Friday, 5 June 2009
"The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees" (1968) (News, Views and Music 34) (Revised Review 2015)
The Monkees “The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees” (1968)
Handsome canine reviewer well respected in a top hat, writing words of wisdom to appeal to a certain cat, generous respectable successful dog whose thin, only likes the parts of this album dealing with municipal courts and kings. AAA Album reviews 9847, a strange mix of hell and heaven, caught halfway between psychedelic 'Pisces' and acerbic 'head'en...Hmm, have described LP very poorly. Better try again...
Alright mascot Max The Singing Dog, I'll take over from here. It was a hard job being a Monkee fan in 1968. The Monkee lunchbox that used to be the most revered item on the playground was now a bit dented and being used against you by the school bullies who were onto supposedly hipper things, the TV show was about to go off the air (apparently for good! The band are meant to be making a film though - that's sure to be a laugh riot perfect for the pre-teen market, right?) and there was a feeling that the greatest multi-media experiment since Al Jolson starred in talking pictures had reached its peak and was going down the other side. The Monkees sound, built by Boyce and Hart and Kirshner but by now a democratic unit made up of a ridiculous amount of voices and visions, clearly had to go somewhere to survive the testing times and tastes that changed more times than Micky's hairstyle. While psychedelia was in the ascendency The Monkees could get away with things a little bit more - 1967 was after all their year with three top three LPs released in a jam-packed twelve months and a sense that anything goes however weird or, by contrast, however 'traditional'. Though true hippies never took The Monkees to their hearts anyway, the more mainstream record-buying public was still prepared to give the band the benefit of the doubt. The year 1968, however, was very different. Whereas flower power had been leading to roughly the same end result (world peace), the sequel year was a much more troubled, disparate affair with aging flower children at war with their siblings who thought the path of change was too slow. This wasn’t the year to tolerate pop music. The year was fragmented, turbulent, full of dark shadows and revolutions and threats, with psychedelia no longer the 'end result' but another stop off on the road to...something. Many reviewers quote The Beatles' 'White Album' as the ultimate demonstration of this for good reason: it's a record that has so many ways to go it can't even pack them all onto a single disc of vinyl. But The Monkees were even better placed than the fab four to go off in so many directions at once as with their four very different backgrounds and styles. The music the band had been producing makes for a very schizophrenic listening experience anyway, even before the release of 'The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees', but it’s here that The Monkees’ style gets stretched to breaking point. It's in many ways the ultimate album to show off what The Monkees could do - but also their first 'failure' that doesn’t hang together as well as albums one-four.
Well, relatively. People forget so easily today just what The Monkees went through to get to this point. For decades now we’ve been retrospectively told that the Monkeemania of the mid-1960s was short-lived and tiny, causing a few teeny boppers to be conned by the group’s so-called ‘manufacturedness’ and repeated exposure on television but none of the true music collectors who made the swinging sixties swing. Yet even today the first four Monkees records are among the best two hundred selling albums made by anybody, selling millions upon millions of copies around the world, including countries that never actually got to see the TV series the first time round. Back in the 1960s the band’s record sales were ridiculously impressive, outselling every single group of the 1960s except the Beatles (and then inconsistently – ‘The Monkees’ outsold every Beatles album bar ‘The White Album’, ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Sgt Peppers’ ‘Rubber Soul’ and, surprisingly, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’). Up to 'Birds' every album had done what it needed to (nudging the band that little bit further along the road from 'cuteness' to 'hipness') at just the right speed not to leave too much of their audience behind as they grew up and with just enough of a smorgasbord of styles to mean that even if you didn't like everything you were guaranteed to like something. And then two things happened.
The first we've already dealt with: the daft idea that being ‘manufactured’ equalled being unhip, that the band didn’t play their own instruments, that a television series selling records was somehow sacrilegious (instead of being merely inventive and way ahead of their time) and that the four individuals involved were talentless and unworthy of any discussion by any proper acting/music journalists (instead of which, the fact that four men came up with double the workload of any other band in the hardworking 1960s – six albums in two and a half years plus fifty-eight episodes of a TV series and a film – the fact they also made them to such a consistently high standard is nothing short of amazing). Admittedly, the Monkees had very little to do with their first two albums except sing on them and – in Mike Nesmith’s case – be allowed the absolute limit of two songs per album and a bit of production work to keep him in wool-hats. But by albums three and four was in the air and liberty was theirs, with all four Monkees writing, producing and playing their own material. So far so good: the albums had still sold well after all ('Headquarters' sold more than other album in 1967 bar 'Sgt Peppers' which kept it off #1 and, erm, that psychedelic master-class of far-out with-it anarchic sounds the 'Sound Of Music' soundtrack album) and The Monkees could have continued like that forever.
But by album five, ‘The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees’, a number of things had happened. The backlash from the ‘how were we ever conned by the Monkees?’ press pages had begun to see their full effect, slowly killing off the band’s album and single sales and seeing the half-axing/half abandonment of the band’s TV series. Simultaneously The Monkees had ironically just won more control of their destiny than ever before, given free reign by show creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to record what they liked, when they liked, with whoever they liked - the sort of thing everyone underneath The Beatles longed for (if the public had understood the 'truth' they'd have been asking why till recently producers had been in charge of almost all group's sessions and why some bands - such as The Beach Boys - still had their father nominally in charge of making the music). With production for the TV show wrapped, all four Monkees were basically patted on the head and told that a lengthy run of sessions had been booked up for them to do more or less what they liked with - four months, more or less, between November 1967 and March 1968. After being told how to sing every single not a certain way, suddenly they were told they were on their own – with album sales falling Colgems weren’t that fussed what they did as long as it wasn’t rude. In fact more than that, The Monkees were told that from now on every song had to contain a 'produced by The Monkees' credit in an increasingly late attempt to show that the band were real musicians with a weird beginning, not puppet masters, so that even if they did manage to get their friends in to help they could no longer be credited. The days of Don Kirshner or Chip Douglas or indeed anyone taking control of their sound was over - which was great news in terms of The Monkees truly going down their separate paths and coming up with music much closer to the natural styles they'd be using by choice, but bad news for the foursome as a group. Chip was particularly hard done by, leaving rather than having his name taken off the albums (though he remained close to most of the band for decades) and without him to hem the tiller there’s a lot more self-indulgence and questionable decisions going on in the making of this album. Worse yet, there's just a single solitary band performance ('Daydream Believer', recorded at the tail end of the 'Pisces' sessions) and only one other recording featuring more than one Monkee (which came when Mike decided Micky sounded better singing 'Auntie's Municipal Court' alongside him than he did on his own). By the time of this album, the worried record executives were in two minds – whether to cut their losses and wind the whole thing up, letting the band do what they wanted while they go on with whatever the next big might be or to steer the band forcibly back to the early days of catchy specially-written singles and tightly controlled dictatorships. The band too are in two minds, aware that they’d already pioneered about as many new sounds as it was possible to pioneer and that without their TV series on the air they’d effectively cut off one of the limbs necessary to keep the Monkees concept working. The fans were in two minds too – it was great The Monkees had creative control and all, but did it have to be quite so weird? No wonder, then, that ‘The Birds…’ is a muddled record, an uneasy merger of the bubblegum first two albums and the increasingly impressive group sound of the third and fourth albums where no two Monkees are coming from the same universe, never mind walking down the same street anymore.
