New album from The Monkees
Any Monkees fans out there? Go on. Own up. You're on friendly territory now. We figure that there are actually plenty of you guys and girls who were either there at the beginning of the Monkees story, or who picked up the beat somewhere along the way.
At Sump, one or two of us certainly remember the late 1960s when The Monkees TV show burst onto British screens. And that was an exciting time for us; a time for gawping at passing cafe racers and choppers, discovering teenage girls, wowsing at the hippy stuff on sale in Carnaby Street, and generally struggling to develop some kind of viable identity. As far as we recall, it never rained once throughout the sixties. At least, not on our heads.
▲ Left to right, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and the late Davy Jones. Not exactly the Fab Four, but in their heyday it's said that these guys outsold the Beatles and the Stones combined. Do we believe it? We will if you will...
The Monkees were one of the bands that helped provide a soundtrack to those heady juvenile days, and because this band was always a little ... well, soft, we also listened to Steppenwolf, The Animals, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, The Move and the other usual sixties suspects. Including the Fab Four.
However, it took us a long time to realise that the Monkees really were good. Not just good in terms of a goofy, poppy, "feel good" US TV comedy series about four young guys living a cool independent lifestyle with a funky Pontiac GTO hotrod to cruise around in, and parties eight days of the week. But musically good. Tuneful melodies. Catchy rhythms. Competent harmonies. And the occasional incisive lyric too.
Among the songwriters were the likes of Carole Bayer Sager, Tommy Boyce, Ellie Greenwich, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, David Gates, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Harry Nillson and Paul Williams. And as the show progressed, the Monkees band members increased their own musical input from zero to quite a lot and gave us a sound that's endured.
Like all bands, however, the group suffered their normal internal and external stresses, but it was perhaps more complex and bitter with The Monkees. Why? Because this quartet, created in 1965 by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, was not a simple and "bona fide" musical combo with the usual record company/manager/artist disputes and frictions. Instead, there were also studio bosses, TV script writers, production engineer and network lawyers in the fray and providing a corrosive legal and artistic mixture. The members enjoyed no song rights, had little creative control, earned very little in wages, and had to look elsewhere to capitalise on their fame.
▲ Are those flared trousers? Or hipsters? Or flared hipsters? And what's with those collars? And that belt buckle? We can't remember. But we actually wore stuff like that. In the late 1960s, it wasn't all Easy Rider and acid tripping. You could be sweet instead.
The idea for the show occurred (contrary to popular belief) pre-Beatles. But various studios rejected the concept as too zany. Too vague. Too "out there". And besides, The Monkees format had no father figure, and that was at odds with the conservative studio orthodoxy of the day which (for instance) saw actor Fred McMurray as the patriarch in My Three Sons, or Fred Gwynne as patriarch Herman Munster in The Munsters, or John Astin as Gomez, patriarch in The Addams Family. In other words, youngsters without the guiding hand of mature authority was considered a no-no, hence The Monkees landlord who popped up pretty much every episode to help show the kids exactly where the moral ropes were.
But after the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night hit the cinemas, a Hollywood studio (Screen Gems) took The Monkees hint, saw a path-to-profit and the scripts and format was re-examined. Before long, the four band members were recruited. So okay, they were never as handsome or socially polished (or as witty and as acerbic) as the Beatles. But they were a likeable bunch of clean-living, slightly gawky American teens, and Davy Jones was English, and from Manchester (which was almost Liverpool), and there was a certain attraction in the chemistry between these guys.
Mike Nesmith had already been developing a musical career. Ditto for Peter Tork. Micky Dolenz had already begun an acting career in the TV series Circus Boy (under the stage name Mickey Braddock). Davy Jones had also been an actor starring as the Artful Dodger in a Broadway production of Oliver. The die was therefore cast, and the first episode was aired in September 1966.
▲ Recommended early Monkees tracks include: Goin' Down; Alternate Title (aka Randy Scouse Git); Pleasant Valley Sunday; (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone; Last Train to Clarksville; I'm a Believer; Daydream Believer.
The show was cancelled in 1968, but here in the UK it remained on our screens for a year or two after. The Monkees struggled on for a few more years, and then it was all over (note that this is a huge simplification of the story). In total, eleven albums were made, and over the next few decades there were various reunions, and then in 2012 Davy Jones died suddenly. After the shock wore off, the surviving members re-grouped (no pun intended) and another reunion tour followed.
But the glue was weak, largely because each surviving member had had private projects, and Nesmith (in particular) has been notoriously hard to pin down or draw a commitment from. Nevertheless, the album Good Times was released a few weeks ago (May 2016), a curious mix of new and reworked material, hence the credits which includes Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart and Harry Nilsson.
But the album has also "enjoyed" an injection of modern notes and twangs from the likes of Noel Gallagher (Oasis and High Flying Birds), Paul Weller (The Jam and Style Council), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), and Andy Partridge (XTC). And Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork have also written themselves into the mix.
So what about Davy Jones? Well, he's also on the album, albeit on a single track recorded some years ago and updated and re-engineered with backing vocals from Nesmith and Tork.
▲ Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones in later years (and that, of course, is Mike Nesmith tagged on). Nesmith has long been forging his own musical career and only infrequently re-joined the band. Sadlly, it's now Davy Jones who's the odd man out.
We haven't heard the whole album yet. But we're dipping into it right now, and whereas it isn't exactly cutting edge stuff, it's still sharp enough to draw a little nostalgic blood and helps transport us back to those great days of the late 1960s, but without uprooting us entirely from the here and now.
Two singles have so far been released: She Makes Me Laugh, and She Brings the Summer. So okay, this album is mostly for die-hard fans of the Monkees rather than the wider pop-rock market. And some of the material not only sounds like it was written in the 1960s but really was written in the 1960s. But we don't care. Davy Jones is gone, but The Monkees are still here.
So are you, and so are we. Let's make the most of it while we can, huh?
£14.99 plus P&P
Copyright Sump Publishing 2016