Monday, 23 May 2016

Monkees Side-Trips: The Boyce and Hart Discography




The Monkees are unique amongst our AAA books because while there were only four Monkees there were several honorary Monkees who took part in their story and helped shaped their music and which are more than deserving of a discussion in their own right.  Detailing the careers of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson before and after The Monkees would be rather short however ('Easy Rider' and that's about it), while detailing the careers of Monkee writers Carole King, Neil Diamond, David Gates, Harry Nilsson and the like would add another hundred pages each at least to the book. Boyce and Hart, though, are a special case. Two hip twenty-somethings who'd each released a series of middling-selling records as solo acts (Tommy with 'Along Came Linda' and Bobby with 'Girl In The Window', both released in 1961 they were both seventeen!), they were on the verge of fame as a double act when The Monkees came calling, they were tasked with writing the first batch of songs needed for the 'pilot' episode before Micky, Mike, Davy or Peter had even been cast. They 'got' The Monkees spot on from the first, with much of the future Monkees sound based around their first batch of songs: 'I Wanna Be Free' 'Let's Dance On' and even the Monkees TV theme itself. When Boyce and Hart's role in the series was reduced (after Don Kirshner realised how many 'slots' on Monkee albums he could sell to outside writers) they started up their own career from early 1967which continued alongside The Monkees' own until 1969, recording three albums of original material and a number of singles until their association with the band rather killed off their own careers too. The pair did however record a solo album each in the 1970s before reuniting with half of The Monkees as 'Dolenz, Jones Boyce and Hart' in 1976, after which the collecting trail sadly goes cold permanently. Many of these are recordings of songs later given over to The Monkees and make for particularly interesting comparison. Sadly many of these recordings are ridiclously rare so getting hold of a complete set might be tricky. Thankfully many of the best songs have been collected on compilations down the years which are slightly easier to find: the LP 'Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart' was released in 1986 just as The Monkees were preparing to releaasew 'Pool It' and a single-disc CD compilation called  'The Anthology' was released shortly after 'JustUs'  in 1998 (though, like all things Boyce and Hart, both are long overdue for a re-issue). Completists should note that Boyce and Hart also had a prolific career in the movies and recorded a number of songs for film soundtracks, not many of which were ever released on album, with the exception of 'The Ambushers' recorded in 1967 and a minor hit single, now collected on 'The Anthology' CD.

First up a quick run-down of the pre-Monkees material, recorded by Tommy and Bobby solo. Tommy's career started in 1961 when he was just sixteen and he ever so nearly scored a hit with his first single 'Along Came Linda' (1961), a single which just missed the top 100 (and thus out-sold every Monkees single from 'D W Washburn' through to 'Do It In The Name Of Love'). Very 1950s, it has shades of Dion and Bobby Darin and all the sort of greasy-haired singers The Monkees will lampoon in 'Monkees At The Movies'. It's a daft but catchy song that reveals an early obsession with the name 'Linda', though for now the narrator is very much 'listening' to her. B-side 'You Look So Lonely' is as corny as a bag of popcorn but is still rather charming for the era and considering Tommy's age. Second single 'I Remember Carol' (1962) sold slightly better, a sped-up doo-wop song that sounds a little like future Monkee writer Neil Sedaka's 'Calendar Girls', but better (obviously). B-side 'Too Late For Tears' is my favourite of these early recordings, a sweet harmony-drenched ballad about Tommy pleading with his girl to get back together when she doesn't want to know. It's very much a slower 'Tear Drop City'. It took another four years before Tommy bounced back with 'Pretty Thing' (1965), a very Byrds-like folk-rock song complete with Rickenbacker licks and puffed harmonica (particularly their cover of Dylan's 'All I Really Wanna Do'). Though slightly unfocussed it's all rather charming and sounds very much of its time, what The Troggs might have sounded like if they'd come from California instead of Hampshire. 'Who really cares if you're called Jane or Mary, all I need to know is you're exraordinary, I'm just shy and you're really scary' may also be the single best verse in this entire book. Moving on another year and towards a more psychedelic sound is the noisy 'Where The Action Is' (1966). The song was written for the music-variety show and adopted as the theme tune for a while, but wasn't actually commisioned by the programme - it does however show Tommy's growing respect for TV advertising which will come in handy for his Monkee days. The song was written by Tommy with not Bobby but Steve Venet, another rock friend - the pair would also write Monkee song 'Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day' around this time but sadly the singer doesn't seem to have recorded it himself. The single contained an 'instrumental' mix of the A side on the flip and was, funnily enough, released on the Colpix record label not long after the first Davy Jones album, though neither men had met at the time.

