Monday, 6 June 2016
The Monkees: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two: 1976-1986
Right Now/I Love You (And I'm Glad That I Said It)/ You and I/Teenager In Love/Sail On Sailor/It Always Hurts More In The Morning/Moonfire/You Didn't Feel That Way Last Night/Along Came Jones/Saving My Love For You/I Remember The Feeling/Sweet Heart Attack
"Seems like only yesterday I thought love was here to stay, guess I was wrong to ever think that way, I turned round and you were gone"
By 1976 a little time had passed between the end of The Monkees, the music world had moved on and people were't throwing metaphorical objects quite as hard in the band's direction as they once had. Indeed, The Monkees fitted the glam movement's return to snazzily made simple pop tunes rather better than most 60s bands and had helped create the 'marketing' trends for bands like T Rex, Slade and the Bay City Rollers. Micky and Davy had only reluctantly said goodbye to The Monkees in 1970 anyway and with both their careers on the decline were eager to reunite for the band's tenth anniversary. Peter, though, was still smarting after the Monkees' final end and Mike was bust setting up his new record label Pacific Arts. More unexpected was the return of writers Boyce and Hart who'd had a difficult decade of their own and suffered from their association with The Monkees (their last record as a duo, 'It's All Happening On The Inside' was released around the same time as 'The Monkees Present'). There was clearly great potential here for an untested partnership between 'The Guys Who Wrote 'Em' And The Guys That Sang 'Em' as thew quartet often billed themselves. The line wasn't strictly that neat, however: tough few fans relised it, Boyce and Hart had nice singing voices onf their own and after providing backing vocals on so many of the early sessions sounded 'right' with Micky and Davy's voices. Micky, too, had continued to write songs in the years away from the band and had a handful to use on the album. Perhaps because of this interaction, the resulting 'Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart' album is more like a mid-period Monkee LP full of collaboration and purpose rather than the poppier records at the beginning and end when the Boyce and Hart influence was at its peak.
The collaboration sadly didn't last very long, with just the one studio record and a later live album before the partnership split up for good. Audiences were still slightly suspicious of the Monkees and there wasn't yet the nostalgia or goodwill towards the there will be a decade and two decades later when The Monkees get back for real. Predictably the critics were merciless over this album, declaring it rubbish along with everything else the band had ever done. As the world has grown kinder to The Monkees, though, so public opinion has grown kinder towards this record, with as important and influential a site as 'AllMusic' declaring it 'the most consistent since 'Pisces Aquarius'. That's probably a little too generous: Boyce and Hart recordings are best heard in small doses rather than across a whole LP and their trademark repetition and cheesy rhymes grates here even more than normal without the natural Monkee cuteness to allow them to get away with things. No songs here ever quite match the brilliance of 'Clarksville' 'Steppin' Stone' or lesser known gems like 'I'll Spend My Life With You' and 'Mr Webster' (though singalong single 'I Remember The Feeling' and the epic 'Moonshine' come closest) and in truth the partnership never quite reaches the meeting of minds shown in the early years when Boyce and Hart were right on the money for Davy and especially Micky's natural sound. That said, Boyce and Hart have kept things simple and strightforward so there are none of the curious experiments like the unlistenably twee 'Teeny Tiny Gnome' or the bonkers 'Ladies Aid Society' either. As for the guys who sang 'em Micky is on great form. His vocals have slightly deepened with age but this only enhances his pop roar and many of the best parts of the album feature him roaring from 0-60 in seconds from a standing start. Davy for once seems a little unsure of his role in the band and gets precious little to do. He'd never forged quite the same close relationship with the writers as his compatriot (the first time you could actually hear Davy sing lead on one of their songs was as late as 'Don't Listen To Linda' on 'Instant Replay', three albums from the end - though that song is a remake of a version Boyce and Hart tried with him as early as sessions for the second album) and seems more reluctant to mebrace the collaboration. Davy had, after all, been more successful at establishing an identity away from the band with his own solo album and a few singles to his name though even these were something of a distant memory by 1976. However the real joy of this record is that so many of these songs are sung by Micky and Davy together - either in duet or in 'competition' with alternating lines - and that's something that hardly ever happened with The Monkees who rarely appeared more than one at a time in the vocal booth across their career.
The result is an album that's worthy of your time - and the whopping asking price - with several lovely moments. Much of the record sounds like a period Bee Gees record: lots of strings, lots of ballads, lots of harmonies and a production so sparkly you can eat your lunch off it. Had this collaboration run for a few albums more the quartet had a good chance of re-stablishing themselves as a world phenomenon and I'd have gladly bought those records too along with everyone else. However the record lacks that little spark of something extra which The Monkees had always managed to give even during their weakest moments and the record is just that bit too faceless and un-Monkees like. Even 'Changes', for example, had more 'soul' and character than this record, however hastily it was made, with a distinctive flavour unlike anything else released back in 1970. 'DJB&H' sounds just like every other record out in the mid-1970s and while admittedly it sounds like one of the betters ones from the period you're not missing out on too much if you never quite round to owning it. Our advice - until the album gets a proper CD re-issue one day (there was one in 2010 but it came and went quicker than the Last Train to Clarksville)- is to find the cheaper and comparatively better selling single 'I Remember The Feeling' with the pretty B-side 'You and I' (no not the 'Instant Replay' song but a new collaboration between Micky and Davy the pair will re-cut for 'Just Us' twenty years later!) as that's probably about all you need.
Davy opens the album with 'Right Now', a rather treacly and over-lush ballad where the production gloss is at its best/worst, depending on your feelings. The lyrics are clever, though, ambiguous about whether the narrator is telling his girlfriend she's perfect how she is or telling the music world this is the right time to make a comeback, with sahdes of 'That Was Then, This Is Now' a decade early.
'I Love You (And I'm Glad That I Said It)' is sung by Boyce and Hart (mainly Hart) and is the template Boyce and Hart song: slightly sugary, very 50s and based around that familiar walking pace trot, though the writers are clever enough to disrupt the obvious flow by throwing in a few counter-melodies and middle eights that are highly effective. A slightly faster tempo woiuld have made the song better, though.
'You and I' is one of the album's better songs and one that fans will be familiar with more from the 1990s re-recording. An (almost) unique collaboration between Micky and Davy it's a sweet song about friendship and 'promises unbroken, filled with magic memories'. Though the poppier re-working later is probably superior this version is nice too, sung by Micky alone as a sort of folky unplugged lament without all the pop trappings.
Though The Monkees had been famous for their love of contrasting styles, all four members of DJB&H had a shared love of 1950s rock and roll and that quickly became a bonding factor across the making of the LP. Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman's 'Teenager In Love' is a doo-wop song originally recorded by Dion and the Belmonts in 1959 (the band name-checked by The Kinks on a 1973 single AAA fans!), sadly slowed down and made rather antisceptic by a reggafied but still glossy prodeuction. Micky sings lead, though not convincingly by his high standards.
'Sail On Sailor' is a hideous cover song with Micky and Davy singing together - and sadly not The Beach Boys glorious song of the same name but a horrible Douglas Trevor song that's very over-sickly even for Davy anhd Mickly. 'Oh how I miss her!' Davy wails. 'If you ever sail to Jamaica look me up' sings Micky. 'Oh lordy!' says the listener before skipping the song on a bit.
A relative highpoint is the more contemporary 'It Always Hurts Me More In The Morning', a rare collaboration between Micky and Tommy. Though the song is shouty and modern the lyrics point at an inner sadness missing from much of the rest of the song which in retrospect sounds very sad indeed, a lonely man with nothing to live for wondering why he bothers to get out of bed. Given the way Tommy's life will go, this is heartbreakingly sad and even Micky can't 'up' this song enough.
