Saturday, April 21, 2012

MONKEE BUSINESS



Davy Jones died on February 29, but for me, it’s only starting to sink in now. I’m not sure why. Had it been someone like Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, or Brian Wilson, you can be sure I would’ve written a few hundred thousand words about it here by now. But truth to tell, I’m not really a big Monkees fanatic. At least, not since I was about eight years old. And Davy was never my favorite Monkee anyway. I always liked Mike Nesmith the best, followed by Micky Dolenz. Even as a kid, I felt Davy was a little too schmaltzy, too “showbizzy,” for my tastes. 

Nevertheless, back then I watched the reruns of the TV series every day after school and I enjoyed them immensely. My older brother and sister graciously gave me the Monkees albums they owned—The Monkees, More of the Monkees, and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (For some reason, neither of them owned Headquarters, one of the group’s very best efforts.)

But then, in 1977, I received my first Beatles album: The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. And after that, for me it was pretty much, “Monkees who?”


Many years later, though, I began to reacquaint myself with the Monkees. And then my friend Greg Plonowski gave me a set of tape cassettes featuring all of the songs on Listen to the Band, the excellent and very thorough career-spanning 4-CD box set put out by Rhino Records in 1991.


And I liked a lot of what I heard, much of which was completely new to me. By the time I met my wife Ginny and her sister Wendy, both of whom have been HUGE Monkees fans for most of their lives, I was well versed in most of the group’s catalogue—a fact that served me very well, I must say. (More on that later.) 

I’ve seen the Monkees (Micky, Davy, and Peter) in concert twice—once in 2001 and most recently in June 2011. It was a shame that Mike wasn’t with them, as both shows were very enjoyable and his presence would have made them even better. But it’s well known that Mike has long sought to leave the Monkees part of his life in the distant past. Still, it’s nice to see that Mike attended Davy’s memorial service, reuniting with Micky and Peter for the first time in 16 years.


I’ve been listening to a lot of Monkees stuff over the last few days—like I said above, the passing of Davy took a while to set in with me. And as I’ve been zeroing in on my very favorite songs of theirs, it occurred to me to rank my top 20 here. As you’ll see from this list, Mike remains my favorite Monkee, followed by Micky. Davy and Peter Tork aren’t forgotten, but they certainly aren’t at the forefront. (Poor Peter got so few opportunities to shine during his time with the group anyway.) You’ll also find that I tend to veer away from the overly familiar hits and lean more towards the lesser known stuff—the “deep cuts,” if you will.

So, without further ado:

20. “Listen to the Band”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Mike


Mike’s last major contribution to the Monkees before he quit the group in 1970 to pursue a solo career. I first heard it in 1986 when Entertainment Tonight showed a clip of Mike performing it live with the reunited Monkees at a concert in L.A., and I liked it immediately.

19. “I Won’t Be the Same Without Her”
Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Lead vocals: Mike


Recorded in 1966 but not released until 1969. A surprisingly effective breakup song that really captures how you feel after a particularly painful split.

18. “Sunny Girlfriend”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Mike (with Micky)


A fun, barely remembered track off of Headquarters. Hearing it for the first time in the early 1990s, I felt like I’d discovered a hidden gem.

17. “Nine Times Blue”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Mike



Mike recorded several versions of this song over the years, but my favorite is actually the original demo, which was included on Rhino’s 1995 re-release of Headquarters. Nesmith performed the song live on The Johnny Cash Show with Micky and Davy in 1969 (Peter had already quit the group by that point), and the three of them really sounded great together. Makes me wonder why Mike didn’t have them doing the background vocals when he recorded the official Monkees version of the song, which actually didn’t get released until the Listen to the Band box set. 

16. “As We Go Along”
Written by: Carole King & Toni Stern
Lead vocals: Micky


A highlight from the soundtrack of the ill-fated Monkees movie Head, produced after the TV series went off the air.

15. “Porpoise Song”
Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Lead vocals: Micky (with Davy)


Another fine song from Head.

14. “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round?”
Written by Michael Martin Murphey & Owen Castleman
Lead vocals: Mike


One of the many high points on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine calls this “one of the greatest pop songs ever.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do like it a whole lot.

13. “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”
Written by Neil Diamond
Lead vocals: Davy


A very catchy song, with one of Davy’s most effective vocals.

12. “Pleasant Valley Sunday”
Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Lead vocals: Micky (with Davy and Mike)


The biggest hit you’ll see on this list. A great song that paints a vivid picture of life in suburbia, both the good parts and the not-so-good.

11. “Salesman”
Written by Craig Smith
Lead vocals: Mike


Another winner from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. One of Mike’s most engaging performances.

10. “You Told Me”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Mike


The opening track of Headquarters. The count-in at the beginning is a spoof of the first few seconds of “Taxman,” the first song on the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver. I liked this song so much, I used to perform it live when I was in the band Corporate Axe.

9. “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)”
Written by Neil Diamond
Lead vocals: Davy


A great track off of the More of the Monkees album. (As an aside, I’m convinced there’s a very naughty lyric being sung in the background when Davy sings “lips like strawberry pie”.)