In a way, ‘Birds and Bees’ is an album that shouldn’t exist at all. The TV series – the whole point of the original Monkees – is over now. This album is the first to be a ‘soundtrack’ to visuals that would only ever exist in fan’s heads from now on (I’d love to see what episode plot fans created for ‘Tapioca Tundra’ and ‘Writing Wrongs’!) Music is now their only outlet for what was meant from the first to be a multimedia experiment – but after such a tiring year nobody is quite ready to grasp the opportunity with both hands ever (except Peter and he’s been silenced). Without the filming taking up most of their time this album should have been the Monkees’ crowning glory, with all four members producing their own sessions and having a much greater say on what direction they wanted to take the band in and finally proving to the world that they were all four gifted musicians even if their apprenticeship to stardom was all a little bit... unusual. On these grounds this album is a failure, with only Davy, against all odds, approaching his best work (finally freed of always being asked to sing up high, his voice will blossom like never before from this point on, even if his songwriting sadly peaks here). The band are all too obviously tired, fed up and increasingly aware that their time is over. For all that, though, this ‘treading water’ album covers a ridiculous amount of lagoons as the band all go as far out as they can.
It won't surprise regular readers of this site to learn, however, that there are still plenty of highlights even on an often dodgy LP. Almost all the highlights belong to the unusual and largely untested team-up of Monkees Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones. Despite sharing the same birthday, these two musicians couldn’t have been bigger polar opposites. And I mean opposites – journalists always go to town over the differences between Lennon and McCartney but at least they shared similar backgrounds, desires and, quite often, opinions (their music overlaps more and more during the 1970s even though they’d gone their separate ways). In contrast Mike and Davy grew up in separate countries, came from entirely different walks of life and enjoyed completely opposite musical tastes (Davy loved British music hall; Mike had probably never even heard of it – similarly the country music that ran through Mike’s veins was hardly a part and parcel of a 1960s Mancunian’s life). The fact that they existed in the same time zone, never mind the same band, shows what an eclectic and wide-ranging time period the sixties was – especially as nobody thought this wide-ranging musical aspect of the Monkees’ project ‘odd’ at the time. Nesmith gradually got more dominant as the Monkees got older (interestingly, he doesn’t really dominate ‘Headquarters’, the true beginnings of the ‘band’ sound, despite that album being at least partly his idea). Here Mike gets four songs of the pie to himself and – with record company executives off his back for pretty much the first time in his career now that the band aren’t selling and he doesn’t need the money quite so badly – goes to some seriously strange and wacky places. When it works - as with the overall album highlight 'Auntie's Municipal Court' or the unwieldy nature of 'Writing Wrongs' - it demonstrates what a genius Mike Nesmith is, was and always will be and why no record company should have dared to inhibit his magical powers. 'Tapioca Tundra' and 'Magnolia Simms', however, demonstrate why Mike also occasionally needed someone to step in and stop him before he went so far out the other side he ended up being the only person comprehending his own work.
Davy is much more conservative of course, with all of his songs squarely in the traditional, commercial mode – and yet, despite that rather backhanded compliment, Davy's star has never been as high as it is on this record. Quite apart from the gorgeous lead vocal on 'Daydream Believer' (which makes the song) and the gritty vocal on the inferior re-make of much requested Monkee outtake 'Valleri', Davy comes up with two credits on the album and they are amongst his best work: 'Dream World' is exactly the sort of 'adult pop' The Monkees should always have been doing, while 'The Poster' is the greatest Monkee TV soundtrack song not actually written for the TV Series (sadly it came along too late for the 'Monkees At The Circus' episode where it would have been great; we had to put up with the lacklustre first version of 'I'll Be Back Upon My Feet' instead).
Talking of which, though the Monkees had relative creative freedom in what to record, they were still nagged in certain quarters about what to record, with the suits upstairs chipping in a few ideas of their own. With Davy, against all odds and after only getting one song on an album before this, on something of a creative roll that left poor Micky as the go-to Monkee for officials in high places. Micky famously wrote songs at a slower pace than the others (Peter and Davy wrote in fits and bursts, while Mike wrote continually - Micky was a one-song-a-year man and even he wasn't sure what to do with 1968's composition  'Rosemarie' which he kept returning to over and over as you'll hear on the various CD re-issues of this album) and needed to sing something by somebody else. I'm willing to bet that he wasn't the party behind a second redundant attempt to gee-up the gormless 'I'll Be Back Upon My Feet' into something useable or the chooser of one of Boyce and Hart's less inspired songs 'PO Box 9847', though as it's Micky he still gives both a good old go. To be fair, Micky is unlikely to have been the chooser of Bill Chadwick's 'Zor and Zam' either (Mike was closest to the long-term friend though all may have agreed to the idea) but it remains easily his greatest moment on the album, even if it is an unused TV theme tune in search of a good home (the series, loosely based on the animated wonders of ‘Yellow Submarine’, was set to follow in late 1968 but was sadly never made). Even so that's two minutes of decent Micky from a band who used to revolve around their lead singer and two duds - what happened? And why is Peter, despite having six songs varying between good and jaw-droppingly fantastic, a ghost on an album that was intended to be quarter his?
