Monday, 13 June 2016
The Monkees: Live/Solo/Compilations Part Three: 1987-2014
(Rhino, July 1987)
Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears/If You Have The Time/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Mike and Micky' Version)/Party/Carlisle Wheeling/Storybook Of You/Rosemarie/My Share Of The Sidewalk/All Of Your Toys/Nine Times Blue ('Mike' Version)/So Goes Love/Teeny Tiny Gnome/Of You/War Games/Lady's Baby/Time and Time Again
"Party to my head!"
Rhino didn't just inherit the released Monkees albums when they bought up the rights to their back catalogue, but everything in their vaults as well. And what a treasure trove they turned out to be - despite releasing ten albums in a short four year period and recording 56 episodes of the TV series and a feature film in the middle of it all - there turned out to be at least six albums' worth of releasable material still unheard without even coming close to any barrel scraping (though in the end the material gets split between three volumes in the 'Missing Links' rarities series and various CD re-issues and box sets). Indiana Jones himself would have got lost in the Monkees tape vaults, with every single album except the last one featuring a comparable and often larger amount of material than actually made it onto the record. Better yet, much of it is as good as the original records (very occasionally better) and offer a much wider picture of what each Monkee was up to across the late 1960s. All four Monkees wrote much more than ever appeared in the lifetime of their band and Mike and Davy's reputations particularly were enhanced a great deal by the quality and quantity of the sessions they were putting together. Cleverly titled after both Micky Dolenz's spookily aptly named pre-Monkees band and the mythical humanoid 'branching' from Monkee to Man (which they'll never find because we're all aliens really), 'Missing Links' is one of the best AAA outtakes collections out there, coming second only to 'Hollies Rarities' in one of our website columns trying to decide exactly that. Several critics who'd never given The Monkees much time or thought before began to see the band in a whole new light and whilst reunion album 'Pool It!' hadn't done all that much to revitalise the band's reputation, this is another step in the right direction towards The Monkees' rightful place back somewhere towards the respect they always deserved. Together with excellent sleevenotes, a great unseen cover shot of the early Monkees looking moody and a generous sixteen tracks (if you owned the CD edition) 'Missing Links' is the much-loved starting place of many a Monkee fan from the MTV generation's musical collection.
The only real downside is that, at first, this set was a one-off. In retrospect including all the releasable material in chronological order would have made for a much more listenable series, without the time-travelling needed to cope with working out whether the songs we're listening to are period outtakes or very early versions of songs abandoned during the making of the first two albums. The poppier Monkees of 1966 and 1967 have little in common with the country-rock/prog rock Monkees of 1969 and Boyce and Hart's pop sat next to Mike Nesmith rule-breaking makes for the most uneven mix of styles in the band's catalogue (and that's saying something). Even album to album in this series the running order seems to be made at random, with this disc for instance veering wildly from 1966 to 1969 to 1966 to 1968 across the opening four tracks - when the band sound changed almost by the week, that's a lot of changes to take in. The sad truth too is that this first record - which had the cream of the crop to choose from - is actually the weakest of the three, with almost the only Monkee outtakes right to be left behind all appearing on this album (the kid's play of 'Teeny Tiny Gnome', which may be a cult favourite with fans but only the way that 'Spiceworld: The Movie' is a cult favourite among 90s film goers because it features to many big names slumming it alongside The Spice Girls' gurning; the pedestrian 'If You Have The Time' and Boyce and Hart's weakest and most insincere Monkee song 'My Storybook Of You').
However the genius and generosity of this set means that even with these lowered expectations there are still so many great moments to be had. 'Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears' launches out of the blocks, an early Boyce/Hart variation on the 'Last Train To Clarksville' that sounds as youthful and fresh as the day it was made; the terrific Goffin and King song 'I Don't Think You Know Me At All' (with Micky singing - later releases will feature Peter and Mike versions) and best of all Bill Martin's 'All Of Your Toys', intended as the first 'Monkee-made' release but abandoned after it was discovered that the writer was not with Screen Gems' choice of publisher. And those are just the 'cover' songs: better yet is how this collection enhances the idea of The Monkees as a creative team with classic new songs by all four Monkeemen: there are three utterly classic Davy Jones originals in the funky 'Party' and the delightfully acerbic 'War Games' both from 1968 and the wistful 'Time and Time Again' from a year later; Mike's gorgeous ballad 'Nine Time Blue' is finally heard officially in demo form after years of being teased with a version sung on the Johnny cash show while an early version of 'Carlisle Wheeling' is very different to his solo re-recording under the name 'Conversations', Peter's much talked about :'Lady's Baby' recorded multiple times for 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' that allegedly cost Colgems more than any other song in their history which is unexpectedly fab and together after years of talk of Peter 'messing around' making it; and Micky's noisy 'Rosemarie' is at one with his more daring songs like 'Randy Scouse Git' and 'Shorty Blackwell'. Other bands would kill to have even half of this quality per album - never mind as outtakes! Terrific and unlike many outtakes sets out there fully essential, even if many of these songs have been re-released on the tie-in CD re-issues (not all of them by any means, mind). About a third of the album was also collected together in the 'bonus' disc of the 'Definitive Monkees' set.
Total Control/Tanya/I'll Remember You/Formosa Dinner/Dreamer/Eldorado To The Moon/Tahiti Condo/Chow Mein and Bowling/Magic/Cruisin'/Light/Carioca/Rio/Casablanca Moonlight
"I know that I need lots of money to get where I'm trying to be"
With Rhino the new spiritual home of The Monkees, Mike joined as a solo act too, bringing the weight of Pacific Arts along with him for what was intended to be a one-off compilation of some old friends with some new recordings attached. The set was successful enough to be joined a couple of years later with a compilation of older songs when the rights to the RCA material expired too. For now, though, this is just the Nesmith songs from 'Rio' onwards, covering the 'Photon Engine' and 'Big Dogma' albums (sadly 'Tropical Campfires' was on a different label and impossible to buy up) together with eight new songs - enough for two-thirds of an album. This was a big day for Monkee fans as it represented the first new Nesmith music in a decade - although actually appearances weren't all they seemed. With Mike still more interested in making films than records, all of these songs were nearly a decade old themselves, most of them dating back to 1980 and an aborted tenth album and sound it too - though technically still part of the same decade the typical sounds of '1980' and '1989' couldn't have been more different.
Sadly they're not really an inspiring bunch of songs either and sound like a mixture between the slightly aimless and driftless sound of 'Engine' with the noisy contemporary sound of 'Dogma': 'Total Control' is a slightly boring song about wanting to possess everything and confusing 'power' and 'control' with happiness. 'Tanya' is a chirpy love song with a pretty riff but sounds so horrifically dated it makes 'Pool It' sound understated and subtle. 'I'll Remember You' is perhaps the best of the new songs, a strangely Byrds-like song where Mike begins to feel nostalgic for the first time though for the 'silver screen' rather than The Monkees. The namechecks for George and Ringo and submarines suggest he's been watching the post-Lennon's death repeat of 'Yellow Submarine' finally given a TV premiere in 1980. 'Formosa Dinner' is the rockiest song here with some nice guitar work but some awful synthesised drums and the odd metaphor of people waiting in line at a diner wanting something more from the recipe of life (or something like that - heck I don't know, it's a Nesmith song!) 'Dreamer' is an ugly song that makes you want to throttle whoever invented the synthesiser because if heard on a 'proper' instrument this slight re-make of 'The Upside Of Goodbye' might have been a really pretty song. It was inevitable that Mike would record a song by his friend from the Monkee days, but alas 'Eldorado To The Moon' is an awful song, false and fakely chirpy in stark contrast to 'All Of Your Toys' and 'The Door Into Summer'. 'Tahiti Condo' sounds like the long lost soundtrack to a Mike Nesmith Manga series that includes him singing in daft voices over a riff that ought to be passing through rather than the whole song. Another Bill Martin cover, 'Chow Mein and Bowling' is a slight improvement tucked away at the end, though, a return to Mike's love of the 'roaring twenties' with a simple croon through a song about how life was better in the old days before fast food and game shows took away our innocent past-times. Even this relative highlight is a song you wouldn't want to hear too many times, however.
Overall, then, 'The Newer Stuff' was an album best left behind in the vaults and would surely have become seen as the weakest of Nesmith albums had it been released as planned. However it's an interesting enough curio to hear all these years on - and the ironic name 'The Newer Stuff' given to recordings nearly half a career ago is a nice sly nod of the hat to Monkee humour. The album clearly had to be padded out with something and the selection of old songs is perhaps a good a compromise as could be made at the time - however it does show up how much Mike had lost his muse in such a short space of time, given that even selections from two relatively uninteresting LPs suddenly sound like masterpeices in context. It's a shame in retrospect that this wasn't a 'Missing Mike Links' CD in the style of the Monkee brand, containing the outtakes from the RCA days later released on CD in the next few years as, at the time when those tracks were unheard, it would have made for a far more interesting album. A second, better look back at the past from this era will follow in a couple of years but sadly without those songs. Please note too that the only difference between the 'old' material represented here comes on 'Carioca', which sounds slightly different on this album to how it did on 'Dogma', with a different mix running for quite a bit longer here. All in all, far from Mike's greatest hour.
"Missing Links Volume Two"
(Rhino, January 1990)
All The King's Horses/Valleri (Early Version)/St Matthew/Words (Early Version)/Some Of Shelley's Blues/I Wanna Be Free (Even Earlier Version!)/If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again/Come On In/I'll Be Back Upon My Feet (Early Version)/Down The Highway (Mistitled 'Michigan Blackhawk')/Hold On Girl (Early Version)/The Crippled Lion/Changes/Mr Webster (early Version)/You Just May Be The One (Early Version)/I Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love) ('Micky' Version)/Circle Sky (Live Version)/Seeger's Theme/Riu Chiu
"Everyone feels good - and I knew they would - it's been quite a good year!"
Perhaps the best - or at least the most consistent - of the three entries in the 'Missing Links' outtake series, this set demonstrates perhaps more than any ever the wealth and breadth of The Monkees' catalogue. Few people who didn't know would guess that this was an 'outtakes' set - it's simply too good, with not a single bad performance across the entire nineteen songs. This time around the emphasis was on songs that had appeared in the soundtrack of the TV show but hadn't appeared on the records, with such gems as Mike's 'All The King's Horses' and an early take of 'You Just May Be The One' played with studio musicians months before the 'Headquarters' version, an original superior take of 'I'll Be Back Upon My Feet' often featured across the TV show's first year, the original early version of 'Valleri' (which was taped by eager DJs desperate for Monkee product and forced the band's hands into producing their own re-make as a single), the original live recording of 'Circle Sky' as heard on the soundtrack of the 'Head' film and the gorgeous rendition of the Spanish carol 'Riu Chiu' in a slightly different take to the one from The Monkees' festive special. How none of that little lot appeared on the records I'll never know - it's proof of just how many quality records the band was making back in the day, even at speed. Even past that lot there is some truly first-class material, with Mike coming out of the set particularly well with a whole string of classics from his solo sessions in 1969 far more deserving of release than most of his tracks that made the Monkee records ('Some Of Shelley's Blues' 'St Matthew' 'The Crippled Lion' and the cover of 'If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again' particularly are all breath-takingly good). There are also some fun and very different earlier versions of songs the band will come back to such as 'More Of The Monkees' era versions of Boyce and Hart classics 'Words' (which sounds all the better with psychedelic overtones), 'Mr Webster' (which is turned into a slow funeral march) and an uptempo 'I Wanna Be Free' recorded in the band's first ever session (which sounds so 'wrong' after so many years of knowing the much slower original and yet simultaneously so 'right' as a fast paced rock song). Throw in a career highlight each for Davy ('Changes' is one of his better songs and should have made the 'Head' movie as originally intended), Peter (the soulful 'Come On In' is the most unfinished sounding track here but also one of the most promising) and Micky (whose voice is perfect casting for the first of three Monkee goes at the Medieval-sounding ballad 'Prithee') and a brief insight into each song by one of the better Monkee biographers around, Andrew Sandoval, on a typically Rhino release made with love and care and you have more than enough reasons to add this set to your Christmas list from Monkee Santa. Just be warned that, some twenty years on, these Missing Links sets are growing harder to track down and though extracts from all three sets are easy enough to find these CDs themselves are long overdue for a full re-issue. True Monkee magic from a band who were too good to be bad, even on the songs not thought good enough to use the first time round. Even with a slightly less successful sequel, this is a series that should have run and run.
"Listen To The Band (Box Set)"
(Rhino, April 1991)
CD One: (Theme From) The Monkees/Last Train To Clarksville/Take A Giant Step/Sarurday's Child/I Wanna Be Free/Papa Gene's Blues/Sweet Young Thing/Gonna Buy Me A Dog/All The King's Horses/I'm A Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/She/Mary Mary/Your Auntie Grizelda/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)/Sometime In The Morning/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Peter' Version)/I'll Spend My Life With You (Early Version)/I'll Be Back Upon My Feet (Early Version)
CD Two: A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/She Hangs Out (Early Version)/All Of Your Toys/Love To Love/You Told Me/Forget That Girl/You Just May Be The One/Shades Of Grey/For Pete's Sake/No Time/Randy Scouse Git/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Words/Daydream Believer/Goin' Down/Salesman/The Door Into Summer/Love Is Only Sleeping/Cuddly Toy/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/Daily Nightly/Star Collector/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone (Live)
CD Three: Valleri/Tapioca Tundra/PO Box 9847/Auntie's Municipal Court/Zor and Zam/Nine Times Blue/Tear The Top Right Off My Head/Carlisle Wheeling/D W Washburn/It's Nice To Be With You/St Matthew/Porpoise Song/As We Go Along/Circle Sky (Live)/Can You Dig It?/Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Again?/Tear Drop City/A Man Without A Dream/Through The Looking Glass/I Won't Be The Same Without Her/You and I/While I Cry
CD Four: Listen To The Band/Someday Man/Good Clean Fun/Mommy and Daddy/Looking For The Good Times/Some Of Shelley's Blues/Steam Engine/Oh My My/I Love You Better/Do It In The Name Of Love/That Was Then, This Is Now/Anytime Anyplace Anywhere/Heart and Soul/Gettin In'/Every Step Of The Way
"I was given love like this, it was a gift I pass to you, you'll be happy when you get it, I was when I got it too"
The first go at making a catch-all Monkees box set - released to celebrate the 25th anniversary since 'The Royal Flush' was aired - is pretty much identical to second go 'Music Box', though rather harder to track down these days. Both are a long way from perfect, being designed more for newcomer fans who don't want to buy up all the full albums rather than a collector's item, with the closest to 'unreleased' items being the rare single mix of 'Porpoise Song' with its minute long instrumental tag and the rare 1968 B-side 'It's Nice To Be With You', plus a then-unreleased alternate take of 'Steppin' Stone' to the one heard on 'Live '67'. The CDs are also curiously uneven, with the first and fourth lasting a mere 40 minutes and the middle two nearly the full whack of 80 minutes (the maximum CD running time), which is a shame given how much more could have been added to flesh out the beginning and end of the band's career. Treat it as a rather over-long and pricey best-of, however, and the set is more palatable. An intriguing mixture of songs from the first ten albums with already-released outtakes, it's a fair compilation that digs a little deeper than just the hits and includes most of the important Monkee songs including the best way of hearing the actual songs from 'Head' without the dialogue (only 'Daddy's Song' is missing).The packaging too is nice, with some great shots of the band including many stills from their TV series to overview more of an 'overview' of the entire band's multimedia coverage, although as with many box sets there is a sense of style over substance and there's little information about the actual songs other than the writer and musician credits. Many of the songs have been subtly remixed too, although as usual with remixes the differences are minimal. In all, this set was adequate at the time but has been superseded by much better sets since.