As for Bobby, first hit 'Girl In The Window' (1961) is a Buddy Holly-style doo-wop ballad that was also released when he was so much older than his colleague at seventeen and for his tender years sounds rather good despite being woefully derivative. Tommy guests on his new friend's single by playing guitar, the start of their long collaboration, although he's not credited on the record. B-side 'Journey Of Love' is more Jerry Lee Lewis as Bobby goes all Mike Nesmith and imagines taking a journey with his girlfriend in the future when she's his wife. A second single 'Too Many Teardrops' (1962) is a slow and moody teenage ballad of angst with a fuller backing sound including backing singers. The melody is distinctly catchy anhd Bobby's singing awfully good. B-side 'The People Next Door' is a revved up rocker about some nosy tell-tale neighbours who can't resist telling a couple's parents every time they kiss in public. With lines like 'If they only knew what we go through they'd never pout us on trial' this is perhaps the most Monkees-theme like song either Boyce or Hart wrote before being hired for the pilot. 

1) Out and About/My Little Chickadee (Single 1967)
'Out and About' must have sounded awfully dated when released in the 'Easter Of Love'. A 1950s doo-wop song gives way to a Beach Boys surfing style link and only when the fuzz guitar arrives does this finally sound like a song from 1967. Built aroud the same chugging stop-start style as 'PO Box 9847', it's a far more experimental song than anything the pair gave The Monkees. Flipside 'My Little Chickadee' is even weirder, a roaring twenties saloon bar ballad sung by Bobby against a parping saxophone and interrupted by Tommy Boyce pretending he's a DJ. Only in 1967...
2) Love Every Day/Sometimes She's A Little Girl (Single 1967)
Single number two is a much better bet, a breathy psychedelic ballad that's heavy on the echo and, well, just heavy all round generally. It sounds not unlike Vanilla Fudge and somehow manages to be both typically tuneful and oddly atonal all at the same time. Flipside 'Sometimes She's A Little Girl' is one of my favourite Boyce and Hart songs, a catchy rocker that manages to be both funkily rootsy and way way out, man. A 'Clarksville' style train riff gives away who the writers are, but this song is another epic that comes in several parts that's built more like 'Shorty Blackwell', but weirder. Yes, that is actually possible. Shoulda been the 'A' side!
3) Test Patterns (LP 1967: Out and About/I Should Be Going Home/In The Night/My Little Chickadee/For Baby/Sometimes She's A Little Girl/Abe's Tune/Shadows/Girl I'm Out To Get You/Life)
Boyce and Hart's first joint long-player features both sides of the first single but strangely only the flip of the second alongside seven new numbers. Though not everything here is a 24 carat gold classic it's an impressive collection of sounds all infused with a real grasp of psychedelia that should appeal to fans of 'Pisces, Aquarius'. Many of these songs come out sounding like The Troggs if they'd had a striong and horn section and got into sitars, with that same sort of slow yet heavy pop feel. The cover is very of its time too, with two lots of Boyce and Hart staring at us and in profile, with the same 'ghostly' feel as The Byrds' 'Younger Than Yesterday'.  Along with 'Sometimes She's A Little Girl' the highlights are the beautiful 'Shadows' which is the closest the pair ever came to writing a sequel to 'I Wanna Be Free' and would have sounded wonderful sung by Davy and 'Girl I'm Out To Get You' which sounds like Love if they'd been a music hall act, with a 'Bolero' guitar part stolen wholesale from Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit'. Overall it's an impressive album with several excellent songs and a nicely surreal spaced out vibe.