Nobody really knows – the song selection for this album is so skewed it seems to have been picked out by some Monkees sitting at typewriters and put together at random (there’s no Micky at all until side two for instance except his co-lead with Mike on ‘Municipal Court’ and three when we get there, most odd!) I’m not even sure who chose it (though chances are it was one or all of arranger and experienced jazz musician Shorty Rogers, Colgems vice president Brendan Cahill or Screen Gems boss Lester Sill). This record should have been so different: The Monkees had time, after all, a luxury they most certainly hadn't had making the first four records (each one squeezed in between production on the TV series and concerts – though there was a tour of Japan in this period, compared to the busy year they’d just spent together this was small fry indeed). They also clearly had the songs, even if a lot of the cream of their crop never actually made the record. Just look at the songs from the 'Missing Links' series and the various CD re-issues over the years had to offer: Davy is on terrific form, writing some of his greatest songs with Steve Potts and Charlie Smalls that are better yet compared to what made the record:  'War Games'  'Party'  'I'm Gonna Try'  'The Ceiling In My Room' and  'Changes' are all certified Davy classics, better even than 'The Poster' and 'Dream World'. So is  ‘Smile’, a charming song that proved Davy could also write on his own. Micky was to some extent taking a long deserved rest but still had time to pen 'Rosemarie', a funky song he'll twiddle with on and off for the next year as well as singing on Leiber and Stoller's  'Shake 'Em Up' (abandoned when the less funny song by the same writers’  'D W Washburn' became the first singles chart Monkee flop, though this one is oh so much better it hurts!) and Boyce and Hart's  'Through The Looking Glass' (a song put in mothballs until the 'Instant Replay' collection of outtakes and a curious choice given that, while better than the worst of either records, it's vastly inferior to some of the others outtakes from this album that were never considered for release). Mike is, unusually, working with the other Monkees, perhaps spurred on by the success of 'casting' Micky on 'Municipal Court': he wrote the jazzy  'My Share Of The Sidewalk' and the lovely folky [76b] 'Nine Times Blue' for Davy to sing. He also makes the most of The Monkee budget and hooks up with some session musicians he’d long admired in Nashville, recorded a whole pile of songs that won’t see the light of day for twenty years (Mike could have released a double album on his own there are so many!)
However it's Peter whose light shines brightest amongst the outtakes from this period, making a mockery out of the original album where with the band reduced to working with session musicians again meant that Peter’s grand contribution is reduced to the ‘7a!’ shouted intro to ‘Daydream Believer’, a bit of piano on the same track and writing ‘Love, Peter Tork’ on the back cover. Just think how differently - and evenly - this album might have turned out:  ‘Merry Go Round’,  ‘Lady’s Baby’,  ‘Come On In’  ‘Tear The Top Right Off My Head’  'Alvin' and an early version of  'Long Title' were all recorded in this era are among the best the band recorded in this period (well Ok maybe not 'Alvin' but Peter was honouring his younger brother Nick in covering the song; frankly all of these tracks are better than anything Micky Dolenz is given to sing on this album until 'Zor and Zam'). Now, I’m not saying that Tork was the most talented Monkee of the four (they were all quite genuinely equal in my opinion, albeit their talents lied in different directions) but his presence often makes good Monkees albums great (just look at his contributions to ‘Headquarters’ and ‘Head’). Giving your band the chance to do what they want and then refusing to release it is inevitably going to have repercussions - especially given that Peter was already the most adamant about still recording together as a bona fide group - and an especially dangerous thing to do to a client whose contract is up at the end of the year. Giving all this to a name famous in the 1950s for doing the sort of big band arrangements the 1960s were designed to destroy is also a curious move, although Shorty Rogers – sort of in charge of these sessions – proves to be a worthy collaborator, empathetic and supportive of The Monkees’ attempts to record their own songs, even if his natural taste for big arrangements does swamp some of the humbler songs here. On paper, though, it’s a truly weird choice. It's almost as if Screen Gems wanted to split the group up...
This record doesn't even look like the hip trendy record it should have been: The Monkees were keen to have their say on this aspect of their release too, given the largely positive response to Davy's commission for 'Pisces, Aquarius', but Screen Gems muffed that too, hiring the job out to their New York branch and refusing to give way when the band complained (they didn't like the collage style, which veered too close towards 'Sgt Peppers' and made their faces too small on the cover; they were also less than amused that the graphic designer had sneaked his own picture onto the sleeve - you can see it at the middle of the bottom row behind the fake daisies). The fallout put a wedge between band and record label that might have festered for years had the band's poor sales post-TV series and the sacrificial victim that was 'Head' not gone on to turn this festering resentment into a division cataclysm before the end of the year.
You’d expect this album to be hated within the Monkee community then, but actually it’s kind of admired. No band, manufactured or otherwise, ever made an album quite as weird as this one, but weird in a specific Monkee way. You never know from one track to the next where this album is going to go next: romantic ballad, roaring twenties jazz, surreal soundscapes, prog rock epics, sunshiney pop or folkie protest. It really is like ‘The White Album’ six months early, only The Monkees condensed their warts-and-all project to a single album! Even 'Pisces' didn't have a song quite as wonderfully weird as 'Municipal Court' or as pointed as 'Zor and Zam' and few Monkee songs are as lovely as 'Dream World' and 'The Poster'. Yes it's confused: in essence, this is the Monkees no longer sure of what direction their music should take and leaving the listener twelve options that they might take up in the future (in the end we get ‘Head’ and a repeat of the band’s earlier bubblegum material instead). And yes it's messy: at least half the songs that made the album should have been swapped for others and even those that did make the album really don't work well together (again I prefer the original running order as discovered on an album acetate during the renovation of the album for CD in the mid-1990s: (Side One): Through The Looking Glass/We Were Made For Each Other/Writing Wrongs/I'll Be Back Upon My Feet/Valleri/Dream World (Side Two): Po Box 9847/Tapioca Tundra/The Poster/Alvin/ Daydream Believer/Long Title/Zor and Zam). Though I’m quite pleased ‘Through The Looking Glass’ got the push…for another couple of albums at least. I will never love this album the way I do ‘Headquarters’ and ‘Head’ or have a sneaky admiration for its sheer daring the way I do for ‘Pisces, Aquarius’ as ‘Birds and Bees’ is not the kind of album you take to your heart; it’s a thinking exercise in stretching a palette as far as it will go. However for a manufactured band who supposedly had no talent, at a lull in their lives while given free rein to mess around for months at a time, it's still a pretty decent album, nicely reflective of the fragmentation within both The Monkees' own lives and the world as a whole in 1968.