Bill Martin had long been a Monkee friend and was an obvious choice for an outside song. Though the prog-rock epic 'Moonfire' is quite unlike any of his other recordings, Monkee or otherwise, it's one of the very best things here with a smoky mysterious feel and a slow-burning fuse that gives away to a full-on chorus: exactly the sort of thing Micky was born to sing. The effect sounds not unlike what Jefferson Starship were doing around the same time, away with the fairies lyrically and musicially but played with a welcome aggression and edge on the backing track.
'You Didn't Feel That Way Last Night' is Boyce and Hart's best song on the album, a nicely psychedelic song that sounds loosely like 'PO Box 9847' but with a much better realisation of period effects and lyrics. Boyce and Hart don't always do anger that well in their songs but this tirade is both beliveable and fitting, as Micky on their behalf turns on a lover for taking back her promises and not offering supoort for better or worse. Alas in context, with the Boyce and Hart partnershiop about to fall apart, it might be more about their relationship than a marital one. Though Boyce and Hart were often best writing through characters, like 'I'll Spend My Life With You' this sounds 'real' in a way some of their other songs don't and is clearly aimed at someone.
Had 'D W Washburn' been a success back in 1968 The Monkees would inevitably have turned to another Leiber and Stoller comedy 'Along Came Jones'. Typically Monkee postmodernist, Davy takes the 'Jones' part as the hero who comes in at the end to ease tensions between 'Salty Sam' and 'Sweet Sue', as watched by Micky's narrator on television. Though like 'D W' the song isn't as funny as it thinks it is (or indeed as funny as 'Shake 'Em Up', the other Monkees Leiber/Stoller cover) it is at least sung with more gusto than most of the album.
Micky and Davy's second and final song written together sadly isn't quite as strong as the first. 'Savin' My Love For You' is - God help us - a Monklee disco song and sounds more like the Boyce and Hart tradition of songwriting. You can just picture Micky singing it in a medallion while doing the 'Monkee Walk' on the set of 'Saturday Night Fever' and for that image alone loses marks.
Thank goodness than for the album's biggest saving grace 'I Remember The Feeling', a classic slice of Monkee pop by Boyce and Hart which at first delights by going where you expect and then delights further by throwing in something new. Davy sings the verses in reflective mood as he remembers great times together in the past and pops up again on the sweet midle eight as he reflects on too much shared history to ever part, 'the way that things will always be'. Micky gets to sing the punchy chorus where he remembers 'feeling high as the ceiling' as Boyce and Hart get more rhymes out of the song title than any writer has a right too. It'sa classic moment that sounds just enough like The Monkees to cheer old fans and yet surprisngly contemporary too, with a swagger and vigour more like 1976 than 1966. The lyrics again cleverly blend a love story with the idea that DJB&H are talking to 'us' about the sheer joy of old friends getting back together to play again. Full of Boyce and Hart's characteristic touches of cat-and-mouse as they play with just when the song will reach a peak again, this is clever stuff and the one song here that would have been worthy of the Monkee name. Though the single sold respetfully - better than the album anyway - it deserved to do better.
Strangely the album closes not with its immediate classic but with the peculiar and again rather noisy pop song 'Sweet Heart Attack'. Modern and funky, this one features Micky on lead while Davy drifts around him with a sweet harmony part as the narrator falls in love again and is taken by surprise (the umpteenth Monkee song based on the 'I'm A Believer' formula). In the context of the album it's middling and not the strong closer the album needs and a rather anti-climatic place to leave the 'Monkees reunion' story for another decade, by which time Micky and Davy will sound rather different.
Sadly the DJB&H collaboration just drifted apart due to low sales for the record and the tie-in concerts and a horrifically mis-calculated TV special that made 'Thirty-Three and a Third' look over-polished. There were a couple of bright spells, with the quartet eagerly welcomes back for some memorable American TV appearances and a tour of Japan where fans had always stayed loyal (the 'not playing their own instruments' scandal never really affected the band there - this was, after all, the country that invented karaoke). However the timing in the Western world wasn't quite right yet, with the foursome facing the same old tired questions about being able to play and whether the fact that the Monkees were only a fictional band made it hard for them to play, that sort of thing. The four musicians then slowly drifted away from each other with Davy and Micky returning to acting and going on to star in Harry Nilsson's 'The Point' in England together. More shockingly, Boyce and Hart split up their longstanding partnership of some twelve years to go their separate ways. Bobby Hart, meanwhile, released his one and only solo album (hopefully titled 'The First Bobby Hart Solo Album') Tommy Boyce formed his own 'Tommy Band' and who followed his old friends to England but without much success - legend has it that one gig was played to a single audience member who cheered the band on as best he could from his frontrow seat. Dejected he returned to Nashville where he grew very ill after suffering a brain aneurysm in the 1980s and additionally suffered from severe depression. After years of struggling with his condition Tommy killed himself on November 23rd 1994 at the age of just fifty-five. His death was a doubly cruel blow given that Rhino had just bought up the rights to all The Monkees albums and Boyce died just a year or so short of seeing all his old work for the old firm re-packaged out on CD and turned into both big sellers again and criticallty respected pieces of work, both of which he'd for so long deserved and been denied. His death was a deestating blow to the Monkees community and though Boyce and Hart had ben overlooked for 'Pool It' there was always the hope that some day some way some future Monkee reunion would call on their services again. Alas, though no one knew it at the time, 'DJB&H' was the final end to a great partnership that had lasted a decade.
Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart "Concert In Japan"
(**, Recorded 1976, Released 1981)
Last Train To Clarksville/Valleri-Daydream Believer-A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight?/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/I Wanna Be Free/Saving My Love For You/Pleasant Valley Sunday/I Remember The Feeling/A Teenager In Love/Cuddly Toy/Come A Little Bit Closer-Pretty Little Angel Eyes-Hurt So Bad-Peaches 'n' Cream-Something's Wrong With Me-Keep On Singing/I Love You (And I'm Glad That I Said It)/Action
"...It got me high as he ceiling, yeah I remember the feeling!"
Though slow to latch onto The Monkees (who peaked there in late 1968, a good eighteen months after most of the world), Japan also held the band in high esteem long after their halos had slipped around most of the rest of the world. The country was, therefore, an obvious place to go for 'the guys who wrote 'em' and the guys who sang 'em', with a mobile recording unit sent along for the ride too. The backing band were almost all old Monkee friends too, including reguloar guitarist Keith Allison. The tour it captured is a long way from classic Monkees - and a disappointment as the first ever 'official' Monkees-related live album - but does have a certain atmosphere and you can hear the delight in both Micky and Davy's voices as they reclaim songs they haven't performed in nearly a decade. The setlist is unusually keen on newer songs, which don't always sound too good in a live setting, while oddly slotting many of the Monkees hits into a medley, even Boyce and Hart's own 'Valleri' which seems a bit odd (the songs you might not recognise leftover are from Boyce and Hart's own repertoire, although it's probably fair to say that The Monkees got all their very best material). Despite all that, though, there are a few highlights: 'I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight?' - the best-selling song Boyce and Hart had on their own - is given a cracking rock and roll makeover, the daft rock and roll cover 'Teenager In Love' is very in keeping with old Monkees songs played for laughs and 'Cuddly Toy' has a real swing to it with Micky and Davy singing together unusually. All of that almost makes up for the fact 'Steppin' Stone' is also played for laughs and that 'I Wanna Be Free' has been turned into an icky ballad. A word of warning too: the sound quality isn't great throughout. Micky seems to like giving the sound engineer heart failure as he randomly screams loudly into his for no apparent reason, while Davy is having a really off night and sounds like he has a cold. Everyone else is surrounded by layers of surface noise. Treat it as a glorified bootleg, though, and this is an entertaining extra that points to how The Monkees might have sounded had they stayed together longer.