4) I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite?/The Ambushers (Single 1967)
The only Boyce and Hart song to chart is probably their most typical. 'I Wonder' comes off as sounding not unlike Don Kirshner's project The Archers and their hit single 'Sugar Sugar', with a very similar hook. However the duo do annoyingly little with the idea and don't provide any of their usual variation except shouting a bit louder in the chorus, which doesn't count. Flipside 'Ambushers' was written for the film of the same name and is a litle better but not much, a Kinks-like song of social observation over people 'sipping brandy' and wasting their life away in the sunshine while teenagers strike.
5) Goodbye Baby (I Don't Want To See You Cry)/Where Angels Go Trouble Follows (Single 1967)
An odd, treacly ballad punctuated by noisy horns and a 'ha ha high' chorus, this isn't one of the duo's better ideas. Much more interesting is the B-side, written for the motion picture 'Where Angels Go Trouble Follows'. The song features many of the typical Boyce and Hart signature pieces, with a slow 'Clarksville' style beat exploding into life on a catchy chorus. believe it or not the whiole filnm is about an argument between a mother superior and a young nun at a convent - for a whole flipping 90 minutes!
6) Alice Long (You're Still My Favourite Girlfriend)/PO Box 9847 (Single 1968)
Another popular Boyce and Hart track, 'Alice Long' is a catchy song that adds a Phil Spector style production over the top of a typically bare-bones 4/4 Boyce and Hart beat. It's not my idea of their best material but it is kinda catchy with Boyce and Hart having lost on a recent girl so they go back to chatting up an old one! The B-side was recorded before The Monkees made their own version of the dating advert in song. Is it sacrilege to say that I like theirs a lot more than The Monkees version? Where the 'Birds, Bees' recording drags, painfully slow at times before the drums thunder in the chorus, Boyce and Harrt's is snappy and upbeat throughout, with similar psychedelic effects throughout the song though used a little more sparingly. They also use the percussive effect of a typewriter which is very effective and a psychedelic 'on helium' chorus that's freaky mannnn, but in a good way. No wonder The Monkees fell in love with it - the A side and B side should have been the other way round!
7) We're All Still Going To The Same Place (EP 1968: We're All Still Going To The Same Place/Six and Six/Alice Long/PO Box 9847)
An EP containing both sides of the last single and two new tracks that sound as if they're by an entirely different band. 'Same Place' is a poppy protest song about how the 1960s hasn't changed a thing and we're all still doomed ('Forget your disguise now you'd better get straight, too late to cry - you're gonna die!' runs the chorus). The slow-burning verse makes Tommy sound like he's Englebert Humperdink on speed, though, which is an effect I could have lived without and the song takes too long to reach the chorus - although its more than worth waiting for once you're there. 'Six and Six', meanwhile, turns back the clock to the 1966 branch of psychedelia: harpsichord, echoes and love songs. The narrator's been let down, waiting at a meeting point for a girl who never turned up and feeling 'like a child of ten trying not to cry, lost and I don't know why'. I'm still not sure if I like this song or not - and like Boyce and Hart I don't know why, it tries so hard to take off but never does quite get to fly.
