Monday, 25 April 2016

The Monkees: Auditions and Screen Tests and pre-fame recordings 1963-1966

You can now buy 'Every Step Of The Way - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Monkees' in e-book form by clicking here!

While the Monkees' music world has been especially well catered for in the past twenty years thanks to record label Rhino, by far the most thrilling development in the TV world has been the first official screening of the band's original audition tapes. Fans have always known that the tapes existed - the individual auditions by Davy and Mike have become well known after being included at the end of the 'Pilot' episode (screened tenth in the original series run) and in many ways they're the shots that saved the show's bacon (the pilot only began to test well with audiences after these bits were included as a way of 'getting to know' the band - seeing Mike at his rebellious coolest and Davy at his cutest were the perfect means of showing the band's strengths). Peter's screen test exists as well in a similar vogue (although Peter is much shyer and more reticent about being on film than the others), while Micky was given a more ad-hoc interview in the middle of his group of auditionees (where in true Micky style he rather takes over what was intended as an ensemble piece!) In addition some fascinating footage exists of two completely different sets of Monkees, made up of the candidates who had been whittled down, Apprentice-style, into the 'final eight' (if the show was on today it would have been a reality Tv series as well as a comedy and an album factory! 'Why do you want this show? Are you enough of a believer? And which of our young hopefuls will be sent back on the last train - to Clarksville?') Given the sheer importance of this footage to The Monkees story and the importance of this audition tape in creating The Monkees' characters we're going to kick off our TV section by looking at it in full. Though some extracts were revived for the 1997 documentary 'Hey! Hey! It's The Monkees', most of this footage has never been made available officially and only exists as a Youtube link (added to our Alan's Album Archives Monkees playlist at )

'Ooh wow are you ready for this?!' First up is Mike Nesmith. Mike was the only Monkee who was actually hired because of the 'Madness!!! Audition!!!' article seen in the 'Daily Variety' and 'Hollywood Reporter' magazines and got the job almost instantly when he sidles up to the audition room with a bag of laundry over his shoulder. 'I hope this won't take long!' he quipped, which must have come as light relief to Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson who'd spent the whole day talking to earnest and flattering teenagers talking about what a great experience this would be. Mike also wore a woolly-hat to the audition, apparently because he had driven to the audition by motorbike and needed something to keep his already daringly long hair out of his eyes (although no doubt Mike had already thought through that having a 'gimmick' to be remembered by would be no bad thing). Though the other Monkees show varying degrees of nerves (which makes Micky go hyper, Peter go all shy and makes Davy laugh a lot) Mike is thrillingly outrageous, laughing his way through the 'first' photocall - having his profile taken from all sides - and over-dramatising as he's asked to move to the left and right and ending with his characteristic 'tongue-pulling' expression straight to camera. Even though this part of the film is silent, you can see he is chattering continually to Bert and Bob, with hat still proudly placed on his head.

The auditions proper took place on the set of another Colgems comedy 'The Farmer's Daughter' - in the kitchen set to be exact - and the show already had close links to The Monkees (Davy Jones turns up in a 1965 episode to sing Boyce and Hart's 'I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog' a year before he and Micky record it as Monkees). While most Monkees just face the camera (and interviewer Bob) and grin Mike is restless, claiming that he's already wanted to see around the set (for some odd reason there's a 'blackbirds baked in a pie' toy - perhaps the same prop used in the 'Monkee Versus Machine' episode in the first series - left in one of the drawers which Mike fools around with at the end. First, though, he walks into the set with his guitar in hand and a harmonica attachment  round his neck- a sign of things to come - and deliberately gets his potential bosses' name wrong ('Good Evening Ed!' he says to Bob). Mike discusses his real name (he starts by calling himself 'Michael Blessing', his pseudonym on his early work, before admitting that it is in fact Nesmith, joking 'why are you asking me that? It's weird, get on to something else!' Bob asks to hear about a story he told in a more informal audition earlier that day but Mike says it's a 'dumb story' and talks about an even dumber one about being in the air force. Bob clearly liked the fact that he's getting laughs without actually saying anything funny, simply by the way he's saying it - very Monkees. Mike really was in the air force by the way even though Bob says 'I don't believe it!' Nesmith is then asked how he got into music and is philosophical: 'Why do they call that light a light? I don't know - that's just where it's at!' Far from being simply brash and arrogant though - the TV series isn't looking for that sort of a character - Mike throws in some genuine humility, discussing being a 'failure' up until two years ago when he discovered music (though what he doesn't mention is that he'd been writing poetry for most of his school years, dabbling with setting it to music before The Beatles came into town and turned him into a bona fide musician, so it isn't entirely new to him). Asked if he's a 'goof' - the in-word of the day in 1966 - Mike says it depends on perception and quips 'I think I'm out of work and I hope I get this series, but if you think I'm a good then man I'm a good'. Mike then gets itchy feet and starts walking round the set and rifling around nosily, discovering the 'pie' toy ('You're probably the only one whose ever been in that drawer!'), but he refuses to do Bob's suggestions ('Do the butler thing, Mike!') and instead sits down to eat. Mike demonstrates his acting skills by being 'strong and silent' and 'a girl'. When told they're the same thing Mike tells Bob 'that's your hang up man, not mine!' and Bob jokes 'were you ever a strong and silent girl before?' Fade to black on laughing. No wonder they used this clip in the pilot - anyone who didn't fall in love with Mike Nesmith then and there weren't cool enough to appreciate The Monkees anyway.

