Conventional wisdom has it that the Monkees were
a television Pop group cynically manufactured to cash in
on the popularity of the Beatles.
While that may have been the original impetus
for producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the four
guys cast as the Monkees had other ideas.
Musically talented actors Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones
were paired with musicians Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork
in 1966. The chemistry was instant and electric. Music impresario
Don Kirshner provided songwriters like Boyce & Hart, Goffin &
King, and Neil Diamond to supply the songs.
The Monkees’ infectious first single,
“Last Train To Clarksville” was on the charts before the TV
show hit the airwaves. Their self-titled debut, as well as the
follow-up, More Monkees both reached #1.
“Serious” rock critics dismissed the band as the
“Pre-fab Four.” They noted (accurately) that the band didn’t
play their own instruments. Willfully ignoring the fact that early
recordings by the Beach Boys, the Who and the Byrds also
relied on studio musicians.
As the Monkees headed into the studio to record their
third album the band staged a bloodless coup insisting this
new effort feature their musicianship and songwriting skills.
The resulting album, Headquarters, included
classic tracks by Nesmith, (“You Told Me,” “Sunny Girlfriend”)
Tork, (“For Pete’s Sake”) and Dolenz (“Randy Scouse Git”).
Headquarters proved to anyone paying attention that the
Monkees were as capable as any of their peers.
Unfortunately, the specious contention that the band
were talentless poseurs persisted. The Monkees broke up by the
early 70s. Each band member achieved a measure of success:
Dolenz had a solo recording career but really thrived behind the
scenes as a producer and director. Jones continued performing and
acting. Tork, actually contributed to George Harrison’s Wonderwall
album and remained in the music business. Mike Nesmith has
managed the most sustained success. First as a songwriter, (Linda
Ronstadt’s first hit was Nesmith’s composition, “Different Drum”).
He was a pioneer in early video production with his multimedia
company, Pacific Arts. Nesmith produced cult classic films like
“Repo Man” as well as cutting edge videos.
In 1986, MTV began rerunning “Monkees” episodes,
allowing a whole new generation to discover the meta comedy
that seamlessly blended pure pop harmonies and Marx brothers-
Dolenz, Jones and Tork took advantage of their newfound
popularity and toured as the Monkees. They would replicate the
tour during milestone years, most recently in 2011.
Sadly, Davy Jones died suddenly of a heart attack in
early 2012. As a tribute to their fallen comrade, Nesmith joined
Dolenz and Tork for the first time, playing a series of concerts.
During this same period, Micky Dolenz began working
on a solo album, Remember. The record pays tribute to
artists Dolenz has worked with or admired over the last 45 years.
Fittingly, Remember opens with the Fab Four’s
“Good Morning, Good Morning.” Turns out the Beatles invited
Dolenz to the “Sgt. Pepper” recording sessions in 1967.
While the Beatles version was a clarion call to start the day,
Dolenz recasts the track as a breezy Brazilian samba replete
with bongos and sensuous guitars.
Naturally, Dolenz revisits three Monkees classics.
“Sometime In The Morning” was a Goffin/King cut on the band’s
second effort, More Monkees. Here the melody is slow and
meandering, highlighting the rueful quality of the lyrics. Dolenz
sings the song beautifully. The instrumentation is a languid
blend of Spanish and steel guitars.
“I’m A Believer” is transformed from a jangly pop
confection to a chugging, countrified charmer. Dolenz layers
his own harmonies giving the tune an Everly Brothers patina.
Dolenz reserves the biggest metamorphosis for his
own Monkees composition, “Randy Scouse Git.” Roughly
translated, the title is British slang meaning “horny Liverpudlian
putz!” In it’s original incarnation, the tune was a clangorous
fever dream. (The ultra 60s video featured Dolenz in a Dashiki,
sporting a white boy afro and pounding Timpani drums).
Eschewing the controlled chaos of the Monkees version, here
Dolenz slows the proceedings to a languorous pace.
The lyrics chronicle a whirlwind trip to London with the
Monkees. Dolenz hung with the Beatles while screaming girls
surrounded their hotel… “The four kings of EMI are sitting stately
on the floor, there are birds out on the sidewalk and a man at
the door/He reminds me of a penguin, with few and plastered hair
there’s talcum powder on the letter and the birthday boy is there.”
Remember includes a couple of newer tracks,
“Many Years” and “Quiet Desperation.” Written by producer
David Harris, the former is a buoyant celebration of a long term
relationship. The melody is a jangly mix of Power Pop and Psychedelia.
The latter is a Dolenz original inspired by the Thoreau
quote “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” A country rock
melody is tethered to a clip-clop beat and ringing guitar licks.
The lyrics sketch out a sad existence… “I wonder why I keep trying,
must be something in my genes/Any minute now I’ll see the light
and realize what it means.”
Not all the tracks here are successful. Dolenz tackles
Bread’s lugubrious stalker’s lament, “Diary” and the results are
toothless and dull. He also sucks the Bubblegum fun out of
the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.” It’s a louche finger-snappin lounge
track that feels cutesy and irritating.
Dolenz fairs better with Three Dog Night’s “Old Fashioned
Love Song.” He jettisons the pop rock arrangement offering up
a New Orlean’s style romp that echoes the style of Louis Prima.
Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” also receives
swampy reboot that recalls the choogling pleasures of Creedence
The album closes with the title track. The tune was
written by the late Harry Nilsson. Not only was Nilsson a running buddy
of Dolenz’ and John Lennon, he was a criminally underappreciated
songwriter who died quite suddenly in 1994. The plaintive song
serves as a tender farewell to both Nilsson and Davy Jones.
David Harris has ably produced Remember
The album features the crack musicianship of session players
like drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, percussionist Alex Acuna and
guitarist Phil Keaggy. Vicki Peterson of the Bangles also lends
a hand on rhythm guitar.
The Monkees have been eligible for the
Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame since 1991! Dolenz is back on
the pop culture radar with Remember. Rush is finally
inducted in the Hall Of Fame. Maybe now is the time for
the Monkees to receive the critical acclaim they deserve.