My Favorite Albums of 2016

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Another year gone by, another year filled with musical delights. We lost quite a few musical legends starting in December of 2015 – Scott Weiland, Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael to name just a few (and let’s not mention an overall list of artists who have left us in 2016). I lost my Aunt unexpectedly back in February the morning after attending a Black Sabbath show. The year was filled with unexpected highs and unexpected lows for me. As with anything in life, sometimes you have to feel bad to feel good (and vice versa). I made some friends, lost some friends, and reconnected with some old friends. Throughout it all, I had music playing. Here are my top albums of 2016:

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The Monkees – Good Times

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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.

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Michael Nesmith – Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Most people, when they think of the intersection of country and rock, think of Gram Parsons. I do too, but I also think of Michael Nesmith. Yes, the very same Michael Nesmith from The Monkees. The latter-day records from The Monkees featured a handful of original Nesmith tunes that hinted at country music; freed from the chains of The Monkees, Nesmith embraced cosmic country rock in a groundbreaking and brilliant way. Nesmith’s 3rd solo record, 1971’s Nevada Fighter, was one of his strongest offerings. Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care) is arguably the strongest track on the record and happens to be my favorite solo offering from the erstwhile Monkee. Lyrically, the song concerns something that happens to just about everyone in life – not realizing what they have right in front of them. Musically, the song is breezy – a light country vibe with strong melodies. The song was originally demoed as a tune for The Monkees in 1968 – it is my belief that it would have been a late era hit for the band. It also might be the finest vocals recorded by Nesmith, conveying emotion with ease. The steel guitar from OJ “Red” Rhodes is simply exquisite. Oh, and the word propinquity? It means “the state of being close to someone or something; proximity”. It also doesn’t appear in the song at all. Oh, Michael. “Oh, it’s taken me a while / But I have finally found / what you are to me / And that’s what really counts / And what you are to me / Is something we can share”

Hey Hey! I Love The Monkees!

The_Monkees_AlbumMention The Monkees to a group of people and watch the varied responses – it should be a sport unto itself. Even now – 47 years after the debut of The Monkees television show along with the start of a string of hits (top-selling act of 1967) – some of the reactions will be a scoff along with a dismissive “I guess somebody still likes them”. I discovered The Monkees during their mid 80’s revival, watching reruns of the television show on MTV. My Dad seemed to revel in the revival and could seemingly recite all the verses to the band’s bizarre (and funny) “Zilch” sketch / song. My name is Jason, and I LOVE The Monkees.

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The Monkees – Randy Scouse Git

monkeesAttack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

When knowledgeable people discuss groundbreaking music from the 60’s you get your usual suspects – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Love, The Who, Buffalo Springfield….and maybe someone will mention Skip Spence or Moby Grape. The Monkees? Almost never. Manufactured pop group that slowly faded away by the early 70’s that had some great singles. I think that might be the common view (though it seems like it is slowly changing). My opinion? The Monkees were one of THE greatest groups of the 60’s. 4 distinctive voices with a variety of styles on each record – these guys were incredible. My favorite song by The Monkees (and one of my favorites of all time) is “Randy Scouse Git”. A ridiculously catchy drum beat followed by what I’d describe as a pop-waltz introduction with sweet vocals by Micky Dolenz (who also wrote the song). A loose word association game in the lyrics before exploding in the shouted chorus – a preview of the punk rock era that would make its mark on the world less than a decade later. A bid to be taken seriously and inspired by an encounter with The Beatles, this track still makes my jaw drop every time I listen to it. The track was taken from the Headquarters record and was a #5 hit in the UK (and was retitled “Alternate Title” as the song’s title means…well…horny bastard from Liverpool). I had the honor of seeing this track played live by Mickey Dolenz twice – the 1st in 1996 with The Monkees, and the 2nd just last year on his solo tour (in tribute to the fallen Monkee, Davy Jones). Each time he introduced the song with a charming story about the 1st time he met John Lennon and how it tied into everything that was happening with The Monkees in the late 60’s. An incredible performer, those two shows rank highly on my mental “favorite shows of all time”. The chorus puts you back in the turmoil of the late 60’s, with lyrics resonating from an unlikely source:

Why don’t you cut your hair?
Why don’t you live up there?
Why don’t you do what I do,
See what I feel when I care?
Why don’t you be like me?
Why don’t you stop and see?
Why don’t you hate who I hate,
Kill who I kill to be free.