Monday, 11 June 2012
The Monkees "Present" (1969) (News, Views and Music 148)
The Monkees “Present” (1969)
Little Girl/Good Clean Fun/If I Knew/Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye/Never Tell A Woman Yes/Looking For The Good Times//Ladies Aid Society/Listen To The Band/French Song/Mommy and Daddy/Oklahoma Backroom Dancer/Pillow Time
‘The management at Alan’s Album Archives has asked me to explain something. Which is no big surprise, because they’re always asking us canine mascots in top hats to explain everything. They want to bring us out all the time, to get us to talk, to tell them what we think – so they can tell us why we’re wrong. For us, our music says it all. Well most of the time – not an album like ‘The Monkees Present’ though, I mean that thing is just weird! Their music is like we are – it’s hard to say why you like it. In fact this album is weird, just like we are, always trying to insist on talking to you instead of allowing you to talk to it. The Monkees Present, out now in super deluxe form with a zillion unfinished backing tracks of questionable quality. It’s music that talks to you – with a price tag!”
Or “Somebody give the piano player a drink of water!”
It was the best of albums; it was the worst of albums and, to keep our Dickens analogy going, The Monkees had a ‘hard time’ making it. It’s worth rummaging through the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ though as you may pick up some (Pickwick) Papers from Micky, Mike, Davy Dombey and Son, our Mutual Friends, despite the odd (Oliver) Twists and and and and and…ok I can’t keep this up forever. Just accept that it’s a mixed album ok? The Monkees have had a quiet year by their standards – since the sessions for ‘Birds and Bees’ led directly into ‘Head’ a year before they’ve had no TV series to make, very few concerts to play and almost no guest appearances (and the ones they did I don’t think they spent a lot of time preparing for somehow…) They’ve been left alone by the powers that be to make music if and when they feel like it. Mike really felt like it, clocking up dozens more country-rock mini-masterpieces that were again looked over for this album in comparison to his weirdest stuff, while Davy and Micky had a few new songs they wanted to try out but they also quite liked their bed. As if that wasn’t enough, the vaults were then raided ‘Instant Replay’ style for a couple of oldies from the very beginning that were a bit of a mixed blessing. The Monkees had long ago stopped working together and now didn’t even seem to be in contact with each other much, all doing their own thing with the divisions between the three of them never wider than here. The full official title of the album is ‘The Monkees Present: Micky, David, Michael’, which rather says it all about how fragmented this group have now become. The result is an often muddling assortment of styles, production dates and Monkees that’s a real rollercoaster ride, with the last gasp of Monkee brilliance and creativity nestling against the very worst things they ever did together or apart. What does ‘The Monkees Present’ present? Confusion mostly…
For me the last three Monkees albums (the ones after ‘Head’) are an unexpected coda recorded and created when the band ‘didn’t exist’ anymore (because these albums were only ever intended to be the soundtrack to a TV show that had now been cancelled) and the fans had all but gone. Everyone knew this and the powers that be had already tried to kill the band off in both ‘Head’ and ’33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee’ (two projects about the band’s artificial beginnings and attempts at ‘stripping away’ all the artifice behind the Monkees series and the records). Most fans had given up caring long before ‘Head’, of course, but we don’t care about changing fashions at the AAA, we care about what an album sounds like now and how it can be understand in the context of everything else the band made. On that level ‘Monkees Present’ works really well: far from being creatively dead, the band come up with a near-record seven original songs between them (their most depending on whether you count the three band jams on ‘Headquarters’ or not), producing (though not playing) all the material here barring two songs and having a much bigger say in everything from the title and packaging down. In two songs, ‘Listen To The Band’ and the less famous but even more daring cousin ‘Mommy and Daddy’, the band may well be at their finest, turning their brand of eccentric eclectic pop into something more meaningful and lasting than average. But ‘Monkees Present’ also has the reputation of being perhaps the band’s weakest album and it has to be said that the mistakes on this record (Davy’s vocal turn ‘The Ladies Aid Society’ from 1966 should have been locked up in a vault with a big padlock for eternity for the sake of a generation’s society, while of the ‘new’ songs ‘Pillow Time’ only means something to son-of-composer Micky and ‘Never Tell A Woman Yes’ is the worst thing Mike ever wrote).
So why such a variation in quality? Well, quite simply, there’s no direction here. The trio of Monkees that are left are still trying to breathe life into the band they’ve spent the last seven albums and two series turning into one of the greatest achievements in multimedia, but without any new episodes of the series being made there’s less point to The Monkees in 1969 than ever before. Monkee creators Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson are also busy filming ‘Easy Rider’, having abandoned The Monkees after the film ‘Head’ so no one is around to tell the band what to do or what to do next. The loss of Peter Tork in December 1968 also hits the band badly – unexpectedly so given how few songs Peter wrote and how few of his vocals ever made it to record, but you can’t have a car with one of its wheel’s missing (well, you can, but it ends up being a Robin Reliant which is worse than no car at all). Even the fans have stopped caring, with an ill-fated tour shortly before this album’s release with the band backed by soul musicians Sam and the Goodtimers (backing band for Ike and Tina Turner in the mid 60s) playing to near-empty arenas, booked in advance back in the heady Monkee days of 1967 and a slap in the face about just how many people have now turned their backs on The Monkees (even as late as the concert in ‘Head’ those extras aren’t being paid to scream y’know, that’s all real!) Nesmith, charged with getting a new band without being told what to get, recruited his friends from the soul arena – even though The Monkees were never a soul band. This is a band that’s sinking, with the mammoth differences between the band members (who all came from different backgrounds and never knew each other before meeting at the auditions in 1966) coming to the fore like never before. For instance, we only have the soundtrack of it now, but just about the only time The Monkees met up to promote this album was on the Glenn Campbell Goodtime Hour with, suitably enough, Sam and the Goodtimers in tow. The trio had a blazing row live on air about who was reading what part in an innocuous sketch written specially for the show, with many of the dwindling fans still turning into see their icons figuring the end had come right then and there, that the bonhomie that was the whole point of The Monkees’ creative spirit was buried in a box hurled out into the ocean alongside their corpses at the start of ‘Head’.