8)  I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite? (LP 1968: I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite?/Pretty Flower/Tear Drop City/Love Every Day/Two For The Price Of One/Goodbye Baby (I Don't Want To See You Cry)/I'm Digging You Digging Me/Leaving You Again/The Countess/Population/I Wanna Be Free)
Album number two is a little bit of a step backwards after the first. Surprisingly some but not all of the recent A sides are here with most of the songs 'new'. Well, sort of - eagle-eyed Monkee fans (unlike Monkey-eyed Eagle fans) will have noticed two familiar songs. 'I Wanna Be Free' is sung pretty close to the Monkees version - the one that made the album with Davy singing alone - although Boyce and Hart sing it in harmony and play guitar alongside the string part. They sing it a touch slower too which is a shame, but it's still a nice version well hearing. 'Tear Drop City' was also recorded by The Monkees during the first album but rejected and Boyce and Hart would have been re-claiming it as a 'lost song', little knowing The Monkees version was even then being mixed for release in february 1969 on 'Instant Replay'. This version is quite different, sung as a raw and raucous soul song without the distinctive guitar riff oddly enough - the way Micky would probably have chosen to sing it in fact. Once again slowing the song down a fraction isn't a good move and just gives it more of a 'wobble', although it's another fine version not that far behind the band's own. Elsewhere 'I'm Digging You Digging Me' is a fun 'PO Box' style psychedelic pop song, 'Two For The Price Of One' is a funky Hammond-organ driven Northern soul track that sounds more like a 1964 recording and is oddly postmodern ('Let me tell you about Tommy Boyce now he's a gangster of love, talk to the girls all over the world about the crazy things he's done!') and 'Population' is a cheery 'Route 66' style retro rock song that namechecks all sorts of psychedelia words. The rest of the album, sadly, isn't anywhere near as good and certainly not up to the first, although there's half a record worth hearing here. The front cover is clearly meant to reflect Boyce and Hart's 'mature' status, the pair leaning into the camera off the edge of a bed while a scantily clad woman stares on. We're obviously meant to admire them, but instead it makes them look as if they're about to be eaten for breakfast when they eventually turn back round!
9) Maybe Somebody Heard/It's All Happening On The Inside (Single 1969)
Hard as I try I can't get hold of this record anywhere. It's the first in a run of 'A' that don't appear on either of Boyce and Hart compilations, frustratingly.
10) LUV (Let Us Vote!)/I Wanna Be Free (Single 1969)
A wonderfully silly song, with overblown fanfare horns, talk of international 'harmony' and a Beach Boys-style chord structure, this song was released as part of a 1969 camapign to get the vote age reduced to eighteen (it had been twenty-one till then - amazingly Richard Nixon passed the bill despite the fact that very few 18-21 year olds voted him in). Boyce and Hart are shown on the picture single surrounded by schoolgirls while trying to look serious, which is unintentionally hilarious! The flipside was the duo's old recording of 'I Wanna Be Free' in the same form as on the 'Tonmite' album - it's an apt choice in context.
12) It's All Happening On The Inside (LP 1969: Prelude/Change/Maybe Somebody Heard/It's All Happening On The Inside/Abracadabra/Jumpin' Jack Flash/We're All Going To The Same Place/Strawberry Girl/Thanks For Sunday/My Baby Loves Sad Songs/Standing In The Shadows Of Love/Alice Long)
Boyce and Hart's third and final LP was their last release of all on A& M records before moving alongside Davy and Micky on Bell records. It's a curious mis-mash of old singles and new recordings - some of which work rather well and some of which don't work at all - and is now by far the rarest of all Boyce and Hart's three LPs. I'm not quite sure which side of the fence a slowed-down cover of the Rolling Stones' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' sits, slowed down and re-cut to a new tune that sounds like 'Teardrop City' playing at the wrong speed - it's certainly different to every other cover version of the song out there! Ditto an overblown cover of the Motown classic 'Standing In The Shadows Of Love' slowed down from a purr to a crawl (this pair were better creators than interpretors). 'My Baby Loves Sad Songs' is worth a listen though, a witty portrayal of a girl who just likes being sad with moody art hanging on her wall and Dylan LPs in her record rack and by far best thing on the album, hit singles included!