(Arista, July 1976)
(Theme From) The Monkees/Last Train To Clarksville/She/Daydream Believer/Listen To The Band/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/I'm A Believer/I Wanna Be Free/Pleasant Valley Sunday/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/Shades Of Grey
"It's a little bit wrong, it's a little bit right"
The third Monkees compilation was released to - roughly - celebrate the band's tenth anniversary and, no doubt, also hoped to take advantage of the extra publicity surrounding Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart. The record was surprisingly well received at the start of punk, with enough time to have gone by for people to have softened their views on The Monkees as a 'fictional' band. However though the timing was better than 1971's 'Barrelful of Monkees' the track selection was worse, with a boring generic album cover and only eleven songs. Oddly some of the tracks given the push were amongst the more important ones - hit singles 'Valleri' and 'Randy Scouse Git' being conspicuous by their absence - and the changes in track listing mean that Mike gets just the one song ('Listen To The Band') and Peter nothing (at least he shared vocals on the cover of Boyce and Hart's 'Words' the last time around). However the compilation is still better than most thanks to the inclusion of fan favourites 'She' 'I Wanna Be Free' and 'Shades Of Grey'.
Davy Jones "Christmas Jones"
When I Look Back On Christmas/Winter Wonderland/Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer/Silver Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Hark The Herald Angels Sing/White Christmas/Mele Kalimaka/This Day In Bethlehem/Silent Night/Rockin' Round The Christmas Tree/When I Look Back On Christmas
The CD edition adds: Manchester Boy/The Greatest Story Ever Told/White Christmas (Fanclub Flexidisc Version)
"Above all this bustle you'll hear silver bells..."
It seems such an obvious idea that I'm amazed it didn't work - Davy was hired to make an album in a hurry for the Christmas market so he decided to do just that, revisiting lots of Christmas carols and a few more contemporary festive pieces for the yuletide market. After all, the few people still buying Monkee records were now mums and dads who got most of their records in their Christmas stockings and of all four Monkees, Davy's fans were in many ways the loyallest, ready to buy his records thick or thin. Longterm Monkees fans were relieved to hear that Davy was teaming up with Monkee producer Chip Douglas for the first time since 1968 (with a few recordings made with Micky in 1969): what could possibly go wrong?
Well, let's just say that the record label weren't as keen on a festive album as Davy was and did as little to promote it as they could get away with (few fans even know of this album, which disappeared quite quickly and has only been out since on a semi-authorised (ie Davy and estate didn't plan it but can't sue because the label licensed the rights) release in the mid-90s. The song choices are a bit odd, like many a Christmas record, and the slightly artificial anodyne production brings out the scrooge in me more than my inner festive cheer. This album was also recorded in the summer in Hawaii in the baking heat - every Christmas album in the Western world has to be made early, that's just the way they work, but this is the only Christmas album I know that was recorded in a Hawaii heatwave (Chip had a studio there, in case you're wondering why). This album is certainly not on a par with the quiet brilliance of 'Riu Chiu' as Davy wastes his voice singing songs not worthy of his talent like 'Winter Wonderland' and 'Rudolph'. In Beatle terms it's a 'Wonderful Christmas Time' not a 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'.
As ever, though, there's a couple of interesting gifts along with the stocking full of coal. Usually I hate backing singers, but this lot go nicely with Davy's voice and add a lot of pizzazz to proceedings, covering up the fact that Davy is on auto-pilot and occasionally quite wobbly. 'When I Look Back On Christmas' is an ok-ish Chip Douglas original, 'Silver Bells' is a rarer carol with a touch of class most of the more famous songs don't possess, 'Silent Night' is pretty if very over-70sed and the more traditional 'This Day In Bethlehem' is nicely handled, with a seriousness the rest of this record sadly lacks. This album deserves to be much better known than it is - though at the same time don't expect a lost classic: this is a Christmas album with the tinsel turned up high, only one mark higher than a Christmas 'turkey'.
Perhaps the best thing about this record is the name: did the James Bond villain named 'Christmas Jones' from 'The World Is Not Enough' get her name from this record? She is, after all, quite short with twinkly eyes and seems to get muddled up in spy rings quite easily, although admittedly I don't remember a Monkee episode where Davy is a nuclear physicist who survives an attack on a nuclear submarine...
Mike Nesmith "From A Radio Engine To A Photon Wing"
(Pacific Arts, March 1977)
Rio/Casablanca Moonlight/More Than We Imagine/Navajo Trail//We Are Awake/Wisdom Has It's Way/Love's First Kiss/The Other Room
"What I thought was proper for battle I see is now proper for love"
Mike took an unprecedented three years in between albums before making his eighth record. This was partly to build up his own business - this is the first of his albums released on his own label Pacific Arts label (distributed, for now, by Island Records), which will in time grow into releasing home videos and pioneering the music video, but for now is merely a means of releasing his own material again. But also partly because Mike was still stung by the criticism over 'The Prison', a much misunderstood and under-rated work where the guitarist had really felt he was on to something. Having gambled with the last throw of the dice with RCA, Mike is audibly less sure of himself across this album, which is perhaps the closest he ever came to writing a full on pop album. Red Rhodes has now left Mike's side after a busy half-decade together and for the first time since 1965 Mike really is on his own, here as both the focal point and band leader trying to re-ignite his career all over again. It's a big ask, so you can understand why a lot of this album sounds more cautious than normal, far closer to the sort of music other people were making in 1977 (the end of the prog rock years - the start of punk will come along on the next album) and with a far more 'normal' selection of songs and noticeably more 'normal' song lyrics than Nesmith's usual poetry. Recorded in just eight days with a set of hardened session musicians (all heavily credited on the album's packaging this time - Mike having learnt to be upfront about all this after his Monkee days - it's a much more accessible sounding record with the most polished sound of all of Nesmith's days. Mike even went to Nashville for the first time since The Monkee days to record the album, although it actually turned out as one of his least country-style recordings of all, being closer to pop than anything else. The record is also notable for having a David Briggs production during a rare bit of time-off from working with Neil Young where both men are clearly having fun at getting away from the rawer sound both were associated with, lathering every track with lots of extra sound effects for no other reason than that they can.
The album was well received, though more for the hit single 'Rio' than for the record itself. A charming comedy song that was the closest thus far to Mike sounding like a Monkee, the song peaking at an impressive #34 in the UK Charts (the only time a solo Monkee ever charted with a single in either the US or UK aside from Mike's own 'Joanne' seven years earlier) at least in part because of the inventive music video Mike put together for the song (a step forward from the Monkee days when the visual and audio used to tell two different things). Alas that's about the only truly memorable moment of a record which sounds as if Mike is trying too hard to be someone he never was purely to have a 'hit' album - something that sadly still didn't happen with this record selling even less copies in the States than his work for RCA. This is a record that, more than ever, needs a National Band to roughen out a few of the edges and to add a bit of grit amongst the beauty. Few of the songs on this album stand out the way that the old Nesmith compositions did, although the record does work quite well as a 'mood piece', the production techniques making one song drift seamlessly into the next as if it's all part of a greater 'whole'. This is an idea Mike had never really played with before and it will stand him in good stead for his next few records. I haven't got a clue what it has to do with the album title though (which Mike relates in the CD sleeve to ';giving way to new thought', as if a mere singer is now going space age - a sort of 'Radio Star metamorphosised Into The Video Star' comment)or the cover (where Mike is dressed up as a 'space cowboy', despite this record being neither space-aged or country and western by his usual standards). Like many a Nesmith record, 'Photon' grows on you the more you play it and is full of some lovely moments, but it won't move you or educate the way other Nesmith records will.