But it’s very much the band themselves that are sinking, not the three Monkees themselves who are creating some of their most wonderful and inventive material. The easy thing would have been to let The Monkees slide and do the minimal amount of work possible, especially with enough songs in the vaults to make another ten ‘Instant Replays’ without them having to make another note. All three remaining Monkees care more than that though and put one hell of a lot of effort into this album. Indeed, Nesmith jumps ship after this album not long after re-signing a lucrative contract with Monkee creators Screen Gems and all but bankrupts himself in the process of buying himself out of it the following year. The reason he gives for jumping then rather than at the end of 1968 when his contract was up (as Peter did) is that his work wasn’t done until the release of this album – and you can kind of see what he means. The Monkees hadn’t sounded this brave and pioneering apart from ‘Head’ and this time they’re all three doing it largely by themselves, with no record company feedback. They’d never had a change to be totally in control of their destiny or to make music without anyone else’s hand on the tiller, the way that they have been since Bones Howe got given his marching orders at the end of 1968. That freedom is, at times on this record, the greatest thing that ever happened to the band: Nesmith finally submerses himself in the Nashville sound he’s been dipping his toes in till now and gets reborn as the country-rock legend he was always waiting to be, Davy gets to sing in the more mature baritone style he’s more comfortable with than his early teen pop and Micky steps wonderfully far over the line with his finest hour, the caustic ‘Mommy and Daddy’ – so far, in fact, that even the heavily censored and re-written version is still one of the hardest hitting songs from the 1960s you will ever hear (the 20th century’s most hardest hitting decade, whatever the 1980s and 1990s kids think). But with such difficult tensions within the group and no one at the helmthere’s no one to say ‘no’ to them either, with Nesmith’s worst ever song ‘Never Tell A Woman Yes’, Micky’s uncomfortably gooey ‘Pillow Time’ (written by his mother – needless to say it wouldn’t have been ‘allowed’ on any earlier Monkees album) and Davy’s vocal on ‘Ladies Aid Society’ perhaps the three worst moments of being a Monkees fan. Yes, even with ‘Pool It!’ and ‘JustUs’ an official part of the discography!
But considering how little effort anyone outside the band is putting into the album I have to say I still like ‘The Monkees Present’ a great deal. Not just for what it is, but what it could have been if life had offered a different throw of the dice. Legend has it that when the cover art was commissioned in mid 1968, around the time of  ‘Daydream Believer’, it was envisioned as a gigantic colour double size spread with Peter Tork’s face top left (where the ‘sun’ with the title on it now is). The idea was to release this album at Christmas, with a side each for all four of The Monkees and this record would effectively have gone in production order instead of the double bi8ll of ‘Head’ (which at the time was still an unknown quantity) and ‘Instant Replay’. The cover was meant to go around a double album and be printed with a huge budget so that fans could recognise The Monkees’ four colourful faces from the window displays. In the end, The Monkees split and the cover became a single sized one printed only in black and white because the record company refused to pay up the money for colour printing. The mess up with the cover (which now looks dull and wonky instead of bright and funky) is a sad indication of what’s wrong with this album: the vision was grand but just kept being scaled back until this is just another Monkees album and one with more filler than normal too. Other examples of Colgems doing as little effort as possible are the magazine ads for single ‘Good Clean Fun’ reprinted in Rhino’s ever excellent CD booklet (‘This doesn’t sound like ‘Good Clean Fun’. It doesn’t even sound like the Monkees!’ – yeah, right, that’s made me want to buy it! – and the description ‘It’s about a guy returning home’ – this song is about so much more than that with one of Nesmith’s densest lyrics) and the daft radio spot included as a bonus track on the CD, read out by a ‘kid’ whose clearly pushing up the pipe and slippers if not the daisies (‘Colgems got me to explain about The Monkees album. Which is no big surprise, because adults are always getting us kids to explain about everything!’ – a committee phrase if ever I heard one). In retrospect it’s amazing that, out of fashion as they were with none of their previous supporters left, The Monkees Present was as mildly successful as it was (peaking at #100 – The Monkees’ last charting album by a whisker).
What really saddens me is that the vision for this record as originally planned would have made it one of the very best Monkees albums of all. With double albums very much in vogue the plan was to have all four Monkees get a side of vinyl to themselves each with no restrictions at all: they could record whatever they wanted in whatever way suited them best, whether original song, cover or instrumental jam. Instead the music got scaled down along with it when Peter left and the sales started to fall – the bonus tracks on either version of this album doing the rounds (the sensible 1990s version or the bonkers grandiose box from 2010, take your pick depending on your budget) reveal that this should have been The Monkees’ ‘White Album’, a sprawling epic that took in everything and showed how The Monkees could have a bash at anything (instead we get an album where they do some odd things really badly and only sound like themselves when extending their natural styles). Unfortunately, like ‘The Birds and Bees’, the music got trimmed to the point of stupidity and worthlessness and in many cases the ‘wrong’ half got junked. The problem with ‘The Monkees Present’ isn’t the music that was being made for it but what got selected for the final running order. Had it come out as a double this would have made for a hugely schizophrenic album of course, but a similar thing happened with ‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’ – and the only parts of that record that didn’t work were artificially added by the record company, dismissing some songs and forcing through outtakes of others. The problem with that album is that its lopsided and thrown together without much care; had this album been a double set with, say, six or seven songs handpicked by each Monkee it could have been the best Monkee record of the lot. Alas this idea disappeared along with Peter Tork at the end of 1968 and it’s there, partway through these album sessions when the album size was officially cut in two, that the Monkees truly die a creative death Peter should have waited: even if he’d never recorded a note after ‘Birds and Bees’ he’d have still had one of the best sides of the four).
What else would have made it to the record? Well, in Mike Nesmith’s case, lots. The wool-hatted one had been busy piling tapes of originals and covers recorded in Nashville since May 1968 and returned there for longer in June 1969. These Nashville sessions are key not just to The Monkees story but to Mike’s own personal one, with Papa Nez finally making good on the promise his country-rock songs from 66-68. This was a whole new chance to delve deeper into what country-rock songs might sound like with a producer who came from one spectrum and a band who came from the other, a meeting of minds the like of which had never really been seen in music circles until now. This time round, though, he’s at the ‘source’ of the music, with musicians who instinctively know what he’s trying to get across (as opposed to trying to get rock musicians to ‘play country’). Ironically, much of the material he gives to the Nashville players aren’t pure ‘country’ at all but more country-rock hybrids, although the Nashville bunch are much moiré For some reason, Colgems still continued to finance as many sessions as The Monkees need right into the beginning of 1970, despite trying to kill their releases as often as possible elsewhere, and so these solo sessions (without the others in attendance) are also Mike’s big chance to work out what he wants to do when he finally leaves the band which is clearly going to be sooner rather than later. Some fans think that Mike’s work with the first (and second) National Bands come out of the blue, but they’re actually a logical extension of this huge amount of work recorded in this era – it’s just that it passes most people by because only one song from ‘Instant Replay’ and two from this record are ever released in any form until the 1980s. In truth Mike could have released a double set of these sessions on his own – and I’m surprised that he didn’t when he left the band (a good deal of these songs are re-recorded for solo albums ‘Magnetic South’ and ‘Loose Salute’, with some of these tracks re-recorded as late as ‘Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash’ in 1974, as well as a second version of ‘Listen To The Band’).
