Friday, 4 July 2008
The Monkees "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD" (1967) (Revised Review 2015)
Track Listing: Salesman/ She Hangs Out/ The Door Into Summer/ Love IS Only Sleeping/ Cuddly Toy/ Words// Hard To Believe/ What AM I Doing Hangin’ Round?/ Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky-Pleasant Valley Sunday / Daily Nightly/ Don’t Call On Me/ Star Collector (UK and US tracklisting – note: this album was issued in the US in late November 1967 but delayed in the UK by a fortnight, hence its chronological placing on this list)
On which the band’s horoscope reads: a bright, versatile and productive present, leading to a stormy future…
Dear readers, here's Alan's Astral Archives with your horoscope for the next hour or so. You shall be doing an awful lot of reading and possibly a lot of listening, although later on this may lead to feelings of eye-strain and a headache from the noisy closing song. We've also got a 'special' on horoscopes from late 1967: Pisces are likely to find themselves an expensive new toy or hobby in this period and play it incessantly, even on songs that aren't yours. You are also less likely to care what others think of you and grow out your hair while wearing a giant tablecloth because, well, it's 1967 and hey it rather suits you anyway. Aquarians are likely to be overlooked at work, leading to feelings of gloom and despondency after a period of teamwork that showed off your group skills comes to an unfortunate end. You will, however, find new abilities, such as your ability to make confusing 'popping' sounds with your mouth when saying the word 'P' and will as always look rather good in love-beads. Capricorns are likely to dominate their working environment and find themselves on a creative roll, exploring lots of new areas (such as pioneering country-rock). However it's also time to part with old friends, such as the last official photographs of the wool-hat associated with your character. And Jones, that well known 13th astrological sign, are likely to show signs of cuteness before breaking out of their characters with psychedelic songs about groupies (well, it was the sixties). For all four signs a busy year is coming to an end with one great last flurry of activity, which won't be as happy or successful as recent times perhaps but can be still be counted as a rather strong and profitable day at work.
Two classic psychedelic albums in a row? The Monkees weren’t exactly taking it easy were they? The band's third album of the year (oddly delayed in Britain where it missed the festive market) shows no sign of stopping and is in many ways as much of an advance on its predecessor as 'Headquarters' had been on 'More Of The Monkees'. Though occasional Monkees will go on to do weird things under the band name for years to come, this is the only time all four Monkees are all on message and determined to push the boundaries of what they could do. Screen Gems, who'd probably been surprised by what a mature and traditional set of songs the band delivered on 'Headquarters' (except  'Band Six' and  'Zilch' perhaps) must have stopped breathing again when they first played this record full of bleeping moog synthesisers, frenzied feedback, poetic lyrics about the teenage riots on Sunset Strip, devil-may-care drug-peddling salesmen, Hell's Angel Gangbangs (well that's where Harry Nilsson joked he got the inspiration for 'Cuddly Toy' from!) and teen idol Davy Jones singing an ode to groupies (did anyone actually tell him what Goffin and King's song was all about?) Add in a wacky but cool album cover and a confusing yet understandable lengthy album title and the only thing you have missing to make this the most 1967 album is a sitar part (so 'Sgt Peppers' still just about wins that award by a diamond or two). However what I've always loved about this album the most is that it all this psychedelic wonder fits and enhances the songs: this isn't a band being outrageous or hip because they want to be but because the music is taking things in that direction anyway and it’s the best means of expressing it. Besides, the best moments of this album are still the ones that don't try quite so hard: the gorgeous 'Door Into Summer' (the greatest Monkee songs only true fans know?), the dreamy 'Don't Call On Me' and the power-pop play of 'Words' and 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' could have been recorded in any era on any instrumentation and still sound fab. The show may be coming to an end, the murmurs of outrage about how much The Monkees were 'a band' may be growing and the sales may be a slight fall from where the band were, but at the time they were making it The Monkees were still at the end of a terrific peak they'd held against all the odds for most of the year.
However, there's one unfortunate development which means that the Monkees have already sacrificed what might have been one of the recording catalogues of all time for an easier and less interesting life. From this point onwards, the critics were right: The Monkees didn't always play their own instruments. 'Headquarters' had been a special experience because it was the first time ever a fictional band had turned into a 'real live band' and for better or worse (usually better) the album had more Monkee fingerprints on it than ever before. Peter was keen to maintain the same spirit throughout all the Monkee recordings to come, having yearned to join a ‘band’, but the others were less keen. It meant a lot more work for one thing, with the band being pushed to breaking point as Micky learnt to play the drums on studio time and the band all learnt to play with one another in the melting pot environment of the studio: the 'superb 'Headquarters Sessions' is aural evidence of just what a difficult (if often delightful) album that one was to make, with Micky messing up two times out of three and everyone else making occasional mistakes along the way too. The band simply couldn't face going through all that again and besides the great plan to show The Monkees 'really' playing their own songs had backfired: the public weren't interested and only half-believed the band were on 'Headquarters' anyway. There was simply no point pretending when even the ‘truth’ was dismissed, so instead to make everyone’s lives easier session musicians were added to the mix - slowly at first (with 'Fast' Eddie Hoh replacing Micky – leading to more than one paper commenting on how quickly he’d mastered the drums! - but everyone else more or less intact), then more and more people as the sessions went on (and Mike disappeared halfway through the sessions), but with the big difference that each one of the supporting musicians were credited on the sleeve this time (which meant some nineteen names in all, though the band stopped short of crediting the twenty-odd piece horn and string sections). That's all understandable, but it's still a shame because the Monkees brought such a distinctive edge to 'Headquarters' that's missing from this album and for the first time The Monkees stop being 'a group' (or in the early days two lead singers going in roughly the same direction with a few extras thrown in by Mike) and start separating out into four individuals doing four sometimes very different things. In time that will become a real problem - here it's rather nice to have such an eclectic mix of styles on one LP and the variety is very in keeping with the feel of late 1967, although the album would still have been better with the whole band around to play on all of it.