'Rio' is heard on the album in its full seven minute form (some three minutes of which were pared back to make the single). For once less is more and it's a shame that some of this album's other songs weren't similarly pared back as all come over as over-long and rambling. 'Rio' sounds best when heard as a short joke than a rambling shaggy dog story, with Mike dreaming of travelling to Rio 'De Jini-ro' though more because he likes the idea of escaping somewhere new than because he has any real goals to go there specifically. Ultimately Mike never does travel there, but instead uses the idea of going there in his mind to heal his problems and find 'a sense of well-being'. It might sound an odd idea when taken out of context, but it fits in nicely with past themes of Mike being on a journey he doesn't want to make and forever looking back over his shoulder to when he started it - this newer, more streamlined Mike is more interested in the destination and the future than the past. The song is treated lazily but with just enough sense of 'carnival' to make it catchy as Mike wonders whether he really needs to travel to Rio to experience all this or not or whether just playing the scenario out in his imagination is enough. It probably was: Mike has famously never actually been to Rio in his life and chose the name simply because it fit with the brightly coloured muse the character in the song needed to give him a sense of excitement and adventure. Though the single ends at this point, as the backing singers debate the pronunciation of the city, when things are still largely happy the longer album version gradually segues into the sound of a roaring jet engine which suggests Mike did take the flight after all. However instead of Rio he ends up in...
Casablanca for 'Casblanca Moonlight', one of the album's better songs and certainly the one most suited to the six-and-a-half-minute playing time. It's a delightfully lazy ballad as Mike looks out on another idyllic scene of motor yachts 'pomade and perfume'. A second verse has him in the cinema watching 'Moroccan magic pouring off the silver screen'. The twist seems to be that even places Mike has never seen 'take me home' to where he feels safe and content, thanks to a lovely middle eight that's tightly packed full of longing and harmonies. Mike's imagination is lured not to these earthly bounds but 'to the promise of perfection outside the dream', with pushing the edge of the envelope and reaching out for something new and even more exotic than 'Rio' ironically making him feel the most at peace and the most secure. It's a nice song and the song on the album where the 'perfection' of the backing makes most sense.
'More Than We Imagine' is the shortest song on the album and perhaps the most ordinary, as some noisy synths and a very 'white' version of reggae make Mike briefly sound like every other late 1970s wannabe out there. The lyrics are, as so often happens with Nesmith, the more interesting feature and again return to the theme of imagination and pushing the boundaries of what's known makes life much more colourful, allowing Mike to see even the most basic colours and objects as something wonderful and transcendental. Had this song appeared on an album ten years earlier I'd have assumed it was about a drug experience, but this song isn't psychedelic sadly just weak slightly country and reggae-fied pop.
The cover song 'Navajo Trail' is Mike's last 'outside' song and in many ways his most interesting. The song originally sounded very different, a novelty 1958 hit for Marjorie Elliott that's very of it's time, but the jaunty comedy has been replaced here by a nicely bubbling rhythm section and a gorgeous harmony part featuring guest singers Marcia Routh and Pebble Daniel. For Nesmith the song isn't so much about a cosy backwater as about the 'beginnings' of his journey, as his narrator leans back at the campfire and reaches for the stars, with so much of his 'road' ahead of him.
'We Are Awake' starts side two with a rather clunky slow rock song that sounds as if it features the same rhythm part as 'Navajo Trail' just sped up slightly. Oddly the most generic melody on the album is accompanied by Nez's most poetic set of lyrics on the album as again he hears the call of something in the wild blue yonder that changes and re-awakens his senses. By the end of the song Mike isn't just hearing the birds sing as part of nature but the 'mountains' too as a 'gentle power...moves through the middle of my life'. Unusually, the source appears to be love: Mike had just got married to second wife Kathryn the year before making this album, but typically 'We Are Awake' is not your typical love song, being filled with imagery and metaphor, even if Mike does talk about opening himself to 'selfless love' and of being kissed by 'something that made me blush'.
'Wisdom Has Its Way' is also so close to 'Rio' you wonder if you've accidentally knocked the 'repeat' button on your CD. The song is a final track looking back at the troubled years of Mike's slowly disintegrating first marriage but now seen through the eyes of someone who can afford to say that he was right to be patient and let matters take care of themselves because now both halves of the couple are happier. The song then moves on to a wider discussion of those in the world who, like Mike, felt frustrated and unheard - 'the streets yelling poverty to millions' - and comes to the conclusion that it's all a 'test', with art able to offer the healing and wisdom needed to get through hard times even if it's not what the 'anguished' want to hear. It's the only sign on this album of the religious imagery that was so key to understanding 'The Prison', but a more memorable melody and backing would have really enhanced Mike's cause and an unexpected false ending at the 4:45 mark just underlines how much you were secretly hoping for the song to end there.
'Love's First Kiss' is Nesmith at his most romantic, remembering in slowed time the events leading up to his first kiss with second wife Kathryn. Although the song is told using as many complex ideas and lengthy words usually so alien to pop songs but so common to Mike's writing, it's actually the age-old tale of the moon shining on a happy couple with a bright future.
The record ends with 'The Other Room', a rather odd album finale that arks a rare return to the 'character' songs that will be Mike's default setting from this point forward. Instead the narrator comments on the life of Carlos, a teenage tearaway whose life changes when he sees someone get hurt because of something he did (the hint is that he's 'racing' a friend who dies in a crash, although the line 'he slammed his foot down... and watched his daydreams die' could be metaphorical rather than physical). He's a character forced to grow up before he's quite ready but rather suits this new world of responsibility 'which lifts him out of selfish, mean desires'. The link to the rest of the album thematically is that all this extra discovery leads to Carlos 'discovering' 'another' room inside him he never knew was there, learning to become a more rounded character in true 'head' fashion! Alas the generic doo-wop backing is horrific, a bunch of the poshest and most precise players trying to do rock and roll and badly hurts what could have been a very satisfying song.
That's the trouble with a lot of 'Photon Wing' sadly: the ideas of discovering there's more to life than you thought and travel broadening the mind (if only in an inward, imaginative sense) is a great idea and a very fitting one for Nesmith, building on similar themes scattered throughout his back catalogue. The slightly easier to follow (but still impressively complex) lyrics are by far this album's crowning glory - it's the music and the setting that let this album down, with the wrong set of musicians to play a record like this which needs a stronger tether back to Earth to stop it all drifting away. However there's not too much that's really bad and quite a lot that's promising, with this overlooked album an easier listen than both 'Tantamount To Treason' and its successor 'Big Dogma', two albums generally given more time and attention than this one. I have to say, though, I still preferred Nesmith's writing and recording back when he was a 'radio engine' - this 'photon wing' stuff has swapped a lot of the good stuff as well as the bad in Mike's ongoing quest to find something 'new'.