He’s clearly at least thinking about leaving the band in this period by the way: he told reporters when Peter left ‘I understand why he wanted to go ‘cause I did too’ – and ‘Listen To The Band’ is as clear a ‘goodbye’ message as you could have (‘weren’t they good? They made me happy – but I think I can make it alone!’), whatever Mike’s said since about the genesis of the song. The resulting sessions aren’t the holy grail many fans imagined when they first read about them in the 1970s and they doesn’t always work – some of the songs were abandoned as half-finished backing tracks. However when they did work the results were sublime: some of Nesmith’s work is here, from the aching I’ve-just-realised-I-love-you ballad  ‘Propinquity’, to the saddest Nesmith tune  ‘The Crippled Lion’, the hauntingly beautiful  ‘Nine Time Blue’, the even more hauntingly beautiful Jack Keller cover  ‘If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again’, the wonderfully mournful tale of regret  ‘Some Of Shelley’s Blues’ and the funky  ‘Calico Girlfriend Samba’. Of the songs that made the album only ‘Listen To The Band’ rates up there with the best of these (Mike’s ‘goodbye’ song as a Monkee as he seeks to ‘make it alone’); the other songs ‘Oklahoma Backroom Dancer’ and especially ‘Never Tell A Woman Yes’ are the worst of the bunch, unfinished backing tracks and all. ‘Good Clean Fun’, meanwhile, could have been released a whole year earlier if Screen Gems had wanted to, passed over for three albums before ending up on this one. Interestingly a ‘mixing day’ was put aside for eight Nesmith songs in September 1968, suggesting that Nesmith’s plan for ‘his’ side, back in September 1968, included ‘ Some Of Shelley’s Blues’  ‘Hollywood’  ‘Don’t Wait For Me’  ‘Propinquity’  ‘9 Times Blue’  ‘Carlisle Wheeling’ ‘Good Clean Fun’  ‘The Crippled Lion’ and  ‘St Matthew’ – possibly with the later addition of  ‘While I Cry’ and  ‘Listen To The Band’.
The other two Monkees aren’t quite so organised and certainly aren’t as prolific, but they’ve still collected quite a pile of recordings by now. Back when this album was being touted as a double Micky has his run of songs from ‘Instant Replay’ to offer plus the noisy but catchy original  ‘Rosemarie’, the storming Chip Douglas pop song  ‘Steam Engine’ (one well loved by Monkees outtake aficionados) – Chip worked with the band just this once after producing their ‘Headquarters’ record, the marvellous fuzz guitar soul of  ‘You’re So Good’ and the much-recorded pre-fame original  ‘Midnight Train’ (which ends up on last Monkees album ‘Changes’). Frustratingly for us fans, its only now – at the tail end of The Monkees – that Micky is finally making good on the promise shown with his first song ‘Randy Scouse Git’ aka ‘Alternate Title’ and writing songs all the time. Frustratingly both because so few fans get to hear these great songs on this album, ‘Instant Replay’ and ‘Changes’ and also because Micky won’t record another full album again until the Monkees reunion in 1986. What a waste of talent because  ‘Mommy and Daddy’ alone is one of my Alan’s Album Archives picks for best song of the decade, never mind by The Monkees. He does better on this album than Mike does, with a better selection of songs picked, but I can’t help feeling that ‘You’re So Good’ and ‘Midnight Train’ would have sounded good on this album too – in place of his mum Janelle’s treacly song ‘Pillow Time’ preferably.
Davy has even more to offer for the album. In addition to the songs for this album Davy has his run of songs from ‘Instant Replay’ and a pretty wide-ranging selection of unissued songs: boisterous soul cover  ‘Look Down’, the classy original ballad  ‘Smile’, the sweet cover of a song by collaborator Charlie Smalls  ‘Opening Night’, the most intimate Davy song ever  ‘How Can I Tell You?’, bubblegum soul track  ‘Penny Music’, the glorious  ‘Time and Time Again’ and these session’s oddest moment, the curious spoken word  ‘The Good Earth’ (which might have made sense in the ‘do what you want without interference’ ‘side per Monkee’ format intended for the album. In this era Davy is working with no less than three sympathetic writing partners in Steve Pitts, Charlie Smalls and fellow Monkee auditionee Bill Chadwick. Songs from all three sets of collaborators are recorded around this time, but for some reason only the Chadwick songs make the album. Davy was a great little writer once he got going and, like Micky, it’s frustrating to hear him reaching his songwriting peak just as the band are in commercial decline. Most of these songs are the equal of what we got on the album (well, maybe not ‘The Good Earth’) and are much more worthy than digging back through the vaults for the nice-but-out-of-touch ‘Looking For The Good Times’ and the ‘not-in-the-same-universe-as-touch ‘Ladies Aid Society’.
These last two songs were provided by the band’s original writers and producers Boyce and Hart, who arrive back in the frame around now. The pair had re-signed with Columbia Pictures for a multi-single deal and an (abandoned) TV series of their own after a career with Colgems saw them sell nearly fifty million records and seeing as the pair are back on the same label there are now less barriers towards the two halves of The Monkees’ story working together again. As well as the dated ‘Looking For The Good Times’ and ‘Ladies Aid Society’ (both from the band’s early days in 1966), the pair also remix three other songs from the Monkee vaults that really should have been picked over at least one of these, including the fabulous but empty ‘Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears’ (heard in the TV series but not released on record till the first ‘Missing Links’ in 1987) and the so-so  ‘I Never Thought It Peculiar’ (which becomes the last song on the last Monkees album ‘Changes’), although I should perhaps just thank my lucky stars that we didn’t get the other song they remixed for use on this album, the frankly horrid  ‘Teeny Tiny Gnome’ (also issued on ‘Missing Links’). ‘Apples’ would have fitted onto the LP well – it’s certainly better than the dated vaudeville joke of ‘Ladies Aid Society’ – but you have to ask why Boyce and Hart weren’t bringing new songs to the band or at least offering up some of their own ‘flop’ singles from around this period, some of which are actually pretty darn good. As with the ‘new’ sessions, it’s not that what Boyce and Hart picked for themselves was all bad – more that it’s a puzzle why they overlooked so many classic moments to go for one that’s ok and one that’s terrible. That is what’s wrong with ‘The Monkees Present’ – it’s not the music being made as much as the person whose picking them, who really doesn’t understand what The Monkees Represent at all.
A final point, what is it with this album’s title? Apparently the official title is ‘The Monkees Present Micky, David Michael’ but nobody ever uses that, including the art department responsible for writing the title of the album on the spines of vinyl records (presumably because it’s just silly). Most fans nowadays call it ‘The Monkees Present’ (when they’re not calling it ‘that weird thing with the pen-and-ink marker cover’ or ‘the last Nesmith album’ or ‘that one with the godawful Ladies Aid Society number’), but that’s just as strange: the Monkees present what? According to interviews with the trio of Monkee members at this time The Monkees stopped existing when the TV series ended (hence the mention of their names on the front cover). Perhaps it’s best to see this title as a pun on words, as this is The Monkees in the ‘present’, not where they were musically when their show was on the air. But, if this is meant to be ‘The Monkees’ in the ‘present’, why are so many outtakes used to represent the modern-day? Most Monkee titles are a bit weird, but this one is bonkers.