Next up is Micky, who looks impossibly young and whose wonderful mop of curly hair has been plastered onto his head in a 'Brian Jones' look that suggests an awful lot of work took place on it before the audition. Micky heard about the Monkees casting from his agent and as the juvenile lead of 'Circus Boy' was already a long way up the list before the auditions started for real, with more acting experience than most candidates (though for now he's listed as a guitarist rather than a drummer or even a singer - almost all Monkees auditionees had to play an instrument to get in although Davy seems to have skipped that bit). Micky again starts off by having his profile taken and is clearly being given direction, shyly looking away and gnashing his teeth in anger before showing off his infectious grin. Micky is one of four potential Monkees being auditioned but is clearly the most comfortable with the camera (though, as with the 'minute short' features throughout the series, Micky can range from exuberantly loud to cripplingly shy in the space of a sentence - he's the Monkee most comfortable with being in character and the least comfortable with being himself). The band are jamming - using the term loosely - and Bob asks what all the racket was about. 'You know that was a pretty good something for know...nothing' says Micky cheekily grinning to Bob (has Mike given him a tip on how being rebellious was the way to go?!) Micky is distraught to learn the cameras only caught the end of the masterpiece jam and goes to  crumple on the set 'sofa' and pick up a guitar to strum. Someone off camera tells Micky he looks great, to which Micky flashes back straight away 'thanks, but I already have a dog!' Micky is asked why he's wearing one white shoe and one brown shoe (again the gimmick thing so he's remembered) and says 'It's the truth - I'm terrible at making decisions' (sadly, unlike Mike's hat, this character trait isn't kept into the series. A stage hand suddenly recognises Micky and yells out 'Elephant Boy' (presumably he meant 'Circus Boy') and Micky again fires back 'He's been asking about you too!' Asked how long it's been since he had a steady job Micky just laughs - without knowing it instantly 'getting' the Monkees spirit - and jokes in true Monkees style that he 'used to hang about outside a doctor's waiting room making people sick'. The joke falls flat and Micky's face falls, but Bob (a veteran teller of jokes himself) is probably only joking himself to see what re-action that gets. Micky also proves he can do serious though, with his next interview scene the closest any of these audition tapes gets to the 'minute short' interviews. Micky talks about deeper songs like Barry McGuire's 'Eve Of Destruction' 'kinda getting people to know where they are' and that the singer 'doesn't want to get people hung up on blood and guts, he just wants people to think 'where are they?' Micky things these deeper sort of songs are 'groovy' and 'wild'. Bet he was fed up the day he got lumbered with 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' then.

Next up a rather cross-eyed Davy who is wearing a peaked Beatles cap and who varies between intense serious concentration and a charming grin. Davy was the first Monkee hired for the show - it does seem as though the other three were originally his 'backing group', an idea that got pushed aside for a more Beatles-style democracy - and the first to be contracted, having impressed the producers with a trio of excellence: his eponymous 1965 album, his popular stint as the Artful Dodger in Oliver and this cheery interview. Though as ever the 'profiles' part is silent, he's clearly mouthing 'Cheese! Hello everybody!' as he announces himself to the camera. 'You want my best side? Here's my best side!' he mouths/speaks as he turns his head right round. Next is that familiar office (another 'Farmer's Daughter' set) with the clips shown at the end of the pilot episode. Davy is asked about his father (who Bob will become obsessed with across the interviews) and puts down ideas of being an entertainer's son by saying 'my father's a fitter - an engineer on the railways'. Davy gabbles about being a jockey ('I practised... rehearsed...listen to me, trained for six-seven months and then I actually got on a horse!')and talks about his height, turning the tables back on Bob with charm ('In my boots I'm 5"3. Do girls like that size? I rather like tall girls' 'Davy that's not what I asked you!') Davy's way out of most awkward questions is simply to laugh, although he shows a quick enough speed and enough charming self-deprecating humour to win him through. For instance, Davy jokes about 'them' making me grow my hair over my ears - I'm really a clean cut kid!' but has ego enough to show off his hair and say 'isn't it great?!' Davy is still new enough to America (though he's been touring on and off for two years now) to not understand the local colloquialism 'bag' ('style' is probably the closest vernacular around today) and when asked what sound he makes says 'I make a terrible sound!' Asked to come up with a song and dance routine quick Davy accidentally says what will become his catchphrase 'you must be joking!' (the early episode writers were clearly all well versed with these audition tapes!)  and does a quick dance - not the 'Davy dance' but a music hall style shuffle more like the one he does later in 'Cuddly Toy'. 'Hold it!' says Bob. 'You know something? I think you should have been a jockey!' Davy laughs his head off and acts mock-wounded.