Harry Nilsson "The Point (Original Soundtrack)"
(MCA, 1977, re-issued 1980)
Everything's Got 'Em/The Town/Me and My Arrow/The Game/Poli High/The Trial and Banishment/Think About Your Your Troubles/The Pointed Man/Life Line/The Birds/POV Waltz/The Clearing In The Woods/Are You Sleeping?/Oblio's Return/Down To The Valley/Buy My Album
"It wasn't easy being the only pointless person in the pointed land of point"
Harry Nilsson couldn't have been cooler in 1977, riding high with his latest solo record 'Knnilsson', a regular member of 'The New York Vampires' (the group of drunken musicians who hung around during John Lennon's Lost Weekend phase) and now fully recovered from the vocal problems that had killed off his 'first career'. The Monkees couldn't have been less cool: the lukewarm response to 'Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart' made it clear that the band hadn't quite been 'forgiven' by the general public just yet. However Nilsson remained loyal to the band who'd given him his big break and was sympathetic to Micky and Davy, who were now living in England and trying to break into theatre. As it turned out Harry was looking for two actors/singers to take the lead roles in a stage adptation of one of his weirder projects, originally written on acid in a frenzied rush of creativity in 1970 and turned into a bonkers animated film in 1971 that made even 'Head' look normal. Harry had never intended to turn 'The Point' into a musical: he'd always intended it to be a film and had already released his own recording of the album, with Harry singing all the parts. However the boss of Boston Repertory Company, Esquire Jauchem, had fallen in love with the album and persuaded Harry to adapt it in 1976. The show had been a runaway success and was again when it moved to Chapel Court in Hollywood. A London production at the Mermaid Theatre made perfect commercial sense - but Harry had been reluctant to hand his work over to unknown singers and few up and coming stars wanted to know. The sudden reunion of three of the key players in the Monkees project, then, made perfect sense for everybody: Harry knew his work was in good hands and Micky and Davy were working with a writer they already knew. 'The Point' should have been one of the happier post-Monkee moments full of relief, goodwill and cheer.
However 'The Point' was a challenging, angular work that wasn't a natural fit for either Monkee, a commentary on prejudice and disability. The story follows Davy as Oblio, the only person born with a round head in a society where everyone is born with pointy heads. Forced to conceal the fact under a pointy hat, Oblivio feels like a fraud and feels literally 'pointless'. Oblio is then challenged by the son of an evil count whose moved into the neighbourhood (played by Micky) to a game of 'triangle toss' where the locals catch rings on the triangles on top of their bonces. Oblio wins, thanks to a bit of cheating from his dog arrow, and the cruel Count is incensed, revealing Oblio as the fake he is and ordering that he be banished into the 'Pointless Forest' where the society's outcasts live. Oblio meets several fantastic creatures and eventually a mystic who shows him that there is a 'point' to every being. He then has a dream in which he's shown his 'destination' via a giant stone hand and decides the message is important enough to tell the villagers of his old land. Oblio is treated as a hero as he passes on the mystic's words, but the count is still angry and prepares to show the world what a phony Oblio is by ripping off his hat (the height of bad manners in this land). To his shock Oblio's new experience has caused him to mentally 'grow' his own small point - The Count is then banished himself for causing Oblio to be unjustly banished. Realising the errors of their ways the villagers then rebuild their town so that it's a mixture of shapes - triangles, circles and squares.
As usual with Nilsson, the songs are told through stories-within-stories and is working on several layers. Both Davy and Micky have to sound as if what they're saying is simple and profoundly deep all at the same time, with snatches of nursery rhymes and folk songs thrown into the mix. Though again like most Nilsson works the album makes more sense the more you get to know the 'story' and appreciate the wordplay, it's not terribly immediately likeable and English audiences were far more critical than their American counterparts. They really didn't like The Monkees' involvement either, singling them out as the show's weaker links. The publicity surrounding the musical didn't help matters much either: both Davy and Micky had been trying hard to launch their own separate careers and felt that they were now being advertised as a comedy duo, doomed to be linked forever in people's minds. The pair's friendship was already beginning to unravel slightly from its peak, as they began to grow in different directions (Micky was by now free and single again, with Davy a family man) and after five years apart being stuck together in two intense projects for two years was just too much. 'The Point' is full of several insults and clashes between the characters and as the show went on both men found themselves playing these parts more and more for real, clashing for real by the end of the show's run and trying their best to stay as separate backstage as they could. The cast recording album, recorded near the end of all this, notably never features the two Monkees together at all and was a predictable flop, the few people who liked the show commenting how much better Harry's own versions of his songs had been. Considering that they're the stars of the shows Micky and Davy don't appear on it much either: Davy gets five songs and Micky three, with the pair finally singing a duet on the final song 'Gotta Get Up'. It will be the last recording to feature Micky and Davy together until 'Pool It' a decade later and the last time more than one Monkee is seen in public until Micky and Peter in 1986.
Away from all the fuss 'The Point' is an interesting accesory to The Monkees' tale. Davy and Micky don't sound comfortable and don't deliver their best, while Nilsson's work is a little too cerebral and not that musical. However it's interesting to hear the two Monkees in such a different setting and this is, unbelivably, the only place where you can hear them on record 'acting' a role that isn't from their TV series. The soundtrack album is sadly rather rare now, re-released in 1980 for some reason but otherwise abandoned - even in the CD age where it was never offically released (although the tracks made good 'padding' for several Monkee bootlegs). The film too is ridiculously rare, which is odd given the big names involved (Ringo is the 'narrator', and Dusdtin Hoffman plays 'Father' - another Monkee pal Bill Martin plays the minor role 'Rock Man'). Harry's own recording of the work from 1970 is much easier to find, though, if you're curious to hear how the pair might have sounded and has been released on CD several times. For the purpose of this review we're only going to directly mention the songs that either Monkee sang . These do tend to be the best songs anyway, especially charming ballad 'Lifeline', although the best song - the 'Cuddly Toy' ish/1970s Beach Boyish 'Down To The Valley' was sadly cut from the cast recording.
'The Point' actually starts with a rather free-form Overture played by an orchestra and an opening song by the chorus 'Everything's Got 'Em' which is big and loud. Then in walks Davy to sing 'Me and My Arrow', a simple cheerful song about Oblio's dog and his simply loyalty. It's a surrealist version of 'Me and My Shadow'. Davy sounds deeply uncomfortable at times. After the plot moves on (we meet the King, hear a folk song about how life used to be in the town and celebrate how lovely it is to be free and 'pointy') in walks the evil Count as played by Micky. 'He's Leaving Here This Morning' is sung with gusto and lots of 'doowakkadoowakkadoos' as he tries to out-psyche Oblio into losing the 'triangle tossing' competition. Davy is up next, banished from the forest and adrift in a boat as he sighs over his 'troubles, pours myself a cup of tea and thinks about the bubbles'. 'Think About Your Troubles' really doesn't make him feel any better though: he simply imagines all the evil at the bottom of the ocean and how 'everybody knowses when a body decomposes the basic elements in the ocean the sea does what it oughter and gives us salty water'. A slowed-down music hall piece, it sounds like a pain to sing and Davy sounds in pain singing it.
Davy/Oblivio is in happier mood singing 'Blanket For A Sail', an upbeat chipry song that's much more Davy-ish. Seeing himself as a 'tiny little skipper' kept safe on top of a gaint ocean, just as he's been in life, Davy thinks nothing will happen to him if he has 'hope for a rudder' and even throws in a burst of 'Row Row Row Your Boat' for good measure. 'Lifeline' is the prettiest song from the musical, an 'I Wanna Be Free/String For My Kite' style ballad where a lonely and scared Davy asks if there's anyone out there in the forest which will be his new home. Davy starts alone and isolated, but a lovely string part gradually swirls around him as he tries to sing and he wonders whether it's all just happening in his head. Davy sounds really good on this charming song, which has a bit of emotion rather than just wordplay to get his teeth into. After a cameo by 'The Rockman', a mysterious figure who lives isn the forest, we cut back to the town square where evil Micky is laughing at what horrors his rival must be going through on the party song 'It's A Jungle Out There'. A funky R and B song, the lyrics are deeply stupid but the R and B feel could have been written for Micky. Davy sings 'The POV Waltz' with members of the cast as he sits in the fiorest imagining all sorts of creepy things coming to life. This must have looked good on stage, but falls flat on record with the most 'pointless' song on the record.