Overall, then, ‘The Monkees Present’ is a good and all too often overlooked album, containing some of Micky, Mike and Davy’s best ever songs for the band. There are some definite ‘best ever’ moments here: Micky telling it like it is on ‘Mommy and Dadduy’, Davy getting dreamy on ‘If I Knew’ and ‘French Song’ (two of his best works) and the perfect postmodern kiss-off with Mike’s ‘Listen To The Band’, an affectionate farewell that’s also eager to rush off to pastures new. Nesmith’s last album with the band, it’s hard in retrospect not to see ‘The Monkees Present’ as more of a first trial for the music Nesmith is going to make in his solo career as much as the end of his Monkee days; sadly Micky and Davy aren’t going to get as much say over their time as Monkees and after getting to pull all their own puppet strings here they’re going to be back under the charge of a puppet master again very soon as Jeff Barry returns to do the job he was expecting to do back in January 1967 before the big Monkee revolt. ‘The Monkees Present’ is almost a good leaving present. It shows a little of what The Monkees could have done and how great they could have been if left to their own devices more often, but it also demonstrates how self-indulgent they could be at their worst (something that goes for their producers too – Boyce and Hart don’t get away scott free either!) This record, when first imagined, had the potential to, maybe, be the best (or certainly the most complete) album of them all. Instead it’s the best and worst of The Monkees all in one place. By the end of it, you’ll feel a bit Martin Chuzzlewitted.
 ‘Little Girl’ is a Micky Dolenz original that’s probably the closest to a traditional straightforward pop song he ever wrote – albeit one with a jazzy guitar lick and one of the day’s leading jazz arrangers (Shorty Rogers) in the control room for the last time. A simple original about how Micky’s narrator has just begun to realise he’s been taken for a ride, it features quick-stepping nursery rhyme type lyrics that seem to make light of what’s actually quite a serious and adult subject: it’s not the ‘little girl’ of the title whose naive and innocent, it’s the narrator – she’s clearly an adult, a woman experienced at the ways of love and using her charms to her best advantage and Micky’s been suckered in a big way. That’s a pretty ‘big’ subject for a band whose biggest audience were pre-teens and even if the song seems to be light and breezy for the most part there’s real angst in some of the lyrics, especially the middle eight (‘People said don’t worry now, she’s sweet and she’s kind...the little things that bothers me I let them go by and now its too late to cry’). You have to ask how well Micky’s marriage to Samantha was going in 1969, now that she’s moved to be with him, given this and the other stormy original songs on the album (they’ll divorce in 1975). The arrangement is a good one that makes the most of the song, with Micky’s lead vocal detached and dazed, but with the overdubbed harmonies of Micky and his sister Coco really adding a touch of colour and harmony, as if mimicking the ‘good times’ the couple always shared together which are now just an echo. Guitarist Louie Shelton, the star of many a Monkees record, also takes pretty much his last bow here with an exhilarating performance that adds a real kick to the drama in the song (he plays the lead; Micky plays the acoustic part himself for only the second time in the studio following [28b] ‘I’ll Spend My Life With You’). Guitar part aside, this is one of the simpler Monkees songs of the period and was recorded in a single session on August 14th 1969 alongside the album’s final track – very close to the album deadline of October (and thus as part of the last session to be made under Monkee control, with old hand Jeff Barry back in charge for final Monkees LP ‘Changes’). A good start to the album. Recorded: August 14th 1969
We now head back in time by fourteen months for  ‘Good Clean Fun’, one of Nesmith’s earliest Nashville recordings that both band and management were rather fond of (it became The Monkees’ last charting single in August 1969, albeit by the smallest of margins), so it’s odd that it should have been passed over for both ‘Head’ and ‘Instant Replay’. By Nesmith standards it’s quite a conservative song, with a typical country theme of a wayward wanderer coming back after his time away and looking to put down his roots. Mike wrote it in typically mischievous circumstances, though, reacting in horror to a song publisher he met in the early days of The Monkees who told him in all seriousness that to be successful he had to write a song that was ‘good clean fun’ rather than deep and meaningful and had a recurring hookline. Mike’s response was to prove that he could be as commercial as anyone else, with this song full of classy guitar and banjo hooks and riffs and a power chorus, but that he’d destroy the effect by never actually using the title anywhere (a trick used in most of his 1968/69 batch of songs:  Some Of Shelley’s Blues  Michigan Blackhawk  The Crippled Lion  Carlisle Wheeling  Auntie’s Municipal Court  Tapioca Tundra, etc). As if to ram the point home, this breezily commercial song is effectively a re-write of Monkees hit  ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ only with a lover returning rather than leaving, only with a plane instead of a train and a country band playing the catchy riffs instead. Equally bizarrely, there’s no chorus anywhere in the song, just a middle eight that’s repeated again near the end to give the same effect (in the 1960s, more than at any other time, the chorus was king and seen as essential to any hit song). The song is clearly about more than ‘Good Clean Fun’ too – the narrator goes through all sorts of ‘adult’ feelings in this song, from fear over what changes might have taken place in his old backyard to guilt that he ever went away at all (it may be Mike trying to write his own version of Jack Keller’s  ‘If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again’, a song he much admired). Nesmith’s narrator has been away ‘a year’ (is he singing to wife Phyllis who, in the real world, has really been waiting for two?) and has worried over leaving and about coming back both, but he realises at the end that he’s done the right thing by coming home and that ‘the gap that once was time is forever closed behind’, safe in the knowledge that he’s back to stay (this is at one with half his other songs in 1968 about staying or leaving). The tension going into the middle eight, when the whole piece awkwardly modulates to a minor key from a happy major one (just as the plane begins its similar descent onto the runway) is palpable and made worse by the unexpected repeat straight after the instrumental, delaying the expected resolve back to the major key by a further thirty seconds or so. Against all the odds Mike gives the song a happy ending, though, with the narrator’s beloved patiently waiting for him when the aeroplane lands and the narrator telling her ‘I told you I’d come back and here I am!’ I wonder, too, if this is his comment on The Monkees to counteract ‘Listen To The Band’ (this recording would have been around the period Peter announced he wasn’t going to be a Monkee in the new year; many people expected Mike to say the same after that, including himself one senses). One of Nesmith’s better upbeat songs of the period, it still has precious little to do with The Monkees’ sound and would have benefitted from some group harmonies to make it more Monkee-ish (as per  ‘What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round?’) It’s still a good song, though, infectiously breezy and would surely have done better and brought more acclaim had it been released at any other period than The Monkees’ giant critical and commercial collapse of 1969. Recorded: May 31st 1968