The four performers are still going their separate ways – thus instead of the consistent sound of ‘Headquarters’ we get the Nesmith country-rock, the Dolenz pop, the Tork folk and the Davy music-hall all competing for space on one album and much of the praise for this album’s cohesiveness must go to the group’s ever-sympathetic, ever-visionary producer Chip Douglas. His second and last full album with the group, the band never worked as well with any other producer again, preferring to work solo rather than as a team and in many ways Pisces Aquarius is the dying embers of the Monkee dream when all four men were pointing in the same direction at roughly the same time, soon to be scattering in dozens of directions at once. However, the collaboration and excellence of Pisces Aquarius has much to admire, especially given the way the sessions stretched on for months compared to Headquarters’ scant three weeks as the Monkees had to slot recording dates around an even busier schedule of concerts, publicity appearances and recordings for their television series, now entering production on its second season. ‘Pisces, Aquarius’ isn’t yet the compromise recorded-in-separate-studios-at-the-same-time album that many fans take it to be, sharing much of the same spirit as Headquarters even if the Monkees recorded it on a more piecemeal rather than group basis. Pretty much all of the recordings feature the four Monkees somewhere along the line, even if Davy only sings a backing vocal overdubbed at a later date or Micky adds a moog part weeks after his bandmates think they have completed a song. There are some really great band moments here still: Mike, Peter and producer Chip Douglas all play guitars on ‘Salesman’, ‘The Door Into Summer’ and ‘Cuddly Toy’ feature the last full-band performance, ‘Daily Nightly’ features all four Monkees thanks to overdubbing and there’s an almighty jam session going on towards the end of ‘Star Collector’. Bob Rafelson even makes his only musical appearance on a Monkees album, roped into playing the opening piano for the ‘club bar’ setting of ‘Don’t Call On Me’.
Sadly, too, The Monkees have largely gone back to using outside writers as after an impressive six original songs between them on 'Headquarters' they end up with only three here. The short gap between recording sessions (largely taken up with TV series work) simply didn't leave much time for writing and even Mike had to reach back to his pre-Monkee past on 'Don't Call On Me', as well as the newer 'Daily Nightly' which for once was given over to Micky to sing. Davy also gets his first ever song credit for 'Hard To Believe', although Peter won't get another writing credit till the sixth Monkee album and Micky the seventh. The band also sound less like a democratic unit and are more than ever about one particular group member - although which group member may come as a surprise if you've been reading these reviews in order. Mike Nesmith has till now taken a relatively backstage role with two, one and three vocals respectively on the band's first trio of albums. This time he sings the lead on five songs as well as writing a sixth for Micky to sing (and plays a key harmony role on 'Pleasant Valley Sunday'); in contrast Micky gets only three and Davy four, which is a complete role reversal from ‘Headquarters’. More than any other album in the band’s history, Pisces, Aquarius is Mike’s project – as The Monkees got bored of creative control and being a ‘group’ (except for Peter, who still didn’t have the ‘clout’ to be listened to), the musician who fought for independence in the first place is finally allowed full space to grow. And grow he does, promoting songs by his friends as well as his own material, while he’s finally free to play the full-blown electric guitar (rather than learning pedal steel) which dominates the sound of this album. Even on the songs that Mike didn’t write, his choices still conform so well to his Texas twang that many fans have naturally assumed over the years that he did write them (one of them is by two of Nesmith’s pre-Monkees colleagues who co-wrote several songs heard only in the TV series soundtrack and another song is by a former Monkee auditionee that Mike befriended, which might explain their compatibility of style). Which leads to an interesting point. Producer Chip Douglas has long held that the reason the band didn't do another 'Headquarters' was at least partly because Mike was distracted and went awol after recording his own songs for the album. Which begs the question just how much of the album was made without his input: it seems likely he appears on everything except the re-made 'The Door Into Summer’ (on which he still sings) and 'Hard To Believe' (which is a Kim Capli multi-dubbing job nobody else plays on except Davy), although he is often missing from the background harmonies (as he was during the making of ‘Headquarters’). Clearly Chip was there and I wasn't so he knows a lot more than I do about what went on here, but the facts remain: this is the most 'Nesmithy' album of all the Monkees run and arguably the most 'guitar driven' too (with the finale to 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' still his ultimate 'rock guitar God' moment, closely followed by the funky Rickenbacker work on 'Words').
Elsewhere Micky might have given up his drum seat but he still manages several impressive cameos on this album, with his ‘catchy but deep’ vocals making the most out of the commercial but emotional songs coming his way. He's especially good on 'Daily Nightly' which calls for a certain kind of vocal (creepy and mysterious, yet not off-putting) that adds to his already eclectic range as well as nailing the silky snarky lead on ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and swapping 'Words' with Peter. Micky also turns in some pretty adventurous moog synthesizer playing on the album’s second side – and this back in the days when the instrument was so new that only he, George Harrison and a couple of the Moody Blues actually owned the flipping things. Peter’s piano, bass and guitar-work continues his growing confidence during the ‘Headquarters’ sessions, his quick ear for arranging helping to transform occasionally ordinary songs into exciting recordings. Once again though Peter's intended big moment on the album fell through with no songs of his own or suggestions from outside writers. What was planned as his big moment on the album got cut early on (‘Pisces’ was planned to start with  'Special Announcement', a spoken word parody of the sort of tapes engineers used to test machines during recording sessions - which was perhaps a postmodern fourth-wall-breaking in-joke too far). However 'Peter Percival Patterson' is a pretty popping perfect slice of 1967 whimsy (and leads strangely well into 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' given that there's no link whatsoever between the two except for being recorded on the same day) and he sounds downright groovy on 'Words', perhaps Peter's greatest vocal outside 'Long Title' (why oh why didn't the likes of Don Kirshner use his talents properly?) Davy, meanwhile, has comparatively little to do with this album just as with its predecessor – even though he dominates most of the rest of the Monkees’ run apart from Head. However he's now got rid of the 'balladeer' tag that was kind of holding him back (or at least lumbering him with all the band's really teenagery songs to sing) and in tandem with 'Headquarters' he arguably grows more than any other Monkee in this period (from  'The Day We Fall In Love' to 'Star Collector' in two easy moves - well two difficult albums - is quite a transition). 'Hard To Believe', a song that always gets some stick amongst Monkee fans, is also a highly promising first song, a bossa nova that adds yet another strand to the Monkees sound whilst also coming off as pure 'Davy'.