 ‘Dream World’ is one of the real highlights of the album, perfectly in keeping with the ‘escapism’ aspect of The Monkees’ TV shows that was never fully explored in music. Davy had only written one song for the band before ( ‘Hard To Believe’) and with his confidence buoyed settled down to a regular writing partnership with good friend Steve Pitts. Texas-born Steve got involved with The Monkees through knowing a pre-fame Mike Nesmith, but Mike didn’t really need a collaborator; Davy, though, felt that he couldn’t write a song on his own and needed someone to bounce ideas off. Thoughtful, empathetic and experienced (if not that successful), Pitts was a good foil for Jones and he would end up becoming the most consistent of Davy’s many co-writers down the years, generally taking Davy’s opening ideas for a song and helping him finish them off. That was true of ‘Dream World’, a song that Davy wrote after the song ‘Dream Girl’ on his first pre-Monkees LP and the track that he felt was most successful for his voice (I concur – it’s the start of ‘our’ Davy, cute but feisty, as opposed to the fake cockney of the rest of the LP). However here it’s the girl whose the dreamer, inhabiting a world of her own making where everything is perfect and the narrator is always going to come up short. Here Davy tries to recapture the same innocent floaty feeling of his old song whilst adding a bit of bite in the way the narrator is trying to urge his muse out of her imagination and into the real world (the trick here is that the imaginary world sounds so much more enticing the listener wants to stay there too). Accompanied by the old tried and tested Monkee formula of extremes (this song recalls  ‘I’m A Believer’ in the sudden adrenalin rush from the verse to the chorus), Davy twists the usual formula of songs like this and urges his girl to escape with him, not through fantasy but back to reality. Their love is going to be so perfect she won’t need to dream anymore – because their dream will be reality. However the sigh with which he sings ‘you’ll see!’ and the grumpy timbre of the track suggests that he’s trying to convince himself as much as her. Like many a song on this awkward album, the lyrics show definite signs of temper and tiredness and, although vague, seem at least partly aimed at the group’s fading fortunes (‘Trying to pretend that everything’s fine when it’s not!’ ‘Why must you lie when you know you’re not getting anywhere?’) It’s also notable, as the first track released by The Monkees post TV series, that they are urging someone to forget their imagination and come back to the ‘real world’, as if all the fifty-eight episodes have been a dream. A classy opening, with a truly gorgeous arrangement from Shorty Rogers that really makes the most of Pitts’ haunting melody, this is amongst Davy’s best work for the band. Catchy but fierce, accessible but hinting at something deeper, this is by far the most suitable directions of all the twelve options the Monkees explore across this album to my ears – similar to their old pop with its big hook and catchy tune, but also clearly more emotional than what they were singing before. Recorded: February 6th 1968
With the best songs stacked at the front, Mike’s mind-blowing  ‘Auntie’s Municipal Court’ is the other absolute classic on this album. A memorable swirling opaque song, similar to  ‘Daily Nightly’ but with a much tougher-sounding backing track, it’s a hazy crazy maze full of a song that’s the closest The Monkees come to putting a drug trip into music. Dealing once again with people’s blindness to things they can’t understand (did Mike write this after the Monkee backlash? This is perhaps only the fifth song he’d specifically written for the band after all), Nesmith pictures a ‘fine man, crazy man’ who ‘can’t see the sound of the sunset, sound of the sea’. Instead they seem blind to everything but their own narrow world vision, the lyrics recalling the brainwashing of final Monkees episode ‘The Frodis Caper’ as Mike and Micky together sing that ‘somebody stole their mind’. My guess is that this song is partly about his experience as a Monkee now that it was becoming clear that the band wouldn’t last much longer. Mike pictures the differences since they started going their separate ways, now needing four guards on their door not one (is this the ‘black box’ of a dressing room The Monkees stayed in between shots in the TV studio?) and somebody ‘sending’ for the band when they need them, while the ‘red and yellow cartoons’ sound like the placards Monkee fans took with them everywhere the band went. The critics of course claimed that The Monkees ‘stole’ their minds – but as Mike seems to be saying in a surreal way, it was The Monkees who lost their minds across two busy years, distracted with money and fam. However the fans have been left behind and are now longer ‘of a kind’ with The Monkees as they existed by the end of their second season, Micky’s improvisations making this sound like a question (‘they say they can’t find what is kind, what is kind?’
It’s interesting that Micky is here at all actually: Mike’s harmony vocal is more than good enough to stand on its own as the lead, but instead their voices are physically spliced together here in a way that makes the best blend in The Monkees sound like one voice and it’s gorgeous, amongst the best vocal work on any Monkee track (amazing, considering that, had it not been for the Monkees auditions, the two came from different ends of the United States and would almost certainly have never crossed paths again – they sound like they’ve been singing in harmony for decades on this track). That might be symbolic on the one song on the album that seems to be dealing with the distance that exists now between four Monkees going their separate ways, while the mournful cry at the end (best heard on the ‘Listen To The Band’ box set mix and to my ears sounds like ‘all this flying feels like dying’; another reading of this passage is that it’s about reincarnation, what with Micky’s cry of ‘here we go again herewegoagain!, tying in neatly with the  ‘Porpoise Song’ passage of the ‘Head’ film). This section really feels as if someone has come into the song and started hacking into it, chopping up this unified blend into their individual pieces, as if The Monkees are falling apart. There are so many great ‘secrets’ buried in this song: the opening which starts in fits and starts, with Mike, co-writer Keith Allison and friend Bill Chadwick’s guitar parts all starting up one by one as the speakers pan left to right, the way Richard Dey’s bass booms out of the speakers playing an entirely different song (sadly this is his only Monkee session as he sounds perfect here) and then we get layers of percussion from Eddie Hoh. It’s as if Mike is showing off how great a band can be when they all join forces and do their ‘own thing’ but at the same time, together, with a band bigger than the sum of its parts (this will lead nicely into the theme of  ‘Listen To The Band’ at the end of the year). Just listen too to the way the part ‘Somebody stole their minds…’ creeps in from nowhere as the band unexpectedly hit the minor key. Or the way the harmonies keep switching whether they’re singing in tandem with the Micky-Mike monster or floating on their own – the song is quite happy to sustain both sorts. Or how about the ending where the there’s a brief flute part that gets lost in the mix that suddenly leads to a babble of voices all talking at once. The result is the album’s triumph, the moment when The Monkees most push the boundaries without losing their musical sense as the melody is one of Nesmith’s finest, making for what would have been a sumptuous romantic song had it been matched with, say, words by Davy. Hearing these two tracks programmed together on the same album is like hearing Janis Joplin next to Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee; there’s just such a contrast of (more or less) equal talents at work here can it really all be by the same group? Well, it is, that’s the whole point of the song and somehow this complex piece (with its pop, rock, folk, psychedelia, music-hall and even slight reggae influences) captures every Monkee style and layers them on top of each other to jaw-dropping effect. As ever with Mike, the title isn’t featured in the lyrics but may for once have a link with the song – a ‘municipal court’ is a place that has jurisdiction over a local area, as if The Monkees are being judged by their small community (though I’m not sure where the ‘aunty’ bit comes from!) Recorded: January 6th, 15th and 16th 1968
