March 1, 2012

The Monkees: Last Train to Redemption

Isn't it a little audacious that the very first song on the very first album by The Monkees is their own theme song? The fact that it was the opening theme to their tv show somewhat dilutes the punk spirit of that gesture, but only somewhat. Just listening to it now, I'm feeling that punk spirit in the solo, with it's pounding organ and penetrating lead guitar, which sounds very much like a George Harrison solo, only a little more fluid.

Of course the problem with it, some say, is that the band that played that song was a group called The Candy Store Prophets, which were usually fronted by songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. "The Monkees cheated by not playing their own instruments," the cynics claim, "therefore they cannot be seriously considered a great band." Davy Jones' passing has re-awakened this age old debate.

I love The Monkees' musical oeuvre, expansive, full of contagious melodies, and frequently surprising. I like to think of the group as a large musical collective, a supergroup benefitting from the contributions of heavyweights like Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart, Harry Nilsson , and of course, crack session players like The Wrecking Crew. Despite the magnitude of talent involved, the four core members of The Monkees are a crucial ingredient to the success and sometimes greatness of Monkees music. The individual personalities and talents of Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones mesh into a cohesive unit that never seems unnatural. In other words, The Monkees was cynically pre-planned and manufactured but almost instantly, the concept transcended it's creation.

The revolt started almost immediately. Listen to another track from The Monkees, "I'm Gonna Buy Me a Dog."When Boyce and Hart presented the song to Mickey and Davy they thought the lyrics were boring and silly, so their version is basically them, cracking on it by ad-libbing the whole time. In their mind, they knew they wanted to be more than bubble gum teeny boppers. And history proves that they fought and acheived that freedom. They made a pact with the music industry Devil, and they managed to get out of it, a feat to be admired.

Davy Jones, you will be missed.

And now, here are some The Monkees' underexposed tracks:

"Propinquity", a Mike Nesmith demo version from the 2006 reissue of The Monkees

"Words" a nice piece of effervescent pschedelia, complete with Hammond B-3!

"Rosemarie", avant-garde soul/funk, Mickey Dolenz style!

"Love Is Only Sleeping," an obviously Revolver-inspired composition by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the Brill Building legends behind Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Kicks"

"Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)", a Neil Diamond folk-gum song with a great lead vocal by Davy
"Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?", from the soundtrack of their experimental film comedy Head, a film co-written by The Monkees, Bob Rafelson, and Jack Nicholson