Mike Nesmith "The Older Stuff"
Joanne/The Crippled Lion/I Fall To Pieces/Listen To The Band/Silver Moon/Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care)/I Looked Away/Nevada Fighter/Tumbling Tumbleweeds/Here I Am/Some Of Shelley's Blues/Born To Love You/Different Drum/Harmony Constant/Continuing/Prairie Lullaby/Release/Roll With The Flow
"Seemed like only yesterday..."
Released as a companion volume to 'The Newer Stuff', this second Nesmith compilation is a longer and even better run through the best near-hits than 'Greatest' had been and a boon at the time for collectors in the digital age. The album features eighteen songs from the first six albums released on RCA from 'Magnetic South' to 'Ranch Stash', although 'The Prison' - which wouldn't really work out of context - is sadly absent. I would have preferred a more chronological running order so you can really trace Nesmith's course from country-rock pioneer into sparse solo performer but the track selection is a good one, with almost all the best songs from the six albums here (though I'd have added 'Rainmaker' 'Conversations' and 'Winonah' myself - perhaps a second volume?!) Split more or less equally between all six albums, which were all rather hard to find back in 1991, it's a nice reminder of just how strong the best of the Nesmith back catalogue is. Alas the downside is it show off just how bad 'The Newer Stuff' is in comparison.
"The 25th Anniversary Collection"
Daydream Believer/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Porpoise Song/Listen To The Band/Randy Scouse Git/Shades Of Grey/For Pete's Sake/(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/Last Train To Clarksville/I'm A Believer/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/Valleri/Cuddly Toy/Hold On Girl/She/Words/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/(Theme From) The Monkees
"Why don't you be like me? Why don't you stop and see? Why don't you hate who I hate who I kill to be free?"
A rather grey and boring cover, predictable and boring contents - this may be an anniversary but its not exactly a party is it? Personally I'd stick with Arista's earlier compilation if you really insist on having an album from this particular label. Some sort of healf-hearted marks for including 'For Pete's Sake' 'Porpoise Song' 'Listen To The Band' and 'Shades Of Grey' - a quartet that's hard to beat - but there are too many songs from the first two albums and chronological order would have been nice. Oh yeah and minus several zillion marks for not even getting the frigging date right (the 25th anniversary was in 1991 not 1992!) Harrumph over...
Micky Dolenz "Puts You To Sleep"
Pillow Time/Dream A Little Dream Of Me/Beautiful Boy/Blackbird/Lullaby To Tim/The Fool On The Hill/St Judy's Comet/The Moonbeam Song/Remember/Sugar Mountain/Porpoise Song
"Though I know you're fighting it, I can tell when you rub your eyes that you're fading fast"
Speaking as a sufferer of me/cfs I can assure you that lullabies don't work. Actually the last thing you need to hear when you're tired is someone telling you how tired you are. However it's worth an early night every night to hear this lovely soothing album by one of the pop world's greatest singers tackling some real heavyweights including a whole big bucketful by AAA stars (Neil Young's song of adolescence turning into adulthood 'Sugar Mountain', The Hollies' charming 'Lullaby To Tim' which sounds all the better without the creepy electronic effects Graham Nash added to Allan Clarke's original idea, The Beatles' masterpieces 'The Fool On The Hill' and 'Blackbird' plus minor classic 'Goodnight', John Lennon's cuddly 'Beautiful Boy' and Paul Simon's Masterpiece 'St Judy's Comet' - the only 'true' lullaby here!) Not to mention of course The Monkees' own 'Porpoise Song' (which sounds a bit uncomfortable re-worked as a 1990s synth epic) and the song that probably kick-started the project, Micky's mum's 'Pillow Time' (which is slower but less irritating than the 'Monkees Present' version). Though there's a part of you that spends the entire album longing for the record to pick up a gear and go faster, that would rather defeat the whole object - this is an album of pretty songs sung with pretty arrangements by a singer who still has his pretty voice. Whether the record will actually get you off to sleep is another matter, but it's good to hear Micky exploring some overlooked songs and his selections are particular strong, with a folky 'Fool On The Hill' and a gorgeous slow reading of the already gorgeous and slow 'Sugar Mountain' worth sitting through the lesser moments just as a desecrated 'Porpoise Song' and an odd salsa shuffled 'St Judy's Comet' for.
Mike Nesmith "Live At The Britt Festival"
(Pacific Arts, Recorded June 1992, Released 1999)
Two Different Roads/Papa Gene's Blues/ Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care)/Some Of Shelley's Blues/Joanne/Tomorrow and Me/The Upside Of Goodbye/Harmony Constant/Silver Moon/5 Second Concerts//Yellow Butterfly/Moon Over The Rio Grande/Juliana/Laugh Kills Lonesome/I Am Not That/Rising In Love/Rio/Different Drum
CD Bonus Track: I Am Not That (Re-Recording)
"You better move along, don't try and let the dawn and it's friendly sunrise catch you at rest"
Recorded a mere month before the release of his 'comeback' album (with release delayed another seven years), this is a record of two halves. On the one hand is the entire 'Tropical Campfires' is revisted without the 90s production work and sounds rather good - much more like the solo albums Mike was making for RCA in the first half of the 1970s, acoustic and a combination of country and rock, mellow and sharp, simple and complex. For some reason the bonus recording features the same studio recording of 'I Am Not That' as already heard on the 'Campfires' album - and which had already been played better than Nez in concert a mere ten minutes earlier on the disc anyway. The rest of the album really is made up of old classics and is superb, with an on-form Mike singing most of the best songs from his solo catalogue. He even throws in a few songs he'd never ever played live before - including Monkee tracks 'Papa Gene's Blues' revisited so it'smore in line with Nez' other slower more thoughtful songs and a rare versio of 'Different Drum', his first hit song given away to Linda Ronstadt to sing. There's also a rare chance to hear 'Rio' live where its less of a carnival and more of an intense personal journey of doubt and self-awareness, fascinatingly different to the original. 'Some Of Shelley's Blues' and 'Porpinquity' - recorded both solo and for the band - sound particularly good tonight too. The only less than convincing element is Mike's jokes to the audience, which are more arch than before (see the 'Zigzag' concert particularly) and tends to ramble; we also get a whole two minutes of messing about at the end of the first disc masquerading as 'Five Second Concerts' which reveal the 'Elephant Parts' style anarchic humour is still going strong. Still, overall this is an album to be treasured and all the more poignant given that Mike had revealed before the show that it would be his last as a solo star; though Mike has performed with The Monkees twice since, so far he has kept his word. It also marked his last ever performance with Red Rhodes, who was poorly at the time and died not long afterwards - though he tries hard and occasionally shines, the songs audibly come harder for him than they did twenty years bnefore. Still, if not quite a perfect send off then still a fond adieu, with several old friends sounding strong and a reminder of just how great and overflowing the Nesmith back catalogue is even when devoid of most Monkee songs.
Mike Nesmith "...Tropical Campfires..."
(Pacific Arts, July 1992)
Yellow Butterfly/Laugh Kills Lonesome/Moon Over The Rio Grande/One.../Juliana/Brazil/In The Still Of The Night/Rising In Love/Begin The Beguine/I Am Not That/...For The Island/Twilight On The Trail
"I am not the singer, I am not twenty-two, I am not was were be am is or you"
By the start of the 1990s fans had got used to not seeing Mike Nesmith join in with all the Monkee business or even the music business. Freed of having to make music by rote after founding his own company and freed of needing to make money after inheriting his mum's liquid paper fortunes, Nesmith was now a grown-up businessman with a thriving film and video career, highly respected by big names who didn't even know who The Monkees were. Though he was still interviewed occasionally and asked even less occasionally about The Monkees, his responses hinted that it all seemed so very long ago, as if it all happened to somebody else and was a part of youthful shenanigans he'd outgrown. The dying days of the 20th century, though, saw the world in a nostalgic mood and after a particularly fine re-issue series by Rhino a particularly nostalgic mood for The Monkees. Though Micky, Davy and Peter had all to some extent kept the Monkee flame alive anyway (ie they were all still respectable as the clever clowns of thirty years ago), it was Mike who seemed to undergo the greatest change of heart over his 'old band' he thought he'd outgrown long ago. The more people spoke with fondness of The Monkees rather than attacking them with brickbats the more Mike listened. By the end of the decade he'll have reformed the band, recorded a final album with them and gone on a lengthy tour as well as been a major part of Rhino's re-issue series, before yet more criticism puts off all over again by the millennium.
The stepping stone that made all this possible is 'Tropical Campfires', a last album of original material that came after a thirteen year gap (only three years shorter than the gap between 'Changes' and 'Pool It') and was very much advertised and promoted as if it was the last: Mike was adamant he'd never make a full album after this one and so far (a quarter century on) he's still right. Nobody is quite sure what made Mike want to put himself out there again after so long though we can guess - a run of flop films at Pacific Arts, a long enough gap for fans and critics to be kinder or simply enough time to write songs. Or it could be that the ever-technologically minded Nesmith felt that the equipment had finally caught up with the music in his head: Mike was rather proud of the fact that this was an early album made with Dolby Pro-Logic Surround Sound (a company more associated with the 'home cinema' movement, something Mike would have known well through his 'video' companies).
Interestingly all the material harks back to the RCA days of the National Band, with a much stronger country-rock style and the long-awaited return of Red Rhodes on pedal steel for the first time since 1975; alas he died just three years later with this his last recorded work. The 'feel' of the albums is closer to the National Band years too, with a more timeless production and songs where once again the lyric dictates the music rather than the other way around. Mike is back to his philosophical best here, wondering out loud about the concepts that something as small as a butterfly can affect the weather, the importance of humour to the human condition, the smallness and ugliness of man set against the size and beauty of nature and a debate about labelling the human psyche. Typically, one of the most profound songs here is translated into and sung in Brazilian! So just your standard pop ranch stash in other words - and no, sadly the hits didn't keep on coming but for the first time in a while Mike doesn't sound as if he cares as long as he gets his messages across properly.
Clearly this is a far more suitable way forward than some of the stuff we were getting in the late 1970s (and as recently released from 1980), with much more of a 'Nesmith' feel on this record, despite the record's proud attempts to avoid labelling and continue to push back the boundaries of who and what Mike is with a few experiments in here too (who else would cover two Cole Porter songs on the same album for instance - or make them so different to the originals?) Lyrically it's as lovingly dense as the good ol' days with lots of thoughts to ponder and ideas that live long in the memory for ages after the record itself has stopped playing - one of the hallmarks of a great CD. However the music isn't always up to the words: on the first few hearings this can be quite a boring album where not a lot seems to happen and everything sounds the same - only after you get to know this record well do you see the often hidden inner beauty and appreciate the subtlety in this record. Still, even if its a shade too subtle it beats being hit over the head with a synthesiser as per 'Infinite Dogma' and 'The Newer Stuff'. It's a shame, in fact, that Mike stopped for good here as the marvellously surrealistically titled 'Tropical Campfires' sounds in retrospect like a 'feeling' of the ways and a stepping stone to a next album that never happened (unless you count the one new track, 'Admiral Mike', added to 'JustUs' - but like me you probably don't). There is, at least, much to enjoy here in between the slightly more ordinary songs with their unique blend of country and music hall - 'I Am Not That' is a very Monkees postmodernist take on working out who you are by what you're not and 'Begin The Beguine' is one of the loveliest of all Mike's cover songs, while 'Moon Over The Rio Grande' may not go into too many interesting places but sounds mighty pretty on its slow journey there all the same. A mixed bag you might say, lukewarm rather than tropical, but with enough here for most Mike-fans to get their teeth into.
'Yellow Butterfly' is what Nesmith would have sounded like had he been born forty years earlier and grown up in the 'crooner' age rather than the 'pop' age. His voice fits the period well actually (better than some other AAA stars who insist on doing this sort of thing every so often, like Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson). However the song itself is rather dull, as we follow a humble butterfly spreading rain and havoc with each small spread of its wings.
'Laugh Kills Lonesome' is treated here as a rather awkward salsa and the singalong dance vibes ruin what might have otherwise been a fascinating song about mankind's ability to laugh with black humour just when life is at its bleakest. Most of the song takes place round a campfire (though a Wild West rather than a 'tropical' one). Nesmith name-checks Wild West artist and sculptor Charlie Russell and various characters from 'The Roy Rogers Show' - goodness knows who 'Walt and Hasui' are though.
'Moon Over The Rio Grande' is a lovely sleepy prairie lullaby that sounds as if it might be sung round a campfire itself. It's another rare love song to follow on from 'Infinite Dogma' but actually sounds like a traditional love song this time, full of aching longing and trying to express the inexpressible, with 'failed communications on the floor'. It's one of Mike's prettiest songs, even if it needs a bit of a hurry-up before it's six minutes are through.
'One' is almost an instrumental (the title is sung a few times and that's all in terms of lyrics) and as such sounds like an outtake from 'The Prison' or 'The Garden', complete with a balalaika solo and similar urgent strummed chords. It still sounds a little unfinished, though.
'Juliana' is the much younger sister of 'Joanne' and is another strangely traditional Nesmith love song, clearly written for 'Kathryn' however much re-naming has been going on 'the love and light of my life for all time'. Random trivia for you: this is the first time Mike has used the 'sweet' so much in a song since 'Sweet Young Thing'.
'Brazil', by Ary Borroso, is sung in Brazilian sensibly enough and draws out another whole new style for Nesmith to sing. It's not the best of songs but you can see why it would have appealed to Mike with a similarly packed lyric full of description and metaphor (sample translation: 'Good soil, beautiful, full of graceful brunette, but green for the world to admire').
Cole Porter's 'In The Still Of The Night' is given a typically adventurous re-reading, turned from slow crooning ballad into a song of mystery overloaded with pedal steel and 'Prison' style guitar and drums. Mike has changed the melody round too, slowing it down as Mike's narrator leans out of his window to dream by the light of the moon.
'Rising In Love' is perhaps the ultimate Nesmith song in that it collects so many of his favourite themes in one place: we have the 'travel' theme with Mike representing his life as a desert and mountain pockmarked with roads, the idea of 'light' as the supreme force and muse keeping him going towards it and a comment on how 'city landscapes with their absolute handshakes' have drawn him off course away from the country. Alas the music feels even more stitched together from songs we've heard before than the lyrics.
Two Cole Porter cover songs on the same album seem like eccentricity taken too far, but actually 'Begin The Beguine' is one of Porter's better songs, given a truly lovely treatment here full of haunting coo-ing and really suiting the country-rock pedal steel treatment. It strikes you what a very Nesmith style song this is too with an almost haiku-like phrasing and some very Nesmithy puns around the similarity of the words 'begin' and 'beguine' (a slow foxtrot from the Caribbean).
