Monday, 14 September 2015

"More Of The Monkees" (1967)



"More Of The Monkees" (1967)

She/When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door)/Mary Mary/Hold On Girl/Your Auntie Grizelda/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone//Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)/The Kind Of Girl I Could Love/The Day We Fall In Love/Sometime In The Morning/Laugh/I'm A Believer

Don't listen to Kirshner, he's recorded all these songs before, he thinks you're pretenders, so put your first right through his wall, there's more to Colgems' little games than your eyes can see, so don't listen to Kirshner or you'll end up with 'More Of The Monkees' (which admittedly isn't that bad at all!)

What's your candidate for the greatest revolution of human civilisation? The French Revolution? The American Revolution? The English Civil War? The Less-Than Civil English Wars (there've been lots of those down the years!) Well, in AAA terms the greatest revolution that ever took place happened in the summer of love to a band who were, at the time, the single biggest musical phenomenon since The Beatles (our younger readers should think of Justin Bieber dating Miley Cyrus and finding out they are the grandchildren of The Spice Girls - our very much older readers should imagine Cleopatra and Marc Anthony recording a duet together and making a reality TV show together). The Monkees were riding high with two American number ones and their first album had sold more copies than The Beatles' last album 'Revolver' and had gone from penniless zeros to millionaire-ish heroes within a matter of mere months - which isn't bad given that The Monkees had never intended to be a real 'band' at all and was simply releasing albums as merchandise from their TV series. However, at the peak of their fame, The Monkees decided to revoke a formula that had been so incredibly successful but so creatively restricting, turning the tables on their puppet masters and demanding to do things their way. In AAA land it was Robespierre Nesmith who shouted loudest (he didn't quite threaten to put musical director Don Kirshner's head in a guillotine, but he did punch a hole through his office wall), aided and abetted by Abraham Lincoln-Tork, while Cromwell-Dolenz was willing to go along with the ride and eventually even Davy D'artagnon acquiesced. In context, the battle was every bit as brave and every bit as unexpected, a sea change in history few outsiders were anticipating: after all, hadn't the kingdom of Monkee-land been more prosperous than ever? And wasn't Don Kirshner one of the biggest names in the music industry at that time - arguably bigger than the Monkees individually even then? In the musical equivalent of the Battle of Bosworth, the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve or The Battle Of Saratoga, Don Kirshner starts the year with a business opportunity as he's pictured by the press being handed awards for the record sales of 'I'm A Believer' with four nodding smiling happy Monkees and ends it without a job and with a nasty great hole in his wall. However, just as all the 'real' revolutions named above only happened because enough people with power took them seriously enough to help the people without power, so too the Monkees coup only came off because they had support in unlikely places, with show co-creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider interested in and concerned enough for the band to give them a shot. It's the equivalent of fourteen King Louis leaving the kingdom of France bloodlessly to become a boyband, the American South agreeing to replace the African-Americans in slavery by agreeing to become slaves themselves or Prince Charles I telling Oliver Cromwell he really dug his warts. For years fans have wondered how on earth these circumstances came to be - and how The Monkees still got attacked for being puppets and fake musicians, even though putting your fist through your controller's wall is a pretty definitive way of taking back your freedom.

The background story behind the revolution (what my old teachers used to call the 'long and short-term trigger events') starts here, with the innocuous second album 'More Of The Monkees'. No, sorry, there won't be much sign of that impending revolution actually here within the grooves and in fact by Monkees standards it's all rather timid: twelve pop songs of varying degrees of niceness, without even the small amount of adventurousness that made the first album so interesting (instead of ending on the comedic outtake gold 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' the album ends on an international #1, which kind of tells you all you need to know). You won't see it in the cover either, which is the most blatant AAA marketing opportunity before Nike start using Beatle songs to sell trainers or The Rolling Stones allow Microsoft computers the use of the song 'Start Me Up'. In it four Monkees appear in the groovy clothes of retailers J C Penny, under the natural assumption that they were doing a fashion shoot for wannabe TV series sponsors J C Penny and weren't in fact being paid to have J C Penny's clothes on the front cover of a Monkees album (the band were so busy they weren't even photographed together but were the mid-1960s equivalent of 'photo-shopped' in; if you look carefully you can see the tell-tale 'cut' lines around Peter and Davy where the sunlight is brighter). You won't see it on the back cover either, where with true gall Don Kirshner uses the back sleeve of The Monkees' own record to personally thank all the many people who worked on the record, actually drawing attention to the fact that The Monkees were mere members of a cast of thousands (in fact they don't get thanked at all!) In a representation of how out-of-the-loop The Monkees were, they even famously had to buy the album from a shop while out on tour because no one had thought to send them one - and they most certainly hadn't been consented about the music that went onto the album (as far as they were concerned everything except the recent single and its flipside was simply a bit of filler recorded so they could sing something new on the TV series every week - something hastily changed by Colgems when they noticed the added boost first single 'Clarksville' had got from repeated airings). However The Monkees' revolution starts here in earnest, with the band convinced that they can do a better job themselves - and after refusing to allow the band even a token B-side to keep the band onside Kirshner gets the sack, for the first and only time in his illustrious career (in fact the man with the golden ear responded to The Monkees' internal memos by recording Davy on a number of secret sessions that resulted in the rather unloved and overlooked single 'A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You' and releasing them without any other Monkee involvement - something he wasn't actually allowed to do.