Finally, it's Peter's turn in the camera spotlight. Peter famously hadn't heard about the auditions the first time round but when his close pal Stephen Stills got sent home with the rather backhanded compliment 'Gee, we'd love to use your musical talent but you don't have the looks we're after' (other sources claim the sticking point was that Stills was already hired to a rival music publishers) he told the auditioners 'I've got a friend who looks just like me but with more hair' and pushed Peter into auditioning. Peter, a Greenwich Village folkie who usually spent his nights washing dishes at local clubs, seems to alternate between being bemused and overwhelmed by the whole experience. He's already got a cavalcade of facial expressions judging by the camera 'profiles' introduction although interestingly he's the most interested of the four in taking orders and following direction, never questioning Bob's commands to look to the side or talk back. He does, however, know how to make an entrance, stumbling into the 'kitchen' set again with a large guitar over his shoulders and playing a 'Wild West saloon pose' riff on his guitar. Having got Bob to laugh, Peter is invited in and asked to give his name but leaves his mouth hanging open in an expression of comic stupidity (it seems likely that the Monkees have been given their 'roles' by now, with Peter really playing up to his 'dummy' character here). 'You're not going to do that again!' sighs Bob in a teacherly way, whose clearly gone through this routine with the young musician before. Asking Peter to say something he replies by reciting the letters of the alphabet as if they're a word. 'I don't believe it!' says Bob, 'It's true!' jokes a mock-hurt Peter and technically he is right even that's not what his prospective boss meant. Asked what the most money he's ever made in his life was Peter tells Bob 'I once made scale' -i.e. had his expenses paid for. When asked why he wants to be a Monkees, Peter opens his eyes wide and replies innocently 'because it's my natural inheritance!', a good answer that's clearly put him on side with Bob again after a shaky start. 'We fished you out of nowhere!' says Bob. 'And I'm eternally grateful - I'll do anything' replies Peter (you wonder if either of them viewed this footage back after a grumpy Peter left the band in 1968, just three years after making this!) Peter is then asked how he's made it from his home of Washington to California and jokes 'it was  Chevy most of the way' and throws in an extra joke about the car dying in 'Las Vegas taking the whole town with it - you may have heard about it as the biggest catastrophe of the century'. Only the nerves have got to Peter and he falters on the word 'catastrophe' as Bob cracks jokes about his teeth which Peter allows to largely fly over his head. What comes next is interesting though: till now Peter has been shy and silent, speaking only when prodded, but Bob hits a nerve by asking him about being a long-haired boy mistaken by a girl. And Peter's off - genuinely at first, talking about the indignities and how America's founding fathers wore their hair long and how it's discrimination - then seems to remember where he is and turns it into a comedy routine. There's just enough of a flash of the 'real' Peter (the one we'll get to know especially well from the 'minute short' interviews) for Bob to see something in him to call him back. Peter is asked what girls think of his hair and like Davy this seems to be his 'vainest' point, only half-joking when he says that ';girls love to run their fingers through my long silky hair!' Peter then rounds off his audition with a quick guitar rendition of 'The Sailor's Horn Pipe' to get him out of trouble and as if to remind Bob that he's actually here to be a musician and not play around like this; it's a fitting moment given Peter's bumpy three years as a Monkee. In fact all four will have their characters largely dictated by how they behave at these auditions, though the edges are softened: Mike's rebellion instincts turned into leadership, Micky's gabbling turned into zany and crazy impressions and acting roles, Davy's charm and cuteness turned to girls rather than to the camera and Peter as apparently stupid but secretly the cleverest Monkee of them all.

Sadly the audition tests for the four other Monkees who didn't get the grade but got through to near the end have never been seen. They are however part of two separate attempts to get a working band together with effectively 'doubles' for the Mike, Micky, Davy and Peter characters as the last eight actors are split into two groups and each given two separate scenes to act out. By now Bob clearly has ideas for who will go where but things aren't finalised as yet so there's still a fair bit of switching the actors around along the way. All these sequences were shown to 'test' audiences to gauge their reaction, so it was largely this clips that led to the four Monkees being cast. General agreement amongst fans is that they chose the right four, with major chemistry already there between Mike and Davy in one group and Peter and Micky in another. However it's worth pointing out that future Monkee songwriter Bill Martin (the most 'serious' Monkee taking the other 'Mike' part) is easily best of the rest and that actually none of the eight are bad; it's a shame on this evidence that The Monkees weren't an octet. Part of the 'first scene' shot by both groups was re-used in the pilot episode, the bit where Davy is worried his girl's 'got hung up' and it's all his fault and Mike tries to calm him down before offering support, before Micky walks in holding Peter and saying 'I wanna help BJ too but he's simpleminded ('SJ' is the only character given a name by the way, though he's clearly the 'Peter' character). The second scene which takes place in a record shop where The Monkees manage to sell their own record to a passing customer was never used in the series, probably because 'our' Monkees never had a hope in a hundred of making an actual record, but Bob's specially written scene is rather good and very Monkees.