'I Am Not That' is surely the album highlight. A very Monkees-style attempt to determine who Mike 'is' becomes a list of all the things he 'isn't', in the hope that by working out what he's against Mike can find out what he is 'for'. Mike tells us that he's not a 'poet' and cannot make a rhyme, before ending up with one of his tautest quick-stepping rhyming lyrics, and surely too knows the meanings behind the words 'shpritz' (a Jewish word for 'to spray') and 'paradigm' (a pattern) given the other lyrics we've had from him down the years. Mike then gets silly ('I am not the walrus' is a rare nod to The Beatles and 'I cannot get a date') before concluding that he is no longer the person everyone thinks he is from their childhoods, forever captured on moving images at a particular time in his life ('I am not the singer - I am not twenty-two!) and rounding off with the line 'I have not sung this song'. The effect recalls the Magritte painting 'this is not a pipe' (because it's a picture of a pipe - see?), seen on the wall of the Monkees' pad in the Nesmith-written 1997 TV special alongside a picture of The Monkees with the words 'this is not a band'. It's a fun, playful track that's typically Nesmith in still playing games with our ideas of who he is right up to the very end of his recorded work.
'...For The Island' is, sadly, an unappealing and rather unmusical mixture of reggae and charity song. 'One for the island' sounds like a spoof on the sort of thing 'Band Aid' and co sang (a pun on 'we are all one island') by having people of all nations look past their national boundaries and realise - 'Yellow Butterfly' style - that we all have an impact on the whole of the Earth. Sadly the song never gets anywhere, though, and is more fun to think about and discuss than to actually listen to.
The album then ends with the slightly wonky prairie lullaby of 'On The Trail', a final Nesmith original that's both a fitting end and an unfitting end. It is, sadly, as forgettable musically as much of the album and Mike really needed another take to get the unfortunate wobble out of his voice. However, it's a fitting ending in that, after twenty odd years of leading us along with him on his 'journey', Mike finally reveals that this was a trail to 'paradise' we took together, with Mike trying to work out whether the 'warm glow' that leads him on is from the stars or the lure of the campfire around which he sits with his 'companions' every night. It's a sweet acknowledgement of the fans that Mike was only slowly growing to understand and appreciate and, lyrically at least, makes for a nice tying up of loose ends.
Overall, though, 'Tropical Campfires' is a touch ordinary for such an important farewell. Ignored by most critics and hard to find even for the passionate fans, this album didn't sell too well (most fans only got to own it after the 'Pacific Arts' box set came out) with Mike reluctant to promote it. It all feels like an anti-climax for an album that Mike was adamant would be his last grand statement and in fact often comes across as hardly a statement at all - more like his late 1970s work than his RCA days. However 'Campfires' is not without merit and many of the lyrics are as strong as ever, while Mike retains his knack of violently uprooting the unlikeliest of cover songs and making them work inside a new setting. It's just the melodies that needed to be a little more memorable and a few faster-paced songs on an album predominantly full of ballads wouldn't have gone amiss either. There's no smoke without campfires though: as well as the bad this album very much contains the good from the past twenty-five years and remains a somewhat under-rated minor gem.
Peter Tork "Stranger Things Have Happened"
Stranger Thongs Have Happened/Get What You Pay For/Sea Change/Giant Step/Milkshake/MGB-GT/ Miracle/Pirates/Gettin' In/Tender Is/Higher and Higher
"When I came of age, livin' it up was all the rage!"
I don't often find myself disagreeing with Peter Tork, but in this case I do. The twenty-six year gap between appearances on long-playing records mean that this album is officially rarer than a flying pig on the back of a unicorn travelling under a full moon - many fans, myself included, had long given up the hope that Peter would finally get the album to himself he deserved. The surprises don't end there either: 'Stranger Things' isn't the album of banjo standards fans were anticpating, or the hard-rock of 'Long Title' or even the psychedelic weirdness of 'Can You Dig It?' Nor does 'Stranger Things' sound exactly contemporary: it's a curiously 1980s album full of digital synths and drums - the antithesis of Peter's career the first time round that was all about 'authenticity' and musicians playing live in the same room - and sounded oddly 'wrong' in a 1990s already being shaped back into purist rock and roll thanks to the first stirrings of Britpop (even in the States). However even if the backing is faceless, Peter is not. The real revelation of the record is what a great frontman Peter makes, with alternately the inventives of Nesmith's work, the energy of Dolenz's and the cuteness of Micky's. Yes Peter lacks the natural pop voice of some of his colleagues but his vocals are always heartfelt and more often than not right on the money. Sadly there are less opportunities to hear him playing, though, which seems odd given how long Peter longed to play on Monkee recordings. I'm still not quite sure what I think of this album: its one of those records I'm pleased is there and is better than people often say it is, without being as revelatory or as interesting as a quarter century's build-up had suggested it me. Sadly it seems likely to be Peter's only solo record unless something changes despite the fact that this record feels like a 'steppin' stone' to something greater that was just tantalisingly out of reach.
The songs are a varied bunch, in quality as well as style. The title track 'Stranger Things Have Happened' is a lovely slow-burning ballad that's semi-autobiographical, about the twists and turns in Peter's life. Life is even stranger than love is his conclusion, against a nice oriental synth part that's the closest the album comes to psychedelia.
'Get What You Pay For' is a more bluesy orientated song, though sung fast in a snappy finger-popping mood. I can't quite tell if the stinging lyrics of this song are por-capitalism or anti - is it a song about how everything has its price? Or how things are better to have than money anyway?
'Sea Change' is a revved up sea shanty that seems to have been written around Peter's lifechange in the mid-70s when he re-0married and gave up music to become a teacher. Full of self-doubts and torn between creativity and security, Peter asks himself if he 'dares resist' - though he's ambiguous between whether he means the job offer or the songs inside him.
'Giant Step' is a lovely re-working of the Monkees song (more normally 'Take A Giant Step' from the debut album), which sounds nice reworked as a folk lament with a massed choir of backing songs. It's not unlike Taj Mahal's cover from the late 1960s.
'Milkshake' is the most contempoirary song on the album, a burst of nonsense early 90s pop that sounds like it could have been written by Boyce and Hart. Though the song itself isn't that amazing, the performance is great featuring Micky and Mike on harmonies. In fact it might not be a coincidence that the track 'feels' like a late 1970s Nesmith tune, with the same self-referencing daftness as 'Rio' if not quite as strong a tune.
'MGB-BT' is sung in a curious Jamaican accent as Peter 'cruises chooses uses' to drive and forget about his problems. The catchiest song on the album, it's like an early Beach Boys car song written under the influence of the stronger drugs from nearer the end of their career.
The noisy 'Miracle' is one of the album's better songs, as a self-mocking Peter plays some aggressive guitar and laughs at his younger self for ever beliving in miracles. Figuring that his current self would saddedn his younger idealistic self, Peter tries to come to terms with the fact, pleading it was the best he could do in the circusmstances. He shouldn't be so hard on himself - he can still play great and the song's sighing melody is the best on the record.
The poppy 'Pirates' would sound nice too without the curiously lifeless 1980s arrangement. 'I ran' sighs Peter, returning to the theme of giving up music 'until my heart ran out'. An interesting exercise in contrasts, the music is chirpy and happy - the sort of thing Don Kirshner would have had The Monkees doing in 1986 rather than 1966 - but the words are sad.
'Gettin' In' is the one song that had already been released, on the Monkees reunion album 'Pool It!' eight years earlier. Slightly less cluttered (though still a production epic) this new arrangment gains through a slower tempo but loses through the curious decision to turn the...bridge in...toa a top-sta....rt section that...doesn't put the g...ap where you think its goi...ng to be. Peter's performance is also less on the money, treating the song as a lament that doesn't work quite as well as his 'action' voice from before. Still, it's a strong song that deserves a second chance.
'Tender Is' is one of the better songs on the album too, a lovely piano ballad that again sighs over lost opportunities and lack of inspiration ('My chops have gotten tender - don't know if I really want to get ibvolved' sighs Peter) whle sounding as if Peter is aiming for top forty radio. It's a sweet song that's forever trying to break into a smile, as Peter gives us all his reasons for wanting to turn his back on music - and the inspiration that urges him to strive on searching for the next big creative moment as well.
The album ends with thge popular in-concert cover of Jackie Wilson's 'Higher and Higher'. Though the song will sound better later, played by a full Monkee band, this banjo 'n' choir version works well too and showcases both Peter's banjo playing and lived-in voice, both of which suit the song well.
Overall, then, there's little here that's spectacular but also not too much that's sorry, with Peter's comeback a small triumph. Though clearly not as strong as it might have been if his first band 'Release' had actually been allowed to 'release' anything, it's still an impressive effort for the times when everything The Monkees were making was in a bit of a creative slump. I still long, though, for Peter to ditch the synths, pick up his guitar and banjo and make a more streamlined 'unplugged' album as per the last track: he clearly has the talent, but alas has never had the right circumstances as yet. Stranger things have happened though, as the title of this album makes clear, and in the post-Davy more Monkee-supportive world of recent years it's hoped that the second album may come soon and Peter will get the success he deserves.
Micky Dolenz "Broadway Micky"
Supercalifragilisticexpedaladocious/Talk To The Animals/Somewhere Out There/Put On A Happy Face/You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile/Neverending Story/My Favourite Things/Ease On Down The Road/I Whistle A Happy Tune/Chim Chim Cheree/Me and My Arrow/When You Wish Upon A Star
"Rhymes that keep their secrets will unfold behind the clouds"
Since leaving The Monkees Mike had found biggest success as a director, at first with children's TV work and later with children's theatre. While, sadly, there probably wasn't enough of a market for a medley of songs from 'Metal Mickey' and 'Luna', a Monkee take on 'Broadway' songs with an emphasis on kiddies productions seemed like a good idea. There are several Disney songs here including many taken from 'Mary Poppins' and sung with Micky's cheery smile, alongside the expected songs from 'Bugsy Malone' (by far Micky's most popular stagework). The most interesting songs are the most unusual: Georgio Moroder's closing theme from the superlative 1980s film 'Neverending Story' is given a ballad makeover that's really strong, while there are Monkee links with the cover of Charlie Smalls song 'Ease On Down The Road' (Davy's old writing partner, who'd died during surgery in 1987 and the first time we've heard Micky singing one of his songs) and 'Me and My Arrow', one of the songs from Harry Nilsson musical 'The Point' which starred Micky and Davy in the early 1970s. By and large, though, this song's sleepy laidback textures get grating after a whole and the song choices actually make this a lot more juvenile than the previous song of lullabies. Micky is in good voice but he doesn't appear on this record for long periods of boring sweeping string arrangements and 'atmosphere'; more Micky, less icky would be my take, despite the odd album highlight.
Mike Nesmith "The Prison"
(Pacific Arts, '1994')
Garden's Glow/Ficus Carica/City/Hills Of Time/Flowers Dancing/Wisteria/Life Becoming
"Life becoming life becoming life becoming life becoming one, truth becoming truth becoming truth becoming truth becoming song, love becoming life and life becoming one, growing in the garden , water springs above, life becoming life becoming life becoming love"
The garden was green. And so was Max The Singing Dog. 'How did people get to experience the garden?' he wondered to himself. He'd gone to such lengths to escape the prison walls only to discover that he was still a prisoner, though one that came from a much bigger cell than he'd realised. He'd seemed to have been trapped in this place a long time - some twenty years perhaps although in truth he'd lost all track of time long ago- and his top hat was growing rusty with waiting. He'd even got bored of returning to the prison to look in on the other in-mates, who had all turned roughly the same shade of grey by now and lost the personalities that had once seemeds so distinctive. All apart from one person who had been throwing glances at the hole in the prison wall and started doing things from outside the huddled herd of all the others - she'd even been reading a most excellent website named Alan's Album Archives which wrote over-lengthy over-detailed synopses about albums which had been released decades before she was even born. So Max decided to help the poodle known as Maxine to find her own way out the wall and tell her everything that had once been told to him.
Only after helping Maxine make her way through did Max come to appreciate how hard it had been to see through the prison walls that now seemed to thin to him and, gradually, he became more aware of the world around him. The trees that called to him, the grass that grew aroud him, the gorgeous music that now sang around him always - not just when he turned a radio on and off. In time Max came to love his new world of song and beauty and even began to write about it, long great thick verses that rolled around for paragraphs without ever really making a concrete tangible point. Others thought he was hiding, or escaping, or wasting his time on things that didn't matter but Max knew better: the life he's left behind had been boxed-in, limited, short-term, ultimately pointless whereas the music and life that surrounded him in the garden let him know that he was on the right track and doing what all of his kind was meant to have done. Max had never felt as close to his spirituality or his maker as he had done. However sometimes, at night, the garden seemed a very scary place. Shadows, with and without top hats, appeared frequently and once he felt himself chased by a dark shadow that kept trying to tell him to 'Spice up his life' and 'celebrate 'grrrl power'.
Once or twice he found himself wishing he'd stayed back at the prison where it was safe and warm even if it was confining. But Max came to realise that the mysterious five-headed figure wasn't real but an elborate fiction created to throw him off the 'real' track and told himself that was the fear was just part of his imagination it didn't really have the power to hurt him. And then, bit by bit, the figure left. Having realised the fact Max found himself at the doors of paradise, an emerald city made out of bones and headphones whose green twinkling lights made him cry from their brilliance. He looked for a way in but didn't find one. He'd travelled all the way around the structure but couldn't find one crevive or crack that would allow him passage. Until one day he realised that before he could go on to the next level it was his duty and obligation as a free-thinking dog to go back to where he had come from and teach the others about all he had learnt. Slowly, painfully, Max re-traced his steps, working out why he had come to the thoughts he had and hoping that even though he'd started breaking all his thought processes down into simple word and imagery the great city would still be standing when he returned, not reduced to rubble or stone however hard he had tried to break the over-powering thoughts into bite-sized pieces.
When Max returned he found there has been a massed prison 'break-out'. It turns out that a passing Monkey named Mike Nesmith had released a long-awaited sequel to a much-misunderstood work and suddenlyt people had begiun to realise their confines within the prison and poured out, blinking, into the cold hard light of day. Many ran back inside, but others had tentatively tried walking as far as they could without getting afraid. And there, passing on advice, was Maxine. Though she had once looked as puzzled and unsure as the people who flocked out the prison gates she now had a purpose and drive and Max found himself falling in love. Hurriedly he went back to the garden where he'd just been and picked out an amazing flower for her top hat: it was a dazzling flower, four parts illusion to one part reality. Meekly offering his help, Max was greeted with love and Maxine's favourite bone and a new Davy Jones album on the Bell label that had just come out, with a glorious reunion that made the garden around them glow ever greener. The pair then managed to coax everyone out of the dark and into the light, back through the garden and across the obstacles back to the gowing city. And a door opened out of nowhere, to the sound of fanfaring horns and a long red carpet as a figure came out to greet Max. He'd never before felt so important or so thrilled as he had in that moment, having successfully navigated his way out of two closed worlds and into a third. He even spotted bis own plot in the city gates garden waiting for him to bury his bones in. Max had clearly been accepted, stood proudly waiting for the commendation that would surely be his, waiting for the cheering and screaming to dissipate. He looked into the eyes of the figure he did not recognise as it looked him up and down and spoke two words to him: 'You're late'.