As a result poor 'More Of The Monkees' has come to be regarded as the runt of The Monkees' litter. Fan of the early Monkees, who don't listen to the post-revolution stuff, dismiss it as being not as good as the first record; fans of the later, maturer Monkees don't like it even that much.  It is, after all, more of a rollercoaster ride than the largely consistent first album had been, without as much of the debut record's effortlessly pristine youthful pop (which sounds remarkably like the series looks) and lacks the inventiveness of pretty much all the original Monkees record to come (even the bubblegum soul of 'Changes' was pretty daring at the time). What's more The Monkees were right to be cross about the album's contents - quite apart from looking like shifty clothing range models on the cover, Kirshner belies his reputation by taking a completely random selection of recordings his many producers have been working feverishly on (most unforgivably of all, each producer is under the impression that they'll get all of the album to work on and largely don't know about the other sessions taking place down the road; the poor Monkees, particularly Micky and Davy, are worked into the ground even more than normal in this period). However there has rarely been a better time capsule of pop records from the mid-60s than this album, which comes in several extra shades compared to the first album though all of them are dipped in the same sunshine.

Some of Kirshner's selections are characteristically spot-on: 'I'm A Believer' was actually quite a brave choice for the band's all-important second single, setting the band down a slightly more adult path than 'Last Train To Clarksville' while simultaneously giving a big career break to a then-complete unknown writer in Neil Diamond. It is, of course, one of the most perfect pop singles ever made, not least because of Micky's acting abilities in the vocal. Then there are other gems: though Boyce and Hart were fuming for years afterwards that so much of their good work ended up on the cutting room floor, Kirshner has ears enough to include their very best songs such as the sizzling sock-it-to-me power of 'She' and the garage punk of 'Steppin' Stone'. Goffin and King excel on 'Sometime In The Morning', the perfect song for Micky's sweeter than honey vocals. Mike Nesmith proves again that despite being a relative unknown he can more than keep pace with his more famous colleagues and 'Mary Mary' in particular is the single best pop song on the album behind 'Believer'. A second Neil Diamond song 'Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)' isn't in the same league as 'Believer' but is still pretty darn good, while Jack Keller's 'Hold On Girl' adds bossa nova to The Monkees sound and comes up trumps. Yes, sure, Davy's spoken word 'The Day We Fall In Love' can rot your teeth quicker than a sugar sandwich, 'When Love Comes Knockin' At Your Door' is even less funny than 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog', 'Laugh' is abysmal from the first oh-ha-ha-ha-ho to the last and Peter's 'Your Auntie Grizelda' is the sort of song that only a fan could love. The album could have yet been The Monkees' best had these songs been substituted by the cream of The Monkees' particularly delicious crop of outtakes ('I Don't Think You Know Me At All' 'Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears' 'Love To Love' or the first versions of 'I'll Spend My Life With You' 'Words' and 'Vallerie', certified classics all), all of which suggests that even if Kirshner still had golden ears, at least one of them needed a bit of a rinse. But in context, taking into account the hurried sessions (the band were recording a 26-part TV series that year after all, full-time work for most people!) and the lack of input 'More' is a surprisingly strong selection. I'm not saying The Monkees shouldn't have changed - next record 'Headquarters' proves that The Monkees could do all of these things themselves, whilst adding a touch of depth and class with some even stronger songs into the bargain - but they didn't have to change; you can see to some extent why Kirshner thought what he was doing was good enough not to need changing.