Moving into the end of the musical, Davy sings 'Are You Sleeping?' as he wonders what his beloved is doing without him. Vowing to 'be there in the morning by your side', Davy wonders if she's forgotten him already as an 'I Am The Walrus' style menacing beat and eerie strings sweep in from nowhere. Finally Davy makes it home and urges the company that they 'Gotta Get Up' and embrace life in all its multi-hued, multiple-shaped glory.
Micky joins in on alternationg verses, apparently having learnt the errors of his ways. Though the song isn't that great in and of itself, with the archness and falseness that comes across in all of Harry's worst songs, some of the lyrics are highly poignant: 'There was a time when we could dance till quarter to ten, never thought it would end then, we used to carry on a dream to rock and roll, never thought we'd grow older - never thought we' grow cold'. 'The Point' then ends with a slightloy revised version of the overture as the cast take their bows. So ends one of the odder entries in Monkee-dom, not quite 'pointless' and not exactly 'square' but of interest only to major fans of Harry Nuilsson or curious Monkee fans who want to own everything. Personaly I'd rather stay in and play triangle toss.
(Pacific Arts '1978')
Grand Ennui/Calico Girlfriend/Propinquity/Joanne/Roll With The Flow/Some Of Shelley's Blues/Silver Moon/Nadine Is It You?
CD Bonus Tracks: Grand Ennui (Alternate Version)/Capsule/Crippled Lion/Listen To The Band
"You just roll with the flow wherever it goes, even if it rolls out of here"
Mike's first live LP was not a recording he was particularly proud of. The first release on his 'Pacific Arts' label he felt rushed into it and never felt he played a particularly good gig, later lampooning both the recording and the low sales figures in a sketch from his 1980s series 'Television Parts'. Mike also passed over this album when re-issuing his solo albums on CD at first - however he got so tired of fans writing in to request it that he finally caved in, just missing the album's 25th anniversary. The album was worth the wait,with the best material from another pair of shows recorded in 1981 and 1995 tacked on the end - some half an hour's worth of material in all. Though it pales in comparison to the more improvised 'ZigZag' shows MIke performed with Red Rhodes, the concert sounds pretty good to me with a tight and surprisingly rocky band re-inventing some of Mike's more acoustic songs into something close to the style of his 'Riding On The Infinite Dogma' record. It's fascinating hearing Mike addressing the one side of his personality with the songs he originally made in a 'country' setting, as if the 'rock' side from the 'Naked Permisson' song has finally 'won' his inner battle and shot his country self. Amogst the highlights is a tough-as-nails recording of the sweet 'Propinquity' (which sounds like it should have been an instant top 40 hit), a funky groove behind 'Calico Girlfriend Samba' which makes it sounds more disco than Nashville and a rockabilly 'Listen To The Band', the only Monkees song of the night. There is also one song which has remained exclusive to this set: a so-so noisy cover of Chuck Berry's 'Nadine' (with memories of MIke's solo tour performance of 'You Can't Judge A Book' from 1967). The resulting record isn't for everybody and the complete renovation of old friends raised more than a few eyebrows (and the wool-hats sitting on them) amongst fans at the time. However, it makes for an interesting experiment: after all, what is the point of simply re-creating songs in concert the same way they were on record? These new versions of old friends really benefit from the extra 'muscle' they are given by a cooking band and actually surpringly little of the intimacy or beauty of the originals gets lost. Certainly this record is far mroe palatable than the tie-in studio LP 'Big Dogma', with the material strong enough to survive the bout of heavyweight boxing.
Mike Nesmith "Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma"
(Pacific Arts, '1979')
Dance (Dance and Have A Good Time)/Magic (This Night Is Magic)/Tonite (The Television Song)/Flying (Silks and Satins)/Carioca (Blue Carioca)/Cruisin' (Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam)/Factions (The Daughter Of Rock and Roll)/Light (The Eclectic Light)/Horserace (Beauty and Magnum Force)/Capsule (Hello People A Hundred Years From Now)
"I'm stuck in the freeway, I'm stuck in the woods, I'm trying like the dickens not to get stuck for good...but the music's too loud I fear" or "As long as I can keep moving I guess I'll keep up with the scene"
So far Mike Nesmith's albums have been many things but even at their worst they've always had some interesting ideas, generally stayed somewhere close to being musical and paid little heed to contemporary trends. Now, suddenly, all that is about to change with the most middle-aged punk album imaginable, full of noisy screeching guitars and a touch of doo-wop while Mike doesn't sing so much as scream. Reviewers of The Monkees in the 1990s loved to call our favourite foursome 'the first ever garage band' of wannabe musicians getting together with no rehersal, a description that was only really true of Micky's wayward drumming and the early patches of the 'JustUs' tour, but listening to this album makes you wonder Mike Nesmith invented the garage band idea right there. It's an interesting experiment from someone who was clearly getting bored with pioneering country music and wanting to have one last big blowout of the rock and roll half of his career before turning his back on music seemingly for good (a third 'Pacific Arts' album was left unfinished before being released as 'The Newer Stuff' in 1991 - otherwise there won't be a new studio of Nesmith music until as late as 1992). The album also seemed to turn out this way because it was Mike's friends from the rock world who came calling when he tries to make the album - his bridges with his friends from the National Band days being long over by now. Unfortunately, 'interesting' in this case doesn't mean the 'Head' definition of interesting (both come with a slight frisson of 'how the hell did we end up here?' but only one project makes you stay interested enough to do the synapse-connecting needed to work that question out).
I'd listen to Mike doing a hip-hop/boy band album hybrid if it meant that he was still writing great songs in the arena where they were most needed. But unfortunately they're not: the lyrics are largely as one-dimensional and uninteresting as the music, full of boring characters not up to very much and decidedly less of the 'real' Mike in these songs (which seems an odd thing to ask of an 'actor playing the part of a musician', but Nesmith's solo albums have all been more 'authentic' than most, perhaps in response to The Monkees' beginnings). For the first time ever the main thrust of the album is not life's journeys or the pot-holes in the roads we take along the way but love; sadly though it's love in the 'let's dance and have a good time while the stars shine' variety rather than the 'love has shown me the deepest moments of human complexity' sort. There's only one lyric on the album up to old standards and not co-incidentally it's also the one that comes with the most 'familiar' sounding backing: 'The Eclectic Light' (to give the song its original full name) is one last Nesmith nugget of gold, a deeply affecting and under-rated song that's almost worth sitting through the rest of the album for. Note though that this is 'almost' - sadly this latest infinite ride on the big dogma (such a Nesmith title that, referring both to life as a 'journey' and the 'rules' we mere mortals have to follow to get there) is a bit of a dead-end and has dated far badly than most of his other solo work (which almost all tend to have nothing whatsoever to do with the times and styles with which they were made).
Aside from the title, there is one other last great prog-rock moment on this punkish album. The album cover has confused many fans down the years and caused all sorts of interesting debates about what it means down the years. A suited and rather dapper looking Mike stands in the front-room of a house (which turned out to be the photographer's) surrounded by ten masks laid out on the floor and the back of a shadowy man seen in a mirror/window (lined up so that it looks like Mike's own reflection). Is this Nesmith going back to being a character, reviving the many 'masks' he'd shed as part of The Monkees? Is this latest foray into hardlined rock and roll simply another mask he's put on? Is the rock element related to his 'darker' side (see the 'Naked Persimmon' song from the '33 and a Third Revolutions' TV special where his country and rock sides are 'at war' - did the rock side finally shoot the other side and kill it?) The truth (only revealed when the album was first released on CD with a typically humours Nesmith sleevenote) is actually more prosaic: the photographer didn't know who Mike was and used the shoot merely as a way of doing a favour to a friend, who made these sort of masks for a theatre company. Mike's response was that they looked good so he left them in! More confusing yet is the source of the album titles: as originally intended by Mike (and the way they appear on the inner sleeve) they're the usual full length titles: three, four, five worded descriptive titles like those on every past Nesmith LP. But on the back cover and the original vinyl discs themselves they're listed as one words: thus 'The Eclectic Light' becomes simply 'Light', 'Hello People A Hundred Years From Now' becomes 'Capsule' (because it's about a time capsule - don't worry that bit isn't weird) and, erm, 'Beauty and the Magnum Force' becomes 'Horserace' (OK that one is weird!) Nobody knows quite why, although it does give the songs a sharper, more forceful punk dynamic in keeping with the performances. For the rest of the review we'll try and give you both titles, with the longer one in parenthesis.