 ‘We Were Made For Each Other’ is the song from the album that’s most grown on me down the years. In the first review for this album some ten or so years ago I was rather dismissive of Davy’s most treacly outside the Don Kirshner era, while this Carole Bayer Sager song is not up to the standard set by his own compositions. Jazz legend Shorty Rogers’ big budget accompaniment is also a little overpowering, pushing Davy into singing flat as he strains to keep up with him. However underneath all the extraneous extras is a very sweet little song that’s perhaps the best fit for the ‘TV’ Davy. The singer tells us how ‘I wanted you from the first day I saw you’ and how that ‘we’ were the one made for him as he was for ‘us’, the pair just waiting to discovery each other. Davy, though, is a little more insecure than he lets on, wondering when it was that ‘we’ fell in love too – was it the same instant he did? Was it when he held our hand? Was it his smile? Or was it fate and we were always in love without ever having met? A thoughtful romantic song, the way this piece swells up from nothing to a moment that really does feel like a transformation is a clever one and Davy does a good job with one of his best vocals, making the most of the new lower key for his voice. Davy probably chose the song as he was close to writer Carole Bayer Sager, who'd already written  'When Love Comes Knockin ' At Your Door' and the unreleased  'The Girl I Left Behind Me' for Davy to sing – personally I’d have gone with the latter song over this, but this is still sweet and perfect for the legions of weeping fans who won’t get to see his cute face on TV every week and if Davy is ‘your’ Monkee this is his moment that will most melt your heart. Recorded: November 4th 1967 and February 6th 1968
Nesmith’s  ‘Tapioca Tundra’ found the Monkees some hard-won respect after it appeared on the B-side of ‘’Valleri’, with many critics praising the song’s irregular time signature and confusing lyrics. But that’s probably because the critics had never heard Nesmith’s album-locked gems like  ‘Daily Nightly’ and  ‘Circle Sky’, both of which carry off this song’s mixture of wordy experimentation and latin time signatures mixed with straightforward R and B rather better. Of all the Nesmith songs, this is the one that seems to have been designed most to throw fans off the scent by singing gibberish: the title that yet again is never referenced in the lyrics, for instance, is half-pudding, half-desert landscape while the words themselves seem to be about the act of writing itself and its power to befuddle as much as enlighten (‘Reasoned verse prose or rhyme, lose themselves in other times’). Like Lennon’s period songs after he’d met Yoko Ono that encouraged his avant garde experimental side (‘I Am The Walrus’ ‘Glass Onion’), this piece seems to be deliberately written to deliberately confuse people, with the message that once Mike has written it the music takes on a life of its own and it’s up to us to make of it what we will. Mike even ‘disowns’ his own creation (‘It cannot be a part of me, for now it’s part of you!’) Nesmith tries to knuckle down to his own personal quirky idea of music making (‘Sunshine, ragtime, blowing in the breeze’) but sighs that it’s too late – yet again he sees a ‘faded dream’ of what The Monkees could have been and is ‘saddened by the news’. The recording seems to have been deliberately made impenetrable too. Nesmith’s creaky electronically treated vocal is even more irritating than the low-mixed ‘Circle Sky’ or ‘Magnolia Simms’ to come, making it sound as if there’s a whole wall between him and us that we can’t penetrate – that Mike has gone ‘beyond’ us now. Just to add to that sense he starts counting the song down the way he normally would – and then reverses it, counting back down to zero as if he’s ‘un-writing’ the song’, before it somehow kicks off again anyway. Thankfully this confusing song is partly rescued by another strong performance that’s muscly and meaty and almost Merseybeatley, with two guitars, bass and drums playing the densely packed riff. Even so, this is a rare Nesmith song I never felt as if I really ‘connected’ with. Recorded: November 11th 1967
 ‘Daydream Believer’ was the band’s last really big hit single at the tail end of 1967. Recorded during the making of ‘Pisces Aquarius’ but held over to this record in order to boost sales when it was realised the show was coming off the air, it feels like it’s from another era already. All The Monkees play with the exception of the drums, with Peter’s twinkly piano high in the mix, while the sheer joy and bounce in the song feels more like the ‘old’ Monkees than this record. A very Monkee track, in as much as it makes even the mundane routine world seem extraordinary and infuses even another ordinary day with hope of great things to come, Davy is the perfect fit for a sweet song that was written by John Stewart, not for the group but for his own band The Kingston Trio. He actually wrote it as part of a trio of songs about the ‘stages of love’ (a little like Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bookends’) of which this is part two. In retrospect it seems a surprise that the band’s most commercial number since  ‘Clarksville’ wasn’t planned as the single from the first (with  ‘Love Is Only Sleeping’ planned as the A-side), but the song was perhaps that bit too obvious (Davy thought it was corny and took the mickey out of it between takes; Spanky and Our Gang had turned it down already before Chip, a friend of Stewart’s, asked his friend if he had anything spare) and came too easily compared to the lengths the band had been going to (seven takes in fact; the opening joke was part-real but actually happened to another Monkee; it was Peter who asked a third time what take they were up to as the rest of the band yelled ‘7A!’ at him along with producer Chip Douglas; if you’re wondering about the ‘A’ that usually means they were doing some overdub or another – probably the vocals; the band then re-recorded Davy’s patter to make him more of the ‘lovable loser’ character). In turn Stewart wasn’t that keen on what The Monkees did to his song: he hated the line-change of ‘now you know how funky I can be’ to ‘now you know how happy I can be’, one that makes sense to me coming after the ‘white knight on your steed’ line – only now, after years together, is she happy that he came along and ‘saved’ her because at the time she was probably wondering if his motives were sincere (‘funky’ was meant by Stewart to mean ‘real’; however it also means ‘smelly’ which Screen Gems didn’t like at all!)