The reason I've banged on about the Monkees Revolution so much is that it's important. Obviously it's important to The Monkees' story - they might not have lasted out the year after the 'scandal' broke that they didn't play on their own records (which, of course, was common practice among American pop bands of the day - though I can see Mama Cass having a go on the drums The Mamas and Papas would have been shocked at the idea of having to play as well as sing!) However, it's important to the times as well. Ever since the 1950s invented the 'teenager', teenybopper idols had come along under the strict control of the 'adults' running the show and were casually thrown aside when they questioned things too much. Wannabe rock-stars were two-a-penny after all - it was the managers who considered themselves 'stars', from Colonel Tom Parker down and the average 1950s teenager could name more zvengalis than guitarists back in the days when singers were the stars, not the band they played with. The Beatles broke the mould, making Brian Epstein a contributing factor to their success rather than the sole means of it and as ever The Monkees followed in their heroes' footsteps, seen in the TV series very much as a 'group' who went through thick and thin together. The only time any of The Monkees ever tries to become a 'star' in their own right in the show ('Monkees At The Movies', a parody of just this sort of 1950s scene) the others quickly bring Davy to his senses; because people don't act like that anymore; this is the 1960s when it's all for one or none for all, not a singer too afraid to say anything except 'yes sir'. Don Kirshner was rightly appointed musical director by Screen Gems because he had more experience - but his was a particular kind of 1950s experience where the only point of pop music was to sell lots of records and make lots of money. Bob and Bert know that this formula won't work in the 1960s - they did after all hire four men who all had experience of some sorts in the music industries, even though their acting abilities were first and foremost in their minds and, hey, if you want a nice desperate teenager who can be moulded into shape you probably wouldn't have chosen Mike Nesmith (especially the ballsy way he breaks every rule going in his audition). I find it telling that it's when Kirshner does the most 1950s thing possible (groom Davy into a 'star' without any sign of the others taking part, after writing a sleeve-note where 'he' is the star sending 'thanks', surrounded by pin-up photos of the band members) that the Monkees head (Head...) honchos finally have enough and go to war. This isn't just a revolution between The Monkees and their puppet masters, but a revolution by the 1960s way of thinking against the 1950s one, which typically they win (was there ever a battle the youth culture didn't win before 1968?) And if you're thinking that seems an awfully OTT thing to say about a pop album, then I'm afraid that's just a sign of the times and fact that X Factor/Pop Idol/I Used To Be A Celebrity And I'm Going To Throttle My Agent When I Get Out Of Here has put us right back in a 1950s mindset where talent is plentiful and gimmicks are cheap and its the gurus who make the stars again, just like yesteryear (as well as the idea that its 'just' pop music - nobody over thirty said that in the 1960s and meant it because pop music was so wrapped up into the social fabric of expression for a particular age group). Anyway, out short answer for the future music historians amongst you who want to know an answer to the question 'why did Don Kirshner go against his bosses?' is because 'he didn't know any better'; he'd done what he thought he'd been hired to do by having hits and making money - but while that might have been while Colgems hired him it wasn't why Bert and Bob worked with him. From the beginning the Monkees' music was far more than just the soundtrack to a TV series or a way to make extra money - but that's sadly rather what 'More Of The Monkees' turned out like.

More than any other record 'More Of The Monkees' was made for the younger siblings of Beatles buyers, for whom records like 'Revolver' and 'St Peppers' were a bridge to adulthood too far and this record mines that niche more successfully than any other - a still sometimes adult pop album that's typically adventurous and on a par with other mid-60s albums, but not that wacky and adventurous without even a whiff of psychedelia, free love or drugs here (not yet!) However, it's notable that 'More Of' still manages to be tougher and deeper than your average pop record - and far more daring than it's ever given credit for and does mark a step on, of sorts, from the debut. 'I'm A Believer' isn't just a song about falling in love, it's a song about having been out of love for so long you secretly accept that you're never going to be in love again. 'Laugh' is about picking yourself up when life gets you down (even if the laugh is an awfully false one). 'Hold On Girl' is about befriending a girl and pulling her back from tragedy (maybe even suicide the way it's written - especially the first, rather more melodramatic version released on 'Missing Links Two'). 'Sometime In The Morning' is, let's face it, about something more adult than teenage dating - the couple share the same bed for starters! 'She' and 'Steppin' Stone' date from a troubled time in Boyce and Hart's love-lives, full of bossy female characters who 'walk on' the narrator in order to get what they want. Even the seemingly childish 'Your Auntie Grizelda' is about someone getting in the way of the perfect romance - that didn't happen in the books at school where love was something between a boy and a girl that never changed and lasted a lifetime (the sort of thing this album's most 50s song and weakest link 'The Day We Fall In Love' aspires to). This is a whole new idea of love - not completely unheard of before, perhaps, but still surprisingly adult for a record aimed at a pre-teen market who haven't got past the 'crush' stage yet and are still convinced their first love is going to be their only love for the rest of their lives and 'More' never gets the credit it deserves for daring to show early teens that life wasn't all monkee-ing around.

Of course, it helps when selling something like this to have a voice as incredible as Micky's. We said this in our review of the first album but we'll re-iterate it here: Dolenz is incredible in these early years. He manages to juggle every little contrasting bit of direction everyone is giginv him to be everything to everyone: he's sweet and cuddly enough for Kirshner and the 50s brigade (just listen to the cute way he sings 'well...alright now' in the instrumental break to 'Believer') while possessing the perfect voice for radio - but as with all the longest-lasting 1960s songs Micky is authentic too meaning every single word he sings. Though Davy isn't far behind, Mike is already pushing the musical songwriting boundaries and Peter is as ever frustratingly under-used (why oh why wasn't his vocal on 'I Don't Think You Know Me' used over 'Grizelda'?!) 'More Of The Monkees' is Micky's album, full of some of the greatest tenderest, real-lest moments in The Monkees' canon, delivered by a singer who hadn't even sung in a studio six months before this, while simultaneously trying to stay fresh and spontaneous in a TV studio. Though singling one of the group out after what we said about 'groups' in the last paragraph seems like cheating, I don't care: the band's jokey live show intro 'The hardest working man in show business, Micky 'James Brown' Dolenz' wasn't just a joke: Micky never worked harder and yet never sounded better either.