Though, sadly, few people had ever understood 'The Prison', the album held special significance for Nesmith who felt it had managed to express more of the inexpressible than he'd ever managed with his more mainstream works. Realising that a 20th anniversary was approaching, to be marked probably only by himself, and with his own record label and the support of Rhino in distribution to make the going a lot easier than last time, Mike set about writing a sequel-of-sorts to his original vision. Many fans, me included, had wondered what had happened to jason after the events of the last album - aware of being in another 'prison' but aware too of a next step to come - and Mike doesn't disappoint, with another well-crafted book high on imagery and metaphor detailing Jason's journey from the newbie trapped outside the prison still pining for home, to a more worldy wise and spiritual man who has his own garden where 'new' things grow and help provide succour to others (created for him by the love of others but nourished by his own thoughts and feelings and love). Jason even finds his way to a city, a massed metropolis of shared thoughts and experiences, although unlike Max The Dog he's a lot happier on his own tending his own special garden and helping things grow. IT's everything a sequel should be: it fits perfectly after the events of the first and yet still goes somewhere 'new'.
The intercation between music and text works rather better the second time around too, Mike learnhing through trial and error that his use of lyrics while reading was occasionally distracting during 'The Prison' and reducing the album to six instrumentals and one song. Though this means the music works less well out of context, much of the record is still compelling and beautiful, performed by an ever-wide lost of players (including Mike's eldest son Christian on guitar and all his children on backing vocals including the piece's namesake Jason). The book has been written with more of an eye to the music too, with several chapters that delight in branching out in different moods: the blossoming 'Ficus Carica' really does sound like flowers unfurling, the scary 'Hills Of Time' pits a sad and lonely sax part against a sea of noise and some truly scary synthesiser work as a shadow tries to catch up with Jason, the exotic 'Wisteria' equates the city with the Orient and a soundtrack that sounds as if it belongs in '1001 Arabian Nights' before, finally, we get to bask in the wearm glow of 'Life Becoming', the album's one song. Though more direct than the book, which so enjoys playing with its big ideas and concepts, this is a final Mike classic and his best work in years as he details the key twin concepts of the work: that knowledge works best when it's passed down to others, that freedom to explore is the only path forward for human discovery and that love is everything. Starting a humble whisper before slowly growing in stature with every verse until it's almost painful the message is so loud and clear, it's a special song indeed.
Very rarely do sequels improve on the originals (who mentioned 'More Of The Monkees'?!) but I'm even more fond of this work than 'The Prison', with 'The Garden' standing on the groundwork made in 'The Prison' and adding more than a few inventive touches of it's own. One hopes that, in several centuries' time when The Monkees have been re-appreciated and their solo work has become more widespread, someone somewhere will dedicate a whole semester to studying both 'The Prison' and 'The Garden' and Mike will be regarded as one of the era's most important and adventurous writers. But then it's kind of fitting that only true Monkee fans will know about either work: this is an enterprise all about work and it's understanding of the 'essence' of mankind being it's own reward and one far better than riches or fame or power. One hopes, too, that the story isn't over: just as I longed to explore the garden after 'The Prison' ended, so I long to explore the city and all it has to offer (is it the internet? The spreading of ideas between fellow writers? or the communal glow of having your weork understood and appreciated by others open to it?) Though Mike may have written other more accessible and more easily unferstood works, though other records contain more in the way of melodies and words, and though the mutli-media experience doesn't always work (I had more trouble reading at the 'right' speed than I did with 'The Prison') this is a highly impressive work by a writer who has one of the bravest and most distinctive voices in the business. May your gardens always be plentiful, your glowing cities always full and your prisons always be kind.
The Rhino CD Re-Issue Series (1994/1995)
'The Monkees' CD Bonus Tracks: I Can't Get Her Off My Mind (Early Version)/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Mike and Micky' Version)/(Theme From) The Monkees (Early Version)
'More Of The Monkees' CD Bonus Tracks: Don't Listen To Linda (Early Version)/I'll Spend My Life With You (Early Version)/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Peter' Version)/(look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow (with Peter Dialogue)/I'm A Believer (Early Version)
'Headquarters' CD Bonus Tracks: All Of Your Toys/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/Pete Gunn's Gunn/Jericho/Nine Times Blue (Demo)/Pillow Time (Demo)
'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD' CD Bonus Tracks: Special Announcement/Goin' Down/Salesman (Alternate Mix)/The Door Into Summer (Alternate Mix)/Love Is Only Sleeping (Alternate Mix)/Daily Nightly (Alternate Mix)/Star Collector (Alternate Mix)
'The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees' CD Bonus Tracks: Alvin/I'm Gonna Try/PO Box 9847 (Alternate Version)/The Girl I Left Behind Me (Second Version)/Lady's Baby (Second Mix)
'HEAD' CD Bonus Tracks: Ditty Diego - War Chant (Tracking Session)/Circle Sky (Live)/Happy Birthday To You (Film Soundtrack)/Can You Dig It? ('Peter' Version)/Daddy's Song ('Mike' Version)/Radio Spo
'Instant Replay' CD Bonus Tracks: Someday Man/Carlisle Wheeling (Second Version)/Rosemarie (Early Version)/Smile/St Matthew (Alternate Mix)/Me Without You (Alternate Mix)/Through The Looking Glass (Early Version)
'The Monkees Present' CD Bonus Tracks: Calico Girlfriend Samba/The Good Earth/Listen To The Band (Alternate Version)/Mommy and Daddy (Alternate Version)/Radio Promo
'Changes' CD Bonus Tracks: Time and Time Again (Alternate Mix)/Do It In The Name Of Love/Lady Jane
"Weren't they good? They made me happy!"
When the relatively new label Rhino negotiated the rights to The Monkees' back catalogue it came as a surprise to many. 'What was a hip young trendy label doing spending so much time on money revitalising the releases of a band that hadn't been hip since 1967?' was the re-action. 'After all, who out there would actually admit to being a Monkee fan and actually buy the albums up in a new format?' Rhino, however, got what so many companies before them had never quite understood: that behind the fall-out over whether the Monkees were a TV band or a rock band and the teeny-bopper singles was a catalogue of real worth, with a core fanbase who still remained loyal to the old brand if only they could get hold of the albums (the last few of which were becoming very rare and valuable by the mid-1990s) and a whole new generation who'd grown up watching The Monkees' antics on MTV, when being actors playing a TV band didn't seem 'weird' at all, but perfectly normal (I even know of a few fans who refused to believe that the series wasn't made especially for the channel in the 1980s, given how well it fitted the times). The Monkees were after all just a little bit ahead of their time - and Rhino correctly sensed the time was now. They also gave fans so many reasons to buy these albums again: fascinating extensive sleevenotes including interviews with all four Monkees and most of the main participants still alive at the time, lots of gorgeous unseen photographs of The Monkees at rest and play and a welcome dive through the vaults that turned up treasure after treasure even without having to replicate the songs already available on the first two 'Missing Links' albums. The result was a triumph of a re-issue series that was nominated as our best AAA re-issue programme of all time in one of our top ten column for a reason: The Monkees had never sounded better or made more sense than they did in the hands of their new label; Rhinos and Monkees may not make up for a natural pairing even in the wild or the music business but through love and care and attention to detail and the involvement of so many genuinely enthusiastic fans it suddenly all made sense. The last four original Monkees albums ('Head' through to 'Changes') even charted higher in the CD age than they had the first time round (with 'Changes' making the charts for the first time) and reviews ranged from grudgingly good to raving.
Though these discs have since become superseded by Rhino's later re-issue series - which tried perhaps a little too hard to spread a CD's worth of material over two, three or even four CDs but do contain more in terms of outtakes and remixes - they remain the best way of hearing The Monkees' back catalogue thanks to the packaging more than the music (the booklets in the later series are a little flimsier even if the boxes are bigger). Though only a few of the CDs last longer than forty minutes, even with the bonus tracks added, all are improved through the addition of rare and hard-to-find extra tracks. Though each of the songs are reviewed separately elsewhere in this book it seemed to make sense to give the digital-era fan a heads-up on what's out there and to let vinyl-only specialists know which of these 'updates' are most worth purchasing. It's also useful as a sort of 'round up' of where to find all the rare songs that didn't appear on the 'Missing LInks' series or any of the 'Handmade' box sets.
'The Monkees' is probably the flimsiest re-issue in the series, with only three 'new' songs. One of these is only a brief 50 second run-through of the theme tune - which is fascinating for being one of the earliest Monkee recordings but not the most substantial of recordings. There's also an early version of 'I Can't Get Her Off My Mind' about nine months before the 'Headquarters' version, produced by Boyce and Hart rather than Chip Douglas and one of several mixes of Goffin and King's gorgeous 'I Don't Think You Know Me At All' doing the rounds featuring Mike on lead vocals.
'More Of The Monkees' has five bonus tracks which makes this one of the better re-issues in the set. This alternate mix of 'I Don't Think You Know Me At All' featured Peter on lead with the others all singing behind him, plus early versions of 'I'll Spend My Life Without You' (re-recorded for 'Headquarters') and 'Don't Listen To Linda' (re-recorded for 'Instant Replay') from the sessions when Boyce and Hart recorded the band like mad, under the assumption that they'd be producing all of the band's second record, rather than a sixth of it. There's also the 'dress rehearsal' of 'I'm A Believer' where Micky is singing the lyrics of what will become his most famous song for the first time and is impressive for how quickly he nails it, even if the track isn't 100% of the way there yet. Finally, there's an aborted idea for 'Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow') which actually sounds rather good to me, with Peter acting the part of a DJ and 'filling' in the listeners about the 'boring' bits of the song in between Davy singing - very Monkees!
'Headquarters' is perhaps the most substantial release in the series, although modern-day fans are better off seeking the 'Handmade' edition of the 'Headquarters Sessions' which has all of these songs and more. There are six songs of varying degrees of essentialness. The intended Monkees single 'All Of Your Toys' (abandoned when it was discovered writer Bill Martin wasn't a 'screen gems writer' and replaced by B-Side 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere' - hastily re-recorded from the original version here when the label insisted on Micky singing lead not Mike) is excellent on both sides, as is a gorgeous solo folky rendition of 'Nine Times Blue' but its author Mike Nesmith. Less interesting but still quite insightful into The Monkees' recording practices are the band jam 'Peter Gunn's Gunn' with its cries of 'psychojello', Micky playing around with tape echo and a zither as he tries to record a scary version of his mother's lullaby 'Pillow Time' (re-recorded for 'The Monkees Present') and a band discussion, here named 'Jericho', where Micky tries to tell the biblical story of Jericho knocking down the wall with his trumpet while the rest of the band get bored and try to drown him out with their singing.
'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD' has more tracks but less differences between them, with mainly different versions of songs that made the album rather than completely 'new' songs. There is, however, an aborted spoken word joke that has Peter Tork trying to sound like a test record ('Special Announcement') which is funny if you're in the industry and get the jokes but deeply confusing if you're not and an alternate take of 'Daydream Believer' B-side 'Goin' Down' that pushes Micky to his vocal limits. Elsewhere there's a nice version of 'The Door Into Summer' with a more 'normal' Nesmith vocal (before he went to the Colgems loos to get the extra echo), an early mix of 'Daily Nightly' with different bleeping noises, a longer edit of 'Star Collector' that adds another minute of mayhem to the finished edit, a more psychedelic original mix of 'Love Is Only Sleeping' (the one 'lost in transit' and intended as a single) and most interestingly of all a take of 'Salesman' with different lead and backing vocals and a whole new 'business patter' spiel from Nesmith as he tries to demonstrate his wares and they all break on him!
'The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees' is another excellent entry in the series, with several songs to choose from given that all four Monkees were running their own sessions in this period. There are only five songs but four of them are new and Peter Tork at last gets a 'presence' on the album: 'Alvin' is a charming nonsense nursery rhyme written by Peter's younger brother Nick and 'Lady's Baby' is the much-talked-about classic outtake that involves Stephen Stills on guitar and his girlfriend's gurgling baby on 'special effects' (this is a different take to the version on 'Missing Links' and different again to the ones on the later 'Handmade' re-issues). Davy also gets one of his better vocals restored on 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' (though frustratingly it fades at the point where it should have faded into his own song 'A Girl Named Love') and a 'new' Davy song 'I'm Gonna Try'. There's also a very different mix of 'PO Box 9847' which features producers Boyce and Hart having a rare off day.
'HEAD' was a difficult re-issue to judge. The 'new' tracks had to enhance the madcap original without simply re-creating the film soundtrack and Rhino get the mix about right I'd say (although it's a shame the longer 'Porpoise Song' with its minute long 'tag' isn't here). There are three fascinatingly different versions of album songs 'Can You Dig It?' with writer Peter on lead and 'Daddy's Song' with its main champion Mike Nesmith on lead as well as the grungy Monkees version of 'Circle Sky' from the film score. There's also a four minute extract of the recording sessions for 'Ditty Diego', which reveals an unhappy and argumentative band trying to laugh at themselves in a variety of silly voices (the 'Handmade Head' will release a longer twenty-three minute extract decades later), a radio promo and 'Happy Birthday To You', the lengthy near a capella chant from the film featuring Micky, Davy and Peter as they 'surprise' Mike which is often played in my house when The Beatles' 'Birthday' isn't available.
I wasn't expecting much from 'Instant Replay' given that it was half an album of outtakes itself, but actually it's the most generous CD with seven bonus tracks. Single-only 'Someday Man' is a welcome extra that sounds as if it 'belongs' here (why isn't DW Washburn/It's Nice To Be With You' on 'Birds' by the way?) and there are two very early versions of 'Me Without You' and 'Through The Looking Glass' - the former sounds better without the intrusive horns but the latter sounds a bit rough to be honest (there's an even earlier take released later on 'Missing Links Three'). The other four 'new' songs are all great however: Davy's own 'Smile' is a charming ballad and one of his best, Micky's 'Rosemarie' is, erm, unusual (and a different and superior mix to the 'Missing Links One CD') while Mike gets two classics that really should have made the album with 'St Matthew' and 'Carlisle Wheeling Effervescent Popsicle'.
'The Monkees Present' has slightly less going for it, both as an album and as a CD, and is perhaps the weakest overall package since the first CD. Though there are five 'extras', one of these is a radio promo and one of these is Davy Jones reading out poetry (how would that have worked with the album?!), leaving us two alternate mixes and one new track. Though 'Listen To The Band' isn't all that different from the album cut and 'Calico Girlfriend Samba' is one of those 'B+' Nesmith songs, the different uncensored take of Micky's 'Mommy and Daddy' is well worth the price of the disc alone, with rants against 'who killed JFK' and a mother getting 'all hung up on all her pills' that's outrageous now, never mind in 1969. Overall, though, it's a shame there isn't more here given how many recordings took place for this record, originally intended as a double album.