‘Daydream Believer’ is an undoubtedly sweet song with a chorus that comes with more hooks than a curtain haberdashery, but one that from the first wasn’t meant to be heard as often as we do. This song used to sound great the first thousand times I heard it: few other songs (except perhaps  'Clarksville' and  'I’m A Believer') capture so much of The Monkees' charm, energy and youthful exuberance. Writer John Stewart adds in just enough of both realistic and imaginative worlds to entice us and wraps it up in a ball of pop-filled cotton wool that a genuinely loveable character like Davy can sing much better than most of the pop stuff he was given (whatever he thought of the song, he turns in a strong performance here, perfectly in character). But unlike ‘Clarksville’ and ‘Believer’ this song rather loses some of the magic pixie dust with each time you hear it - the more times it plays the more it nags you what doesn’t work. Who the hell Sleeping Jean for instance (is she the person the song is being sung to? Or just a cheap rhyme for the line 'oh what does it mean? Why isn’t she mentioned in the song before?) Why is she a 'homecoming queen' (has her throne just been overthrown a la 'The Royal Flush' TV episode?) Just what is the relation between the man in the mirror shaving and his imagination? (Though Davy naturally treats this as a good-time number - because that's what the music is 'saying' and what he does so naturally - the lyrics actually point to a long-term relationship that's decades old and where the couple have got so used to each other they're bored; the person who used to be a 'white knight on your steed' rescuing his beloved from her everyday problems is now an everyday problem himself; it might help if you see this as the ‘middle’ of John Stewart’s trilogy about the stages of marriage, when delight is at the edges of being taken for granted). After so many hearings what used to sound sweet to me now sounds trite and the single features Davy’s ‘old’ and inferior voice (it’s high-pitched and squeaky, unlike the rest of this album whereas Davy is at last ‘allowed’ to start singing in his more natural baritone; the effect may be less pleasing to teeny boppers then and now but it’s far more pleasing to my ears). Though it's easily Davy's most recognised Monkee moment of all there are several that are better - including many on this same album. However there's still a little magic in this song: Davy's pretty character-filled voice, the singalong power-pop chorus (and stuff what it means when it sounds this good...) and the last real Monkee band performance (well sort of: Mike's on guitar and Peter on piano but Earl Palmer is now on drums). There’s also the song’s best line about hoping ‘the six o’clock alarm would never ring’ – but even when it does the narrator seems grateful to greet the day, making the most of his lot in life. In other words I'm a sort of half-believer, you might say, as I can see both where composer, record label and band were coming from (‘this isn’t much cop, lets’ bury it!’) and why the public love it so. Recorded: June 14th and August 9th 1967
I’ve had a similarly up-and-down relationship with Nesmith’s third grand opus,  ‘Writing Wrongs’, over the years, but not always in the same order. It’s the sort of song designed to make you love or loathe it and I’ve had both feelings for it over the years. It’s terribly un-Monkees like, without even a Dolenz vocal or a quirky idea to keep Nesmith’s literary ideas afloat and Mike plays everything except the bass and drums. His piano lick that surrounds the song is also one of the most basic on record (he didn’t know how to play yet, but will soon learn), with octave leaps a la Roger Waters for the most part and with every other part slowed and simplified to the same level it makes for a very plodding and repetitive track. And yet when this song stops being ‘sideways’ and finally turns itself into a ‘proper song’ with Nesmith’s angry, yelled verse bringing everything into focus (‘You have a way of making everything you say seem unreal!’) the song rights its wrongs and becomes a terrific opaque look into Nesmith’s psyche, full of bitter acrimony, most likely aimed at himself and possibly about his temper getting in the way of his relationships. Or perhaps it’s yet another of this album’s song about how the groups’ fortunes seem to be fading in 1968 – there’s certainly a paranoid, ‘where-did-all-my-friends-suddenly-go?’ feel about the whole thing. ‘Bill Chambers’ is as far as I can tell a fictional character but sounds remarkably close in name to ‘Bill Chadwick’, the nearly Monkee who was a close friend and always seemed to have to fight to get his songs on a band album even though they were some of the best. In the song his mum is poorly and the world seems to have changed overnight: the water is ‘turning yellow’, the sky is ‘falling down’ and somebody’s just leapt out the window. It’s worth remembering too that Mike had an, err, interesting relationship with his own mother: working two jobs for most of Mike’s childhood she nearly died before being brought back to life through what she understood to be her ‘Christian Scientist Faith’; as a single parent mother and son were very bonded, but he also felt quite distant from here. The lines about the ‘circus coming to town’ must surely have some Monkee connotations somewhere given how many times that metaphor was used and it’s the line that changes everything in the song, with a quiet and bitter Mike leaving a situation behind. Suddenly he’s dropped his detached vocal and he’s screaming ‘are you aware that the people who care are mostly stainless steel?’, unaffected by what happens to other people despite what they say.
We then ride off into the sunset on the scariest two minutes of Monkeedom. The drums kick off into a march, the guitar gets frenetic, the echo-laden piano only slowly gets caught up into the groove that’s maybe supposed to mimic the intense ‘no time to rest’ treadmill feel of being a Monkee. An organ then joins in atonally, playing its own thing without recourse ot the rest of the song. Even with a few bright spots when the piano finally learns to dance in synch and starts to fly it can’t stop the feeling that this passage of music is meant to be ugly, deliberately wrong-footing us with how alien the landscape suddenly is and how much the atmosphere has changed. After never really getting anywhere the song all but crash lands into the third verse, which seems to take us to the present day. The Monkees are over, but no one seems to have learnt anything. Nesmith tells us that we should have got his letter a year ago now but that he had no time to check and he’s worried about Bill’s mother. He thought running away to join the circus would solve everything and right the world – but now it’s all but over he’s more confused than ever, the moon no longer yellow but missing from the sky entirely. With nowhere else to go, the song suddenly darts away after five intense minutes on an urgent organ break that sounds as if we’re going back into the song again – only there’s no more of the story to tell, we are up to date. The whole effect is to leave the listener confused to his very bones, but in a truly head-scratchy way rather than the ha-ha we’re-going-to-confuse-you-because-we-can internal-logic way of ‘Head’ and ’33 and 1/3rd’. Whether it’s the longest five minutes of your life or one of the best may depend entirely on you and your feelings about The Monkees at their most experimental. By the way there really was a 'Bill Chambers' around in 1968 - an Australian country music star whose exactly the sort of cult musical figure someone like Nez would know. However goodness knows why he'd write a letter that should have arrives a year before (Mike wishing that country music would be a bigger deal earlier possibly?) – no, it has to be Bill Chadwick surely? Perhaps its his 'escape' into becoming a real (if rather poorer) musician – after seemingly getting the short end of the straw by now being picked as a Monkee – that inspired this song, as his ‘tether’ to the outside world and living the life Mike could have had and which now the band are splitting Mike now envies greatly. That would certainly fit with the 'mad karma' idea and the sense in the song of two cats jockeying for position as first one riff 'wins' and then the other. Whether this is all true or just a lot of nonsense, though, is up to you – this is one of those tracks that could be about everything or nothing and changes every time you play it, either one of the v ery best Monkee songs or the worst depending on your mood. Recorded: December 3rd 1967