Overall, then, 'More Of The Monkees' is good enough not to be the embarrassment it's often singled out for being - while bad enough to be 'worth' the revolution that came. If only The Monkees had been allowed more input into their music, rather than being treated like second-rate musicians for hire, this album could yet have been great, even done 'their way' with a 1950s sense of pop prisons and simplicity (if only the recording sessions had been run like the TV series, where there was a prepared script and a 'plot' the band had to keep to, but room for improvisation and discussion - as had happened on the supposedly more rigid filming structure, thanks mainly to the input of Bob Rafelson and main series director James Frawley, another unsung hero of the Monkees project). 'More Of The Monkees' is far from the worst album Don Kirshner ever made and one he was rightly proud of to his dying day (yes, even 'Laugh' and 'The Day We Fall In Love'). However it's also no match for the glorious anarchy of 'Headquarters' to come, whilst simultaneously lacking the breezy sunshine of 'The Monkees'. Yes, overall this is the worst original Monkees record, at least up until 'Instant Replay' and 'The Monkees Present' late on, with at least four songs that should never ever have been released - particularly given the dozen or so gems waiting patiently in line instead. But oh what a wonderful worst album this is, full of far more depth, beauty, creativity, intelligence and sophistication than almost any other 'mere' 1960s pop album, all held together by one of the world's greatest pop singers in peak form.

My candidate for the best five seconds of The Monkees' catalogue comes at the start of opening track 'She'. Though much of 'More Of The Monkees' is clearly intended for teenyboppers there's a real howl of pain in Louie Shelton's improvised guitar lick which hints at what a tough song 'She' actually is underneath its shouted 'hey's and a catchy chorus. Though writers Boyce and Hart have gone down in history as craftsman writers who knew what their audience wanted rather than 'from the heart' writers (this song, for instance, was written in a park because they 'needed a hit' - not in a library as so often reported but near to one that backed onto a park), every so often something 'real' will shine through the surface. 'She' is such a track, a heavy chugging R and B song that's closer to the sort of thing the pair chose to record on their own albums (it was, in fact, written pre-Monkees but not recorded by the duo first) and which is musically the perfect fit for a narrator who can't believe he's been betrayed and is struggling to keep on. Micky's narrator can't even bring himself to say 'her' name, as he almost spits out the lyrics of how she vowed she would never hurt him and yet now stands around enjoying the 'hurt' she inflicts on him. The song keeps reaching new peaks of misery throughout as the sadness keeps coming through in waves as like 'Steppin' Stone' the relationship is all revealed as a ruse to make the girl look good: 'She needs someone to walk on so her feet don't touch the ground'. After Micky drops down from his angry snarl to a wail of desperation the track really gets going for a magic middle eight and we reach possibly the second greatest five seconds in The Monkees canon in the middle eight as Micky drops his guard and admits that he still 'wants her, needs lovers her, yeah yeah yeah!' The old Beatles war-cry from 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' which kick-started the British Invasion acts like The Monkees copied has never sounded better, turned on its head so that it's no longer a cry of teenage triumph but a yell of desperation. Micky is great as ever on a sung that's completely unlike any song on the first album but even he's outshone by the backing vocalists, un-credited even on the detailed Rhino CD booklets but surely containing Boyce, Hart and what sounds like Mike, Peter and Davy in there too. Together with one of the pair's classier melodies, 'She' remains one of the writers' most credible songs and one of The Monkees' greatest pre-Revolution recordings not to make it onto a hit single. It was however so much heavier and more powerful that this song stuck out like a sore thumb on The Monkees' TV series, where its tale of genuine painful heartbreak often went at odds with tales of Davy falling in love at first sight, again!

Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer Sager's 'When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door)' is a much more traditional Monkees sound, closer in feel to the first album. You can see why this song would have appealed to Don Kirshner even though the band were arguably recording far better material (including the same pair's 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' recorded the same day, a beautiful song) - as you'd expect from a Sedaka song there's a catchy, bouncy feel that's very 1950s and while Davy copes well with a song alien to his usual style he doesn't sound quite his normal self (and audibly struggles with the double-tracking at places). The lyrics feature Davy trying to urge a friend to love (sounding not unlike 'She Loves You' in the process) and relies a lot on Davy's naturally sunny personality which isn't necessary reflected in the deep notes the song gives him to sing. 'You'll see a rainbow every day' Davy promises, with every day a 'magic carpet ride' - and had this song come out on the first album no doubt it would have sounded that way, but there's something slightly melancholic about the way this song is performed. That goes double for the very Beatles chord sequence at the end, which leaves the song on a sighing note (see 'Hold Me Tight' from 'With The Beatles' especially) and is very clever and far more 1960s. Oh and listen out for the sneaky and (for 1967) rather risque line sung by 'counterpart' Davy: 'I know baby I can make you...high!'