First to take to the set (which looks like a posher and less hip version of the eventual Monkee pad) is Micky (acting, confusingly, as 'Mike') and Davy (as, would you believe, 'Davy'). Asked to be authoritative Micky slightly over-speaks his lines and sounds slightly curt, although Davy's already into character (even if he's playing a guitar, something he rarely did in the series proper). However Micky and Davy are already great together and the pair really bounce off each other well, with the look Micky gives Davy as he slides down the sofa absolutely priceless. Davy mispronounces 'exams' along the way but otherwise they get through it fine. The end of the scene then features 'Micky' and 'Peter', played by other members of the audition, who are fine but not in the same league.

The second pass has the roles reversed, with the last two Monkees now playing 'Mike' and 'Davy'. This version has less life about it, with the two clearly strangers not friends, but the actors nailing all lines this time and its livened up by the one playing 'Davy' performing a great 12 bar blues as the scene starts. Micky plays 'Micky' and Davy plays 'Peter' at the end of the scene, with the latter a bit over-offended at the idea of 'being helped'!

Thirdly it's a rather high-pitched Nesmith, complete with wool-hat, talking to the actor I think is songwriter Bill Martin playing the 'Davy' role. While Mike, oddly, sounds less than convincing here (even though he nails the scene when re-recorded for the pilot) Martin makes a rather good 'Davy', less cute and innocent but still highly believable. The pair will remain good friends long past the end of The Monkees and it would have been fun hearing Bill sing his own songs 'The Door Into Summer' and 'All Of Your Toys'. Nesmith does the best slide down the sofa, completely knocking off all the cushions, though Martin stumbles on the line 'she's a groovy kid'. Hilariously Peter then appears in shot to talk about 'wanting to help' the 'feeble minded' Peter character, played by our eight and final Monkee auditionee (name unknown I'm afraid).

Finally it's Peter's turn to act the lead and he's playing a groovy folk song as 'Davy', even though it sounds far too jolly and upbeat to fit the mood of this heartbreaking scene. Our last Monkee is now playing 'Mike' and makes a good job of it, somehow managing not to kill Peter as he delays his first line by a good thirty seconds! This new 'Mike's approach is to carefully slide out the seat cushions before he sits down (which would be a very 'Mike' thing to do actually - they should have kept it in). Bill Martin is back to complain about SJ's feeblemindedness and Mike puts on his sternest frown as he declares 'hey knock it off fellers!' The pair of them then nod together in what's clearly been a carefully choreographed scene and they walk off arm in arm.

At last we're onto scene two and a different split of all eight Monkees. First up is the group containing Peter, Micky and the first two auditionees we don't know. Peter is on top form, rummaging through boxes of records while half-speaking lots of names before Micky yells 'hold it!' and brings out a copy of 'our album'. 'That's embarrassing' says Peter, 'We only sold two of them all last year!' 'And I bought one of them' Micky retorts. The band sulk, asking 'what is it The Beatles have that we don't have?' before launching into a surprisingly tight a capella chant '13 million dollars!' (an interesting figure to choose - its either much higher or much lower depending whether Brian Epstein was asked or one of his charges!) Peter then talks to a customer after a record for his daughter and who has clearly mistaken him for a member of staff ('Yes sir, don't these teenagers have atrocious taste?!') Micky then offers himself as a 'typical teenager' and is spot on in his delivery of the punchline to 'I'm looking for the perfect gift for my teenage daughter' (which is altogether now, 'how about a teenage boy?') Peter recommends the Monkees record only to get blank looks while the band all exclaim, in mock hurt tones 'He's never heard of The Monkees!' The customer asks 'what sound do they make?' and gets lots of monkey-ing around as his answer but against all odds buys the album there and then, without even waiting for it to be gift-wrapped (to be fair, I think I'd have escaped that mad lot as fast as possible too!) Peter and Micky are the best at the monkey noises by the way - was this the 'real' reason why get the job?!

Secondly it's Mike now in the Micky role and Davy now in Peter's role, with Bill and auditionee number eight in there too. Mike starts with a delightful rant over the records he's looking at ('Happy in Hawaii?!') and his delivery of the 'to think I bought one of 'em' line is done with a lot more wistfulness than Micky's out and out humour. This a capella performance is pretty tight too, though Davy is slightly out of key and louder than the others. He makes up for it though with a much stronger mocking style when talking to the customer and absolutely nails the line 'don't these teenagers have atrocious taste?' while Mike's over exuberance as he fawns up to the customer to make him buy their record is priceless too. This second batch are much stronger all round actually - though to be fair they may well have just seen the other four go first (and the first lot were better at the monkey noises!)

So endeth The Monkees' audition pieces. Were the right Monkee hired for the job? Clearly and yet it would be fascinating to see what the other final eight's individual audition pieces were like. What we can say is that Bob and Bert must have been thrilled at having so much talent to choose from - and so much different talent as well with all four chosen Monkees having their own strong individual styles even back then. The next time Micky, Mike, Davy and Peter will be back in front of as camera it will be a few months later and they'll be shooting the pilot episode as the 'chosen four'. 

