Saturday, June 18, 2011

On my turntable (Monkees edition): The Monkees

The Monkees (1966)
OK so here's the deal. My second favorite band of all time (following Los Beatles) is coming to town on July 1st & 2nd, which gives me 13 days to blog a daily Monkee LP leading up to the show. I did this with last month's Cars concert, and enjoyed it almost all the way through, until it started feeling like a homework assignment. I'm gonna give it a shot, but if I stop after a couple days you'll know why! The Monkees' story has been pretty well documented, so there's no real need for me to rehash all of it here. OK maybe I'll hash just a little.

When "The Monkees" tv series debuted on NBC in Sept 1966, their first single "Last Train to Clarksville" had already begun its climb to the top of the music charts.  They could not have been better poised for success. Although the television show was inspired by the films of The Beatles, their debut album had a sound of its own. Combining folk, country, and pop influences and the work of multiple producers, studio musicians and songwriters, the end result bore little resemblance to Meet the Beatles! (1964), the fab-four's American debut.

The fact that they didn't sound so much like The Beatles, I believe, is a primary factor in why The Monkees' music has held up so well over the years. With all the hands involved in making the group's first two LPs it's a miracle that a cohesive sound emerged at all; personally I have always credited Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart as being the engineers of The Monkees' sound. It was Boyce and Hart that wrote and produced most of the hits, including "Clarksville".
"Last Train to Clarksville", 8/66

In the late 60's/early 70's when "The Monkees" was being rerun on Saturday morning tv, Colgems reissued the band's first two singles. I still remember the day our mom bought my brother and me those two 45s - It was at a store called Play World where mom bought a lot of her aquarium fish.  I still get a chill of excitement whenever I hear those first two guitar notes on "Clarksville" -- it's truly one of the most perfectly crafted pop records of all time, in my opinion.

Some mindless album trivia: 
  • "Saturday's Child" was written by singer/songwriter David Gates before he hit the big time with his wonder group, Bread
  • Monkee Mike Nesmith penned and produced two songs on the album: "Papa Gene's Blues" (a fan favorite featured frequently in the tv show), and the sizzling "Sweet Young Thing", a rare collaboration with legendary duo Goffin/King
  • "Let's Dance On", featured in the show's pilot episode, has no bass guitar. Personally, it drives me batty that there's no bass, and one of these days I intend to add a bass track to it myself so I can finally get over it and move on
  • "I'll Be True To You", sung by Davy Jones, was originally recorded by The Hollies. According to Jones, it wasn't until a later Monkees reunion tour that he learned this, when his wife at the time commented about the Hollies tune in the group's set
  • The album's closer, "Gonna Buy Me A Dog" includes the freestyle comedy stylings of Jones and Dolenz being let loose at the mic. Dolenz had reportedly recorded a 'straight' rendition of the tune before he and Jones hammed it up on the quite funny version that ended up being used on the record. It's worth noting that when this record was made the Monkees had only recently been introduced by the show's creators, which is evidence of just how quickly the comedy between Dolenz and Jones (both former professional child actors) clicked. To this day the duo (when on good terms) seem intent on cracking each other up on stage, which is very fun to watch.
Up Next: More of The Monkees...

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