It goes without saying that I am one of those people that considers himself a Monkees fanatic. I have every album in various deluxe editions that have been released over the years. On lesser albums I’ve sifted through the filler to find the gems (there are not too many lesser albums though.) John Lennon may be one of my musical idols, but sometimes I just prefer to listen to The Monkees over The Beatles. Those late 60’s albums by the “Prefab Four” stand up to anything their peers were putting out at the time. Live, I’ve never seen all 4 at the same time. In 1997 I saw Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork in Valley Forge, PA for the Justus tour. In 2012 I saw Micky Dolenz solo at a small casino just weeks after Davy Jones passed away. And in 2013 I saw Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork in downtown Seattle. All shows were memorable and expertly performed – the band members have come a long way from their origins as a make-believe band put together for a television show. A few months ago it was announced that The Monkees would be releasing a new album for their 50th anniversary. I wondered – would this be like The Beach Boys album from a few years ago (I can’t remember anything from that one) or would it be something special? The fact that the project was being produced by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger gave me hope – I love Fountains of Wayne’s unique power pop perspective.
Rhino Records (who own The Monkees name) had an idea to put something special together for the band’s 50th anniversary. A concept was put together – rescue forgotten or unfinished tracks from the 60’s while also asking contemporary songwriters to give unique songs for The Monkees. A combination of the early records and later 60’s records in a way. On board to give songs were Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, XTC’s Andy Partridge, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Paul Weller of The Jam, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy. You can say I was just a bit excited when this information started to be revealed. The unreleased tracks featured the famous songwriters that wrote for the band in the 60’s – Harry Nilsson, Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, and Goffin & King. Additionally, each surviving member contributed original songs. Sounds like an ideal album by The Monkees to me. But how is it in reality?
One thing to get out-of-the-way – this is an album that is heavy on Micky Dolenz’s lead vocals. Always considered the band’s lead vocalist, you get a heavy dose of Micky here. That’s not a bad thing in my book. The album (not including bonus tracks) breaks down like this: Micky on lead vocals for 7 songs, Peter for 2 songs, Davy for 1 song, Michael for 1 song, and 2 other songs where Micky and Michael share vocals. It works though – exceptionally so. The album opens with the title track – a rescued track from the 60’s written by Harry Nilsson. Through the magic of technology it is a duet between Micky Dolenz and Harry Nilsson. It sounds like something straight out of the 60’s, and it is a testament to the vocal prowess of Dolenz that he sounds pretty much the same as he did 50 years ago. Jangle pop. Oh, hell. Monkee pop. You Bring the Summer sounds like an XTC outtake – for good reason, it is written by Andy Partridge. The 60’s meets 80’s indie rock. And it is simply perfection. The backwards guitar at the 2:35 mark or so reminds me of Rain by The Beatles. Quite a bit of thought went into this track. “I’ll bring the chips and the dips and root beer / Even though dark rain purple clouds are near / When you come around, you bring the summer.” She Makes Me Laugh is the lead off single from the album and it is simply perfect. A slice of pop heaven by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, it perfectly captures the carefree 60’s vibe of The Monkees. Micky’s vocals are positively jubilant – I can’t say enough about this song. That feeling of being in love, it’s all here. “She makes me laugh, she makes me smile / And I could hang out with her all day and night”. Me & Magdalena is a nod to the pioneering alt-country that Papa Nez explored on the late 60’s records by The Monkees, eventually giving way to his outstanding solo career. Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard perfectly captures nostalgia & melancholy in equal measures. Micky Dolenz & Michael Nesmith sing the song in harmony, and their voices blend in a heavenly manner. What a song! Love to Love is an outtake from 1967’s Headquarters sung by Davy Jones – here fleshed out with added instrumentation & backing vocals from Dolenz and Tork. It sounds like it would have been a hit single if it had been finished in the 60’s. Hell, it’d be a hit single now. You’ll have the phrase “you gotta have love to love” stuck in your head after you hear it. Birth of an Accidental Hipster is a co-write by Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Paul Weller of The Jam. The vocals are shared by Dolenz and Nesmith. Fittingly, this sounds like a hazy combination of Oasis, The Jam, The Beatles, and The Monkees. I Know What I Know is a sweet country diversion by Michael Nesmith. It could serve as a sequel to his 1972 single Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care). In that song his doubt gave way to certainty as far as his heart was concerned. Here, he is reaffirming his devotion. Stellar backing by Schlesinger on piano, this is a beautiful song. I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time) ends the album with a psychedelic song that reinforces the concept of the album – Good Times. It is also a joke that I’ve heard Micky tell in concert a few times describing his wild days.
This is easily one of the best albums The Monkees have ever released – not something I expected to say for a 50th anniversary celebration album. Easily their best album since the late 60’s, it reinforces how much I love The Monkees. Considering the buzz and chart positions since it has been released, I know that I am not alone. The Monkees always make me feel good. Welcome back.
Verdict: I love The Monkees
For Fans of: The Beatles, Weezer, Fountains of Wayne, XTC, Death Cab for Cutie, Ivy, Gram Parsons
- Good Times
- You Bring the Summer
- She Makes Me Laugh
- Our Own World
- Gotta Give It Time
- Me & Magdalena
- Whatever’s Right
- Love to Love
- Little Girl
- Birth of an Accidental Hipster
- Wasn’t Born to Follow
- I Know What I Know
- I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time)