Now that we've covered The Monkees' first appearances on film, here are their first appearances on record:

As far as 99.9% of the public were concerned, The Monkees were four complete unknowns - an aspect that was overplayed in the publicity campaign for the TV series which implied that all four had simply turned up for the auditions and been hired for a talent potential no one else had tapped into yet. Actually, that wasn't quite true: only Mike was hired solely on the back of the audition process, with two of The Monkees (Micky and Davy) already possessing an extraordinary amount of acting experience considering their still-young ages. Even more extraordinary,  , three of The Monkees had actually made bona fide records. This is nothing to be sneezed at: the TV series itself is a pretty good indicator as to how hard this was back in the 1960s when everybody seemed to have a band they were trying to promote. None of the songs had exactly set the charts alight, but Mike had impressed no less than four minor record labels that he had hit potential with a total of ten songs released officially before The Monkees came a-calling (the fact that Linda Ronstadt and her first band The Stone Poneys had scored a hit with a song Mike didn't record till the early 1970s, 'Different Drum' probably had a lot to do with the faith all these labels seemed to have in him!) Colpix, meanwhile, had been so impressed with Davy's talents that they'd brought him in to record an entire LP - the one that the band use as a 'mock-up in the 'Monkees At The Movies' TV episode when they're trying to turn Davy into a 'star'. Colpix did remarkably well out of the Monkees series in fact - both Monkees were on the label when Davy and Mike were hired to join the TV cast and had to be bought out (although you could argue that Colpix were also unlucky - they had two of the biggest draws of the 1960s on their books and even with a few post-fame re-issues couldn't get a hit off the back of the fact!) Micky's career path was slightly more troubled - sadly his band The Missing Links (in which Micky was the guitarist) had broken up so they never got to make a record. With the acting work slightly drying up too (even ten years on he was still being typecast as 'Circus Boy') and music the next big thing, Micky signed up as a solo singer, a cover artist of novelty songs. Challenge, an even smaller record label than Colpix, took a chance on him and recorded a couple of novelty singles. However both were cancelled before release and none of Micky's recordings were heard until 1967, after he'd become a star in The Monkees. Ironically because of that his two singles, originally unheard, have become the easiest to track down of all these recordings (bar Davy's album, which is the only one to get a CD re-release)! Technically they should be reviewed later on in the book somewhere between 'More Of The Monkees' and 'Headquarters', but we've included it here because this is the era it was recorded. Poor Peter, meanwhile, had never recorded a note or done any acting work outside a college film project before becoming a Monkee - even though in terms of musical ability and experience he'd probably played more gigs than the rest of the trio combined (I keep waiting in vain for a Greenwich Village folk-lover to find a reel-to-reel of songs featuring the likes of Peter Tork and Stephen Stills before they found fame, but alas there's no sign yet!) So before they come walking down the street doing the Monkee walk, here's what the awesome foursome were singing before they evolved into the Monkees...

1) Michael Nesmith: Wonderin'/Well Well Well (single 1963)
Predictably Mike was the first to make a professional recording at the tender age of twenty with a song written and recorded a full year before The Beatles explosion in America. Fascinatingly, the only single released under Mike's real name already hits at the schizophrenia going on between his 'rock' and 'country' selves, a theme he'll be exploring for much of his career. The A side is a sweet laidback country song that has the narrator starting out on the road to success on a long highway - it's a theme Mike will return to during the 'national band' albums of the early 1970s where he'll find himself at a crossroads wonderin' which direction to take. Here though he sounds more certain and confident that he'll get where he's meant to go, even if he doesn't quite know how to get there yet. The B-side is as close to a rock song as you can get played on 'folky' instruments (Mike beating Peter to playing the banjo on record by a good four years, although he's not as accomplished playing it as his future colleague). It comes across as one of those novelty songs Johnny Cash used to sing, with a chorus of 'well well well well' and a Boyce/Hart style lyric about all the girls he's been dating: 'I got a gal and her name is Judy, she's the ugliest girl in town, her hair is crazy, her eyes are hazy and she don't weight 90 pounds!' Sally, the gal in the second verse, is even worse: an alcoholic who 'sounds like a hurricane when she sneezes!' and only Maggie in the third verse sounds like the one ('She's the sweetest and the best too'). Amazingly all four live together in harmony (lucky Mike) though he tells us that only Maggie is his 'queen' when it 'comes to loving' in what must have been quite a risue line for 1963! Though childish and simple, the song is a nice demonstration of Mike's more playful side - he'll be needing that a lot in his years to come.

2) Davy Jones: Dream Girl/Paradise (single 1964)
Davy, meanwhile, has been groomed into a cuter younger brother with a smile in his voice. With 'Oliver' having come to a natural end, Colpix  are clearly aiming for a similar audience, capturing Davy's cheeky charm and loveable rogue personality. Davy sounds slightly shrill on his first recordings - for some reason people equated higher singing with innocence back in the 1960s and Davy won't get to sing in his 'proper' deeper range until as late as 'Instant Replay' in 1969, though it's particularly noticeable here. The song is rather a good one though, a catchy piece of early 60s pop fodder, complete with a girl chorus answering Davy and a string part just the right side of schmaltzy. Davy was always fond of his first song and while he never sang it again he did co-write 'Dream World' for The Monkees (see 'Birds, Bees and Monkees') partly to capture the innocence and warmth of the A-side. 'Paradise' is not quite as strong, with Davy at his most cockney and sounding aged about twelve. He is however forming his TV character already - this is a teenage pop song about seeing birds flying over head and stars in his eyes as he falls in love, very much in keeping with the Davy of the TV series!

