Monday, 30 May 2016
The Monkees: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One: 1967-1975
(Rhino, Recorded August 1967, Released 'mid' 1987)
Last Train To Clarksville/You Just May Be The One/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/I Wanna Be Free/Sunny Girlfriend/Your Auntie Grizelda/Forget That Girl/Sweet Young Thing/Mary Mary/I'm A Believer/Randy Scouse Git/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
CD Bonus Tracks: Cripple Creek/You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At It's Cover/Gonna Build A Mountain/I Gotta Woman!
"Everybody say yeah!"
I wonder what would have happened if The Monkees had released 'Live '67' at around the time it was recorded, rather than twenty years later. More modern-day audiences saw this as a mixture of a load of badly recorded noise that was to primitive it made The Monkees sound like The Dinosaurs coupled with surprise that actually a band we'd long been told couldn't really play give it a blooming good go. But what would audiences at the time have thought? Would the sometimes clumsy but always enthusiastic performances here have been enough to stem mid-1967's favourite sport of Monkee bashings? Would audiences more used to being unable to hear their favourite bands under a sea of noise ('The Kinks At Kelvin Hall' and 'The Beach Boys Concert' sound every bit as bad - ditto 'The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl' unreleased till 1977) have been kinder to this record than more modern day reviewers more used to pristine sound from live shows? Or crueller, given that many fans who'd never been to gigs expected them to sound like the perfection of their TV series? I'd love to know - but sadly that's unknowable.
What we do know is that this is a pretty handy souvenir, a 'highlights' set taken up from the only four concerts by the band 'professionally' recorded. The Monkees do an amazingly good job given their limited rehearsal time and the fact that they'd only known each other a year by this point. Micky is a comic mix of grumpy and funny, despairing of things going wrong just like his TV character while playing up to the audience and Peter is having fun ad libbing away like mad and enjoying the audience's cheers, while Davy and Mike largely stay quiet. The performances veer from tight and professional (a rather good 'Last Train To Clarksville' not too far removed from the seasoned session muso professionals, a gorgeous straining-at-the-leash 'I Wanna Be Free' and a pretty good go at tackling the complex 'Randy Scouse Git') to the chaotic and random (a five minute 'Steppin' Stone' that's as big a cross as you'll find between psychedelia and punk).
Understandably the band play an awful lot of Nesmith songs, with Mike turning in some great vocals and guitar work, though Davy and Peter seem under-used. Sadly the limitations of the LP playing time meant that the Monkees' four solo performances were cut from the record, which though none of them were particularly well performed is a tragedy for The Monkees collector as The Monkees' actually quite interesting and inventive selection of songs gets pared back to songs already released. However what is 'new' - and the record's main selling point to be honest - is The Monkees' humour. Whether it's the audience blinding poor Micky with flash-bulbs before he kick-starts 'I'm A Believer', Peter quipping band in-jokes that only the band can hear anyway (the band joke 'asking that musical question' they 'stole' from a review and which will end up being recycled in the chatter at the start of 'Don't Call On Me' from 'Pisces', plus his beloved Gaberdine suit mutated into a 'Gaberdine voice'), a lengthy 'joke' where Micky kee[ps stopping 'Mary Mary' because he isn't ready yet or Davy getting a cheer simply for saying 'hello' to the audience, The Monkees are having great fun and it's that infectious enthusiasm, rather than the professionalism, you take away the most. 'Live '67' isn't truly essential, it doesn't add much about The Monkees you didn't know and is often a struggle to sit through, but it's a welcome historical record of a fictional band performing live that's a lot better than it has a right to be.