Finally, 'Changes' had very little extras to choose from - the album was made in a hurry, in less sessions than any other Monkees LP, and there were very few leftover songs. One song that really should have made the grade, though, was Davy's beautiful 'Time and Time Again' (head in a different mix to the 'Missing Links' version, with less synthesiser), while Rhino also throw in the post-Monkees Davy and Micky single 'Do It In The Name Of Love' from 1970, along with B-side 'Rainy Jane'. Forget the bonus tracks if you must though - isn't it just great to actually own this album after so many years of being out of print?
Overall, then, Rhino did The Monkees proud. Much of the goodwill exhibited to the band in the past twenty years (well, compared to their treatment in the 1970s anyway) stems from this re-issue series which finally allowed music fans to hear the songs without the pre-judgements that came at the time. Though The Monkees were one of the last AAA bands to get the compact disc treatment, they were also one of the best catered for in the end, with only Capitol's two-fer-one treatment of The Beach Boys (sadly quickly withdrawn) and Pye's treatment of The Kinks coming close.
(Rhino, June 1996)
(Theme From) The Monkees/Last Train To Clarksville/I Wanna Be Free/I'm A Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/Mary Mary/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/Randy Scouse Git/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Words/Daydream Believer/Goin' Down/Valleri/D W Washburn/It's Nice To Be With You/Porpoise Song/Listen To The Band/That Was Then, This Is Now/Heart and Soul
"Put your heart and soul where I can see them shine"
A sensible but unspectacular best-of from Rhino, released to give newcomer fans something to think about alongside the revised interest around the band's 30th anniversary (the 'JustUs' album, third missing links release and the TV Special following early the next year). All the hits are here, all back in the right order for a change, along with a generous helping of fan favourites ('I Wanna Be Free' 'Mary Mary' 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere' and 'Porpoise Song' and - more of a surprise - B-sides 'Goin' Down' and 'I's Nice To Be With You', while including flop single 'D W Washburn' is probably taking the 'greatest hits' title a bit far). The compilation does however include the two best reunion songs, which set against eighteen older songs is probably about the right balance. Even so, the 'Definitive Monkees' set released shortly afterwards and also on Rhino has a longer and slightly better track selection, making this set redundant.
"Missing Links Volume Three"
(Rhino, March 1996)
(Theme From) The Monkees (TV Version)/Kellogg's Jingle/We'll Be Back In A Minute #1/Through The Looking Glass (Even Earlier Version)/Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care)/Penny Music/Tear The Top Right Off My Head/Little Red Rider/You're So Good/Look Down/Hollywood/Midnight Train (Demo)/She Hangs Out (Early Version)/Shake 'Em Up/Circle Sky (Alternate Mix)/Steam Engine (Alternate Mix)/Love To Love (Alternate Mix)/She'll Be There (Demo)/How Insensitive/Merry-Go-Round/Angel and Band/Zor and Zam (TV Version)/We'll Be Back In A Minute #2/Tema Dei Monkees
"Tunes to suit your fancy - are there any requests?"
Slightly overlooked compared to the previous two volumes (the first of which had the very strongest material and the second of which is the most consistent), 'Missing Links Three' is nevertheless ridiculously good for being the third CD length rarities set from a band who were only together four years. Released to capitalise on the growing fuss over 'JustUs', it's another strong record from The Monkees that actually eclipsed the record it was trying to cash-in on. The 'hook' this time is on songs that had already been semi-legally released on a series of often dodgy compilations (including some released by Rhino in their early years), although this time around that only accounts for about a quarter of an album: the original Don Kirshner-friendly version of 'She Hangs Out', Davy's classy Neil Diamond cover 'Love To Love' (out in the early 80s), the groovy TV repeat soundtrack song 'Steam Engine', the 'Frodis Caper' mix of 'Zor and Zam' which is very different if not quite as good as the album version released back in 1968 and various offcuts only heard on the soundtrack of the TV series (including the first legal appearance of Micky's Kellogg's advertising jingle and two of his TV repeat IDs 'We'll Be Back In A Minute', as well as the version of the theme song re-recorded in Italian and the shorter TV edit of the Theme Tune itself).
Like the other two series, this volume is particularly strong for Mike Nesmith fans, with a whole pile of songs from his sessions in nashville across 1968 and 1969, many of which ended up being re-recorded for his solo work. The Monkees' versions still have the edge in many cases though, with a particular fine rendering of the lovely 'Propinquity' and the rocking nursery rhyme 'Little Red Rider'. A new remix of 'Circle Sky' is more essential than most Rhino remixes too, with the song sounding all the better with Mike's nonsense lyric now up loud and central to the mix. Peter gets a decent haul of songs for once, with the long awaited full take of 'Tear The Top Right Off My Head' (heard in brief on the TV series) well worth the wait and the sad, lamented 'Merry-Go-Round' very ahead of it's times. Davy and Micky far less well, with no originals on the album and a mixed bag of covers: Davy shines like rarely before on 'Love To Love' (one of his greatest covers) but struggles on 'Penny Music' and 'Look Down', two songs not in his natural style; Micky struggles on an even worse version of Boyce and Harrt's most wretched song 'Through The Looking Glass' but shines on the Nesmith-produced blue-eyed-soul of 'You're So Good' and wins the album award for the charming pair of demos recorded with sister Coco during the making of 'Headquarters' - his own 'Mystery Train' (finally recorded for 'Changes' in 1970) and the 'mystery' track 'She'll Be There', which no one can remember writing (and if it's an 'outside' author then nobody else ever seems to have recorded it!) Together with the usual excellent Rhino sleevenotes and lots of unseen photographs, 'Missing Links Three' is that rarest of things - the last part in a trilogy that holds its own with the first two parts. Alas we never did get a fourth volume in the series, as Rhino drifted towards re-issues of the individual albums in deluxe form - a great shame as it was the 'Missing Links' series even more than the albums which won over sceptical fans and reviewers with not just the depth but the consistency of the depth of what The Monkees never considered good enough to release the first time round. If only all AAA outtakes series could be this good!
"The Monkees Anthology"
(Rhino, April 1996)
CD One: (Theme From) The Monkees (TV Version)/Last Train To Clarksville/Take A Giant Step/I Wanna Be Free/Papa Gene's Blues/Saturday's Child/Sweet Young Thing/I'm A Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/She/Mary Mary/Your Auntie Grizelda/Sometime In The Morning/(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow/I'll Be Back Upon My Feet/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/All Of Your Toys/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/You Told Me/Forget That Girl/You Just May Be The One/Shades Of Grey/For Pete's Sake/Randy Scouse Git/No Time
CD Two: Pleasant Valley Sunday/Words/Daydream Believer/Goin' Down/The Door Into Summer/Cuddly Toy/Love Is Only Sleeping/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/Star Collector/ Valleri/Auntie's Municipal Court/Zor and Zam/Porpoise Song/As We Go Along/Circle Sky/Through The Looking Glass/You and I/While I Cry/Listen To The Band/Good Clean Fun/Mommy and Daddy/Oh My My/That Was Then This Is Now/Heart and Soul/You and I
"You made my heart sing, you took my breath away, life is such there's so much to discover, 'oh my my' is all I can say..."
Taking a break from their album re-issues and outtake series, Rhino go back to basics by condensing The Monkees story into a pretty full two-disc set. As usual with Rhino, it's all very well done and a much better for newcomers to get to grips with the ins and outs of the Monkees story than the single disc compilations out there, with an especially welcome dive into the band's later years of 1968-1969 (classics like 'Auntie's Municipal Court' 'Zor and Zam' 'Porpoise Song' 'As We Go Along' 'Listen To The Band' and 'Mommy and Daddy' are all here). The inclusions from the 1980s and 1990s are less welcome (an interesting choice from 'JustUs' by the way, on the first Monkee compilation issued following the reunion) while the first disc mainly features the same old songs (albeit with a nicely generous helping from 'Headquarters' this time around). It remains perhaps the best of the Monkees compilations out there, taking into account price packaging and track selection, more comprehensive than the single-disc best-ofs while being better value than the box sets.
(Rhino Handmade, September 2000)
CD One: She's So Far Out She's In (tracking Session)/The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/All Of Your Toys (Rehearsal, Tracking Session and Backing Track)/The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Re-Make) (Tracking Session, Overdub Session and Backing Track)/Seeger's Theme (Demo)/Can You Dig It? (Demo)/Nine Times Blue (Demo)/Until It's Time For You To Go (Demo)/She'll Be There (Demo)/Midnight Train (Demo)/Sunny Girlfriend (Acoustic Remix and Early Version)/Mr Webster (Tracking Session)/Band Six (Unedited)/Randy Scouse Git (Setting Up The Studio and Alternate Version)/You Told Me (Backing Track)/Monkee Chat
CD Two: You Told Me (Alternate Vocal)/Zilch (Peter, Davy, Micky and Mike's tracks separated)/I'll Spend My Life With You (Backing Track)/Randy Scouse Git (Backing Track)/Forget That Girl (Rehearsal and Backing Track)/Where Has It All Gone? (Backing Track)/Memphis Tennessee/Twelve-String Improvisation/Where Has It All Gone? (Second Version)/Jericho (Chat)/Forget That Girl (Backing Vocals Outtake)/Peter Gunn's Gunn/I Was Born In East Virginia/Forget That Girl (Vocal Outtake)/Randy Scouse Git (Alternate Ending)/Micky in Carlsbad Cavern (Chat)/Pillow Time/Shades Of Grey (Backing Track)/Masking Tape (Tracking Session)/You Just May Be The Onbe (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/No Time (Early Version)/Blues
CD Three: I Can't Get Her Off My Mind (Backing Track)/Banjo Jam/Cripple Creek/Six-String Improvisation/The Story Of Rock and Roll (Tracking Session)/Early Morning Blues and Greens (Backing Track)/Two-Part Invention In F Major/The Story Of Rock and Roll (Finished Take)/Don't Be Cruel/For Pete's Sake (Backing Track)/No Time (Second Version) (Tracking Session and Backing Track)/Just A Game (Demo)/Fever/Sunny Girlfriend (Backing Track)/No Time (Backing Track with Backing Vocals)/Mono versions of all 14 'Headquarters' tracks plus 'All Of Your Toys/The Girl I Knew Somewhere'
"Now some memories from my past have turned my thoughts around a different way"
Though I've maybe been a touch harsh about the pricey 'Rhino Handmade' re-issues elsewhere in this book, this original release in the series makes perfect sense. Though most Monkees albums before and after were put together by a number of different sessions musicians under the guidance of a number of different producers, 'Headquarters' is the one album that featured The Monkees (plus a couple of bass players and a French Horn cameo) playing from beginning to end. And blooming good they sound too - it's many people's favourite Monkees album for a reason, as there's a sense of camaraderie and liveliness missing from their other recordings, however good most of those are too. Luckily Colgems kept virtually everything The Monkees did and a good three hours' worth of the best pof this material is here, along with the rarer mono mix of the album (the stereo one had been used on Rhino's mid-90s CD).It's a real treasure trove as the album comes together slowly before our eyes, repeated in as close to chronological order as a few mis-labelled tape boxes and conflicting memories will allow ('Fever', for instance, was later dated to the 'Pisces Aquarius' sessions so shouldn't be here at all). Every song is given a new perspective, thanks to alternate version of every song that made the original album whether it be a full-on very different abandoned idea (there's a terrific looser 'Randy Scouse Git; that ends with a traditional folk song!), a genuinely revealing tweaked remix ('Sunny Girlfriend' with the electric instruments taken out now sounds like the greatest folk moment of The Monkees canon and better than the rather raw finished product, even if no one ever intended the song to be like that), backing tracks or - in the case of 'Zilch' - each Monkee's part heard separately. 'Headquarters' has never shone so brightly and never have The Monkees seemed more like the band they played on TV - energetic, bursting with ideas and so much fun. All four Monkees get plenty of moments to shine, while Chip Douglas deserves special praise for being the perfect producer - letting the band get away with murder if they need to let off steam, while offering encouragement and support. He should have been with the band for the next seven albums too.
However the set is perhaps more for the mad passionate fan who knows these songs backwards rather than someone after the songs they know vaguely from the TV series soundtrack. The sessions were a bumpy road for everyone concerned, with Micky struggling to learn the drums at speed and several takes breaking down after one mistake too many. There are also some interminable band jams that go on forever - useful stuff for a band still getting to feel each other out and one or two of them (such as the jam that became 'No Time') sound blooming good - but by the eighth one you're beginning to despair of the band actually knuckling down to any work. There are also some curious that really didn't work and got abandoned along the way, such as a painful attempt to overdub harmonies on the back of 'Forget That Girl' where everyone is flat, Micky's long night in with a zither already heard on the mid-90s version of 'Pillow Time' (seriously - Rhino had all this good stuff to choose from and they picked that?!) and at least one track of Peter having fun with a banjo too many. You could argue too that the songs from the aborted Davy sessions would have made more sense than just getting the very similar mono mix of the album at the very end ('A Little Bit Me' 'She Hangs Out' 'Love To Love' 'If I l Learned To Play The Violin' 'You Can't Tie A Mustang Down'- Davy is after all the least represented Monkee here), while the fact that so many of the songs have been 'edited' to fit the disc's running time is a mini-tragedy too. You can also hear more than a few frayed edges and cross words between the four Monkees too, such as Micky really getting at Peter for missing the ending to a jam that was spontaneous and un-rehearsed anyway ('You always have to be doing your own thing!') and the others having a go at Micky on 'Jericho' when he just won't stop talking (previously released on the mid-90s CD too) which is a pity in a way.
However, it's thrilling to be able to hear (more or less) all of what went on in these sessions, good and bad, thrilling and boring, so that you really feel like a fly on the wall as the album forms together painfully slowly song by song. There are many fascinated aborted songs along the way which are all key parts of The Monkees' canon: the very first song the band start off with 'She's So Far Out She's In' is almost unbearably sloppy despite being about the simplest song the band try and tackle - you can almost hear the panic in the room as everyone senses this great gamble might not work. The funky 'Masking Tape' and what was nearly the first published Harry Nilsson song 'The Story Of Rock and Roll' are much tighter, though and deserved to be finished (a demo for the latter does exist, actually, sounding not unlike the 50s parodies on the '33 and a Third Revolutions' TV Special). The more famous 'finished' songs 'All Of Your Toys' intended as a single (but rejected when Colgems found out songwriter Bill Martin was with a rival music publishing company) and the 'first' version of 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere' with Mike singing are both great milestones of Monkee music-making (they're also the first two 'releasable' songs from these sessions which show how quickly the band learnt). Throw in some fascinating moments as Mike, Peter and Micky all demo early versions of songs for Chip to hear (a gorgeous 'Nine Times Blue' and a revived 'Until It's Time For You To Go', early versions of 'Seeger's Theme' and a loose guitar riff that somehow metamorphosised into 'Can You Dig It?', plus Micky's charming 'Just A Game' from 'Instant Replay' and the songs with his sister Coco released on 'Missing Links Three' respectively) and you have ever more proof of just how creative the band were in this period.