Indeed the range of styles on this album is if anything even more adventurous than on ‘Headquarters’, taking in that bossa nova track, catchy pop, country, rock, sly Harry Nilsson-music hall, folk, jazz, protest, spoken word and all-out psychedelia along the way. Not everything quite works the way it should - 'She Hangs Out' (a re-recording of the song Don Kirshner got Davy to sing for the  'Little Bit Me' B-side) sounds far more than just a few months out of date things have moved on so fast. 'Star Collector' is one of those songs you either love or hate depending on your mood (and is at face value The Monkees' oddest, ugliest cover song, even if it is also one of their bravest). 'Don't Call On Me' sounded better the way Mike used to sing it in his pre-Monkee days - straight and romantic, rather than barbed and sarcastic - even if it too is an under-rated song that doesn't get the credit it deserves. There's also no single song here quite as powerful as  'Shades Of Grey' [28b] 'I'll Spend My Life With You'  'Early Morning Blues and Greens' or  'Randy Scouse Git'. But that's like being disappointed because you only got one miracle not two: 'Pisces' is still a thrilling magic carpet ride that offers more exciting journeys than most albums, even ones from 1967. And this from a band who only recording the album in between fifty-eight episodes of a TV series! In context it's amazing not so much that 'Pisces' couldn't quite top 'Headquarters' as that it came as close to matching it as it did - just look at the (relative) mess follow-up ‘The Birds, The Bees and…’ made of things despite having more recording sessions over a longer period of time and without filming getting in the way ('Pisces' is almost certainly the last big Monkee seller because it's the last one plugged properly on TV, with just the much-repeated  'Daydream Believer' and a once-screened  'Zor and Zam' taken from later albums, barring repeats). In fact, ‘Pisces’ is the only Monkees album where every single track was featured in one episode or another (barring Tork’s brief spoken word ‘Peter Percival Patterson’) and songs like ‘Star Collector’ and ‘Pleasant Valley’ are the most-plugged songs in the show’s history, barring the ever-greens ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ and ‘I’m A Believer’! Rather suitably, the songs on this album are a vivid, lurid, rather visual bunch and obviously chosen in mind just as much for the TV series as the band’s fourth long-player; Mike even admits as much in Rhino's typically revealing sleevenote interviews in the mid-1990s.
There aren’t as many outtakes from this album as some others, revealing perhaps just how fragmentary the sessions for it were compared to the focus of ‘Headquarters’ and how close this album was to the wire in getting made. There’s nothing from any of the band’s surprisingly good out-takes sets Missing Links for instance (three volumes at present) and sadly the deluxe re-issue of this album was the most disappointing of the lot, with no backing tracks or demos or outtakes (barring the five alternate versions that had already come out in the 1990s). ‘Special Announcement’ was one of the less successful unreleased Peter Tork spoken gimmicks, with this track originally intended to start the album with a spoof test of your record player (as heard as a bonus track on the 1990s CD issue of Pisces, Aquarius), plus two songs from the same sessions: Daydream Beleiver B-side  Goin’ Down (once intended for the album) and the traditional carol  Riu Chiu (only ever meant to be heard in the TV series). Still lurking unheard in the vaults though are several more out-takes: no less than two completely discarded, even earlier versions of ‘The Door Into Summer’ than found on the Pisces CD, an unused Goffin and King song ‘Yours Until Tomorrow’ and an early version of an eventually completed song  ‘A Man Without A Dream’. A big band arrangement of the Nesmith song ‘Don’t Call On Me’ can though also be heard on Nez’s solo album ‘The Wichita Train Whistle Train Whistle Sings’, but if you can recognize which track it is without looking at the CD cover, then you’ve got sharper ears than me (it's near-un-recognisable!) For once The Monkees actually did put the best stuff out on the album and whilst 'Head' still contains the best music and 'Headquarters' is the best overall written/ recorded/produced Monkee album, 'Pisces' benefits from not having any  'Band Six' style outtakes or film dialogue spots to break up the mood. It all runs together rather well too, even though it's the second of four Monkees records originally given a very different running order (and the only one they were arguably right to change as the final one works better): Side One - Special Announcement/She Hangs Out/Salesman/Cuddly Toy/Words/Don't Call On Me/Goin' Down. Side Two: The Door Into Summer/Hard To Believe/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/Daily Nightly/Peter Percival Patterson/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Star Collector. Goin’ Down’ was removed when it became clear ‘Love Is Only Sleeping’ wasn’t going to be released as a single (it was dropped in favour of intended B-side  ‘Daydream Believer’) and was effectively ‘homeless’, while fans could still buy ‘Goin’ Down’ on the single (as The Monkees’ only exclusive B-side in the whole of their original run).
Oh and in case you hadn't already guessed, yes the astrologically-related title really does refer to the band's starsigns. Micky (birthday March 8th) is a freewheeling imaginative artistic and friendly Piscean. Peter (birthday February 13th) is a rule-breaking, individualistic, affectionate Aquarian. Mike (birthday December 30th) is a reliable, hard-working, resourceful Capricorn. Davy, of course, shared not only a starsign but a whole birthday with Mike (being three years younger to the very day) so his name got added as an 'extra' at the end. Though none of the band were particularly into this sort of thing, Starsigns were 'in' during 1967 - and so they should be, particularly as the summer of love came in the 'year of the goat', traditionally the most peaceful and creative year in the Chinese astrological calendar (sadly you can't really say the same about the ones that followed in 1979, 1991 and 2003 though). In fact I'm surprised more bands weren't making album titles like this one, which may also tie in loosely with a different interpretation of ‘stars’ on ‘Star Collector’. It was Davy who came up with the cover, or at least bounced ideas around with his artist friend Bernard Yezsin, with the four band members seen in silhouette against a sea of plants (which look not unlike psychedelic mushrooms - what do you think Colgems made of that?!) It's easily the best Monkees album cover (not that there’s a lot of competition there!), with the four very different characters instantly recognizable even without their faces showing. It's vibe of 'us-but-not-as-you-know-us' is also the perfect 'mysterious' cover to go with the often 'mysterious' contents that rightly hint that this is a slightly more arty and adult Monkees the fourth time around, extending their ideas of who they are from the ciphers on the first two albums. The result was, depending on how you saw it, both a hit and a miss: it's the band's last big seller and their last #1 in 3/4s of the Monkee's homeland of America, but sales were already slipping in Europe and technically this record became the poorest-selling album so far everywhere (though it still became the eighteenth best-seller worldwide of the year in the 1960s when most LPs were sold); it's fragmentary and diluted band style means it is also a slight step backwards artistically from 'Headquarters', though far from the chasm fans were fearing/critics were expecting. There’s still much to enjoy though, with this record perfectly poised between cosy charm and genre-bending adventure and offering a little something for everyone, whatever your horoscope.