 ‘If I Knew’ is a song that’s caused something of a ruckus for such a sweet, understated song. Credited to Davy and collaborator Bill Chadwick. Bill later claimed he wrote it solo and gave it to Davy to enable it to get on an album (an odd accusation given that he’d already got  ‘Zor and Zam’ on an album with no outsider help and ‘French Song’ which appears on this very LP!) Davy, though, didn’t need anybody to write a song (see the similar  ‘Smile’) and to my ears Davy’s hallmarks are all over this sensitive ballad, which suits his fragile, deeper voice better than pretty much any other Monkee-era song. The gentle lyrics about looking after his loved one whatever her problems are and however far away she is seem tailor made for Davy’s image of the day (The Monkees were always good with fans but Davy especially - the outpouring of grief when he died showed just how greatly he was with his fans and that the love wasn’t all one way; Davy’s ‘reunion’ song from ‘Pool It’  ‘(I’ll) Love You Forever’ is kind of his mature, older self’s agreement to the thoughts in this song). The song might be a simple one than usual, with rhymes of ‘see’ and ‘me’ and ‘blame’ and ‘game’ akin to a lot of pop songs, but the instrumentation is very different to the usual sort of Monkees sound, with a delicate plucked acoustic guitar from Chadwick and faithful Monkee musician Michael Rubini’s piano block chords dominating the sound, without a single electric instrument in the mix. Davy’s breathy vocal to is one of his best and his sighed ‘oh’ at the end is priceless, as even after three minutes of pouring out his heart and trying to put things right out he fails because his girl won’t talk to him why she’s so upset. The result is a fragile, delicate song that features a beautiful melody that slowly picks its way up the chords towards some goal only to fall again in the loveliest way with a haunting guitar refrain. This humble song is indeed one of the prettiest recordings with The Monkees’ name attached to it and whether written by Davy or not it suits him to a tee and it’s a great shame the song was never revived for any of the band’s concerts; addressed to Davy’s adoring public it would surely have gone down a treat. Again, the only thing that spoils this song is any sense of band interaction – Bill’s harmonies are sweet, but Micky would have sounded great doing this part. Recorded: June 27th and July 1st 1969
 ‘Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye’ is Micky’s second song on the album and compared to the first is similarly intricate but simple and stormy with it, with a bluesier riff and an energetic chorus that sprints out of nowhere out of quite a sombre opening. Again the sing songy riff and quick stepping rhymes make the song sound on the childish side, but the lyrics are anything but: ‘You waste my time talking about dying, dying when you should be trying!’ howls Micky at his unresponsive partner as he battles within himself over whether to leave her or give the relationship another chance. Full of scary vocal half-chants sweeping past each other in the mix, a creepy harmonica part low in the mix (and a harmony voice that sounds awfully like an un-credited Peter Tork...note the use of banjo here too!), this song is the Monkees equivalent of The Beatles’ ‘Cry Baby Cry’ from ‘The White Album’ released in November 1968, a simple song that should sound innocuous and full of innocent fun but played in such a style it sounds like ‘real’ childhood, full of uncertainty and shadows, with the future threatening rather than sunny (note too the similarity of the titles). Listen out too for Micky raising the question ‘Is it easy to leave?’ with a mournful sigh and an audible shake of the head only to answer with ‘it isn’t easy to leave’ – Micky always had such an upbeat personality on the TV series that hearing this melancholy song is even more alarming than hearing Nesmith’s experiments in country-rock! It’s clear too that things are going badly with his new bride (‘Time has gone when you and I were strong’) and everything that attracted him from a distance is now grating on his nerves up close (as ungenerous as these lines are, it’s hard not to laugh at the best one: ‘You spend your time sitting thinking about…sitting there thinking!’) With marriage and job in disarray, Micky is confused and a little scared, ending the song with a cry of ‘can’t say I can see what will happen to me’ and in a chanted growl of ‘bi you ba bee bye’ that can’t even make sense anymore. The bluesy genre clearly suits the song’s composer, however, who sings in a way that manages to be both innocent, angry, sarcastic and afraid in alternating verses. Like Davy, Micky has chosen to write with one of the band’s long-term friends, Ric Klein, who happened to be Micky’s ‘stand-in’ for the TV series (he was also Micky’s best man at his wedding to Samantha in July 1968). Officially Peter doesn’t appear on this song – but Davy does, adding some harmonies to the song’s fade and making this one of only two recordings on the album to feature more than one Monkee. Recorded: July 16th 1969
 ‘Never Tell A Woman Yes’ is such a poor song by Nesmith standards that fans have been looking to excuse it ever since; for instance the ever-informative booklet in the Rhino issue of this album suggests that Mike was busy saving his better songs for his own solo releases. If that’s so, though, then why did Nesmith re-sign to the band at the end of 1968 (when Peter left the band) and why did he not save the other excellent original songs on this album for himself? And why abandon so many other good ones from the Nashville days instead of reviving them for his National Band projects? No, this wretched song is simply a mistake, one of a huge pile of Nesmith tracks recorded in this period that somebody misguided picked as the best of the bunch. At 3:47 the longest song on the album by a staggering 1:04 (this is a really short album folks!), it’s a story-song with Mike speaking rather than singing on this cautionary tale about being lost in a desert and refusing the offer of a pretty girl to travel with him. The twist is that she’s rich and would have shared all her jewels with him. The moral of this tale is odd though: rebuffing the girl, she then offers her charms to another passing traveller who robs her at the first opportunity (and, it’s hinted, rapes her); the narrator’s friend then rescues her and she sets off in search of the narrator in order to say ‘thankyou’ (for not robbing me!) There’s a major flaw here – if she’s thankful to anyone it should have been the friend, not the narrator who saved her life – and if the pair had travelled together from the beginning there’d be no robbery to begin with! It’s odd, too, that it should be his quote to his friend that ‘I like to be alone’ that should intrigue her so – she’s been spurned once, won’t she be again? The narrator is far from pure and innocent too – when she leaves he curses himself for letting go, spotting ‘jewels on her body oh so rare’. Daring for the day, both for the full on country-rock feel (several years before The Eagles and their superior successors Poco came along) and for the use of the word ‘naked’ back in a day when songs like this one still got into trouble with censors, the song has since been superseded on both fronts several time over since 1969. Even in the day, though, this must have sounded like a clunker of the song, with Papa Nez’ attempts at scat singing deeply embarrassing and the song running at least three verses too long. Perhaps sensing that they’re onto a loss the Nashville band try to spruce things up, but Al Casey’s banjo and Michael Rubini’s tack piano both sound slapstick and distracting rather than adding energy to the song. A bit of a mess and easily the weakest of all the Nashville recordings Nesmith made throughout 1968 and 1969; The Monkees didn’t often give way to bad taste but this is one unfortunate example. Recorded: June 2nd 1969
