Each of them made suggestions till they decided to do it as a round and end with all of them saying Zilch. They didn't do it all in the same room. They each went into separate rooms to record their own parts and it was mixed together later. The whole thing was considered a comedy bit at the time. Today it comes off like an early rap song.

No Time

No Time came about because they wanted to do an old time rocker like Chuck Berry. They filled the song with pop culture references at the time. "Andy you're a dandy," was about Andy Warhol. The term "Hober reeber" is a tip of the hat to Bill Cosby who said that term in some of his comedy bits. Micky also says  "Let's do it for Ringo," meaning Ringo Starr of the Beatles whom they had just met in England. This song caused some problem for their engineer Hank Cicalo. They wanted everyone to have some monetary gain from this album and Hank gave them a lot of support. So they gave him credit as a songwriter for this tune when it was really written by the Monkees. They thought since Chip Douglas had a song on the album then Hank should too. It seems it was frowned upon for engineers to get groups they were helping to record, to record a song they wrote. Hank was called on the carpet and they had to tell the executives that he didn't write the song they just wanted to give him credit for it.  It also proved how well they were coming along as a group. There are other studio musicians on the album that played under the guidance of the group. The sessions of No Time with the studio musicians fell flat so the Monkees recorded it themselves and that is the version on the album.

Early Morning Blues and Greens

This song was written by Jack Keller and Diane Hilderbrand. The production style on this shows their growth much like Shades of Gray.  Jack Keller said that when he read Diane's lyrics about coffee steaming it got him into the right mood for the song. It wasn't written for the Monkees but they liked it and wanted to record it. Lester Sill called and asked him if it was ok if they made some changes to the music. He gave them the ok.  The change they made was that the song stayed at one level till they got to the bridge. The Monkees made it go higher before they got to the bridge. It made the song better by giving it a totally different feel.

Randy Scouse Git

In America there was no single released from this album even though it was full of potential hits. This was one of them. It is also one of the more infamous songs in the Monkees catalogue. It was released as a single in England. Micky Dolenz  wrote the song about his experience in England and gave it the title of a slang term that he heard on a British show called "Till Death Do Us Part." That show would later be brought to America as "All in the Family." Anyway it turned out that the term was considered vulgar and causing a stir as just an album cut. Not wanting to pass up the free publicity Colgems released the song as a single in England but was not allowed to put the title on the label. They asked Micky for an alternate title. His suggestion was "Alternate Title." The title was getting it the attention but not on the label anymore. The great sound that the song had got it to the #2 spot on the British charts.

The Monkees got the chance to be a real band. Pinocchio became a real boy. The Monkees created one of the best rock albums of the 1960's. Perhaps one of the best rock albums of all time. Decades would pass before they would get the chance again.   

1 comment:

  1. For ages, I would have sworn that the title of fOR PETE'S SAKE was given in the show's credits as LOVE IS UNDERSTANDING but I've never spotted it again. Definitely one of my Top Ten Monkees numbers still.