 Salesman kicks things off with the song that – legend has it - might have got the Monkees TV series pulled off the air in 1968. Used as the centerpiece romp in the TV episode ‘The Devil and Peter Tork’, the show’s producers got into big trouble when the TV networks that screened the Monkees episodes took the narrator’s pushy sales drive to be about drugs (the ‘secret goods you push while you talk’, which I always took to mean brooms or something equally innocuous!), using it as their excuse to cancel the show and bring out all the usual charges of the band corrupting the nation’s youth (In actual fact the TV networks were already fuming at the episode’s script, which back in the days of 1968 was pretty groundbreaking; the band getting round the fact that you couldn’t mention ‘hell’ on prime-time TV by trying to say the word, getting bleeped and then wondering why they ‘re not able to speak it. A prime example of what got TV networks very hot under the collar in the mid-60s, this episode is a huge turning point in the Monkees fortunes, losing them the support of many important people – but instead of letting themselves be seen as nasty censors stuck in the past the TV companies publicly blamed this song instead; it’s a good job they didn’t hear the ‘alternate version’ included on the CD re-issue, generally accepted to be Nesmith giving fans instructions on how to roll a joint!) Considering the problems it caused, ‘Salesman’ is really a pretty innocuous opener, written by Penny Arkade songwriter Craig Vincent Smith (Nesmith was a big fan and helped the band get a manager and produced their first record as well as getting the band a gig as the band’s 1968 support act; sadly that album is still unreleased, though some singles were released and appear sometimes on psychedelia compilations; they’re good but not great). Poor Smith will later wind up penniless, alternating between spells in mental health asylums and living on the streets, which makes the fact that his most famous and best-selling song is about the dangers of capitalism and people selling you things you don’t really need. Nesmith ups the sarcastic ante on his vocal as he turns up working his way through college (err, I mean ‘working his way down the block’!) and pokes gentle fun at the ‘straight’ commercial world of hard-sales. Perhaps identifying with the peddler of a product who has to grin and be polite even when he’s ‘got to walk a hundred and ten miles’, Nesmith laughs at the whole idea – someone making a living out of conning people into buying things they don’t need. Underneath its withering sarcasm though this song is quite a sympathetic look at the face-smiling but back-hurting and boredom-inducing regime of sales assistants everywhere. Meanwhile the song’s snappy riff keeps driving the song on to the next door and the next sale, Chips’ bass winning the ‘most memorable moment’ award. Micky and Chip also turn in some glorious backing harmonies, hovering in the air like angels singing through a psychedelic haze, luring him on. With its mixture of chiming guitars, ever-restless bass and chilling backing vocals from Micky, Salesman sounds like a good deal all round, cute but ultimately inconsequential. However it’s a real shame that the most charming and most Monkees moment - the improvised Nesmith rap about his demonstration model falling apart while making a sale - didn’t make it to the final LP (you can hear this alternate mix as a bonus track on either of the two Pisces Aquarius CDs out on the market). Recorded: June 14th 1967
[54a] She Hangs Out is another conservative-sounding track that cooked up quite a bit of a storm over the years. This song was originally intended by ousted-impressario Don Kirshner to be the B-side for the single ’ A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ against the wishes of Monkees creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider who wanted a group-performance on the B side to ‘prove’ to the critics that The Monkees could make music too. Fired in the wake of the band’s creative freedom, most of the Monkees disowned the single but obviously had a soft spot for this song (Douglas recalls Davy suggesting they do it again and most of the group agreeing it was one of the best of their unreleased tracks - you can hear the [54b] original on the recent deluxe CD version of Headquarters’.) However, though the early version does indeed have a swinging charm, this group re-recording is far superior, with a much bigger budget, a much jazzier horn-driven arrangement and a much more convincing vocal from Davy the second time around. Brassy, both in terms of orchestration and Davy’s voice, it’s another fairly rather pedestrian song considering the fuss it caused, basically a tale of a ‘perfect’ 1960s model of a girl who hangs out at all the groovy discotheques. Davy, as with ‘Star Collector’, seems to be having fun with his image here, snarling his way through a song that could be completely innocent (as per the first version), but which also sounds slightly creepy at times here, as he slurs ‘how old would ya say your sister was?’ like he’s just joined The Rolling Stones. Mind you, this girl sounds like quite a handful who can take care of herself, Davy admiring the way she ‘gets herself in trouble’ (a throw-forward to the teenage riots of ‘Daily Nightly’ perhaps?) The gruffest Davy ever sang, it’s all the odder given that this finger-snapping piece of fluff is so obviously a ‘Davy’ track. The most frustrating thing, though, is a lack of Monkee harmonies: Chip’s louder than Micky in the mix and what Mike’s guitar and Peter’s organ being the only other Monkee contributions to the track it just doesn’t sound ‘right’ somehow. The best part are the brief Monkees’ block harmonies both on the song’s opening and in the chorus, a rare example of full group harmony in both senses of the word. Recorded: July 21st 1967
 The Door Into Summer is one of my very favourite Monkee songs. Pretty psychedelia meets folky protest song, it was very nearly a Monkee original, co-written by Monkee auditionee Bill Martin with some help from producer Chip, the two men who both had a claim to being the ‘fifth Monkee’ in this era. Though it doesn’t sound like anything The Monkees did before or since (except perhaps  ‘Mr Webster’) it’s a sound that suits them well. Mike’s earnest lead – recorded alone in the gents’ toilets at the studios to get the right ‘echo’ from the bathroom tiles, after a lot of hour delays scrambling to find recording cables long enough to reach! – must have reminded him of his folky days and it’s a good one. The lyric is a worthy one for him to sing too, a diatribe about capitalism that must have reminded Mike of his other early musical influence, setting poems to music in his English class. In a way this is Kirshner’s generation, The Monkees’ parental generation, where ‘nothing counts but more’. The lines portray ‘Midas’ children’ (the King of mythology who craved gold so much that he wished everything he touched would turn to it – only to learn his lesson when he embraced the ones he loved and turned them to gold too) always grasping for ‘fool’s gold’, while another refers to a ‘killing from the market on the war’, a double pun in that the money made from weapons no doubt helped kill innocent bystanders. As with so many AAA songs (including  ‘Sunny Girlfriend’) mankind could embrace the sunshine if he so chose, but no – the door to an idyllic hippie paradise remains locked to them, represented by a gypsy caravan and a humble penniless band who have so much more fun than the bankers could ever realize. Like Scrooge, the narrator realizes the error of his ways, but although he spreads his money to those who need it, he cannot buy back his wasted years of being miserly and missing out on the ‘free’ things that life has to share. In a masterstroke Mike is joined at the end by a ghostly Micky and their blend was never better, as Micky’s purity lures the miserly Mike out to play, goading him into opening that door into summer and embracing all that life has to give. The Monkees tried hard with this song, recording it three times before they were satisfied with the backing track and Nesmith had to re-record his vocal (down the gents) at a very late stage in the album’s sessions. This vocal may well be Mike’s best in his Monkees-years, dripping with emotion and rather shocked awe at the state of affairs in the song – it’s also one of Mike’s first recordings to feature his ‘new voice’ after having his tonsils out, giving his vocals from late 1967 onwards a much higher, less throaty quality than before. Thankfully all that effort was worth it – with its atmospheric acoustic guitar opening, tricky Peter Tork piano part, poetic lyrics that couldn’t be less commercial if they tried, two different drum tracks competing with each other (Micky and Eddie Hoh both playing in tandem) and its haunting backing vocals ‘The Door Into Summer’ belies its quiet under-stated feel to be one of the most memorable things The Monkees ever recorded, the epitome of the TV series’ spirit without all the manic jumping and arm-waving. Recorded: May 29th 1967