'Mary Mary' is the most outré rock moment The Monkees had recorded so far and an obvious winner for the band's stage set. Surprisingly it's written by Mike Nesmith and an early sign of his schizophrenic split between rock and country (actually the only country sounds on the track come from James Burton's ringing country guitar, which sounds to me as if he was actively coached in Mike's style as the wool-hatted one produces from the engineering room). If you're a passionate Monkees fan then you might remember the end of the 'Some Like It Lukewarm' episode where Davy and his collaborator Charlie Smalls explain to us the difference between 'white' and 'black' music - the emphasis on beats 2 and 4 and 1 and 3 respectively. This is The Monkees' heaviest, hardest 2 and 4 beat in their discography, with no less than five guitarists all stabbing at the main beat alongside a very complex drum pattern played by Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon. Altogether the backing musicians cook up a great groove, with a double-tracked Micky getting right in there on the vocals too. The song sounds like an early song written by Mike for first wife Phyllis ('Mary' may have been chosen simply because it had the same amount of syllables as 'Phyllis') and like pretty much all of his (relatively rare) love songs is more obsession and infatuation than the sort of romantic love Davy was always singing about. Micky's narrator could in fact be a stalker the way this song is written ('Where you go I will follow!')  and Mary's response seems to wax and wane, much like Phyllis' according to onlookers of the Nesmith's hot/cold relationship: he even pleads with her in the second verse to come clean about whether she really loves him or is keeping him hanging on. In a typically Nesmith twist, the narrator comes clean about what the song is 'really' about (guilt: 'You know I would never try and hurt you') by dropping all the pop/rock idioms and even gives up trying to rhyme, this moment particularly 'real'. Micky, as ever, picks up on the mood straightaway and kicks into a terrific improvised blues growl on the fade as he demands to know where Mary's 'going to'. A strong performance and a sense that there is something 'real' behind it all make this song's poppier side easier to take and the result is another of The Monkees' strongest songs of the period, easily the best attempt by Nesmith to write something in a 'Monkees style' without sacrificing his own authenticity and grit. This may also be the moment where the Mike/Micky 'bromance' starts big-time, with perhaps the strongest relationship of all the four starting round about here, born out of mutual respect for what the other could bring to The Monkees' experience that the other didn't have.

Jack Keller was perhaps the biggest casualty of Don Kirshner's wheeling and dealing on the second album, with submissions from so many different sources. Having produced everything Boyce and Hart didn't on the first album - including many of the record's best received tracks - Keller could have been forgiven for thinking he'd get a similar deal on this second album. In the end 'Hold On Girl' is his only song and even this one had to be fought for tooth and nail. A first, possibly better take of the song was recorded early in the sessions, with a dramatic, slow-burning fuse that really suits Davy's voice and love of dramatics. This re-recording from around the middle of the sessions is pretty good too though, the song maintaining its distinctive 'bossa nova' feel and with added handclaps and percussion to emphasise the quirky beat (this song most certainly doesn't hit the 2 and 4 in the bar!) Interesting the lyrics again point towards a sadder song than normal by past Monkees standards, although like 'Knockin' Davy is again cast as the likeable brother offering a helping hand to a suffering friend. It's a rather more convincing song than last time round, with Davy not promising 'rainbows' but the more realistic 'the sun will shine again'. Again, though, the person on the receiving end of this advice doesn't sound so sure, with an especially fine harpsichord solo in the middle that does a good job at hinting at the friend's 'reserve'. Also as per 'Knockin' the song ends on another final-note sigh, as if all of Davy's hope and cajoling have failed and they're still as miserable as ever. The end result isn't quite up to the album's very best, but it's easily Davy's greatest moment on this second album and out of the five tracks he's given the one most suited to his charm and acting by far.

Poor Peter Tork hadn't even got the sort of influence Jack Keller had had. Other than appearing on the album covers, The Monkees' most experienced musician had, till now, been relegated to a couple of guitar parts on the Nesmith-produced tracks. Though Kirshner with his 1950s pop sensibilities was appalled at Peter's lead vocals and worried long and hard about how to get Peter represented on an album (to appease his quarter of the Monkees fanbase), his voice is actually very in keeping with the Greenwich Village folk background he'd had. Given that The Monkees had already stretched to include blues, bossa nova and whatever the hell style 'Gonna Buy A Dog' is supposed to be, the sensible decision would be to get a folk writer in: jazz up one of Peter's beloved Peter Seeger songs or hire some bright young folk-rock wannabe (the equivalent of new discovery Neil Diamond, but with a banjo), as well of course as letting Peter write his own songs (though this was unlikely given how hard even the louder and more prolific Mike had had to fight to get his work included). Instead Kirshner dropped the ball in spectacular style here, urging Jack Keller to write a comedy (drama was his forte, not jokes - in desperation he brought in a friend named Diane Hillenbrand to help with the lyrics; though Peter hated them he loved her and the pair made lots of sweet beautiful music together, officially as writers and unofficially as something more). Peter, who wasn't consulted once about his vocal spot on the album, reportedly knocked off the vocal in a single take, as if to prove to onlookers that he was a credible musician (right up until the vocal noises in the middle eight anyway!) Given that Jeff Barry was producing the session (Keller hadn't enough 'experience' apparently, which is odd given how well his songs on the debut turned out) the song didn't turn out the way it was intended: Jack Keller wrote 'Grizelda' in the style of The Rolling Stones' '19th Nervous Breakdown', with the domineering aunt the last straw in a long line of obstacles on the path to true love. Peter was made to sing 'Grizelda' as if he was a music hall comedian having a fit. The result is a waste of everyone's talents: the moment when Peter has to sing 'So righteous making fudge, your Auntie Grizelda' where you can already hear the cogs in motion as he begins to think The Monkees was a bad idea and tries to get out of his contract. Though Peter was hired to play the 'dummy' in the TV series he had so much more to give musically as all of the later Monkees albums he sings on are testament too; though you could forgive the odd pre-teen for being confused about him being an 'actor' you'd have thought the Monkees' production team would have the sense not to confuse the two! Poor Peter has been trying to live the song down ever since!