3) Michael Nesmith (as Mike, John and Bill): How Can You Kiss Me?/Just A Little Love (single 1965)
Mike, John and Bill were the trio made up of friends who Nesmith was convinced would be his big break. Mike was the lead guitar player, singer and writer the bassist was John London (who'll appear on all the 'First National band' records and some of the 'Headquarters' Monkee recordings) and the drummer was Bill Sleeper. The band might well have become a success judging by the groovy sounds of their one and only single (way ahead of it's time for 1965, a sort of psychedelic-folk crossover), released on Frankie Laine's record label 'Omnibus', only Bill got drafted into the army and the band broke up. The A-side is very Byrds-orientated with Nesmith doing a good impression of Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker and the song sounds closest to gene Clark's doom-laden ballads for the band. It's a very good track all round, well deserving of a re-release with a distinctive Nesmith multi-dubbed harmony part from three Nesmiths singing different parts. Only the lyrics let it down: 'How can you kiss me and turn and walk away? You don't even miss me and I know you're gonna stay'. The B-side features Mike singing alone on what sounds like an early love song for first wife Phyllis. 'I can't give you love like other men I see - I can only give you the love that's inside of me' sighs Mike before going all Bob Dylan and playing a chaotic harmonica part. The song was re-issued a year later and credited to 'Mike and Tony' though it is in fact the same recording.

4) Davy Jones: The Girl From Chelsea/Theme For A New Love (single 1965)
More cute stuff from an even higher-pitched Davy who sounds like he's been on the helium before the recording. The song is a good one though, not unlike the shuffle of Headquarter's 'Can't Get Her Off My Mind' as Davy hangs around a London street corner waiting for a glimpse of the girl of his dreams. Davy sings in an exaggerated Mancunian accent and everything about this track screams a 'British Invasion cash-in' but it's still a fair single, with an especially lovely middle eight where Davy reasons she probably won't like him because he's not posh and 'not made like them'. 'Theme For A New Love' hasn't worn too well across the years though, a spoken word and very retro 50s song like 'The Day We Fall In Love' from 'More Of The Monkees', only worse if that's possible. 'The way you walk, the tilt of your head, the sound of your voice and the things you're so like a kitten I hold in my arms': even Davy can't make this lyric sound sincere, although you can imagine more than a few pre-teens swooning over this. Curiously the B-side made the full album Davy made on Colpix though the A-side didn't.