Over on side two, the re-make of [29b] ‘I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet’ is all bad. The original version ([29a] recorded during ‘More Of The Monkees’ and used twice as part of the TV series soundtrack) wasn’t exactly an unsung masterpiece – not compared to many of the gems on the ‘Missing Links’ series. This re-arrangement has a bit more life about the backing track, with an oompah brass part and a whole bunch of percussion that at least make it sound as if it’s moving this time. However that can’t improve on the song which as dumb as pop songs get and doesn’t even make sense from verse to verse. The Terminator had the good grace to reduce this song’s principle theme to an arty ‘I’ll be back’, but this song spends three minutes telling us that the narrator will be back over and over and over. At first a girl is saying goodbye to Micky’s narrator because she thinks he can do better and he vows to bounce back and find love again – fair enough. Verse two, though, has him changing everything, dreaming of being famous – a star or a clown (why can’t you be both?) and wondering about meeting a new girl who’ll love him for who he is – fair enough again, though this does sound like an entirely different song. But then he tells the first girl to give over him and not to cry. Didn’t she just leave in a huff in the first verse?!? This could be Micky imagining her missing him and dreaming of him after he becomes famous, but it would have been helpful to have a few lines saying that – they could have gone where the interminable chorus goes for starters, which repeats the title no less than four times every time we hear it (which is a lot). Micky, too, doesn’t sing this re-make as well as he did the first time (is he resentful at it being revived at all? Is it his bosses’ idea not his?) and rather throws the vocal away. He isn’t mixed right even if he sang it properly though, buried away in the right channel (on the stereo copy – not the mono edition, amongst the rarest of all Monkee LPs with this the last band album released in that format, is any better) where he’s all too obviously been added later and doesn’t ‘git’ with the backing at all. There is at least an interesting horn arrangement that’s been added by Shorty Rogers in an attempt to make everything more interesting, but when your ears are following the brass part rather than the backing or the Monkee you know that something has gone wrong. By far the worst recording to grace a Monkees album since  ‘The Day We Fall In Love’, with so many gorgeous outtakes from this album sitting in the vaults there’s just no excuse for it to be here (at least Micky’s own  ‘Rosemarie’ had more ideas, however unfinished it was!) Recorded: March 9th 1968
 ‘The Poster’ always gets forgotten and overlooked – dismissed as a re-write of The Beatles’ ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite’, it suffers from being the most conservative song on The Monkees’ most liberal album. However there’s much to like and I actually prefer this sweet and melodic track to The Beatles (who merely rewrote a Victorian poster anyway); Davy and Steve Pitts wrote this song to see if they could describe things so well fans could ‘smell the sawdust’ and on that line alone this song works well. The music is even better than ‘Dream World’, an introvert sighing chorus the perfect antidote to the look-at-me extrovert verses that are packed full of spectacle and the cute opening really catches our attention, like a pied-piper is playing outside our window (though its actually Don Randi on organ). As we’ve seen, The Monkees was always being compared to a circus – Davy may also have had the TV episode set in a circus in mind when he wrote this song (episode #22). Or maybe he was thinking of Micky and ‘Circus Boy’ whose theme tune this song recalls slightly?!? The effect makes it feel as if Davy is letting us in on a big secret, inviting us into this great place he’s found before that wonderful section comes in to take our breath away (‘I feel like I’m already there!’) A lot of Davy’s songs are about imagination and the way that our dreams of other worlds bring us hope and optimism (he should have got together with Ray Davies…), but this is the happier side of the coin that the sadder, madder ‘Dream World’ represented. ‘Wow’ says Davy, ‘just by thinking about it I can bet at the circus, I don’t have to be there or pay a ticket or anything, I can just imagine’. Effectively, that too is the concept for the whole Monkees series, with the foursome getting involved with scrapes and antics that take off a good percentage of other programmes and general clichés (the spy epic, the western, the absent minded professor, the monster, etc), being their audience’s representatives in situations that, back in the 1960s, they might well have dreamed about themselves (and the frequent use of surreal sequences is very much like dreams). Though basically a list of events, somehow this track sounds like more – it’s all about anticipation, with the poster being the point at which this could be the perfect circus; you sense that after doing so much imagining Davy will disappointed when he gets there for real and finds there isn’t as much happening as in his head (‘Head…’) One of the band’s most visual songs, it’s a crying shame that this song fell just months short of a place on the band’s TV series – when coupled with a plot it could have been the perfect utilisation of the Monkees’ multi-media concept. Recorded: February 15th 1968
Boyce and Hart had already recorded their superior version of [112a] ‘PO Box 9847’ when they thought they had better make a living again outside The Monkees and go back out on their own. It’s interesting that their first response is to sound as much like The Monkees (now verging on unpopular) as they could with a pop song that’s the epitome of the series: a hapless loser throws away his dating advert because it’s made him look a twit. When invited back to work with The Monkees it seemed an obvious thing to do with them – and yet in changing the song and giving it a bigger budget they threw away much of the charm. The best feature of the original was the backing track provided by the clacking typewriter, a great multimedia clue perfect for The Monkees that this album’s drumming can’t compete with. The second is the despondent riff which is much more obvious on Boyce and Hart’s recording – it’s a half strut, half comic gait, the sound of a man who thinks he’s cool and getting somewhere with the ladies when in reality he’s just being annoying. Instead we get the album’s only use of moog (though this is ducked low in the final mix – you can hear it more in the [112b] alternate version included on Rhino’s CD re-issue) and another Shorty Roger powerhouse that is great in its own right but which makes this oh so simple song sound too big. Micky, too, doesn’t sound quite himself – for some reason Boyce and Hart love making him sounding shrill and as with  ‘Through The Looking Glass’ the off-key ‘reeeeeplyyyyy’ is painful to the ears. He’s happier on the verses, trying to impress us wide-eyed on record the way he did with his James Cagney impressions in the show, but even then he over-sings a few times (that’s a very weird pronunciation of ‘eligible’, while somebody seems to have stuck him with a cattle-prod when he randomly sings ‘loves the theat-RRRREEEE!’) ‘That’s not really me!’ indeed. A song about a narrator advertising himself in the classified ads should be as derivative as they get too, but ‘PO Box’ – just – gets away with it, thanks to some unexpected humility (‘I’m not liking what I’m typing’ , ‘That’s not really me!’) – if any other teenybopper orientated band in this teenybopper orientated period had tried to record this song they’d have made themselves to be tall, dark and handsome for sure. The result is a cute simple song that should have been simpler still as per the original, but the double-tracked out of synch drums by Billy Lewis are a clever touch (mirroring the lovesick boy trying to track down the right girl) Oddly enough, it’s probably a coincidence but if you switch ‘9847’ as being the code for a regional phone n umber rather than a postal address it fits perfectly for the district of….wait for it…. Clarksville, Tennessee! Recorded: December 26th 1967 and Februatry 10th 1968