Thankfully Boyce and Hart's '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' is one of the early Monkees' shining gems, a rock song that hits as hard as anything in the charts at the time and comes across with real menace. As the 1960s pop scene got going there were several songs around like this one, where innocent teenage love turns into tales of gold-diggers and narcissists, but this song remains one of the best. Micky, usually so friendly, turns up the sarcasms notch up to a hundred and gets nicely raw as he complains over a girl who had nothing when they met and looks down on him now that's she's famous. Dare I say it, there could be a bit of Boyce and Hart mischief at work here as they complain about how The Monkees team has treated them: after scoring a massive hit with 'Last Train To Clarksville' they've more or less been pushed aside ('You've been awful careful 'bout the friends you choose!') Certainly their production crackles with a lot more energy and realism than most of their collaborations: the main melody to this song is liked a caged panther prowling round it's cage waiting to be let loose, with the long-held notes on 'I-I-I-I-I-I-'m...' sounding simultaneously threatening and like sobbing. Once again Micky is perfect, clearly enjoying the chance to sing something a bit deeper and different and his backing vocal especially is terrific - with Micky losing it and screaming his head off in a way his more menacing and tightly controlled lead vocal never can. Though un-credited even by Rhino, that sounds awfully like Peter and Davy in the background too, which in the former's case especially is extremely fitting for a song about not being pushed around (officially Tommy Boyce himself is the only other singer on the track, but he and Micky can't do all those voices between them!) The result is a real gem, the sort of song that teenagers flicking channels latched onto when broadcast (many many times) in the TV series even if they didn't like the show and which Monkees fans could look their elder siblings in the eye and say 'when did The Beatles last do something as great as this?' In retrospect 'Steppin' Stone' is a real steppin' stone to the tighter, more emotional and 'real' songs of the post-revolution Monkees, a template for how to embellish the band's sound without losing sight of its distinctiveness.

Meanwhile, over on side two, Davy is getting worried about tomorrow. My guess is that Neil Diamond's second Monkees song was written in more of a hurry and to more of a templat6e than 'I'm A Believer', despite featuring his customary chord sequences and the sudden breakout from melody to rhythm in the typically catchy chorus. Diamond may have been thinking of The Beatles' 'Yesterday' when he wrote this song about wishing that 'tomorrow would never come' and could have written a song as powerful as 'Believer' from there. Alas somewhere along the way this song ends up a list of girls that Davy wants to date and the problems of choosing which one (suggesting Neil was being asked to write directly for the series, where this sort of thing happened every other week), which is more the sort of 50s pop Kirshner was after than the more 60s feel of the rest of the album. The result is slightly mis-matched: though it's easy to feel sympathy for the singers of 'She' and 'Steppin' Stone' that opened their hearts and had them broken in two, it's harder to feel sorry for a teenager who has a harem of girls to choose from (many teenagers buying this were struggling to find one - that's just throwing it in our faces Davy!) Ignore the lyrics if you can, though - especially the spoken word section which is cringe-inducing - and simply enjoy the terrific Beatles-style rock and roll beat behind, which features a marvellously eccentric drum part from a session man sadly unknown (even to Rhino!) but sounds like Hal Blaine again, channelling his inner Micky (this is so what the TV character would have played like if the real Micky had been born a drummer not a guitarist!) Sadly Davy's efforts are wasted on a song that only really comes alive on the riff and the chorus, a poor man's 'I'm A Believer'. Davy's excellent take on Diamond's third Monkee song, recorded at these sessions but abandoned up until the 1990s, would have been a far stronger choice.Though hilarious and one of the all-time funniest Monkees moments, an aborted attempt to get Peter on the album by having him as a disc-jockey offering asides (as heard on the Rhino re-issue of the album on CD), is a case of right idea, wrong song. You doubt that Neil Diamond would have found pouring mirth on his largely serious song would have gone down that well - it speaks volumes that Diamond won't offer any more songs to the band post-'More'.
 

Mike's second song on the album 'The Kind Of Girl I Could Love' is much more in keeping with the style of songs heard on the band's first album. A fierce Latin-style rocker and a very un-commercial and gruff Nesmith vocal make for a song that must have given Don Kirshner's ears a lot of extra twitching, but as ever with Nesmith the song is one of the best and most rounded on the album despite his comparative lack of writing experience and it's lack of Monkee signatures. Once again Mike was given a writing partner in the hope that it would bring him more in line with what Kirshner wanted - but again Nesmith had such a strong musical vision that his partner Roger Atkins (who co-wrote Animals classic 'It's My Life') gets swamped into Nez' natural style. The result is a track that's clearly here to tick as many Kirshner boxes as possible with the things Mike could afford to give away (the soppiest and silliest lyrics ever added to a Nesmith song, more in keeping with something Davy would sing- he sounds suitably embarrassed on the vocal) and keeps all the things he wanted: the Latin influence, the guitar sound, the very un-pop'n'rock rhythm shuffle and the general sense of 'earthiness' missing from so many Monkees recordings of this vintage. Inevitably this song tended to appear in the TV series when the band were doing something on a farm and the track has that sort of a rustic feel about it. Though less of a mixture of styles than 'Mary Mary' and less memorable than 'Sweet Young Thing' and 'Papa Gene's Blues' from the first album, this is another very overlooked track that proved Nesmith was at least the equal and maybe even the superior of many of the big names writing for the band. Micky's delightful backing vocals hint at what this song could have sounded like in his hands, though it does suit Mike's voice too.