 Love Is Only Sleeping is a third song on the album with a troubled history. The Monkees could by now suggest anything for release and (probably at Nesmith’s urging) pushed for this Mike-sung cover of a Mann/Weil song (so different to their previous Monkee contribution  ‘Only Shades Of Grey’). It’s more than a little daring both musically and lyrically: psychedelic effects come and go (most of them drenched with echo), Mike builds up to an alarming falsetto that out pitches Davy, guitar riffs come and go with some aplomb and the lyrics refer to ‘sleeping’ i.e. sex (even though it’s really one long innuendo for how love can lie dormant rather than be extinguished, like a volcano). Even though it doesn’t quite come out and say it, this still comes across as the most sexually charged of Monkees’ songs, building up to an intense passionate noisy climax at the end. Recorded a long way from home (with overdubs completed while out on tour), The Monkees asked for the master-tapes to be sent to Bert and Bob to be pressed up. But they never got them (or so they said) with this tape going missing in the post; all that existed was a copy still held back where the band had been recording. Rather than delaying pressing up the single, Bert and Bob flipped the record and went with the more commercial and traditional B-side  ‘Daydream Believer’ instead, with the hastily recorded  ‘Goin’ Down’ plugging the gap. That’s the official line at any rate but Love Is Only Sleeping is hardly the first song to have gone missing and can’t have gone very far as it ‘mysteriously’ turned up in time for the album mixing which took place just a day or so later. Could it be that the show’s creators old maxim – that only Micky or Davy could be singing lead on a Monkees single – was still in force? Or did somebody get scared by the sheer sound of this record? Either way, this song’s commercial but slightly edgy sounds would have made it a good contender for a single, full of spiraling psychedelia effects throughout but enough of a strong hook and ‘heavy’ playing to make it a strong ‘rock’ song as well as a ‘pop’ song. Mike’s ringing guitar, treated to every effect under the song, sounds great on one of the band’s better riffs (not far off ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ to come) as Mike tries to encourage his girl to love him again, that he won’t wrong her again (it’s tempting to see this as another song that appealed to Mike as his first marriage began breaking up). Tired of watching his loved one growing ‘old’ worrying about their relationship, Mike urges her to try again, over a crazy-paving chord structure that leaps everywhere and somehow finds its way home in time for the passionate chorus. Mike and Micky sounds glorious again too, as Nesmith’s eccentricity finds its greatest foil in Dolenz’s pop charm, with a so-so song rescued by every production trick in the box. Recorded: June 19th 1967
 Cuddly Toy oddly enough was never treated as being controversial. Seen as a cute but lovable song for Davy to sing, unpublished author Harry Nilsson scored the biggest coupe of his career in getting The Monkees to recall this music hall style song. All about Davy passing advice on to a girl who felt abandoned and urging her to start dating again instead of being self-pitying, it’s a rather caustic variation on the regular Monkee theme of taking bad things in your life and dreaming of better to come. Only years later did The Monkees pass on that the story he had told them of what this song was really about: a girl gang-raped at a Hell’s Angels biker party. Nesmith, an early champion of Nilsson’s work, said that he loved it at ‘face value’, but it seems a rather odd song for him to love, a twee ballad very much down Davy’s half of the stage. Nilsson had been hawking his wares around the Colgems studio lot for some time (the Monkees started recording but never finished another Nilsson song  ‘The Story Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ during the Headquarters sessions). Already his characteristic touches are in place, however: a deceptively pretty tune is matched to some pretty harsh words that sound like a tug of war between peace and hate. Davy and Micky – on rare joint lead, although Davy’s is very much the lead part and Micky’s the harmony - sing the song straight, however, and ‘Cuddly Toy’ comes over as quite a sweet innocent song without the barely hidden sarcasm dripping in the song. Peter’s tack piano and the repetitive chorus should be irritating, but the arrangement of Cuddly Toy is just about interesting enough to overcome this, especially the psychedelic tape-delay cross-fade into the next track. Interestingly that unusual triple act of ‘Nash, Bud and Shank’ are credited with both the wind and brass instruments on this song, which really does mean for double duty! Recorded: April 26th 1967
[32b] Words is such an obviously great Boyce and Hart song and was so popular during the screenings of the television series that it’s a surprise they didn’t return to its tough charm during ‘Headquarters’. This song finds the original Monkee masterminds getting suitably psychedelic, with Micky and Peter trading lines on a song that has bossa-nova meeting rock a super-nova production. Though simplified from the original version (see [32a]), sadly removing the flutes and the backwards guitar section, the song is toughened up no end heard like this and it sounds more like a fight, less like a self-pitying whimper. As an interesting twist on Boyce and Hart always writing ‘negative’ songs, the inspiration for this nasty piece was actually rather nice: a fan asked for help getting tickets to the TV show American Bandstand and jokingly asked for a lift to a ‘hayride’ the pair were going to (were they still doing those by 1967? I thought they only happened in 1950s musicals?); she was amazed when two of her favourite stars invited her up to ride with them. Tracking down their tiny office the next day, she sent them a telegram which read ‘WORDS cannot express how kind you two were to me’. Seeing the opening, Boyce and Hart were struck by what an idea for a song it could be. However far from being a cute and fuzzy hay ride, this song is a blistering recreation of a relationship in tatters, where words are used as weapons. Micky and Peter oddly enough play a married couple who have fallen out of love with each other, their criss-crossing lines answering each other and feeling miserable (sample line: ‘Falling in love with you girl is just like dying!’) The choice of vocalists is inspired, giving Micky the chance to be creepier than usual and giving Peter a superior  ‘Auntie Grizelda’ to sing. The song ratchets up the tension until it finally explodes in a power chorus of shouted key words yelled by Peter and Chip at Micky while he tries to string some sentences together, the pair unable to keep the lid on their feelings anymore. A ghostly, eerie haunted-house feel organ part from Peter tries to lead the couple back to the start again, but instead we end in up in a group of ghostly falsetto ‘ahhh’s that sound like the ghost of the relationship dying. The arrangement fits in well with ‘Pisces, Aquarius’ consummate pop sounds dressed up as something more psychedelic and daring, and it’s theme of a relationship gone wrong because the pair of lovers have nothing in common and nothing to say to each other is deep for its vintage. A close cousin of the duo’s earlier  Steppin’ Stone, it lacks the same ‘real’ feeling and depth though, ducking out of answering hard questions with its power pop presentation instead. I miss the stomping feet of its predecessor and this song still sounded a little better with the backwards guitar part, even though the vocals are now much sharper (and Peter sounds much more comfortable on his co-lead with a few more vocals behind him). Recorded: June 14th 1967