'Dance' (or 'Dance and Have A Good Time' - this is one of the more logical sentence reductions) is the noisiest Nesmith song since 'Circle Sky', barked with authority as if Nesmith is a Sgt Major. However unlike 'Circle Sky's seductive nonsense giving the band something to sing while they play hard and funky, this track is just about making noise for the hell of it. One of Nesmith's weakest (or at least more obvious) lyrics, it's about wanting a release from your responsibility and includes the dodgy rhyme 'dollar' and 'holler'. Only a searing Nesmith guitar duet with Al Perkins (our old friend from Stephen Stills' Manassas, whose actually a lot more comfortable with the Red Rhodes pedal steel than electric rock) really stands out.
'Magic' (aka 'This Night Is Magic' is a retro plodding piano ballad that's an early example of the 1980s love of daft 1950s songs of innocence and purity sung with a knowing wink (even though most 1950s songs are darker and less innocent than your average Stick-Aitken-Waterman staple to begin with). Mike sings in a falsetto straight from 'Grease' while a doo-wop chorus intone behind him. This is still one of the better songs on the album, however, thanks to an appealing medley (even if it is a steal of Percy Sledge's 'When A Man Loves A Woman') and a more fitting backing to this song than most: Mike's love for second wife Kathryn reminds him of his teenage dating years, possibly with images of his first dates with Phyllis (back when they were both teenagers before The Monkees) in there too.
'Tonite' (which is an odd name to give a track originally named 'The Television Song') also looks backwards but in a much more sarcastic and unlikeable manner with Nesmith singing like a wheeling-dealing con artist. The song is a history of television that doesn't refer directly to 'The Monkees' but does include a chorus about 'living inside a glass room, living inside a tube' that could have come straight out of 'Head'. In this world 'everyone's made out of thin little lines' and don't really exist - which is a problem for the characters there who are aware enough to know this. Alas what could have been a fun and typically Monkees postmodernist look at the blurred lines between fantasy and reality comes over as a bit of a mess.
'Flying' (named after its closing line) was originally called 'Silks and Satins' (after its first). One of the better lyrics of the album has Mike trying to come to terms with the magical thing that happens when he plays live - how the effect of playing an electric guitar can transport him into other universes, 'flying 2000 feet above ground'. However the backing seems unlikely to have transported him anywhere except down - a boring generic dull plod and a repetitive melody doesn't give you the feeling of ecstasy suggested in the words at all. The 2006 CD re-issue dug out a nearly seven minute edit of the song (titled 'the long version' in the booklet) but doesn't add a great deal except some more Nesmith guitar work.
'Carioca' (aka 'Blue Carioca' - well that makes sense for once) is an interesting song about the universe above and mankind below. The name suggests the events are taking place in Brazil (it's a slang word for 'locals' from 'Rio', which already had its Nesmith connotations) but the lyrics suggest more of a jewel and the similarity between the word and 'karaoke' may be another typically Nesmith pun on writing another song about music transporting people away again. It's good for such a bland record to finally give our brains a workout and there's a delightful and highly accurate Beach Boys pastiche on the chorus (the guest vocalist, Joe Chemay, performed a similar job on Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' alongside 'real' Beach Boy Bruce Johnstone). However the plodding melody and another synthetic backdrop are too tied to the ground and don't float as far up in the heavens as they should.
'Cruisin' (which was originally named after its characters 'Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam') was the album's big hope at a hit single and the long awaited follow-up to 'Rio' as a music video (or at least it was Mike's big hope - he recalls in the sleevenotes that nobody else around the album understood the song at all). Actually it's dated better than some of the other songs here being fractionally ahead of its time - it sounds like a late 1980s sampled funk song with a spoken-word vocal from Mike that's like rap playing at a slow speed. It's not quite the first to do this sort of the thing (amazingly it's Art Garfunkel who broke the mould, with 'Waters Of March' from 'Breakaway' in 1975 the earliest example I can find) but it is still daringly 'new' for the times - its just a shame its all so boring too. Lucy and Ramona are heading to a club and hook up with watch salesman Sam ('Salesman Sam?!) - all three are very different characters but find a common bond in their destination at a night club. Yes, a Monkee really is singing about a nightclub. It really did come to this. Don't cry.
Actually, cry all you want. 'Factions' (originally given the much funkier name 'The Daughter Of Rock 'n' Roll') is another ugly, frustratingly banal song about a boring character who was 'a little too advances' for the sort of music the singer now wants to make after fifteen years in the wilderness. I kinda know the feeling. The song is pointed more towards fellow musicians though: 'What are you going to do now with all the information rock and roll has taught you?' Mike asks pointedly while Al Perkins undoes the reputation of a lifetime as a country gent and turns in a sassy stunning rock and roll guitar solo though still with his characteristic 'bent notes'.
The album highlight is surely the warm glow of 'Light' ('The Eclectic Light'), which is a typically clever Nesmith pun on a typically clever Nesmith lyric about the different ways of gaining inspiration from our surroundings, for once given a suitably memorable and deeply gorgeous melody. The song sounds like a standard, growing in stature with every verse, as Mike finds that every aspect of human experience, small or large, turns him on. There's the inspirational 'light' from the glistening city of broken dreams, from the skies that call him on to ponder the unknown, from his lover's window, bouncing off the radio he plays for company, even ironically from the 'shadows' and 'darkness' that surrounds him. Mike has been waiting for 'answers' from 'deep in my soul', but comes to understand that the answers are all around him and come from the outside world instead. This is a devastatingly simple yet moving song that's delivered with just the right amount of passion and only a typically ugly 80s sax solo (we don't tend to like these sort of things very much at the AAA) prevents a great song from being perfect. Even so, it's the best Nesmith song in years.
'Horserace' (originally named after its contestants 'Beauty and The Magnum Force') is another curio - a slow plodding honky tonk song that at face value is simply an uninvolving description of a people betting on a horse that doesn't win. However, Nesmith's sleevenotes hint that this is a 'metaphor' for something bigger, which is in keeping with past traditions. However what metaphor is it? Both horses share the most bets and the shortest odds between them and the narrator has put his money on 'Beauty' in contrast to the other half of the crowd. However Beauty isn't really an 'underdog' so this isn't a 'tortoise and the hare' parable. Nor is it sheer belief that gets beauty through to win - both horses are more or less equally popular and we never find out who wins anyway. is this simply a comment on human nature never agreeing whole-heartedly with anything? Or is Mike teasing us and he really made this simple-sounding song for a 'bet' after all? Whatever the cause this is another noisy and rather undercooked song with Mike screeching more than singing.
Of more interest is the funky but low-key closer 'Capsule' (originally named after the chorus line 'Hello People A Hundred Years From Now'). IN a nostalgic mood, Mike decides to record a slice of life as he sees it for listeners in a hundred years to view as a history lesson. Mike's devastating comment of modern-day life makes it sound absurd ('There are cartoon creations made of people and lines, and they dance around TV and dance around our minds, there are bunch of different holy men pointing different ways...') and is clearly here to show our future and hopefully freer and more open-minded descendents that not all of us bought into the 20th century principles of capitalism and control. Mike's sighed chorus line 'but we tried - at least we tried' is full of real regret. There's a great line here about mankind losing its mind to 'disco' music, correctly dismissed as simply 'the latest mating theme') while Mike finally gets back to his favourite metaphor, ending the song with a line about 'dancing to the rhythm of the road'. However this curiously collage-like song (which sounds more like a Godley-Creme off-cut) sounds less exciting than it ought to.