Easily the most questionable decisions on the album is Davy's breathy take on Linzer and Randnell's 'The Day We Fall In Love'. A drippy teenage ballad that Davy intones rather than sings, it's the sort of thing that gave 1950s pop albums a bad name and was laughed at by many the elder sibling of a Monkees fan for being so old-fashioned and dated. Just take these lyrics: 'If the lines I say fall apart, it's because I don't know where to start, but you'll understand when I say them to you because they come straight from the heart!' As with much of the first album, this is very much a teenage romance, when days are perfect and the sun is shining and birds are singing, all wrapped up with a treacly string arrangement that's clearly meant to tug at the heart strings but just makes rock fans feel ill. More than that, Monkees fans who've just rocked out to 'She' and 'Steppin' Stone' feel used: how dare someone lump all these songs together and think of them all as pop songs on the same level; there's a world of difference in the realness and hugeness of these songs on offer. Though its ridiculous to think Kirshner was sacked for one song (and if he was then it was 'A Little Bit Me' released behind the band's back) but chances are the very hip and young show co-creators hated this song just as much as me. Even Davy, the most natural 'ham' out the four Monkees, sounds acutely embarrassed at times and the song is a disappointment from the writing team that also gave us 'I'll Be Back Upon My Feet' (why wasn't the first recording of that song, taped at the same sessions, used on the LP instead?) Don't worry Monkees, soon all your recordings really will come from the heart, you'll see.
A far classier take on love is Goffin and King's beautiful 'Sometime In The Morning', a ballad that was made for a singer like Micky to sing. The two songs are surely not placed here out of co-incidence: they come as a pair, both teenage ideals about what love is and could be. However this is a much more powerful song, with Micky's narrator dreaming of a love that doesn't need birds singing or rainbows in the sky; it'll be a love where he can 'just reach out and she will be there, close as the Summer!' For teenage listeners, who had to wait a whole night/weekend/summer holidays before seeing their love again, the idea of actually being able to spend all day every day with their loved ones is the single greatest prize growing up can give them (note that this song takes place in the morning, with the hint that its just after waking up in bed together). Anytime you have a thought you don't have to wait/write a letter/send an email, you can just turn to your girl and tell her. An idealised vision of the far future has the couple sitting by the fireside as they are still learning things about the other, reflecting on a lifetime of being shown things 'I never thought I would see'. Best of all is the middle eight: 'You'll see the beauty there...and you'll no longer wear a disguise'; this isn't love the way that teenagers fall in to copy each other and keep up with each other but being loved for who they are, with love unlocking a certain 'something' that makes living in their own skins that much easier. Love is companionship mixed with support and mutual learning and love is something that lasts long past the love at first sight tale trotted out by both that last song in particular and much of The Monkees series as a whole. Perhaps because they were barely past being teenagers themselves, Goffin and King perfectly invoke what it is to be young and fearful of love - and it's far from the clichéd guff that married-twenty-years elder writers of the 1950s came up with. Sadly their own relationship won't last the course - they were married ten years between 1959 and 1969, with this song very much written towards the latter stages of their time as a couple - but you won't tell that from this golden, heartfelt track. Micky too instantly gets what an important song this is and sings like a bird (or is that Byrd?), hitting every emotional point spot-on. Yes, true, Micky was only copying what Carole King had already sung on her demo tape (with producer Jeff Barry keen for Micky to nail every line the exact way she sang it), but Micky still manages to sound as if he's living this lovely song, not acting it. Add in a couple of oh-so-cute touches (such as the guitarist 'squeal' kept in after the line 'child-like eyes' that sounds like a giggle) and you have one of the greatest charmers in the AAA back catalogue, so sweet and naive and innocent but just the right side of saccharine and artificiality. This is exactly the sort of thing The Monkees were created to do. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Alas 'Laugh' undoes so much of that good work with a deeply unfunny song that took four (yes four!) writers probably somewhere around five minutes to come up with. The song's urgent, insistent rhythm makes Davy sound angry rather than comical, while the messy 'oh-ha-ha-ha' chorus makes the song sound as if its laughing at the singer rather than with him. The lyrics, about not taking yourself seriously, ought to be a good one (it's very Monkees) but its metaphors are bland and curious: why would you laugh 'when you can't find your shoes to cover your feet'? And why oh why did someone watch back the early Monkees episodes about brotherhood and self-expression and teenagers being lovely people rather than long-haired weirdoes and then write the line 'laugh because you can't tell the boys from the girls?' It's just wrong - we know it and Davy knows it - and stilted laughter isn't going to make me want to join in 'oh-ha-ha-ha'-ing anymore than 'The Day We Fall In Love' ever concerned me that Davy was singing it to someone real. A shame, because unlike 'Love' (which was never going to work in a month of rainbows) there's a decent song in here somewhere. 'Lsugh' has a great stomping beat that's very Monkees, a lovely chorus progression in the middle eight that pushes Davy further and further up the chromatic scale to the point where he sounds hysterical and a song reflecting The Monkees sunshine and anything-is-possible mood where they want the world to laugh with them could have worked. This is just so clumsy, though - did Kirshner even listen to this song before sanctioning it? Another of the band's all-time weakest songs, to rank alongside 'The Day We Fall In Love' 'Your Auntie Grizelda' and the Boyce/Hart oddity that nearly made this album too 'Ladies Aid Society'.