5) Davy Jones: Davy Jones (What Are We Going To Do?/Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner/Put Me Amongst The Girls/Any Old Iron/Theme For A New Love/It Ain't Me Babe//Face Up To It/Dream Girl/Baby It's Me/My Dad/This Bouquet) (Album 1965)
Davy has clearly been groomed to look like Bobby Vee or Bobby Darrin or any of the millions of Bob-a-job rent-a-singers of the 1950s and early 1960s on the album cover and this album is curiously out of step with the folk-rock vibes and early psychedelia of the times. Davy doesn't yet have the charm or the twinkle in his eye of his Monkee days and the same can be said for much of the album, which is almost relentlessly retro, almost relentlessly English and so of its day it hurts. Colpix have clearly heard that Davy's from Manchester and tried to turn him into another Peter Noone, but Davy's not that kind of a singer - he's too sincere to do the out and out comedy (in song at least) and is too controlled to make quite such a fool of himself in sound. Though Davy does his best he's not really suitable for these sorts of songs and the full album doesn't match the quality of the singles - which admittedly was a problem for a lot of artists back in this era. Still, there are parts of the record that have a certain charm and take you right back to the troubles of the teenagers in the mid-1960s, with songs that would actually work as better soundtracks to the TV series than the Monkees ones they chose. Opener 'What Are We Going To Do?' has a certain cheery charm as Davy tries to pluck up the courage to tell a prospective father-in-law he's fallen for his daughter. The song even charted somewhere at #93 in America's top one hundred when released as Davy's third single with 'This Bouqet' on the back - the only pre-Monkees single to do so. 'Put Me Amongst The Girls' is pure 'Oliver!' and the sort of thing Davy knows how to do greatly - he wants his teacher to put him with the girls not the boys and features the rather odd rejoinder 'teacher you know I'd do the same for you - they'd enjoy themselves and so would I!' The most famous 60s song here, 'It Ain't Me Babe' is sung remarkably well for a singer still only nineteen and Davy adds just the right passion to this song made famous by Cher/Johnny Cash Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood etc. 'Baby It's Me' is silly Beatley pop delivered in the closest Davy's broad Mancunian can get to a scouse accent. 'This Bouqet', meanwhile, turns Davy into sounding like Freddie and the Dreamers' - which still isn't a natural fit but makes more sense than Herman's Hermits. However to get to the best of the album you have to get through some really awful recordings. The Americans helping Davy out clearly don't know the ins and outs of England (which is often treated by our Yankee cousins as if it's one small state, rather than a 'mini' version of their country, with an even bigger difference between accents and regional differences packed into a smaller space) and think London must be somewhere near Manchester. Davy is the least convincing cockney ever on 'Any Old Iron' and 'Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner' (which he very much wasn't), makes a meal out of the drama on 'Face Up To It' and sounds so insincere you want to throttle him on 'My Dad'. Still, this album is a learning curve and a very important one which showed a still very inexperienced vocalist just exactly could and couldn't do with his singing voice. Just making a record was an achievement back in 1965 and a key reason why Davy got his Monkee role in the first place. It is, however, a universe away from the Davy presented to us from the Monkees debut onwards and Davy sounds even more awkward singing these songs than he does 'The Day We Fall In Love' and 'Yes I Will' in the year to come. If Davy is the Monkee that's always made you go weak at the knees then seek this out by all means - there's a particularly good CD re-issue on the label 'Friday Music' which came out in 2012 in tribute to Davy after he died - but if you only like The Monkees deep 'n' heavy you can probably afford to skip this period piece curio. The album also charted by the way, though at #185 it's not exactly what you'd call a rip-roaring success (still, it sold more copies than last Monkees record 'Changes' did...)
6) Michael Nesmith (as Michael Blessing): The New Recruit/A Journey With Michael Blessing (Single 1965)
Talking of deep 'n' heavy, Mike's third single hits that bill spot on. Perhaps still seething that his old pal Bill is now in the American army instead of making hit records with his old pals Mike gets all political and records an uncomfortable satire that's really controversial and anti-war by 1965 standards (when most people still hadn't cottoned on to Vietnam yet). I'm amazed none of the music papers jumped on this track when The Monkees were persona non grata circa 1968, but then Mike did release this song under a pseudonym. No one, including Mike, seems quite sure why he chose 'Blessing', but it does have a certain aura about it and fits in well with the sorts of names being banded about by other folky Dylan wannabes. This is Mike at his folkiest, although his attacks on the stupidity of war and his sarcasm are straight out of rock and roll. On top of an 'All The King's Horses' beat and a riff that sounds very similar to 'Take A Giant Step, a very nasal Mike tells us that he's a 'new arrival, just arrived in camp'. Mike pleads 'give me lessons, sergeant, because I've never killed before' and for the first two minutes you can imagine army veterans nodding along in approval. However the change comes gradually as Mike asks about 'how to kill the enemy and then find out what for?' and that 'there are rumours in our camp about the enemy - they say he looks like you and me'. Throughout Nesmith's vocal drips with an irony and bitterness missing from all his other songs. Though the song is a bit repetitive, with the same sing-song verse structure throughout and no real variation, it's an impressive song for one so young (Mike was 22) and should have made a much bigger splash with the anti-war movement. The instrumental B-side 'A Journey With Michael Blessing' is a rather peculiar return to the early 1960s though. It's an uneasy cross between surfer music and The Shadows, with the only relevance to 1966 a see-sawing fuzz guitar part on one note. Like many instrumentals it feels unfinished and isn't one of Mike's better ideas, with even his guitar playing a little sloppy.

7) Michael Nesmith (as Michael Blessing): Until It's Time For You To Go/What Seems To Be The Trouble, Officer? (Single 1965)
Mike doesn't seem the sort of person to have gone in for pretty ballads but he remained fond of Buffy St Marie's lovely song for many years, treating it as the 'party piece' he could play at the drop of a hat (including for Chip Douglas during the 'headquarters' sessions - a rather tighter version of the song from 1967 appears on the Rhino Handmade' three disc set of the album). He sounds rather good singing it too, with a purity in his falsetto that gets under-used during the rest of his career (though 'Don't Call On Me' sounds as if it was very much modelled on this song). Mike's clearly trying to get a hit by any means possible now rather than simply making music for the sake of it and while this direction is less interesting to Monkee fans rather than Mike doing one of his own songs he proves to be an excellent interpreter. The B-side is more what you'd expect, a kind of jaunty version of 'Propinquity', with Mike egging his vocal as an old blues man wondering where the man who taught him this song has gone ('I don't know where he's picking now!') Mike also talks about being 'young for a protestor, a tender nineteen' even though again he was twenty-two when he made this and he is credited with writing this song, such as it is. Mike is clearly just taking the mickey here, spoofing the folk scene ('It gives me a real feeling about life - and other things!') and laughing at all the young wannabe folk singers at Greenwich Village. You wonder what Peter, whose doing exactly this at the time the song was out, made of this single or if he even knows of its existence!