Talking of bossa-nova, Davy’s first song  Hard To Believe comes next at the start of side two and it’s a pretty funky song that seems oddly out of place in the middle of this album for all sorts of reasons. For a start, this song was recorded quite a long time after everything else on the album, flown in at the last moment while the band were out on tour. Secondly, rather than the almost-Monkees of the rest of the album this song rather sets the tone as Davy is the only Monkee on the song. Amazingly, though, it’s pretty much a two hander with co-writer Kim Capli (who probably wrote the tune to Davy’s words) playing everything. And I mean everything! Kim is only credited on the original back sleeve of the album with playing the snazzy drums (the song’s most memorable feature, panning across the speakers like its alive, especially back in the days when stereo was new when it must have been striking). However, he also contributed the surf guitar, the big fat McCartneyesque bass line that does the opposite to every other instrument in the room, the tinkling piano, the ‘swooshing’ Ferris Bueller style backing vocal, even the blooming cowbell! As a result it doesn’t sound much like The Monkees because, well, it isn’t The Monkees Davy aside. I’m not sure who third writer Eddie Brick is but the fourth name – Charlie Rockett – is Davy’s TV stand-in, friend and general Monkees dogsbody who gets plenty of name checks on the ‘interview’ segments included in the Monkees’ second TV season). Most fans see this as the weak link of the album and it’s certainly something of an oddball, nothing like Davy’s future songs or anything any other Monkee did – it really doesn’t slot in on this album at all and might have been better saved for the more patchwork quilt style of ‘Birds and Bees’. However on its own terms its not a bad song at all and a real coup for Davy – the last Monkee to take up songwriting but in many ways the best, though you do wonder how much he contributed alongside his collaborators. If Davy did write the lyric, the most Monkee-like part of the song, then it’s perfectly in keeping with his TV persona: he’s at the early stage of love where his girl isn’t sure whether to take them seriously as a couple. So Davy turns on the waterworks, proving that he means what he says and that he wants to be with her forever ‘if you feel what I feel’. The song is also a worthy chance to show off just how well Davy can sing when left to his own devices and not told to sound ‘cute’. Finding a halfway point between the poppy early albums and the dark sombre tone of  ‘Shades Of Grey’, he builds from a growl to a soar that peaks just at the right time, on the final cry of ‘I love you, I need you, I do love…youuuuuuu!’ The result would make the top three of any bossa nova hits record (or indeed a great Hollies single, the 1960s band who used this style best), but it still feels oddly artificial somehow, as if Davy really is recording his vocals over a weeks old backing track for perhaps the first and only time in The Monkees’ canon. The cold bleak ending, when everything has changed and yet nothing has, as the bossa nova track simply keeps going the same as before, is either a good example of why players need to be in the same room to realize that they are coming from the same place or postmodern genius, suggesting that she has no interest in Davy at all even though he’s just poured his heart out to her. I still suspect the former though, that this is just a mistake and that we are meant to feel moved by song’s end. Recorded: August 23rd 1967
Not many songs can get away with the opening line ‘just a loudmouth yankee…’ Story song  ‘What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round?’ has always been popular with fans though, being arguably the simplest and most immediately lovable of all of Nesmith’s many country-rock songs. Oddly he didn’t write it, even though it sounds perfectly in keeping with Mike’s own style. Instead it’s Michael Martin Murphy again alongside Owen Castleman, nudging further to their ‘Westerns’ style of songs after dabbling with Medieval melodrama on  ‘Prithee’ (two songs that couldn’t be less like each other!) Oddly the pair were credited not under their real names but their pseudonyms ‘Travis Lewis and Boomer Clarke’, early pioneers of America who helped build the railroads. Perhaps that’s an in-joke, given that this another song that, like  ‘Clarksville’ in reverse, refuses to take a public route home. The narrator is lost in Mexico, feeling homesick and penniless, ‘taking advantage of a girl who loved me so’. His guilt, his sense of duty, his logical side, they all tell him to go home while the going is good, but his heart still keeps tugging at him whenever she kisses him. A typical Monkee essay in contrasts, the song keeps hopping from foot to foot, never quite sure whether it’s settling in the key of the verse or the chorus and bridging the two. By the end of the song it’s been a year and he’s settled with the girl he loves – and yet whenever he hears that whistle whine he wonders what life might be like back… A sweet song that gives Mike the best chance yet to show off his new tonsil-free lighter voice, it features lashings of his best guitarwork and some sweet harmonies from Micky who repeats exactly what he did on ‘Clarksville’. Not that inventive and not that deep, this song still manages to charm and makes the most out of the song with a thrilling performance that makes the most out of its hypnotic riff. Recorded: June 20th 1967
A brief alliterative joke from Peter Tork comes next with  'Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky' and despite the ‘Tork’ writers’ credit (as ‘assumed’ by Screen Gems’ bureaucratic team) this is actually a traditional children’s song. Peter learnt it from folk singer and friend Judy Mayhan and it was recorded off the cuff by Chip Douglas as Tork narrated it to impress some friends during a break from making ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’. With  ‘Special Announcement’ dropped from the album, it became an easy way of getting him included on the album. Frankly I would have preferred some of Peter’s superior compositions on an album instead of cluttering up the album’s psychedelic run with a nursery rhyme. I also much prefer the unreleased-at-the-time  'Alvin The Alligator', recorded during the next album’s sessions in an attempt to replicate the style of this album and which was written by Peter's brother Nick! It’s ok though, with Peter’s popping ‘p’s impressive on a ‘party piece’ he’d clearly recited a lot at that time and has a cute joke where Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky suddenly breaks out of his alliterative breakfast and eats pie ‘before he goes to…bed!’ It’s sad he popped at the end, though. We fans should send a memorial card. Recorded: June 10th 1967
The monologue suddenly switches gears and segues into  Pleasant Valley Sunday in one of the weirder twists of this album, given that there’s no connection between the two except that they were made the same day. Enough moaning, however: what’s not to love about this song? Demod by Carole King as a sad and reflective piece, The Monkees jumped on it for its potential as a bright and sunny commercial number, completely switching the arrangement around and throwing everything at it. Everyone gets a chance to shine: Micky does what he always does on the vocal, Peter plays the piano that drives the song, Davy gets a major part in the ‘ba ba ba’ backing and Mike adds his most prolific vocal yet alongside Micky in the chorus. There are more Monkee harmonies and interaction here than on any of their other singles and they all do what they do best: Micky at his expressive poppy best floating away on the breeze, Davy ‘earthing’ the song in the middle eight and Mike sounded both sweet and sour, adding to the pop feel without losing his customary bite. The song’s most famous moment is the lashings of gorgeous Rickenbacker guitar. Doubled by Chip on his guitar, this part invented by the producer for the recording totally makes the song, a jangly peal of goodness that takes off at the end into a resounding peal of reverb that keeps getting bigger and bigger (though, frustratingly, the album mix of the song ends a few precious seconds earlier than the single).In terms of performance its one of the best The Monkees ever gave (give or take the substitute drummer Eddie Hoh filling in for Micky) and it sounds gorgeous. The tune too is lovely, the way it rolls around three distinct sections without losing sight of its catchy hook and gloriously exciting chorus.