Overall, then, the 'Big Dogma' rather wins over the infinite ride: this is an album meant to cash-in short-term on the current contemporary music scene and Mike drops his eyes slightly from his usual long-term vision of making timeless music of lasting vision. There are some excellent moments and 'The Eclectic Light' remains one of the best Nesmith songs that most casual fans don't know, but one great song, one terrific guitar solo and two or three interesting lyrics don't add up to much of a satisfying album. With the record-buying public greeting this record with their usual indifference, despite Mike's higher profile thanks to 'Rio' and the more accessible sounds within, it was beginning to look as if this music-making thing was getting to be old hat. Mike will instead invest most of his time over the next decade to the aspect of making both of his recent albums that gave him the most creatively satisfying input: the idea of putting music into film the way The Monkees always had and which was only now becoming accepted as an industry norm. Mike won't be back to making music for quite a long time and when he does he'll have forgotten this more 'poppy' style of writing entirely...
Davy Jones "Live In Japan"
(Japan Records, '1981')
Last Train To Clarksville/I'm A Believer/Cuddly Toy/How Do You Know?/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/Star Collector//I Wanna Be Free/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/Valleri/It's Now/Daydream Believer-(Theme From) The Monkees
"And after all that cheering I don't know if I'm ever coming home..."
Though The Monkees remained a nostalgic curio in most of the world, the quartet were still big stars in Japan. Originally recorded for the home video market, initially only the soundtrack album was released to Davy's adoring fans (with a laser disc version retitled 'Hello Davy' with a 'new' intro from Davy introducing us to a show 'I filmed a while ago'). Davy is at his perky peak, recording chipper 80s re-makes of some old friends and a few surprises, without ever pushing himself or his slightly anonymus backing band anywhere close to their limits. The album is of most interest to fans because of the Monkee songs Davy chooses: fair covers of 'Micky' songs like 'Clarksville' 'Steppin' Stone' and 'Believer' and even a unique 'Davy' version of 'The Monkee Theme' that feels like stumbling across a Monkee parallel dimension (What next? A universe where Peter is the clever one and Mike has a wool top-hat?!) Davy struggles a little more with a few surprises he did always sing but which the band never or rarely attempted live: a slower and rather timid 'Star Collector' (with a very 80s synth douvbling for the 60s moog!) and a rather breathless 'Cuddly Toy'. There are also two 'new' songs exclusive to this set: 'Gow Do You Know?' is a slightly drippy ballad while 'It's Now' sounds like Davy has just joined early Abba (how much better would their stage show have been with a few 'Davy dances' thrown in eh?!) Like so many of Davy's recordings it's cute and more than worth collecting if he's the Monkee who makes you weak at the knees and your eyes turn into cherries and international symbol for slippery when wet, but in terms of musical invention and adding to The Monkees' sound it's a collection accessory rather than a must.
"More Greatest Hits Of The Monkees"
Take A Giant Step/Mary Mary/Sometime In The Morning/Cuddly Toy/Randy Scouse Git/Words//Valleri/You Just May Be The One/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/Saturday's Child/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)/For Pete's Sake
"Though you've played at love and lost and sorrow's turned your heart to frost, I will melt your heart again"
More Monkee shenanigans, this time on Arista. The idea of the compilation was slightly different to most Monkee best-ofs; instead of including all the hits as a matter of course it was designed more as an unofficial soundtrack to the TV series, still in regular syndication around the world. That might be why this set is curiously titled 'more greatest hits' - there never was a 'Greatest Hits' set on Arista and the original was a full thirteen years old by this time, while the only 'greatest hit' here is the #3 US hit (often overlooked after a run of #1s) 'Valleri'. The front cover is a nice tinted unseen shot of the band that's in keeping with the nostalgia feel, although not everyone was quite so supportive: Mike, at the height of his Monkees sneer, was given a copy as a matter of course and trashed it badly in the press soon after (despite getting two of his own songs on the album, a more generous amount than most Monkee comps). Fans were kinder about it, although those who've joined the Monkees party since the 1980s can find similar and often better track selections on more recent CDs. The record was finally deleted from catalogue when Rhino went into overdrive on their Monkee releases in 1987.
Porpoise Song/Star Collector/It's Nice To Be With You/D W Washburn/Steam Engine/Tema Dei Monkees//Pleasant Valley Sunday/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/She Hangs Out/Love To Love/Someday Man/Goin' Down
"Hey! Look what you have done, showing me the sun, and now it's shining through..."
Effectively 'Missing Links Volume 0', Monkee Business was greeted as just another in a long line of Monkee compilations at the time, but is in retrospect much more interesting. Rhino had just bought up the rights to the band's back catalogue at the time and you can tell that compared to other similar collections this has been put together by a 'fan', rounding up Monkee rarities rather than the usual hit singles. Until 1982 tracks like 'Goin' Down' (The B-side to 'Daydream Believer'), 'D W Washburn/It's Nice To Be With You (a non-album single from 1968) and 'Someday Man' (a 1969 standalone single) had never appeared on a full record before and were becoming increasingly rare and sought over by collectors. Other songs had never been made available outside the soundtracks of the TV series, with songs like 'Steam Engine' and 'Love To Love' (used only in the 1970 repeats) hailed by most critics as if they were altogether new songs that had never been made available before. 'Temai Dei Monkees', meanwhile, would only have been familiar to you if you'd been an Italian viewer of the series. Together with the pick of The Monkees' more experimental back catalogue (songs like 'Star Collector' and 'Porpoise Song') this all makes for a very fine collection all round, sadly never re-issued on CD as the album re-issues and 'Missing Links' series rather made this set redundant. True Monkees collectors should still keep an eye out for the 1986 re-issue of this album, however, which includes some still otherwise unreleased studio chatter before the start of 'Someday Man'.
(Rhino, February 1984)
You Told Me/Tear Drop City/I Love You Better/Forget That Girl/Love Is Only Sleeping/Good Clean Fun/Zor and Zam/No Time/Oh My My/Dream World/Circle Sky/Little Girl/Daily Nightly/Gonna Buy Me A Dog
"Well let me tell you now I I I love you better!"
Rhino's latest Monkee compilation carries the sub-heading 'Best of The Monkees volume Four', though presumably only in jest. It is instead a collection that prides itself on digging out rarely heard and obscure nuggets that prove just how much quality there is sitting deep in the Monkees' well. At the time of this release Rhino hadn't yet started re-issuing these albums so the second half of the band's career was becoming increasingly rare, with the presence of both sides of the band's final single 'Oh My My/I Love You Better' particularly welcome (copies were changing hands for hundreds of dollars back then). Both Micky and, unusually, Mike sanctioned the release and were interviewed about their thoughts on the band for the back cover - the start of a thaw between Nesmith and his illustrious past. Though all the songs on this album were included on the later Rhino album issues and this album was never updated to CD, it's still worth owning for a couple of reasons: a rare mono mix of 'Love Is Only Sleeping' that unlike most alternate mixes is actually quite different and a bit of studio chatter heard before the start of 'Forget That Girl' (later included on the 'Headquarters Sessions'). However even if you're the sort of fan who knows all these songs backwards, this is a welcome change from the usual dull Monkees compilation and as usual with early Rhino is made with a lot of love, care and lavish attention.