8. “The Kind of Girl I Could Love”
Written by Michael Nesmith & Roger Atkins
Lead vocals: Mike


A thoroughly enjoyable gem from More of the Monkees. Great for a guy to listen to right after he meets a girl and finds himself smitten with her.

7. “Sometime in the Morning”
Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Lead vocals: Micky


Also from More of the Monkees, this features one of Micky’s most soaring performances. It’s not a direct love song, in that it’s about a guy expressing deep admiration for—and maybe even some jealousy about—his friend’s wonderful relationship with a girl. This one is always a pleasure to listen to.

6. “I’ll Spend My Life With You”
Written by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
Lead vocals: Micky


The group recorded two versions of this very touching and heartfelt song, one of which appeared on Headquarters. But I prefer the earlier, less “countrified” version, which went unreleased until the Listen to the Band box set (and was then released again on the 1994 reissue of More of the Monkees).

5. “I Don’t Think You Know Me”
Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Lead vocals: Peter (with Davy, Micky, and Mike)


Never released on any of the original Monkees albums and never played on the TV show, this stayed in the vault until the Listen to the Band box set. Different versions exist featuring Mike and Micky each on lead vocals, and those have appeared on various reissues and collections over the years. My favorite version, though, is the one in which Peter has the spotlight. His voice is admittedly imperfect throughout the performance—but charmingly so, displaying real and endearing vulnerability.

4. “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Micky (with Mike)


I think I’ve loved this one since the first time I heard it. One of the very first songs I taught myself to play on guitar. A rare example of Mike not trying to inject a country flavor into one of his compositions.

3. “You Just May Be the One”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Mike (with Micky)


There are two versions of this song. One appeared in the TV series and the other was on the Headquarters album. The Headquarters version has a slight edge over the TV one, owing to the fact that it features Micky on backup and harmony vocals.

2. “Papa Gene’s Blues”
Written by Michael Nesmith
Lead vocals: Mike (with Micky)


I’ve always loved this song, but it took on greater meaning for me in mid-1996, when I went on my first long drive with the gal who would eventually become my wife. It was fairly early in our relationship. We were cruising along the highway, she popped her favorite Monkee cassette into the tape deck, this song came on, I started singing along—and she was VERY impressed that I knew ALL of the words. I think at that moment, she realized that we were meant for each other.

1. “The Door Into Summer”
Written by Chip Douglas & Bill Martin
Lead vocals: Mike (with Micky)


When I “rediscovered” the Monkees thanks to my friend Greg, this was the song that I embraced more than any other. To this day, it never fails to put a smile on my face when it comes on, and I place it at the very top of the heap.

No, the Monkees weren’t in the same league as the Beatles or the Who or even the Beach Boys. But I’ve long since come to the conclusion that they didn’t need to be. They’ve got a history and a body of work that they can—and should—be proud of. 

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2012.

8 comments:

  1. Amusingly, I read this blog entry while watching THE LAST WALTZ, which I dug out the DVD for because Levon Helm died this week. While Davey Jones's death had less of an impact on me, as I was never the world's biggest Monkees fan, Levon's death whomped me but good, because his music has been part of my DNA since childhood.

    Which is all by way of saying that music is awesome. :)

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  2. Not much of a Monkees fan so didn't recognize most of the songs, but found it interesting that Carole King co-wrote some of them.

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  3. For me, "Porpoise Song" would have come in at #1. That or "Circle Sky." (I'm obviously a huge fan of HEAD. Stop that snickering...)

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  4. "The Girl that I Knew Somewhere" is my favorite. I recently learned to play "Nine Times Blue" on the guitar. It's extra great because it's so little known people don't know the mistakes I make!

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  5. I’ve been listening to the box set since reading this.
    My top ten:

    Valleri
    Last Train to Clarksville
    I’m a Believer
    Pleasant Valley Sunday
    Circle Sky
    Sweet Young Thing
    Words
    Goin’ Down
    Heart and Soul
    I’m Going to Buy Me a Dog

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  7. Wow, Glenn, I didn't know you were a Monkees fan. I've been one since I was very young--yeah, right around the 20th anniversary tour--and have always gravitated toward Papa Nez, same as you. Nice to see him so finely represented in your list!

    An interesting aside about "Sunny Girlfriend": I once saw an internet posting where a nameless fan had a bet with a friend over whether the song was about a woman who operated a crystal meth lab. Mike jumped in and admitted as much. "Sunshine factory," eh?

    (Incidentally, I'm curious if you've heard "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" with Mike's lead vocal instead of Micky's, and for that matter, Mike's solo efforts, particularly his instrumental album "The Wichita Train Whistle Sings," full of orchestral covers of many of his Monkees songs. Really, truly a wonderful album!)

    Good also to see Davy's vocal on "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" highest on your list of his songs. A remarkable, underrated gem written by Neil Diamond.

    RIP Davy,

    ~G.

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  8. Gary--

    Interesting stuff about "Sunny Girlfriend." I didn't know crystal meth was around back then, or that the Monkees would have had anything to do with it.

    I do indeed have the Mike version of "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," as it was a bonus track on the 1995 Rhino reissue of HEADQUARTERS. I'm not overly familiar with Mike's solo stuff, however.

    Thanks for posting!

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