Underneath the surface, though, this is a very weird song indeed, both very un-Monkees and very un-1960s. Like many a Hollies song, it features the narrator looking out at the world but unlike, say, ‘Look Through Any Window’ which loves being part of a thriving hubbub of activity, ‘Pleasant Valley’ takes the mickey out of it. My guess is that it was loosely inspired by ‘Day Tripper’, the Beatle single that poked fun at the idea of ‘part-time’ hippies who worked for mega corporations in the week in suits and ties and dressed up in love beads at weekend. You either go all the way or none at all in this era and you can’t have status symbols and embrace the hippie dream. There’s a postmodern twist in the opening verse, surely written for The Monkees and their TV personas, that ‘the local group down the street are trying to learn this song’ with the ‘street’ being the one from the  ‘Theme’ maybe – they’re the minstrels trying to add colour to a drab dreary world where there are ‘rows of houses that are all the same and no one seems to care’. Nobody listens though: Mrs Gray only cares for her roses and Mr Green is too interested in watching the telly (with a ‘TV in every room’ unusual back in 1967, not the norm as it is now). Too many people care about status symbols and money, not the life that music and creativity can give them. Oddly, though, rather than do what the TV series would do and show why The Monkees and longhaired weirdo youths of the day are ‘right’, we get the deeply cynical rejoinder that ‘mothers complain about how hard life is – and the kids just don’t understand’. Until now The Monkees’ manifesto has been about bringing people together (albeit under the youth’s terms for the first time); this line always seems to clash with that to my ears. Far better is the peaceful middle eight that seems to be working backwards where ‘creature comforts numb my soul and make it hard for me to see’. It is the grumpiest song Carole King ever wrote (except perhaps  ‘I Just Won’t Be The Same Without Her’, but that one is more of a cry from the heart) and seems an odd sell for The Monkees, cynical and sarcastic. Somehow, though, the recording trounces all of these objections and is performed remarkably straight, with Micky and Mike very much the sound of the perfect circus you want to run away and join. How could you possibly not want to take part in this movement and stay at home with your TVs and your roses after hearing this? Some say that The Monkees always brought down the level of a Goffin-King song in their covers, but I would say they raised the level here; impressed, Carole starts giving the band her deeper work from now on to keep up. Recorded: June 10th and 11th 1967
[62a] Daily Nightly is another swirly psychedelic song more like the ones on Pisces’ first side – but this time it really is Nesmith original rather than a soundalike (although confusingly its sung here by Micky!) The frizzy-haired one in fact dominates this recording, proving his wacky improvisations on the TV show weren’t his only examples of creativity thanks to the squeaks and warbles he coaxes out of his new toy, the moog synthesizer. The bleeps fit perfectly with ‘Daily Nightly’s dense, poetic lines about growing restlessness amongst the younger crowd in their haste to look for ‘answers’. A darker twist on the general Monkee vibe of the generation gap, this song takes the poetic route into wondering why the divide exists. The song actually dates from the early Monkees period of late-1966 when a group of teenagers ‘accidentally’ set fire to a bus near a nightclub named Pandora’s Box in protest at a curfew against under-eighteens being allowed out after dark. The problem, the kids maintained, came from the adults and their ‘war-like ‘rules’, not the hippie community who only wanted peace and fun and a bit of music. This seemed to affect Mike quite strongly – you can see him talking about this in the ‘minute short’ sequence tacked onto the end of TV episode #19 ‘Find The Monkees’ and he portrays it here, in surreal oblique form, as merely the latest in a series of clashes, an inevitability of a generational divide that ‘finds questions but no answers’ in the way the world is being run. Very much in keeping with Mike’s early practice of setting poems to music, it’s an impressive song – perhaps the second best on the album – that’s certainly a lot more striking than anything I had to study in school. There are some truly haunting beautiful images here: The ‘dark and rolling figures move through prisms of no colour’ when the lights are turned off in the club, ‘hand in hand they walk the night but never know each other’ the parents and children walking side by side in completely separate universes and the best description ever made of someone who had just taken LSD and wants to hear some music: ‘startled eyes that sometimes see phantasmagoric splendor pirouette down palsied paths with pennies for the vendor’. And they say The Monkees couldn’t write properly and were just for pre-teens, ha! You can just imagine what the group’s producers would have said if Nesmith had offered up this modernistic surreal poem set to music during the band’s early recording sessions, but the song’s maturity and poetic spirit is well suited to Pisces Aquarius’ layered textures and Micky does Mike proud on the song, his echo-treated vocal full of ghostly wonder and his moog full of the sound of ‘tomorrow’, tearing at the loose fabric still trying to cover up the holes in the generational truce. I wonder why Mike brought in his partner to sing it though when he himself so dominates this album – maybe it didn’t suit his own earthy Texan drawl quite so well? Underneath all that electronic hoo-hah there’s quite a strong band performance rattling on underneath too that’s impressively tough, complete with ominous bass rumblings, Eddie Hoh’s best drumming on the album and a sense of ‘answers’ going on tantalisingly just out of the listener’s reach. The Monkees were always at their best testing boundaries and rarely did they push the boundaries quite as well as here. Recorded: June 19th 1967
I got a grandoggy (in a top hat)...  Don’t Call On Me is Mike’s other song on the album, this one actually sung by its composer this time. This song is an even earlier composition though, dating back to Mike’s folkie days long long before The Monkees. Although the song is performed by Nesmith straight in a rare ‘Mike, John & Bill’ recording from early 1966 (unreleased at the time and still not available officially, just on bootleg), Mike sings it here in a notably tongue-in-cheek way, a feeling enhanced by the spoof-Nightclub atmosphere introduction, recorded with Nesmith’s knowledge but not his participation at a later recording session. This sounds a weird one, full of ‘end of term party’ hi-jinks: Bob Rafelson dropped in to say ‘hi’ and was roped into providing the bar-room piano on the track while Micky, Davy, Peter and Chip stand around pretending to be bores at a fictional club (‘The Elegant Pump Room’ by the way, was a real club that sounded a lot like this and it was in Chicago but Micky gets the address wrong – ‘Palmer House’ was the name and address of a different club altogether; was he so drunk one night he didn’t realize he’d been to two the same night?) This part consists of Davy claiming this is a 'great bar', Chip asking ‘where are you from?’, Peter and Chip Douglas laughing loudly and Micky ‘asking that musical question’. This was itself an in-joke, used frequently by the band on their live tours, after a review of one of their early singles that tickled them because they hadn’t got a clue what it meant. It’s all a little bit arch and not really fitting for what is really at heart a very sweet song. Mike sings like an angel and sounds like he’s declaring love, but the lyrics suggest another early tiff with wife Phyllis: ‘Don’t call on me when you’re feeling footloose and fancy free’ he croons, ‘you’ve done that before!’ Woolhat sings ‘It’s all over now’ Sinatra style before encouraging his girl to roam without recriminations ‘in your own little world’. He could have sung this for laughs and there is a slight wry chuckle in his voice, but this song was clearly real once; Mike also sounds as if he simultaneously means every word – except perhaps the melodramatic ‘hah!’ whispered in the instrumental break. It’s certainly too ‘real’ to be just a jazz lounge singer at the bar, even if the backing is a little OTT with its strings and lush orchestration, so utterly different to what one would normally expect from a Nesmith song and production. Davy adds 'good singing' at the end, just in case Mike thinks they're laughing at him not with him), but it’s too little too late: this feels like a serious song turned into a joke for no good reason. The song is strong enough to stand on its own two feet and actually sound even better with the opening and ending sections cut off (as heard in the TV episode ‘Monkees In Paris’). ‘Don’t Call On Me’ may be uncharacteristic but it is after all one of its creator’s prettiest and most under-rated songs and his high falsetto vocal is an impressive match for it, although even dating back that far in Nesmith’s past it’s feeling, stumbling melody-line still manages to go in a completely different to the one you expect it to. More like ‘don’t call on The Monkees when you’re trying to sing a serious song!’ Recorded: June 20th 1967
In no way is the closer [64a] Star Collector playing it safe though – it’s the Monkees biggest psychedelic freakout ever with lyrics about groupies after sex – a dodgy subject for any band in late 1967 never mind one with an audience largely made up of pre-teens - and ends with a jam session complete with discordant synths and a chaotic clash of instruments and feedback. The fact that this song manages to be the Monkees’ most out-there track despite being written by teen-friendly writers Goffin and King and sung by the Monkees’ most teen-friendly member Davy (!!!) says much about how far the band and their associates were trying to push the envelope in this period, seeing how far they could get away with things. I’m not entirely sure they do, with this song crossing over the line into ugly madness more times than it breaks the rules convincingly, but it’s still a song I’m glad the band tried. In fact, if you like the Monkees at their rowdiest and least focused, there’s a lot to enjoy about this song which features a surprisingly lascivious Davy Jones vocal, some Peter Tork whoops and a rather redundant mellotron solo (played by moog expert Paul Beaver this time – instead of Micky’s improvised unpredictable flair it sounds like a rather odd-sounding keyboard played in a conventional and rather boring keyboard manner). Add in a torrent of sound effects, swathes of echo that make everything sound hazy and a rather wonky keyboard part and this song is way beyond what even the likes of the Grateful Dead were doing in the studio at the time (they’d only had one album out by then of course), with the pounding, repetitive bass riff from Chip just about tethering all this back to Earth. The lyrics, though hard to hear, are perhaps the biggest change to the usual Monkees sound: the girl Davy sings about is no longer one to worry about ‘getting into trouble’ but a man-eater, aiming to collect ‘celebrities’ like trophies (Davy doesn’t specify what she collects but it’s easy to see the comparisons with the ‘plaster casters’ team led by Pamela Des Barres who loved taking plastercasts of certain body parts of all the musicians they slept with). As far as I know they never took The Monkees’ parts (as true blue rock and roll fans they probably considered The Monkees beneath them) but that’s exactly what it sounds like here as the girl ‘aims to please young celebrities’. There may also be a first sign here of a future Monkee motif as the band get cynical about fans turning their backs on them, as sales begin to fall, with the groupie heading to ‘some other doorway’ by the time of the second verse. Davy is uncharacteristically annoyed: ‘How can I love her when I just don’t respect her?’ he huffs here, before repeating the refrain of  ‘I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind’. The ending jam is quite brilliant in a ‘breaking boundaries’ kind of a way, but it suffers from being so Monkees-lite: the most memorable parts are Paul Beaver’s moog, Chip’s bass and Eddie’s drums, with only Peter’s stabbing organ and some barely audible Nesmith guitar played by the band themselves. Originally running some five minutes (with thirty seconds chopped out, but reinstated for the CD re-issue as a bonus track) for once less is more, the ending death throes going on just a little bit too long, though Peter rescues the situation by taking over and waving ‘bye bye’. He was probably thinking that this song would be the end of the record (which indeed it was) but it sounds in retrospect as if he’s waving goodbye to The Monkees as a creative democratic adventure. From here-on in things are going to go even further out on a limb while the band also sadly become far more splintered. Recorded: June 22nd and October 4th 1967
By turns the most and the least Monkees-sounding Monkees album of all, Pisces Aquarius is an impressively mature statement from an increasingly mature band, stretching out into a range of new styles with generally successful results. Featuring a highly varied band doing what all varied bands do best – working together and backing each other up as each Monkee heads off on yet another new adventurous road – Pisces continues Headquarters’ good run of adventurous form whilst still staying close enough to the band’s old formula to placate their target audience. Some of the album works well, especially when it gets daring: ‘The Door Into Summer’ and ‘Daily Nightly’ are poetic songs well told, ‘Words’ and ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ sound brilliant thanks to great performances and a powerhouse production and there are lots of new ways of doing new things across the album. Not everything works: ‘Don’t Call On Me’ is a nice song done badly, ‘Salesman’ is an odd song done oddly and ‘Star Collector’ is a manic song done manically. This album lacks both the consistency and brotherly good vibes of ‘Headquarters’ and would have benefitted greatly from more Monkee overdubs late in the recording stage. However, for a record made on the run in bursts and starts in between filming on the second year of the TV series by a band still criticized for not making their own music, it’s impressive enough that The Monkees didn’t simply throw in the towel then and there, never mind make music this progressive and daring. Though this fourth album might not always be substantial when you bite into it, the LP looks and sounds great throughout, with the band’s best production and greatest front cover making them look as cool as any band currently out of fashion can be. Long neglected by fans and the general public compared to albums that shout louder, ‘Pisces Aquarius’ is a quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) triumph, marking a successful end to a ridiculously productive year. Alas the horoscope to come is stormy, interrupted by bouts of oddness…