13) I'm Gonna Blow You A Kiss In The Wind/Smilin' (Single 1969)
With their chart power fading and the Monkees curse hanging over them, Boyce and Hart were dropped by A&M before the smaller independent record label Bell came to their rescue. At first it was very much business as usual: Boyce and Hart went to town promoting the A-side, even appearing in an episode of Monkee rivals 'Bewitched' to plug it (easily the best US TV programme after The Monkees' own). Actually I preferred Elizabeth Montgomery's in-character performance of 'I'm Gonna Blow You A Kiss' as she portrays with Samantha's 'hipper' cousin Serena, determined to have a trendy rock and roll act play at her party. Funnily enough Serena puts her own 'spell' on the duo to make them less popular, so they have to play at her gig or else - it's hard not to think somebody was laughing at the duo as their popularity fell, although they are a big hit in the 'human' world again by the time the twrnty-five minutes are up (it's the episode 'Serena Stops The Show' from series six if you're interested - it's out on DVD though thefirst five series with the 'original' Darrin are better). Boyce and Hart sound slightly staid on this jazzed up pop song that sounds like the theme tune to 'Banana Splits' on softer drugs. B-side 'Smilin' is a little more original but not that great either - Boyce and Hart were really beginning to struggle to keep up with modern day sounds as the eclectic feel of 1968 turned into the rootsier 1969. Alas is was to be the last single the pair ever released as a duo. 
14) Blown Away (Tommy Boyce under the name 'Christopher Cloud' (LP 1973: Brand New Boogie At 10AM/Friendly Sabotage/Celebration/Do You Want Me For Five Minutes?/Thank God For Rock and Roll/I Heard It All Thru The Wall/Cecilia/Dr Moss/Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah/Sandra The Cat Lover)
With his name now tarnished by The Monkees' fall from grace, Tommy Boyce tried to re-invent himself in a whole new style that was much more contemporary (think The Monkees twinned with Slade and with a passion for re-inventing Disney songs - if you can). The cover is a photograph whioch cleverly conceals Tommy's face in a swirl of clouds as he performs under his new moniker throughout. However even if you hadn't spotted the giveaway Boyce/Hart credits on the label you'd soon notice the trademark sounds from the disc itself as despite the more modernised sound this record shares the duo's early love for keeping things simple, slightly slow and 'epic' and features lots of weird and occasionally wonderful cover songs sounding like they've never sounded before. A chirpy 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah from Disney's 'Song Of The South' is the highlight, a song which is not unlike Boyce and Hart's natural one in the first place, though a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Cecilia' is an insult, even if its a rare Paul Simon song I don't actually like that much. Most of the record is, sadly, disposable and despite being younger has dated far worse than the 1960s recordings which are - give or take a handful - timeless. To date this album has never appeared on CD. In truth you're not missing out on an awful lot. After forming DJB&H Tommy only ever released one more record, the 1977 single 'English Girls' under his own name once again. Strangely prog in an era of punk, it picks up where the quartet had left off and isn't the most glittering end to an otherwise fairly glittering career.
15) The First Bobby Hart Solo Album (LP 1980: Funky Karma/I'm On Fire/I Can't Fight It/Hurt So Bad/I'll Say Anything/Street Angel/I Get Crazy/Firsat Impressions/Still Hung Up On You)
Bobby, meanwhile, released one flop single in 1974 (the catchy calypso groove of 'Hard-Core Man' ) before joining DJB&H and didn't record his first (and last) full album until after that quartet had split. It's a pleasant though not particularly adventurous LP which does at least show that Hart had grasped the updates sounds of a new decade nicely, without doing anything to add to the sound of that decade at all. Hart was backed on the LP by a four-piece band that included Monkees session man Larry Taylor who play nicely. The sound really has little to so with The Monkees, though, being closer to soul, which is actually a neat touch given Bobby's now very deep voice. The songs are, sadly, another uneven bunch but do have their moments, with the album single 'Street Angel' particularly strong, coming on like a smoky 'Rose Royce' and the downright funky 'Still Hung Up On You'. This remains, to date, Bobby's last recording and is again long overdue for a first CD release. 

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

'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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