There are several moments here you won't fancy ploughing your way through again in a hurry, However there are far more great moments in this set than ghastly ones and for an outtakes set there's an awful lot of stuff Monkee fans really do need to own: the haunting backing tracks for 'Shades Of Grey' (where that cello part written by Peter and scored by Mike sounds devastatingly beautiful), 'Early Morning Blues and Greens' (which is even lovelier and shows off Peter's piano playing skills wonderfully), 'Mr Webster' (Davy is a tambourine expert and Mike's pedal steel is exquisite) and 'Randy Scouse Git' (which sounds even more extraordinary as an instrumental) are all essential listens. The bits of Monkee chat between songs (including a lengthy conversation when Micky tries to set up his drums for 'Git') are fascinating. The 'tracking sessions' where a song gradually comes together over several re-makes and aborted experiments ('No Time' is an example of a song that gets better the more the Monkees jam and the more they take out of the arrangement) are the best way a Monkee fan could possibly spend their evening. No not everything in this set is top-drawer and yes you can see why this trick of the band making everything themselves was never repeated - Micky's drumming, though great for a beginner, really struggles through some of these takes while the band take an age to get some songs up to scratch and other aborted pieces don't get anywhere close. However there's more than enough here to show that The Monkees not only were a proper band (however briefly) but also one of the greatest bands. 'Headquarters' was always a special album but this epic version demonstrates just how special it really is, put together with Rhino's customary care and extensive packaging with some excellent liner notes and lovely unseen photographs (the outer box even replicates the 'private - keep out' sign pinned half-in-jest to the studio wall!) There are only three downsides to this - the price, then and now (which was and is pricey even for Rhino), the fact it was a 'limited edition' (so few fans got to hear it) and the fact that none of the later deluxe editions followed the lineage of this set, with as many session takes, revealing commentary or the same chronological order. But never mind the furthermore - their plea is self defence - as far as 'Headquarters' is concerned the combinations of Monkees and Rhinos again came up trumps and a great album sounds even greater, which is everything you could ask of a re-issue.
Mike Nesmith "TimeRider (Film Soundtrack)"
(Pacific Arts '2000')
The Baja 1000/Lost In The Weeds/Somewhere Around 1875/Scared To Death/Silks and Sixguns/Dead Man's Duds/Two Swanns At The Pond/I Want That Machine/Escape To San Marcos/Claire's Cabin/No Jurisdiction/Murder At Swallow Camp/Claire's Rescue/Up The Hill To Nowhere/Out Of Ammo/Reprise
"We got our experiment now, don't we?"
The ghost of 'Dogma' rises it's head again with another near-unlistenable album of heavy rock music, dominated by screaming guitar (largely played by Richie Zito while Mike sticks to rhythm - longterm AAA fans may recognise the name as Grace Slick's one-time collaborator and he didn't do a lot for her art either). This is, surprisingly, the first official Nesmith soundtrack album despite the fact that his Pacific Arts Company had been involved with a whole load of successful films ('Tapeheads' and 'Repo Man' among others) that probably deserved a release more than the noisy collection released for this flop film. We probably got it because Mike worked far more closely with this album than most, writing the screenplay with his 'Rio' video co-maker William Dear as well as writing the music alone (though frankly a record of dialogue from the film would have been far more welcome); Mike also makes a Hitchcock-style cameo as one of the Baja 1000 riders near the beginning of the film. The album caught many Nez-heads by surprise, actually, Mike having been adamant after 'Tropical Campfires' that he would never again release an actual 'album' - something which, otherwise, he's stayed true to his word over (and not least because the film itself came out in 1982: the eighteen year gap must surely be a record for the length of time between film and soundtrack album). 'Timerider' is for those who haven't seen it a lower budget 'Back To The Future' filmed several years before the film franchise happened. The film follows Lyle Swann as he tries to break the landspeed record competing in the Baja 1000 Desert race only to have his motorbike break down. When Swann comes off he is thrown into a nearby sectioned-off bit of desert, which unbeknownst to him is being used to conduct military time-travel tests, finding himself and his bike transported to the Wild West of 1877. The film beats many of the rush of 1980s time travels by being both the first (pretty much) and in many ways the most daring (Swann really does become his own great-grandfather, which is something 'Back To The Future' never quite pulled off) though it lacks the heart and jokes of most of the similar sci-fi-comedies to come. The soundtrack is similarly off-the-wall, being one long guitar solo cut into bits, some of which only last for a few seconds at a time. Though Nesmith is credited as the writer for all sixteen 'songs', there is no obvious similarity between this record and music Nesmith had a hand in in the past. Only the urgent acceleration of 'Lost In The Woods', the 'Prison' like acoustic mellow vibe of 'Scared To Death', the funky blues of 'Dead Man's Duds' and the bright pop of 'Up The Hill To Nowhere' are at all palatable and even then, like many an instrumental, they sound unfinished. The album used to be one of the rarest in the Nesmith canon although it took the shortest time of nay Nesmith recording to be re-issued (seven years later in 2007 on the back of Mike's other instrumental album 'Wichita Train Whistle Sings', although there really is no other link between the two). Mike reckons in the sleeve-notes for the re-issue that it's one of his best works and one of his few albums he enjoys listening to all the way through. Sadly I'm not sure I quite agree as this project is rather a waste of his talents and full of generic rock guitar any number of lesser artists could have put together just as well; in short, this is the sort of album only a true Monkee-fan could love and is no great burning hole in your collection if you never get round to tracking it down. Unless, of course, you're big into motorcycles and the Wild West and have always wanted to see the two come together - in which case this is your lucky day!
"Music Box (Box Set)"
(Rhino, February 2001)
CD One: (Theme From) The Monkees/I Wanna Be Free ('Micky' Version)/Let's Dance On/Last Train To Clarksville/Take A Giant Step/All The King's Horses/Saturday's Child/Papa Gene's Blues/I Wanna Be Free ('Davy' Version)/Sweet Young Thing/Gonna Buy Me A Dog/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Mike' Version)/I'm A Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/She/Mary Mary/Your Auntie Grizelda/Of You/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) ('Peter DJ' Version)/The Kind Of Girl I Could Love/Sometime In The Morning/When Love Comes Knockin' At Your Door/Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love) ('Micky' Version)/Valleri (First Version)/I'll Be Back Upon My Feet (First Version)
CD Two: A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/She Hangs Out (First Version)/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/All Of Your Toys/Love To Love/You Told Me/I'll Spend My Life With You/Forget That Girl/You Just May Be The One/Shades Of Grey/For Pete's Sake/Sunny Girlfriend/No Time/Randy Scouse Git/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Words/Daydream Believer/Goin' Down/Salesman/The Door Into Summer/Love Is Only Sleeping/Cuddly Toy/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/Daily Nightly/Star Collector
CD Three: Valleri (Second Version)/Tapioca Tundra/Dream World/Auntie's Municipal Coirt/PO Box 9847/Zor and Zam/Carlisle Wheeling/Tear The Top Right Off My Head/The Girl I Left Behind Me/Nine Times Blue/Come On In/D W Washburn/It's Nice To Be With You/St Matthew/Porpoise Song/As We Go Along/Ditty Diego-War Chant/Circle Sky (Live)/Can You Dig It?/Daddy's Song/Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?
CD Four: Tear Drop City/A Man Without A Dream/Through The Looking Glass/I Won't Be The Same Without Her/You and I/While I Cry/Shorty Blackwell/If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again/Smile/Listen To The Band/Someday Man/Some Of Shelley's Blues/Mommy and Daddy/Good Clean Fun/Lookin' For The Good Times/Steam Engine/I Never Thought It Peculiar/Midnight Train/Oh My My/I Love You Better/Do You Feel It Too?/Do It In The Name Of Love/That Was Then, This Is Now/Heart and Soul/MGB-BT (Live)/Every Step Of The Way/Oh What A Night/You and I
"I was high on top but I didn't know it, tell me why did I have to go and blow it?"
With the 'Listen To The Band' set now a decade old and off-catalogue, Rhino had another go with a second box that was almost identical to the first except for a slightly more even running length across the four CDs and the addition of a few more tracks from the reunion albums ('JustUs', for instance, had come out between the two sets). Sadly the only 'new' song was a live recording of the rock and roll song 'MGB-BT' sung by Peter and taped live on the 'Pool It' reunion tour an you really don't need that, while Rhino are up to their old tricks with the 'remixed' songs which sound near enough the same to all the versions we've known and loved for many years with at most an extra guitar part of harmony vocal intact. Had Rhino not done such a good job with the album re-issues and the original box set then 'Music Box' would have been superb - as with 'Listen To The Band' it includes an excellent running order made up of old friends and lesser known newbies from the 'Missing Links' series that deserve their place here and the packaging is again first-class. However we've been so spoilt by Rhino's other little treats down the years that this one seemed a little bit of an anti-climax: even the argument that this was for 'new' fans rather than us oldies seemed a bit misguided given the amount of one and two-disc best-ofs out there (if you've become enough of a fan to want to fork out for a relatively pricey box set then you're enough of a fan to buy all the albums anyway). One good thing though: at least this box is a 'proper' size, shaped like a hardback book so it better slots in with your CD collection - the 'Listen To The Band' box set has been sitting on my shelves taking up almost as much room as the entire run of albums.
"The Definitive Monkees"
(Rhino, February 2001)
(Theme From) The Monkees/Last Train To Clarksville/Take A Giant Step/Saturday's Child/I'm A Believer/I Wanna Be Free/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/She/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/Mary Mary/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/(look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow/Shades Of Grey/Sometime In The Morning/For Pete's Sake/Forget That Girl/randy Scouse Git/You Just May Be The One/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Words/Daydream Believer/Goin' Down/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/Cuddly Toy/Valleri/Porpoise Song (Single Mix)/Listen To The Band/That Was Then This Is Now/Heart and Soul
Bonus Disc: Temai Dai Monkees/So Goes Love/Kicking Stones/Mr Webster (First Version)/Hold On Girl (First Version)/Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears/Love To Love/Midnight Train (Demo)/She'll Be There/Riu Chiu/Circle Sky (Alternate Mix)/Merry Go Round/War Games/Seeger's Theme/Party/Shake 'Em Up/Rosemarie/Propinquity/Look Down/The Crippled Lion/Hollywood/How Insensitive/Down The Highway/My Share Of The Sidewalk/If You Have The Time/Time and Time Again/Storybook Of You/You're So Good/Steam Engine/Angel Band/Little Red Rider
"You're so good I gotta have you, you're so good that nothing else matters!"
Rhino's latest attempt to re-package The Monkees dips into both their over-heard greatest hits with a plain CD without many surprises (except perhaps the rarer 'single mix' of 'Porpoise Song' complete with a minute's tag filled with porpoise cries) and their lesser-known originally released songs divided up pretty evenly from the three 'Missing Links' sets. Sensibly Rhino license this as a 'bonus' disc and sold the CD at roughly the price of a single one, leaving relatively sniffy newcomers only after the hits to discover what a hugely glittering back catalogue The Monkees had which allowed them to 'abandon' so many good songs like this. While some reviewers though it was an odd move, I thought it was a good one, with fans able to get the crop of the increasingly rare Missing Links CDs without having to fork out for each individual album. While there are inevitably some songs missing that should have been here (Rhino have tended to go for completely unreleased songs rather than 'alternate versions', so a lot of the real gems of the ML series like the alternate 'Hold On Girl' 'You Just May Be The One' and 'Words' are all missing and 'All The King's Horses', one of the greatest Monkee outtakes, is conspicuous by its absence) there are a lot of truly great and overlooked songs here too. Any newcomer who remained sniffy about the band's talents after hearing Davy's own 'War Games' and 'Time and Time Again', Micky's 'She'll Be There and Mike's 'Crippled Lion' doesn't deserve to be a Monkees fan, as most other bands would have killed for these songs for their best-ofs, never mind outtake sets. Only Peter is badly catered for on this set, with only the minute-long sketches of 'Seeger's Theme' and 'Merry-Go-Round' instead of his real gems like 'Come On In' 'Tear The Top Right Off My Head' and 'Lady's Baby'. Impressively, Rhino have also catered for fans like me mad enough to care about chronological orders by putting both discs into what we like to think of as the 'proper' order - particularly welcoming on the bonus disc which offers us the songs from 1966-1969 instead of the order of release i the 'Missing Links' series. The packaging is minimalist in the extreme and a few notes about the 'bonus' songs in particular would have been welcome, but the 'Head' shot of the band committing 'suicide' leaping off that bridge is the perfect image for an album that shows how many great Monkee ideas went by the wayside and why this is a better and more important band than almost anyone out there gives them credit for. As usual I'd quibble with the word 'definitive', but this is Rhino having another good idea.
"Live In Las Vegas"
(***, March 2001)
Last Train To Clarksville/A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You/Randy Scouse Git/Your Auntie Grizelda/Valleri/Goin' Down/Lucille/Oliver Medley/Since I Fell For You/Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?/(Your Love Keeps Liftin' Me) Higher and Higher/Girl/Two Part Improvisation In G/I'm A Believer/Papa Gene's Blues/That Was Then This Is Now//Porpoise Song-Listen To The Band/Daydream Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/Pleasant Valley Sunday
"Rows of houses that are all the same and no one seems to care"
This album is a case of right idea - wrong tour. I was surprised there wasn't a reunion album from the band's four-way tour in 1997 which from where I was sitting in the audience was a great idea, The Monkees without extras revitalising both the known and the unknown of their back catalogue. The band seemed surprised too, with both the critical attacks and the fact that Mike Nesmith backed out of an intended American tour to follow the European one. Undaunted, The Monkees went back out on the road as a three-piece in 2001, slipping under the radar somewhat without Mike there. Though comparing the two are unfair - I never did get to see the 2001 touring line-up - the difference between the two is palpable. The Monkees are now frontmen rather than the whole band, the setlists has been given a shake-up, with highlights like 'Only Shades Of Grey' and 'Circle Sky' given the push in favour of slightly lesser moments such as 'That was Then, This Is Now' (featuring a Davy harmony part at long last) and, confusingly, Mike's own 'Papa Gene's Blues'. Only 'Porpoise Song', heard in a medley with 'Listen To The Band' approached old heights, with the first live performance of 'A Little Bit Me' - and therefore the first time more than Davy out the band was involved in making the song - close behind. Peter has now been passed on the task of being 'musical director' and the idea should suit him to a tee - he's been itching to do this since 'Headquarters'. So it's surprising that he takes less risk than Mike ever did and instead tries to inject more humour into the band's set list which doesn't quite work. All three Monkees are in relatively good voice, so they can get through their old hits well enough and there's a pleasing revival of the 1967 tour's decision to give each band member their own 'solo spot' - a different lot of songs this time, highlighted by Peter's faithful reading of 'Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher, but a slightly less great idea when Micky recycles a boring arrangement of 'Lucille' and Davy relives his past as the Artful Dodger with a medley from 'Oliver'. Perhaps the biggest difference is that where the 1997 line-up sounded more unified than ever, the 2001 counterparts demonstrate more than ever why The Monkees was multiple groups acting as one, with several tracks that don't sit well together. The tie-in DVD, released around the same time, is an even more disheartening project revealing a tired and often grumpy band going through the motions. Las Vegas is where old acts traditionally come to die when they're past it and on the way out - while that's not strictly true (more recent tours have been a lot better) this album is perhaps a gamble too far. Save your money and buy 'Live '67' instead.