 ‘Looking For The Good Times’ ends side one and dates back as far as October 1966 (to put that in context, the session for this song followed the one for  ‘Laugh’ and  ‘The Day We Fall In Love’, the two most dated songs on ‘More Of The Monkees’). While better than both these tracks and deserving of release at the time (especially the twin guitars of Louie Shelton and Gerry McGee, who as usual shine when given a song to get their teeth into), it’s not special special enough to warrant a place on the band’s second LP – never mind being dug up for inclusion on their eighth when there are so many better outtakes around! Davy does a good job with the vocal (as does Micky on the backing harmonies), with some real gravel in his voice, but it’s odd to hear him suddenly reverting back to his higher poppier ‘younger’ voice and this Boyce and Hart song isn’t one of their best, only really coming alive with the edgier and bluesier middle eight (‘There’s more to life than you’ve been living, girl...’) Lyrically, though, this middle eight has nothing to do with the rest of the song – a sister track to  ‘Let’s Dance On’ it’s basically just the sound of a man about town wanting to ‘have a ball’ and looking for a girl to ‘share it all’. There’s a great riff underpinning the song too, making it sound much more ‘adult’ than it is judging by the lyrics, a sort of darker  ‘Clarksville’.This is the only contemporary sounding part of the song that could possibly have resonated with audiences in 1969, with the rest of this song already sounding much more than its three years old (the joy and optimism heard in this song is long dead by 1969). Nice as it is to hear the band’s original composers working for the band again, it’s a real shame that Boyce and Hart weren’t cutting new songs for The Monkees as their best moments almost always ended up on the band’s albums and the ones left on the cutting room floor were there for a reason.  ‘Tear Drop City’ was recorded at the same session incidentally and good as it is the same problems apply as with this song, being a great guitar riff stuck to a so-so song that when released sounded completely out of kilter with the times! Recorded: October 26th 1966
Now perhaps it's just because I'm under sixty-five and they're 'down' on me, but  ‘Ladies Aid Society’ is even worse. It is in fact my candidate for the worst track to ever make it onto a Monkees LP (certainly of the band's original run - maybe even with the reunion CDs as well!) Played to the backing of what sounds like a drunken Salvation Army Band, this is a poor substitute for the other outtakes in the band’s vaults, where this song has been lying unnoticed and unloved since being recorded in August 1966 (at the same session as  ‘Teeny Tiny Gnome’, incidentally, another strong candidate for worst Monkees song!) An attempt to go all Herman’s Hermitsy before the powers-that-be quite knew what sort of a band The Monkees would be, this is too twee to be protest and too, well, awful to be funny: it’s about a load of OAPs who cause far more trouble for their local area than the hell-raising teens do and yet think they’re ‘doing good’ .It’s a bit like ‘Dad’s Army’, with all that age and experience and wisdom seemingly for naught and it ought to be right down the street of a band who are all about a ‘youthful generation’ with ‘something to say’. Unfortunately instead of having ‘something to say’ about the unfairness of the old beating up the young for stuff they want to do, we get lots of hi-jinks that are meant to be comic but just sound sad. Poor Davy is adrift as the deadpan narrator left to comment on events while Boyce and Hart have the most fun pretending to be OAPs, but there’s no sympathy to be found in the lyric and no one seems to have told Davy what the song’s about – his non descript offkey singing suggests he’s waiting to get some lunch rather than egging into the wickedly subversive feel of the song. I’d still forgive this song all sins, though, if it weren’t for that awful chorus , played with out of tune brass band and godawful falsetto singing (by Boyce and Hart along with Davy, although one voice sounds like Micky doing his ‘female’ voice from TV episode ‘Monkee Mother’) that seems to come round every few seconds and – considering that this is by the AAA’s funniest band give or take 10cc – is woefully unfunny, even when the people involved seem to be having hysterics. I can’t tell you the relief you feel when you finally get to the fadeout, but even that seems to go on for hours, with an unfunny coda where the Ladies Aid Society seem to be out rowing, with their ship slowly sinking (why? It’s not in the lyrics!) By this stage the backing track – which is only just holding things together as it is – goes so slowly I swear it’s playing backwards. An awful awful mess, how this song ever got so much time spent on it in 1966 is beyond me – and why Boyce and Hart, with three year’s more experience making music by the time of this album, thought it was a good idea resurrecting I’ll never know. My only guess is that someone somewhere wanted to move the band on from their '1960s generational' stance by embracing older age groups - and by making them out to be the 'evil' ones. However treating that as a so-called comedy song instead of trying to make a socio-political comment just makes the whole thing pointless. Ouch! My original version of this review read ‘Of course, if the old ladies do ever manage to succeed in their quest to take control of the world, they could still do a blooming better job than the people in power now!’ Sadly since then we now have the seventy-one-year old Donald Trump in power and this song of mischievous OAPs wanting power and abusing it now seems like fortune-telling… Recorded: August 23rd 1966
[157b] ‘Listen To The Band’ is the first of two reasons ‘The Monkees Present’ or whatever the hell it’s called should be remembered. The only song from this period ever to make it to any of the copious Monkee best-ofs around, it’s kind of the band’s equivalent of the ‘Abbey Road’ medley or ‘The Long and Winding Road’ – the perfect kiss-off to a band’s dying days. Like Davy’s  ‘You and I’ but kinder, it’s an occasionally bitter yet somehow upbeat and life-affirming song about how record sales may fall and critical acclaim may fade away and die but the important thing – the music – lasts forever. Like The Beach Boys’ ‘Add Some Music To Your Day’ from this same period, it also addresses the question of why such a ridiculed and passé band (as both groups appeared to be in 1969) should go on at all – because the hold music has over people is just too darn strong. Starting with the sad lament ‘play a song and no one listens’, Nesmith talks about how ironically music – the source of his misery – can also bring him peace and hope when he listens to work by other people. The short chorus (‘Weren’t they good? They made me happy! I think I can make it alone...’) is all the proof you seem to need that, despite signing a new contract with the band, Mike was getting ready to jump ship as early as June 1968 when this song was first recorded (albeit sung with more fondness to The Monkees than he ever showed in interviews in the 1970s and 1980s). According to Nesmith, though, this song isn’t about The Monkees at all, just something ‘made up in the studio to give me something to sing’ a la  ‘Circle Sky’ – if so then Nesmith’s subconscious must be a lot fonder of his most famous band than ‘he’ is as these lines are really sweet. ‘Tell us we can live without them’ he says to the fans ‘Now that we have listened to the band’, urging them to go their own ways akin to the similar message about growing up and going your own way in life heard on  ‘Porpoise Song’. One of the reasons this song is so well remembered is the unique little walking pace riff that seems to hop forward and back again, like The Monkees story moving from side to side rather than ahead – that’s most likely the remnant of basing this song on the riff from  ‘Nine Times Blue’ ( a Monkees-era song unreleased till Nes’ second