Similarly,  ‘Magnolia Simms’ may be Mike Nesmith’s ‘kind of doll’, but she’s no friend of mine. Just to emphasise the fact that the Monkees truly have no idea of where they’re heading, Nesmith gives us a song based on some of his favourite music – that of the roaring twenties. The band may have gone a bit too far in the interests of getting the true spirit of the times, as this song plays only on the left-hand channel throughout and comes complete with ‘fake’ scratches as if this is a really old record (the original album carried warnings that this wasn’t the fault of their record player, but I bet a good few many people failed to read the message and got apoplexy about the state of their hi-fi all the same; ironically the CD master sounds worse than the original record with even more ‘record crackles’ included!) It’s a shock to realise that the songs Mike was spoofing here and making out to sound ‘really old’ were nearer to him when making this song than this song is to us now. I suddenly feel really old… For the fourth song on the album Nesmith’s vocal is hard to hear (elsewhere he’s been spliced with Micky’s vocal for ‘Municipal’, drenched in echo for ‘Writing Wrongs’ and treated to sound about a hundred and five on ‘Tapioca Tundra’). Simms is not without her good points – she’s pretty and she’s witty and she’s wise, with some cute rhymes in there about the old American idealised image of love (she’s blue-eyed and blonde and bakes apple pies; Mike is on to a good thing there I tell you!), while there’s just enough reality here to make her sound ‘real’ in a way that a few other Monkee girls we only know by name ( ‘Valleri’  ‘Mary Mary’) never quite do. Their walk outside ‘just after rain has fallen’ for instance, works well as it conjures up the feeling in the air that things have just got better. Unfortunately, though, there’s not enough here for us to get out teeth into and Mike’s performance is a little bit too authentic with too many gimmicks; the scratch on the record in the last verse, for instance, is guaranteed to give record collector’s apoplexy every time they hear it! And much as I admire the way The Monkees switch styles on this album, it should come at the start or end of a side – it feels wrong two-thirds of the way through an album which doesn’t share any DNA with this song at all. The best part may well be the into as Mike messes up and coughs nervously, admitting to us ‘well, it’s just one of those days’ in just the way his character would use (had he seen how well this trick went down on ‘Daydream Believer’?)Recorded: December 2nd 1967
The re-make of [21b] ‘Valleri’ is often regarded as the first Monkees flop. But while I agree with critics who point out that it didn’t sell as well as ‘Daydream Believer’ (albeit it still went top five, the last Monkees single to do so) and while I agree with most fans that this 1968 version doesn’t hold a candle to the TV-only 1967 original, it’s still a terrific piece of work and sold well considering that the TV series had only barely started plugging it. In release order this is the last great Boyce and Hart song in the Monkees’ canon, written from the simple proviso that they ought to write a song with a girls’ name in it (The Beatles’ ‘Michelle’ had just been a hit for the Overlanders at the time). Opening with a seductive flurry of parping horns and a terrific flowery solo from the band’s regular session guitarist Louie Shelton, ‘Valleri’ grabs our attention from the first, before settling back into a laidback groove for the song’s verses. While we never learn much about who she is or what she wants, this song sounds amazing: a big thick fuzz bass, a finger-bending Louie Shelton part, frenetic drumming and some of Shorty Rogers’ greatest horn parts all add to up to a song that grabs us from the first bar and never lets us go. Like many of The Monkees’ best songs this is also a real exercise in dynamics, veering between laidback verses and the band’s most power-pop chorus, while the flamenco guitar break that arrives out of nowhere just when we think we’ve worked o0ut where this song is going is a masterstroke of arranging. This mix and match, before and after idea, juxtaposing the narrator’s casual laidback demeanour before meeting the girl of his dreams and the state of his nerves thereafter, is a classy bit of songwriting, every bit as strong as  ‘Clarksville’ or  ‘The Monkees’ Theme’. Boyce and Hart often got it wrong, making their songs just that bit too accessible (‘Me Without You’) or that bit too vacuous and vapid (‘Me Without You’, again), but ‘Valleri’ is a classy song given a classy arrangement and performance. What it lacks, though, is the heart of the original behind the pyrotechnics, with everyone in the room trying a little too hard to ‘play it just the way they did last time’ but the difference is everyone in the room knows if they get this right it will be the big hit single; Davy, especially, sounds oddly nervous and his ‘come on’ and ‘yeahs’ sound fake. The ‘Missing Links’ outtake is still the ‘keeper’ despite the bigger budget and extra time and confidence, where Davy’s performance is just that little bit more dramatic and desperate and the performance is just that little bit tighter. Recorded: December 26th and 28th 1967
[114a] ‘Zor and Zam’ is, a two-minute theme tune without the TV series to go with it that would have been a worthy Monkee spin-off. Two brothers rule two neighbouring kingdoms and think they hold all the power, assembling two giant armies to fought each other over some petty argument we never get to the bottom of. But then there’s a twist: instead of just going with their orders and meeting at dawn, the people stay home – and The Kings realise that they can’t have a war with just the two of them. The closing lines ‘Two little Kings playing a game, they held a war and nobody came!’ is the single most 1960s couplet I’ve ever heard and it’s so perfect that it’s that oh so 1960s invention The Monkees who are singing it. To a backdrop of Vietnam draft dodging, the old ways are now dead, no one person has absolute power over their power and peace is always a feasible option. The third best song on the album (following the first two), this song by Bill Chadwick and funnily enough his own brother John is a gorgeous song, perfect for Micky as his fury rises note by note on an unusually paced lyric that instead of coming with verses and choruses and middle eights is just one long layer of text. Wrapping up in under two minutes it builds from tiny folk tune, to military drumming, to towering epic, wrapping in a fierce claustrophobic arrangement that will leave you feeling drained long before the two minutes are up. An impressive exercise in tension (with the friction between the instruments mirroring the friction between the Royal brothers) there’s just one thing that lets it down – no Royal family would ever agree to lay down their arms and agree to a truce; they’d just disappear into one of their seventy-two unused mansions paid for by the taxpayer and make snide comments in the press while holding Tupperware parties (oh for a republic…)Good as this is for The Monkees (and as powerful as it in an early [114b] ‘stripped bare’ version picked by director Micky for ‘his’ episode of the TV series #58 ‘The Frodis Caper’) it would have been a cracking series theme tune too. ‘Zor and Zam’ delivers the key learning themes of ‘co-operation’ and ‘your brother may be an idiot but he is still your brother so be nice to him’ maxims so beloved of Sesame Street and The Tweenies in a unique and original way. A fascinating, thrilling song that says so much through metaphor and imagery, it’s one of the band’s most neglected classics. Recorded: January 7th,13th and 18th 1968
Ah, the album this could have been. Looking at the sessions altogether The Monkees were on a creative role at the end of 1967 into the first half of 1968, with a good thirty excellent songs that could all have ended up on this album, a world-beating double album that played to all four member’s strengths. While The Monkees would never again be as close and collaborative as they were in the summer of love, they were still on a creative high, a young generation with still so much to say. Alas far from being a ‘best of’ all that great material, what we have here is a random rummage that only features maybe three or four of the truly best recordings made in the sessions (one a piece by Micky and Mike and two by Davy). Far from showing The Monkees as a band who still has it in this fast-changing world and who can still be a musical force even without the TV series to drive them, the curiously titled ‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’ instead shows just how splintered and occasionally self-indulgent the band have become. Few fans would have picked the songs that made the final album out of the ones available – even less than that pick this album as their favourite amongst The Monkees’ original nine. Even so, when this album does work it’s a masterpiece and the growth of Mike and Davy in particular as songwriters is worth sitting through the bad moments for. I can’t help but feel frustrated though: we could have been talking about the best Monkees album of all; instead of which ‘Birds and The Bees’ leaves us feeling confused and concerned. What’s happened to our favourite band? Why does this album sound nothing like the four albums that came before it? Where on earth could they possibly head from here? Who in their right minds could have possibly guessed the answer was ‘HEAD’? (To misquote one of the songs that didn't make the album –  - now that the party's over, party on to Head...') ...