Davy Jones "Just Me"
(Fire Inside Records, '2001')
Hold Me Tight/When You Tell Me That You Love Me/I Wanna Be Me/My Love (She Means Everything)/Hurry Up Slow Down/Pachabel's Canon-It's Not Too Late/I'm Still In Love With You/If Only For One Moment/What A Night/So Goes Love/I Ain't Gonna Love You No More/I'm Still In Love With You/Hold Me Tight (Reprise)
"It's not too late to turn this ship around..."
Some five years after 'JustUs' comes 'JustMe', Davy's fourth solo record and one of his better ideas. Caught halfway between his 60s cutesy self and a harder-edged rocker looking back on his life and trying to keep in with contemporary sounds, the album begins with a spoken word pastiche of 'The Day We Fall In Love' from an older perspective (Davy wondering where a relationship went wrong) and ends with the gorgeous maturity of the ballad 'I'm Still In Love With You', reflecting on a relationship that has sustained when so many overs have (presumably the one between Davy and his fans). As usual with Davy's albums this is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair: the modern production sounds again gets in the way of what could have been a solid album and some of the songs are weak ('If Only For One Moment' is wretched, a weak-kneed calypso that makes you long for Frank Zappa to interject and complain 'that song was pretty white!'; 'Hurry Up Slow Down' sounds like the centrepiece of a cliched musical about a dating couple that tells us nothing and I hope never ever gets made, but fear probably has probably already been written by Andrew Lloyd Webber; the second Davy cover to be called 'So Goes Love' is the antithesis of the first, horrid and empty). However the highlights make all this hard slog worth it: 'I Wanna Be Me' is a sweet ballad about being yourself that would have been lovely if Davy had been in good voice (he sounds like he's got a bad 'HEAD-cold' on this one), 'When You Tell Me That You Love Me' is a classy ballad where Davy sings like a Byrd, while 'I Ain't Gonna Love You No More' is one of Davy's loveliest songs ever, sung sadly over a haunting cello part with memories of all parts of Davy's life from 'Oliver!' through to 'War Games' and 'Pool It!' There are also two songs from 'JustUs' that Davy re-recorded solo and which sound slightly better here: the poppy 'It's Not Too Late' sounds more poignant and loses the irritating 'And A-Gain!' tag that kept getting in the way even if it has been given a rather oddball opening that steals from 'Pachabel's Canon', while 'Oh What A Night' also sounds better in stripped down form. The end result is aniother uneven record that will make Davy fans weak at the knees and give Davy-haters more ammunition, while more casual Monkee collectors will find much they like and hate in equal measure. At it's best, though, this album reveals more of Davy's under-rated talent and 'JustMe' is more or less an equal with the more publicised 'JustUs'.
"The Best Of The Monkees"
(Rhino, March 1996)
(Theme From) The Monkees/Last Train To Clarksville/I Wanna Be Free/Papa Gene's Blues/I'm A Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/She/Mary Mary/Your Auntie Grizelda/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)/Sometime In The Morning/A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/The Girl I Knew Somewhere/Only Shades Of Grey/Randy Scouse Git/For Pete's Sake/You Just May Be The One/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Words/Daydream Believer/Goin' Down/What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?/Valleri/Porpoise Song/Listen To The Band
Bonus Karaoke Disc: (Theme From) The Monkees/I'm A Believer/(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone/Pleasant Valley Sunday/Daydream Believer
"She sure looks different than the way she looked before"
Rhino's later best-of is a curiously backwards release. Most of the songs herre comes from the band's first two albums and not the obvious tracks at that - few fans would rate 'Pape Gene's Blues' or 'Grizelda' as the real best of the band's early songs in favour of, say, 'Take A Giant Step' and 'Saturday's Child'. The run of songs from the middle and later years are more impressive, mind, and at least there's a lot of them (twenty-five tracks in all) though even then the track selection is competent rather than exciting (and, yes, I do get excited over compilations and the thought of new fans discovering and exploring all this stuff - I would get out more but my train is stuck in Clarksville and it's the last one). The presence of 'karaoke' tracks of five of the bigger Monkee hits also cheapens the brand name and product (though if they'd presented these recordings as 'backing tracks' fans like me would have been a lot more enthusiastic - these are actually very interesting, revealing the skill of the session musicians who played on the original recordings).
Rhino Deluxe Editions 2006-2007:
The album in mono and stereo plus (Theme From) The Monkees (Alternate Version)/The Kind Of Girl I Could Love (Alternate Mix)/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Micky' Version)/So Goes Love/Papa Gene's Blues (Alternate Mix)/I Can't Get Her Off My Mind (First Version)/Prithee ('Davy' Version)/Gonna Buy Me A Dog (Backing Track)Radio Spot//Kellogg's Jingle/All The King's Horses/You Just May Be The One (TV Version)/I Wanna Be Free ('Micky' Version)/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Mike' Version)/I Won't Be The Same Without Her/Propinquity/(Theme From) The Monkees (TV Version)
'More Of The Monkees':
The album in mono and stereo plus Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears/The Ladies' Aid Society/I'll Spend My Life With You (First Version)/I Don't Think You Know Me At All ('Peter' Version)/Through The Looking Glass (First Version)/Don't Listen To Linda (First Version)/Teeny Tiny Gnome/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (Peter DJ Version)/I'm A Believer (Early Version)/Mr Webster (Early Version)//Valleri (Early Version)/Words (Early Version)/Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (TV Version)/I'll Be Back Upon My Feet (First Version)/Tear Drop City/Of You/Hold On Girl (First Version)/Prithee ('Davy' Version)
The album in mono and stereo plus the bonus tracks fro previous release and A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You/She Hangs Out (First Version)/Love To Love/You Can't Tie A Mustang Down/If I Learned To Play The Violin/99 Pounds
'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD':
The album in mono and stereo plus the bonus tracks from previous release and What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round? (Alternate Mix)/Riu Chiu (TV Version)
"I've flown away and taken all your money - wish you were here to help me spend!"
A decade after releasing the entire Monkees Discography, Rhino decided to update their CDs for a new generation. A lot had changed since the albums had come out for both band and label - The Monkees' stock had risen thanks to the re-release of their albums and had been enjoying a critical re-appraisal that had been slightly torpedoed after a noble but much criticised reunion tour, a slightly dodgy reunion album and a confusing TV special. While the public had slowly gone cold on The Monkees, again, though, Rhino had gone from strength to strength, specialising in multiple 'session' box sets featuring oodles of fan-pleasing rarities that more mainstream labels wouldn't touch. It seemed inevitable that the label would get back to one of their earliest loves at some stage and in many ways it's a surprise they waited as long as they did to renovate The Monkees' back catalogue.
Had the earlier CDs not been around then fans would no doubt have lapped up these CDs nicely. They were, after all, given Rhino's customary pretty packaging, including much the same reviews and even a few photos not available the last time around and a healthy dose of Monkee outtakes. However, the decision to make these expensive double discs rather than budget single CDs meant that these releases were automatically less loved and though still more than worthy as an 'introduction' for new-coming fans the ones who'd bought the albums last time around found little here worth spending the extra money. True the albums were now available on mono as well as stereo, which was the preferred format for the 1960s when the albums were being made if not for collectors in the 21st century, although there were relatively fewer differences between the two mixes anyway compared to some other albums ('Pisces' is the most different, with extra wibbly wobbly moog and psychedelic effects, but even that's a relative measure compared to the differences in The Beatles, Hollies and Kinks discographies). True too that we got a few 'new' mixes of old songs - though few of them really offered anything that exciting. In fact the best aspect of all these releases was the chance to hear the period outtakes already previously released on the 'Missing Links' series back in their respective 'proper' homes - and enterprising fans with a tape recorded had been doing that for a decade anyway (all four of these albums could have been double LPs, if not triples!)
'The Monkees' again gets the rawest deal out the first four albums, with mainly new mixes of album songs and outtakes we'd already heard in some form or another. It is great to hear so many of these songs back where they should be though, with period outtakes highlights such as the 'fast' version of 'I Wanna Be Free', Mike's charming 'All The King's Horses' and a first go at 'You Just May Be The One', 'I Won't Be The Same Without Her' (released on 'Instant Replay' years later) and no less than two versions of '#I Don't Think You Know Me At All' in the same place (shame Peter's version isn't here to make the full set however!) In terms of totally new releases there's an ok backing track for 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' which gives you a better idea of how Boyce and Hart intended for the song before the Monkees started getting mischievous and a 'Davy' take on 'Prithee', a song better known from Micky's and Peter's vocal variants.
'More Of The Monkees' has a lot more outtakes to choose from, given that some weeks there were four separate sessions taking place with four separate producers, each competing for a space on the album. Not for the first time, the impression you're left with is that Don Kirshner got things 'wrong' - there's a first class album within these sessions somewhere containing 'I'll Spend My Life With You' 'I Don't Think You Know Me At All' 'Mr Webster' 'Valleri' 'Words' 'Teardrop City' Hold On Girl' and released album tracks like 'She' 'Sometime In The Morning' and 'I'm A Believer'. It won't have passed your attention that many of these songs are Boyce and Hart ones and their 'mini-LP' (recorded when they were under the impression they were making a whole album, not just a sixth of one) is particular strong, despite the presence of the downright odd 'Ladies Aid Society' released on 'Monkees Present' (who on earth went back through these sessions and thought 'yeah - that's clearly the one that got away!') If you only like the early innocent Monkees and won't want anything else then this might be the best set out there for you to buy, although if you're a longtimer whose been through all the highs and lows then there's little new here for you either: a 'TV soundtrack' version of 'Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) that sounds slightly sped-up and another mix of Davy doing 'Prithee'.
'Headquarters' was slightly ruined in the sense that the excellent 'Sessions' set had already been released and was a whole disc longer. Rather than do the sensible thing and simply re-release the best of these (the unfinished songs intended for the album and the best backing tracks/outtakes) we get multiple mixes of the intended 'All Of Your Toys' single and the same bonus tracks as last time. The highlight is a run of songs from the last session with Don Kirshner with just Davy singing; while fans have long known the songs 'A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You' 'She Hangs Out' 'Love To Love' (Missing Links Three) and '99 Pounds' (which resurfaced unchanged on 'Changes', if that isn't an oxymoron) it's nice to hear them all together and joined by two other rather drippy Davy ballads 'If I Learned To Play The Violin' and 'You Can't Tie A Mustang Down'.
As for 'Pisces Aquarius Capricorn and Jones LTD', there was very little added from the original CD with just a few alternate album mixes and the TV soundtrack version of 'Riu Chiu' released for the first time. Though amongst the highest echelons of Monkees albums in original form, if you already know the band's albums then this is the weakest translation of all the records onto CD, with Chip Douglas on a much tighter deadline than usual leaving less Monkee extras around.
Thankfully, rather than simply continue this formula, Rhino realise that the second half of Monkees albums will only appeal to major fans anyway and will release a lot more rarities for the next four releases (though for a lot more money) as well as re-issuing this lot yet again in a similar format. Which reminds me of an old joke: how do you stop a Rhino charging? Don't keep buying their re-issued albums!
Davy Jones "She"
Fly Me To The Moon/She/Special Angel/Are You Lonesome Tonight?/Secret Love/Always On My Mind/Living Doll/I'll Remember You/Singing The Blues/This Guy's In Love With You/Cry/What A Wonderful World
"Does your memory stray to a bright and sunny day?"
Davy was in a soppy mood in 2009 having just got married to third wife Jessica Pacheco. Though the relationship was short lived (she filed for divorce in 2011, though was still technically Davy's widow when he died the following February) it was very intense and Davy fell head over heels - not unlike the way he did in the TV series. As usual he expressed his new feelings in music and recorded this rather curious album of crooner covers, a record that was quite unlike anything he'd ever done before and which sadly became his last completed work. It's not great - by this time Davy's voice was beginning to fade and his song choice is frequently obvious and less frequently poor, with a series of breathy ballads even his teenage self would have considered 'silly'. But a man in love can do silly things, as the Tv series often showed, and Davy does at least sing these songs with more passion and commitment than he had on a few recordings of late. Large percentages of his female fanbase really seemed to love this record, although probably more out of love and shared history than for the album's actual worth. Some tracks are thankfully more palatable than others: 'Special Angel' is more low-key than the others and Davy's vocal finally comes together, 'Always On My Mind' is tender and sweet and 'Secret Love' is one last final moment of beauty from a singer that's overwhelmingly poignant as one of Davy's last recordings, with one last message of thanks from star to fans before he leaves the stage forever. The good moments are fleeting, though, and too much of this album sounds like 'Karaoke' gone wrong. Though Davy promises to fly us to the moon, and is clearly born on wings of love in his own mind, in truth he falls to Earth with something of a bump as his fading voice struggles to fo justice to songs that aren't as interesting as his normal material anyway.