album ‘Magnetic South’ in 1970, although the band recorded it three times and sang it on the Johnny Cash show in 1969) which has a similarly unusual zig-zaggy style. Despite being played by the same Nashville session players, it’s also decidedly rockier than Nez’s other songs from this period, as if - like The Beatles – he’s ‘getting back’ to the source of the music that inspired him in his early days. There’s an exhilarating middle section where the tune drops out and seemingly disappears, only for one small thread of comfort (an organ note) to keep the song going until the band suddenly breaks into the song again; the story seems to be that musicians may go unheard for a time, they may slip in and out of fashion but someday, sometime they’ll be called upon to take the spotlight again and Mike may already have his Monkee reunion tickets booked (note the way this song ends with mass hysteria and applause – this is actually exactly the same recording as the ‘no one listens’ part heard at the start heard in a loop and the applause added the second time around is either triumphant or a sarcastic response to the way fashions dictate a piece’s critical standing much more than value or competence, I can’t quite tell). A great starting point for Mike’s solo adventures, ‘Listen To The Band’ is a fine farewell – although most Monkees fans will be moved further still if they see the [157a] version in the ’33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkees’ TV special in December 1968, the very last piece played by all four Monkees together in a mammoth twenty-five minute extended jam (that alas sounds great for the first ten minutes and then rapidly disintegrates when guests Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger join in!) A [157c] third version, an alternate earlier mix with the pedal steel rather than the horns as the ‘leading’ instrument, was included as a bonus track on the ‘Present’ CD re-issue and is much rougher in sound and with less effects - but all the better for it, with the Nashville players really letting their hair down to get funky in the first verse! Recorded: May 31st 1968
 ‘French Song’ is a smoky ballad of Bill Chadwick’s that Davy sings and is another of the recordings from this era that suit his voice very well, whilst sounding nothing like any previous Monkees recordings! The song was inspired when the author saw obscure French-language film ‘The 10th Victim’ at the cinema and, entranced by the exotica soundtrack, got as many of the Monkees session musicians as he could to go and see it too! Chadwick even got in touch with the film’s composers to learn the tricks of the trade, which are all put to good use by de facto producer Chadwick here: the opening harp glissando with overlaid organ, light cymbals and the Spanish guitar is excellent and extremely ear-catching, quite unlike anything else The Monkees will attempt again. The flutes that join in the middle of the song are glorious too, rich and warm and really enhancing the mood. Alas after all that work the song itself sounds like something of an after-thought, a song that pretty much re-creates the scene of The Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’ with romance blossoming under an umbrella. There are only two verses to the song and no chance to get to know the characters or what makes these two strangers ‘stop to talk for just a while’ – what do they find in common (apart from both being soaked?!) And just who is Davy in this song – is he a third person, an all seeing narrator whose seen it all happen before? The male lead in the song? The male lead later in life?) The personal pronouns keep changing and the characters in it keep changing (‘Now he’s gone!’) and it’s meant to be mysterious but instead comes off as mildly irritating, a puzzle we really shouldn’t need to solve in a song as simple as this. We never really get to know this track at all at a basic layer – which is a shame because the ‘window dressing’ for it is amazing and one of the band’s later period triumphs as a recording, even if it really is pretty much all Chadwick’s work and has little to do with The Monkees (Davy gamely hangs on in there, but never sounds completely comfortable). Recorded: June 27th and August 14th 1969
The best song on the album by a country mile – even in heavily sanitised form - goes to Micky’s deliciously biting [146b] ‘Mommy and Daddy’. An unappealing title I know, but in this song Micky manages to get in relevant and thought-provoking digs at American Imperialism, the destruction of the Indians (Micky always reckoned he has American Indian ancestry, though no proof has ever been found), the futility of war and prescription drugs – and that’s just in the uncensored version! Impressive in its own right but if you only own the vinyl original of this album then I urge you to get the CD because Micky’s first version of this song ([146a]) is incredible for the era: ‘Ask your Mommy and Daddy to tell you where you really came from...Ask your mommy and daddy who really killed JFK?...Ask your mommy if she really gets off on all her pills?...Would it matter if the bullet went through my head?’ The most chilling lines, though, are the ones where Micky makes us stop and think, asking us why we cry for our own when so many strangers die at our hands who mean just as much to their family (this is years before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and yet makes more sense than ever nowadays...) and the finale, where instead of ‘tell your mommy and day you love them anyway’ becomes ‘tell your mommy and daddy, screaming at your mommy and daddy they’re living in a lie’. As hard-hitting as anything on Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album from the following year, this is such a brave song for its era and one that still packs so many punched I’m amazed it still wasn’t censored in 1996 when the ‘first’ version finally came out. It’s really a comment on the ‘parent’ generation, I think, the same hypocrisy that the Rolling Stones seized on in ‘My Mother’s Little Helper’, trying to tell their offspring that being a hippie was a cardinal sin – whilst popping prescription pills for stress and depression and upholding empirical wars in Vietnam and Korea.
Even sanitised and diluted and this song still packs a punch: the Indians are ostracised ‘living in place with too much snow and too much sun’, the mommy guzzles pills, the dad is oblivious to drafted American soldiers on the news and Micky calls on parents to talk to their children about difficult subjects, ‘or a vacuum will appear’. The changes since the original are that the lines about the JFK assassination have been removed entirely, as are the lines about sex (‘Ask your mommy and daddy to tell you where you really came from!’) and ‘would it matter if the bullet ran through my head?’ is now ‘would you rather I learn it from my friends instead?’ This song also doesn’t end with Micky screaming on behalf of ‘the young generation’ that ‘you’re all living in a lie!’ but a ‘they will love you anyway’ tag so out of keeping with the original. Even so, it’s a clever last minute re-write, keeping most of what Micky wants to say and the energy of the song without causing quite so many sleepless nights over at Screen Gems. Musically this is the third straight Dolenz lyric on the album that appears on the surface to be all happy and playful and nursery rhymey but packs one hell of a punch underneath the surface. It’s by far the best, though, taking the two sides to their most obvious extreme: the twee title and the sheer scale of this song couldn’t be further apart. I’d also go so far as to say that this is Micky’s best melody: like  ‘Randy Scouse Git’ the song is based around a frantic kettle drumming part (in fact, it’s easy to see how the one song came from the other) and Micky’s vocal hops around the melody like an impatient toddler on one foot having a tantrum (this song is, of course, a sort of grown up tantrum!)