8)  Micky Dolenz: Don't Do It!/Plastic Symphony III (Single Recorded 1965 Released 1967)
Remember those concerts when Micky played 'Gotta Woman' in his solo spot and acted like he was the re-incarnation of James Brown (even though the soul legend hadn't actually died yet?) Well here's the proof of Micky's affinity with soul, complete with a stomping riff and a claustrophobic sound that's at one with other soul singles of the year like Otis Redding's 'Respect' and Sam and Dave's 'Hold On, I'm Coming'. Alas the words aren't up to the sound of the record and are empty to say the least ('Why don't you do it - why don't you dance with me?!') Micky rather over-sings the song as well, without the finesse or polish of most of his Monkee recordings, although he already knows how to sound committed in his delivery. Curiously, the B-side doesn't feature Micky at all but is taken from another unreleased single the record label Challenge had lying around. It's a very 1950s cutesy instrumental, with a saxophone 'talking' to the ringing guitars and doesn't actually contain a performance credit (unless the band name really is 'Instrumental'!)

9) Micky Dolenz: Huff Puff/Fate (Single recorded 1965 released 1967)
Intended by Micky as the B-side of his single on Challenge, 'Huff Puff' is another novelty soul song but one in a more playful mood. Micky acts the part of the Big Bad Wolf, whose going to 'huff and puff and blow your house down' - fans of the  Hanna Barbera cartoons like Captain Caveman and Scooby Doo with Micky guest appearances will recognise this slightly hysterical tone! It's a lot better than the first single released, actually, with more of a Monkees-style comedy and a 'Your Auntie Grizelda' style middle eight of vocal noises, though fans of the prettier side of Micky's voice should again keep away. The B-side is, once again, a song without any involvement by Micky whatsoever and is a song called 'Fate' credited to a band known as 'The Obvious' which Challenge happened to have rolling around the vaults.

10) Mike Nesmith (B-side as Mike and Tony): Just A Little Love/Curson Terrace (Single 1966)
By now The Monkees were stars and all the smaller record labels that still held the rights to their Monkees work were keen to use them as much as possible. While for the most part this consisted of Colpix re-pressing it's Davy catalogue again, Omnibus went for a more artistic approach with its re-pressing of the B-side of its single by Mike, John and Bill, this time credited to Mike's real name. It's a song worthy of re-release and deserved to do well off the back of The Monkees' debut. However less forgivable is what Omnibus did with the B-side, with a generic surf instrumental they had lying around unloved and unwanted printed on the record with the description 'Mike and Tony'. Nesmith is not the 'Mike' credited on the sleeve - though that's clearly what people were meant to think - and when asked for the Nesmith biography 'Total Control' who 'Tony' was replied to biographer Randi L Massingill 'I truly have no idea - I would really love to know!'

11) Unreleased Mike Nesmith  (All The King's Horses/Don't Call On Me)
In addition to the above, two additional Nesmith songs from this period have appeared on bootleg, both songs familiar to Monkee collectors after being re-recorded for the band. 'All The King's Horses' is the best song of this whole period, an outtake from the sessions with 'Mike, John and Bill' which is cuter and slower than the poppier version re-recorded for the first album by Micky (though not released until 'Missing Links Two'). Apart from singer and tempo, however, it's remarkable how similar the two songs - dated roughly a year apart - are. The second song is a very different version of 'Don't Call On Me', probably from the 'Michael Blessing' days of 1965 when Mike was trying his hand as a crooning singer of ballads. It's much more heartfelt than the slightly tongue-in-cheek performance on 'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD' with a slower tempo and much more of a sense pain and hurt. Mike does sound a bit like a lounge singer though, which is the sort of thing being mocked with the re-recording's opening and closing speech! I've always liked this song though and the original version is even better then the Monkee-filled version, with a wonderfully pure sound about Mike's voice. Though getting the rights to all these tracks on different labels would be a nightmare and Mike's feeling about his pre-fame work seems to vary depending which era he's speaking from, it would be great to see the pre-Monkees Nesmith songs in particular with these two songs added as especially great bonus tracks. Till then, it's a case of looking through second hand shop for most of this list or hitting Youtube (we have a selection of these songs at our Alan's Album Archives Monkees playlist or simply look for 'AlansArchives' and scroll through to Playlist #17: The Monkees - more on this nearer the back of the book!) 

We'll be back with a lot more Monkee business next week with a run down of the band's entire first season of the TV series!

Until then you can read other Monkee related articles at this site by visiting the following:


‘The Monkees’ (1966)

'More Of The Monkees' (1967)

'Headquarters' (1967)

'Pisces Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD' (1967)

'The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees' (1968)

'Head' (1968)

'Instant Replay' (1969)

'The Monkees Present' (1969)

'Changes' (1970)

‘JustUs# (1996)

'Only Shades Of Grey' : The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

Auditions, Screen Tests and Pre-Fame Recordings

Surviving TV Clips

The TV Series - Season  One (19966-1967)

The TV Series - Season Two (1967-1968)

'HEAD/33 and a third Revolutions Per Monkee/Episode #761'

Monkee Sidetrips: The Boyce and Hart Catalogue

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1967-1975

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1976-1986

Key Concerts and Cover Versions:

No comments:

Post a Comment