Rhino Handmade Deluxe Editions 2010-2013:
'The Birds The Bees and The Monkees':
Includes the entire album in mono and stereo and all the bonus tracks from the 1990s CD and various alternate mixes of album tracks and outtakes plus Alvin (Alternate Take)/My Share Of The Sidewalk ('Davy' and 'Mike' versions)/We Were Made For Each Other (Alternate Backing Track)/Little Red Rider (Acoustic Mix)/The Ceiling In My Room/I'm A Man (Backing Track)/Seeger's Theme (Alternate Version)/Tear The Top Right Off My Head ('Micky' and 'Peter' Versions)/Zor and Zam (TV Version)/Radio Spot/Auntie's Municipal Court ('Mike' Version)/War Games (Alternate Version)/D W Washburn (Alternate Vocal)/Nine Times Blue ('Davy' and 'Mike' Versions)/Lady's Baby (Acoustic Version)/Shorty Blackwell (Rehearsal)/Laurel and Hardy/Tapioca Tundra (Acoustic Version)/Don't Say Nuffin' Bad About My Baby/Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love)/Shake 'Em Up (Alternate Version)/Merry-Go-Round (Alternate Version)/Magnolia Simms (Acoustic Version)/The Girl I Left Behind Me (Alternate Version)/I Wasn't Born To Follow (Backing Track)
Includes the entire album in mono and stereo and all the bonus tracks from the 1990s CD and various alternate mixes of album tracks and outtakes and an hour-long radio interview with Davy Jones plus Daddy's Song (With Slow Verse From Film Soundtrack)/Ditty Diego-War Chant (Twenty Three Minute Recording Session Extract and various alternate takes)/Head Promos x 3/California Here It Comes (from the soundtrack of 33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee) and the entire Salt Lake City concert used for the 'war' chant in the film: Introduction/You Just May Be The One/Sunny Girlfriend/You Told Me/Circle Sky and a freebie vinyl single containing backing tracks for Porpoise Song and As We Go Along
Includes the entire album in mono and stereo and all the bonus tracks from the 1990s CD and various alternate mixes of album tracks and outtakes plus Look Down/If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again/Smile/Nine Times Blue ('Mike' Version)/St Matthew/Some Of Shelley's Blues/Hollywood/Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care)/The Crippled Lion/How Insensitive/Just A Game (Alternate Vocal)/Carlisle Wheeling (Alternate Vocal)/Rosemarie/Changes/Good Clean Fun/All The Grey Haired Men (Backing Track)/My Share Of The Sidewalk (Backing Track)/Party/Through The Looking Glass (Backing Track)/Don't Listen To Linda (Tracking Session)/I Won't Be The Same Without Her (Backing Track)/Carlisle Wheeling (Backing Track)/Nine Times Blue (Backing Track)/Look Down (Backing Track)/Just A Game (Backing Track)/You and I (Backing Track)/That's What It's Like Loving You (Backing Track)/Smile (Backing Track)/A Man Without A Dream (Backing Track)/Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love (Backing Track)/I Go Ape! (Backing Track)/Wind-Up Man (Backing Track)/String For My Kite (Backing Track x2)/Naked Persimmon (Backing Track)/Goldie Locks Sometime (Backing Track)/Darwin (Backing Track)/St Matthew (Alternate Vocal) plus a freebie vinyl single with alternate acetate mixes of I Go Ape and Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love)
'The Monkees Present':
Includes the entire album in mono and stereo and all the bonus tracks from the 1990s CD and various alternate mixes of album tracks and outtakes plus Time and Time Again/Down The Highway/Steam Engine/If You Have The Time/Angel Band/Rose Marie/I Never Thought It Peculiar (Basic Backing Track)/Of You/Kicking Stones aka Teeny Tiny Gnome/My Storybook Of You/Carlisle Wheeling/French Song (Alternate Ending)/Hollywood/Circle Sky (Alternate Mix)/Kool-Aid Promo/Monkees Present Radio Promo/Penny Music/Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears/Monkees Greatest Hits Radio Promo/Little Girl (Alternate Take)/If I Knew (Alternate Take)/You're So Good/Little Red Rider/If You Have The Time/We'll Be Back In A Minute/French Song (Alternate Take)/Thank You My Friend (Backing Track)/Pillow Time (Tracking Session)/How Can I Tell You?/Time and Time Again (Alternate Take)/Good Afternoon/Opening Night/Lynn Harper/The Good Earth (Alternate Take)/London Bridge (Backing Track)/A Bus That Never Comes (Backing Track)/Omega (Backing Track)/Thirteen Is Not Our Lucky Number (Backing Track)/Michigan Blackhawk (Backing Track)/Little Tommy Blues (Backing Track)/Till Then (Backing Track) plus a freebie vinyl single with alternate mixes of Mommy and Daddy and Good Clean Fun
"Tunes to suit your fancy, are there are requests? I'll play them for a £80 box set and not a penny less!"
Long Title: Do fans have to buy all this again? Didn't we get it all the first time? By now, things are getting silly. Though I don't quite see the logic, Rhino clearly think that fans have a bit of money to spare (Really? Do you know how much it costs to track down all the Mike Nesmiths alone?!) and that true passionate Monkees fans who rated the rarer, obscurer second half of their catalogue had more to spare than most (again - don't you remember how much it cost to own 'Changes' in the days of vinyl?!) Instead of continuing their 'deluxe' releases on two discs instead we get epic box sets which I guess are sort of 'super deluxe' releases. On the one hand it's a rip off, with several repeats from various 'Missing Links' sets and lots of previous CD releases nestling shoulders with so many fractionally different mixes of the same old songs it will make you start talking like the middle eight of 'Your Auntie Grizelda' as your brain tries to process it all. And on the other - gosh those new finds really are awfully good! You'd have thought, after all those previous re-releases and a three-part CD length outtakes series that the Monkee vaults would be bare. Though there's clearly a single album's worth of rarities packed into these sets not three, the fifty-odd minutes per set of genuinely unreleased material really is fantastic. Backing tracks, aborted rehearsal takes, versions of songs made famous with other Monkees singing - there's an awful lot of buried treasure here that makes all the expensive and random digging worth it. Rhino too know how to package their sets properly and each one is a delight on that score, with even more photographs and sleevenotes plus a collector's vinyl single with each set. I wouldn't say any of these sets have made me love these albums anymore, the way a pricey set like this is meant to, but they do make a lot more sense, with 'Monkees Present' especially sounding like a new album with so many of the Nesmith-produced songs in particular rescued from the vaults. However I still can't help thinking that Rhino have a 'super super deluxe' edition of each album due one day, which hopefully can be put together to form a house (handy because I won't be able to afford one after buying all of this lot!)
'The Birds The Bees and The Monkees' re-issue is perhaps the weakest set of the four, which is surprising given that the sessions that made up the album were by far the longest of the band's short career and given the sheer consistent excellence of the 'Missing Links' extracts from the vaults in this period. Alas most of the good things seem to have been used up already, with only a few different mixes (the best one being a solo 'Mike' mix of 'Auntie's Municipal Court'), Mike's gorgeous song 'Nine Times Blue' here in the '90s' demo mix and a full band version with Davy on lead for the first time, plus yet more takes of 'Lady's Baby' to really note. There are three backing tracks to previously unreleased songs, although the covers of 'Laurel and Hardy' and 'I Wasn't Born To Follow' don't sound as if we've lost anything too major, while 'Don't Say Nuffin' Bad About My Baby' would have rivalled even 'Ladies Aid Society' and 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' as The Monkees' real 'what the???' moment.
'HEAD' has little in the vaults too, being a carefully planned film soundtrack and all, but is slightly more creative in the way it pads out the set to three discs. It's great to have the actual mixes of the songs used in the film for once (yes I was sad enough to tape the soundtrack - weren't you?!) and 'Daddy's Song' in particular really benefits from the slowed down verse cut from the record and substituted with an 'uptempo' version in line with the rest of the song. There's also a half hour extract of the recording session for 'Ditty Diego-War Chant', although it's actually a struggle to listen to, both for the dozen or so similar takes of the same song (which really gets under your skin the way it's meant to) and the fact that The Monkees are clearly not getting on either with each other or their creators. Still, as a document of the only time all four Monkees were in a recording studio together post those early sessions for 'Pisces, Aquarius', it's a fascinating historical document. The unheard 'Salt Lake City' concert (played for the fans as a 'thankyou' for the 'war chant' intro to 'Circle Sky' used in the film) is a good one too, a rare chance to hear the band play live in 1968 and there's a terrific early take of 'Long Title' before anything much besides the main guitar riff and opening line are there which sounds fab, the funkiest The Monkees ever got. However , though the inclusion of only 'California Here It Comes' from '33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkees' is a waste (these songs belong here, on a similar postmodernist listening experience, not on the poppier 'Instant Replay'). Instead of that soundtrack we get nearly the whole album a third time over as Davy turns disc-jockey and tries to tell radio stations what on earth 'Head' is all about for a full hour. He tries hard, bless him, but there's a sense that even Davy didn't understand half the film and by the end of the lengthy disc three he's basically reduced to saying 'you'll have to see the film to understand it' over and over. In all, there are many great moments on this set, but ultimately this set is a 'Head'ache as much as a 'Head'start.
'Instant Replay' is a difficult album to collect together: it is, after all, an outtakes-set-with-extras the way it was presented back in 1969 and so much of these songs have already been collected on various Missing Links sets. The loss of Peter, who left the group before release, means that we're a quarter of our creative force down too. However the set is rescued by Mike's groundbreaking country songs (it's great to hear all these songs together in one place for a change and with the 'Mike' as well as the 'Davy' take of Nesmith's 'My Share Of The Sidewalk' thrown in too) and Davy's under-rated songwriting ('Smile' 'War Games' 'Party' and 'Changes' classics all). In terms of unheard material there are a few backing tracks such as the peculiar 'Old Grey Haired Men' and the more 'Monkees' 'That's What It's Like Loving You' as well as a few tracking sessions for old friends with 'Someday Man' sounding especially good as the session musicians whip it up into shape. There's also the rest of the soundtrack to 33 and a Third Revolutions Per Monkee' which is only sporadically interesting (Mike's 'Naked Permisson' and Davy's 'String For My Kite' are the two songs you need to own - where did the band take of 'Listen To The Band' go by the way?) but all worthy of being released on something - just a shame it wasn't on 'Head'. Sitting through multiple versions of 'I Go Ape' might just be the longest existence of your life, though.
'The Monkees Present' is a curious box: it has by far the most genuine rarities but also the most blatant filler. Including songs like 'Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears' and 'Teeny Tiny Gnome' (recorded in 1966 but remixed for 'consideration' for the album when it was being put together in 1969) seems like cheating somehow, while there are more subtly different mixes than ever (actually only the several charming demos/takes of 'French Song' slowly being knocked into shape is worth your while out of all the songs that are marked 'alternate' anything). However the final disc is easily the best of all the individual discs in all these sets, with genuinely different sounding takes of under-rated Monkee classics 'Little Girl' and 'If I Knew' plus no less than ten songs abandoned at the backing track stage ('London Bridge' wins the 'song with biggest proof The Monkees were smoking illicit substances' award) and two promising Davy songs that have never been heard before: Charlie Smalls collaboration 'Opening Night' and the torch ballad 'How Can I Tell You?',, which Davy seemingly only ever sang the once as a demo. Whether that lot is enough shelling out so much money for is up to you (not many of the backing tracks even sound like The Monkees - but then nor would many of the finished products with the vocals removed!) but if you have money to burn from selling your collection of Monkees lunchboxes and finger-puppets then this set is arguably the most important of the four. Please though, Rhino, if these sets get any more deluxe there'll be coming with free full size Monkeemobiles attached to them next...
Micky Dolenz "King For A Day"
(**, August 2010)
Don't Bring Me Down/Sometime In The Morning/Hey Girl/Up On The Roof/Take Good Care Of My Baby/Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?/Sweet Seasons/Crying In The Rain/Go Away Little Girl/Just Once In My Life/I Might As Well Rain Until September/Point Of No Return/I Feel The Earth Move/Sometime In The Morning (Reprise)
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you get to choose between the two"
Of all of Micky's concept albums of covers this one makes the sense. The singer had always had a special relationship with Carole King - he loved her songs, she loved his voice - and their mutual admiration society resulted in some of the loveliest Monkees songs. There are, too, some real gems in the lesser known King Katalogue (especially the songs written with husband Gerry Goffin, although 'Goffin' for a day admittedly doesn't work as well as an album title) and particularly from the solo years - I must admit I've never enjoyed Carole's voice that much although like Micky I love her songs and there are vast amounts that deserve being re-discovered by a singer of his calibre. Sadly, though, not many of those gems are here, Micky instead choosing songs that everybody knows already, with a sweet but faintly pointless folk-with-banjos re-recording of Monkee track 'Sometime In The Morning' which Peter Tork might prefer to the Monkee original but not many other fans will (there's no re-recording of King's biggest Monkee song 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' or 'Porpoise Song' the track partly written for Micky, oddly). Micky is at his best on the ballads - he can't quite get to grips with the R and B crunch of The Animals' 'Don't Bring Me Down' and trips up over-singing Bobby Vee's 'Take Good Care Of My Baby' but sounds magnificent on The Shirelles' 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?' slowed down to a smoky foxtrot and James Taylor/Art Garfunkel hit 'Crying In The Rain'. The duet with child actress Emily Osment (no less than forty years Micky's junior) on the raunchy 'I Feel The Earth Move' proved to be the album's most divisive moment - it's the one uptempo rocker that's sung with heart and feeling and the pair sound great together, if you can ignore the fact that at the time of recording this uncharacteristic song about sex he was 58 and she was 18...Overall, then, this album doesn't have as many gorgeous moments or interesting track selections as 'Micky Dolenz Puts You To Sleep' and needs another half dozen or so obscurer Carole King songs to be as valuable as it ought to be, but it enhances rather than hurts the reputations of both singer and writer and is the next best thing to a King/Dolenz duets album.
Micky Dolenz “Remember” (CD, 2012)
Rhino Super Deluxe Editions 2014-:
same as deluxe edition with mono and stereo albums and bonus tracks plus the 'Davy Jones' (1965) LP in mono and stereo, the non-album Davy Jones singles and the six Michael 'Blessing' Nesmith singles and: This Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day (TV Mix)/Take A Giant Step (TV Version)/NBC Promo/Saturday's Child (TV Version)/I Wanna Be Free (Boyce and Hart Demo)/All The King's Horses (Alternate Take)/The Kind Of Girl I Could Love (Alternate Take)/(Theme From) The Monkees (Backing Track)/Let's Dance On (Backing Track)/This Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day (Backing Track)/Gonna Buy Me A Dog (First Version Backing Track)/So Goes Love (2 x Alternate Takes)/Papa Gene's Blues (Backing Track and Alternate Take)/I Won't Be The Same Without Her (Backing Track)/Sweet Young Thing (Backing Track)/You Just May Be The One (Rehearsal and Backing Track)/I Wanna Be Free (Backing Tracks x 2)/Jokes (Backing Track)/Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day (Backing Track)/Gonna Buy Me A Dog (Second Version Backing Track)/Mary Mary (Backing Track)/Of You (Backing Track)/Prithee (Rehearsal 'Davy' Version)/I Wanna Be Free (Various Demo Rehearsals and Outtakes)
"All the king's horses and all the king's men tried to put the Monkees' first album back together again"
To date the only release in the 'super deluxe editions' is a mammoth box set version of the debut album, delivered in the same sort of style as the 'Handmade' versions of the band's 5th-9th albums (sadly it seems unlikely that we will ever get a super deluxe version of last original album 'Changes' - it was a record made in such a hurry that there just aren't that many outtakes or alternate versions around). Though my bank balance still questions the decision to release yet more similar recordings so soon after the last round of releases, the rest of me is pretty happy with this set offering an ever greater understanding of the sheer effort put into making these early recordings and how different the album might have turned out. There are, perhaps, a few too many backing tracks here though the best of these are endlessly fascinating - such as a revved up, quick-paced 'Gonna Buy Me A Dog' abandoned in favour of the comedy waddle of the finished version and a chance to sing along karaoke style to the theme tune (how did Micky nail such an awkward beat and make it sound so natural? My neighbours are busy calling the police because they think I'm in pain). Better yet there are lots of alternate versions of old favourites: a very different version of 'All The King's Horses' that has less of a swing and more of a groove, slightly different vocal lines for Davy on 'So Goes Love', a rehearsal take of the much-recorded 'Prithee' with a third Monkee now (Davy) giving the song a Medieval makeover. There's also the totally unreleased 'Jokes', although we won't mention it if you don't (for once Don Kirshner's sense of what wouldn't work on an album was right!) No the TV versions aren't all that different (some are sped up, that's all) and the fact that the album has already been released twice before means there aren't as many 'wow' moments as there would have been had we leapt straight to this set and the price tag is sheer Monkee business, in all permutations of that phrase. However it's better value for money than the mono-stereo two-disc is and the best way of hearing the album if you don't own it and can afford it (and if you can afford it, we'd like to remind you first of all the other wonderfully, marvellous, very reasonably priced, erudite and enigmatic Alan's Album Archives books there are to buy out there too...)