We end with a song that wraps up everything that made the early Monkees great in one big ball of pop concoction perfection. Neil Diamond's 'I'm A Believer' isn't all that original - it's a real crib from Hollies hit 'I'm Alive' by Cliff Ballard Jnr, with the same sad and lonely verses exploding into tears of joy in the chorus. However where Diamond excels is by giving the song a strong hook (played on the organ, which just about holds sadly on for most of the song before exploding in the solo), gospel overtones (which turn love into a religion and make more sense of Micky shouting his conversion from the rooftops) and the snappy rhythm which manages to throw something new in every time you turn around. On top of that sits Micky's simply gorgeous vocal, which is actually blooming tough to do (as anybody whose tries to sing along will tell you). Micky needs to be gentle and sad at the beginning, reach a first peak of excitement in the first verse, sink back into despair but not quite as far on the second verse, explode for a second chorus, cool off for an instrumental and then reach an even bigger exaggerated peak for the finale. Few singers can take that off without falling over, but Micky not only manages to hit every line right he also sounds like he believes it. More impressively yet, he's nearly 'got' the song straightaway from the first rehearsal (included on the album's CD re-issue as a bonus track), recovering well after slightly choking on the first verse. A third version, recorded for the 33 and A Third Revolutions Per Monkees' brings out even more of the bluesy gospel feel, losing the song's feel of innocence and hope along the way. Unlike most fans who think it a 'travesty' however, this re-recording is perfectly placed, coming at the tail end of The Monkees' career when their innocence is long dead. This song was an international #1 for a reason, becoming one of the best-selling single of 1967 (the year when more singles were sold than any other) - and surely would have been even without the TV series to offer the song exposure. Not bad for a largely unknown writer on his first big assignment (Diamond's own 'Cherry Cherry' beat the single to the shops, but hadn't sold that well and the Monkees team hadn't heard it when they 'borrowed' this song), sung by an actor hard at work on a TV series and under some of the heaviest pressure to deliver of any of our AAA stars at any time. Appealing to a wider audience even than 'Clarksville', this is the song that turned so many Monkees casual fans into 'believers'. Though I wouldn't have lost 'Headquarters' for all the bananas in Monkeeville, the sheer casual brilliance of this song does make you wonder what on earth the KIrshner-managed Monkees might have gone on to do next.


Overall, then, 'More Of The Monkees' is all things to all men/apes. The 'missing link' between the delightfully childish first album and the real heavyweight albums to come, 'More' is a difficult second album, made all the more difficult by the fact that several different writers were trying to work with four different singers on a variety of styles that were all parts of the Monkees 'sound'. Not every recording released on the album works by any means - indeed a third of this album is unlistenable and quite probably the weakest quarter-hour in Monkee history until the reunion albums, outtakes albums included (the best of which from this period could have made a good album so much greater). But enough works to make 'More Of The Monkees' more than an album to laughed at down the years, by outsiders, fans of the band's later period and even the band themselves. Though the record would ultimately be deemed 'not good enough' by the band and the powers that helped them and would see them severe all ties with the man who, more than anybody, helped make it, you can see both sides of Kirshner's talents: the man who really did have the ear for the perfect song, but whose ears were most certainly mired back in the past bands like The Monkees were trying to overthrow. With so many cooks not seeing the bigger picture and someone in charge whose bigger picture was a decade too late, not to mention a distracted band more concerned with their filming work, it's a wonder that 'More Of The Monkees' isn't a lot worse than it is. As with all revolutions, a lot of good was thrown out along with the bad and while the Monkees republic to come is a more stable, democratic and altogether more inventive course of history, we should spare a thought too for the innocents caught up in the crossfire (Boyce and Hart, Jack Keller, Goffin and King) who had already done their best to usurp their masters in smaller ways and who had already found a way of making life quite well under their old director, losing their smaller thrones to some extent along with him. As far as The Monkees are concerned, their apprenticeship ends with this album and the band as they were created and imagined end right here. 

Other Monkees articles from this site you might be interested in:

'Pool It!' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-monkees-pool-it-1986-album-review.html
'Only Shades Of Grey' : The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/university-dissertation-monkees-in.html

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