Thanks to another excellent arrangement by Monkee pal Shorty Rogers the song really builds to a crescendo by the end of the song, which all but explodes out of the speakers in a complete tapestry of overdubbed Micky (and Cocos) all sounding their minds off about all sorts of problems they aren’t supposed to hear. Micky’s lead vocal is delicious, wide eyed and innocent whilst breaking every taboo subject in the book, while his sister Coco’s vocals are just as extraordinary. Full marks to the backing band too, who get the menace and sneer in this song (in both versions – the backing track is the same in both, just with a slightly different fade) exactly right. Clocking in at just over two minutes, this song manages to create more questions than almost every other AAA piece made before and since, one that just judges everything right. Had The Monkees released this in their heyday when people were listening to them – well, they’d have been run out of town to be honest, never mind allowed to walk ‘down your street’, but never again would anyone ever have questioned their musical judgement or their social worth. It’s so sad to hear Micky expanding in such a way when his wings are about to be clipped so brutally with the return to ‘stick it there, dear’ sessions – and it’s a depressing thought that the only published song by Micky after this (until the 1990s) will be  ‘Mystery Train’ on next album ‘Changes’, a song that Dolenz actually wrote before the Monkees were even formed! A towering accomplishment, ‘Mommy and Daddy’ should be known by everyone who has ever had a love for 1960s music and proof that even the supposedly lesser Monkees albums can still pack a surprise or two. Take a bow, Micky, take a bow. Recorded: August 1st 1968 (backing track) and Unknown (new vocal part)
After such a strong run of songs  ‘Oklahoma Backroom Dancer’ always gets forgotten. But even though it’s no ‘Listen To The Band’, this fourth and final Nesmith Nashville recording is still a lot of fun and the biggest pointer yet to the direction Mike’s going to take the next year with his two ‘National Bands’. A kind of ‘California Girls’ for Oklahoma cowgirls, this is the Texas country side of Mike to the fore, despite being a second Monkees cover written by Mike Murphy (who wrote  ‘What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round?) Perhaps the best meeting of minds between country and rock on the album, this must have sounded pretty revolutionary in 1969, although we’ve heard the like a few times since and it sounds to me like the band having fun between takes for Mike’s more serious songs than a ‘proper’ take. The playing is unusually sloppy for such a professional set of players though none the worse for that and Nesmith’s eccentric vocal is tremendous, the only time on record his occasionally ‘fun’ side (explored a lot on the TV series) comes to the fore (listen out for the ad lib ‘someone give the piano player a glass of water!’, a dig at Michael Rubini’s unusually eccentric keyboard solo near the end of the song!) The lyrics do get a bit over the top in their depiction of the title character as the pinnacle of womanliness (‘she dances on air just like superman’s child’, indeed!), but everything about this song is tongue-in-cheek and some of the lyrics are pretty clever (‘She’s the mother of Earth and the goddess of thirst, she’s the chicken and the egg – and whichever came first!’) You can certainly see why Nesmith liked it – this song has the same country-rock hybrid swagger as  ‘Hangin’ Round’, undiluted country but with enough of a beat to get non-converts (like me) interested. A fine performance rounds Nesmith’s musical involvement with The Monkees (for twenty-eight years at least!) off with a fine recording. Yes we’re nearly there now, somebody get the reviewer a drink of water... Recorded: May 27th 1969
The album then ends on a rather jarring, cloying note. It’s hard to believe that the vocalist on [85b] ‘Pillow Time’ is the same as the one we’ve just heard all but bringing down Western society about our ears on ‘Mommy and Daddy’ or that the singer is related to one of the co-writers here. But that is Micky singing his mum and stepdad’s song here (mum Janelle used her maiden name ‘Scott’ when publishing songs so most Monkees fans didn’t know the fact until long after the band had split up). Micky and Coco both had this song crooned to them at night for years growing up and Micky always wanted to sing it, often messing around with it between takes (one of these during ‘Headquarters’ was even captured for posterity – see [85a]). For an unknown pair of songwriters this lullaby is a respectable song, full of nursery rhymes (again! See Micky’s other songs on this album), but this time without the edge that went with them. More than good enough to charm your children to sleep, you can see hwy Micky wanted to sing it now that he’s given the keys to the studio to do whatever he likes with – but this song is, you sense, easier listening for him than it is for us. Along the way Alice ends up in Wonderland, Jack ends up a beanstalk and we get to ‘meet’ all our ‘storybook friends’, which is actually quite worrying (no Azlan, put me down! Stop knocking my house down, Eeyore! Why are the Swallows and Amazons having a pillow fight on my bed? And why have the wolves from Willoughby Chase teamed up with the ones from Box Of Delights and are now eating my pillows? Help, I can’t go to sleep like this!) Too gooey for its own good, the backing band don’t help and treat this song like a jazz lounge session with Micky their Sinatra. Given a more exciting setting, this song about going to sleep could indeed have become something – given Micky’s other contributions to the album you spend half the record waiting in vain for something to come out and bite you that never quite comes (the banter in the recording studio that day suggests the band think so, with long-term Monkee series producer Brendan Cahill mischievously calling this song ‘Pillow Talk’ in his introductions for every take!) The re-recorded version for Micky’s his under-rated 1992 solo set ‘Micky Dolenz Puts You To Sleep!’ features a much more suitable arrangement and it’s a shame he didn’t do this song in such a sparse way here; this is all a little bit ‘Hollywood’ for The Monkees. Recorded: August 14th 1969
So, one ultra-brilliant career-defining marvellous piece of magic (‘Mommy and Daddy’), one late career masterpiece (‘Listen To The Band’), several good songs and four absolutely awful songs, with one of them (‘Ladies Aid Society’) among my all time worst twenty-five AAA songs (I feel another top ten list coming on...) ‘The Monkees Present’ really is the worst of albums and the best of albums, recorded at either the best of times or the worst of times, depending whether you count the decline and fall of interest in The Monkees in 1969 as a good thing (less interference, more original songs, yet more boundary breaking) or a bad thing (less care and attention from the record company; fewer fans get to hear it; the band going in too many directions). Taken piecemeal ‘The Monkees Present’ can (and does) sound magnificent; take it as a whole then it’s just one big fat sloppy mess. If only this album had come out as a double album with a side per Monkee (and Peter Tork, left free to make his own decisions, a happy fully fledged member of the band again) then it would have been a great end to The Monkees’ catalogue, an ‘Abbey Road’ to end their career on a high. Instead it ended up a ‘Let It Be’, unfinished and unloved, cobbled together by someone past caring. However it might be worth adding that I’m one of the few fab four fans who prefers the ‘realness’ of ‘Let It Be’ to the heavy gloss of ‘Abbey Road’ and in many ways I’m glad The Monkees effectively ended here when they’re still pushing the boundaries as far as they will go – even if it means they sometimes fall over when doing so. Though only inconsistently great, what we’ve got here is in many ways plenty good enough. And the bad moments still beat the best of anything by The Spice Girls or indeed anything in ‘The Present’, so there!