Monday, 21 May 2018

The Monkees: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions



I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! The Monkees are one of those AAA bands who have become, rather unfairly, pegged as a ‘studio’ band. After all, everything in their catalogue except for two albums were made with session musicians and Monkee tours only happen about once every five years on average across their fifty years. Even so, they’ve still clocked up an impressive amount of concerts – somewhere just under a thousand or thereabouts – and considering they are a band made up of four very different musicians with four very different backgrounds (and four people who were hired because they could act, not sing) it’s amazing that their concerts are as good as they are. Forget that whole fuss about this band not playing their on instruments – only The Monkees play for all but example three on this list.

1)  Where: Honolulu International Centre When: December 3rd 1966 Why: First Gig Setlist: Last Train To Clarksville ‘She’s So Far Out She’s In’ You Just May Be The One I Wanna Be Free Mary Mary Prithee (Do Not Ask For Love) Sweet Young Thing I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone ‘East Virginia Blues’ ‘You Can’t Judge A Book’ ‘The Joker’ ‘I Gotta Woman’ ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’ Take A Giant Step I’m A Believer

The first Monkees ‘performance’ was actually a series of ‘promotional concerts’ that took place up and down America in September 1966. Screen Gems were keen to plug their new series and figured it would be fun if The Monkees got together and played one song – Chuck Berry Standard ‘Johnny B Goode’ seems to have been chosen because it was pretty much the only song all four Monkees knew. The rest of the promotional concerts involved The Monkees standing around whole clips were played or listening to ‘Last Train To Clarksville’. When the powers that be asked if The Monkees would consider a second promotional tour they insisted on having their own input. They were adamant that they had to appear on stage and play for real and took part in a feverish week of rehearsals – all the time they had left in between recording commitments audio and visual. They really got involved too: much of the set list was Mike’s (and features many of his earliest songs, written simply enough so the fledgling band could play them), while Peter got involved in the lighting, doing his homework by going to lots of shows incognito and taking notes to take back to the others. There was a real buzz in The Monkees’ camp in this period, a month before the Mike Nesmith interview about being ‘fake’ that would cause so much trouble for the band – instead this was a chance to do what they all wanted to do, not what their managers and propducers wanted them to do. Considering they hadn’t even met before a year ago and that they couldn’t hear a thing, the four Monkees are said to have played an impressively tight debut gig, though alas nobody thought to record it for posterity (and The Monkees were still too new for bootlegs just yet, with no fans bringing a pricey tape recorder into the gig – well as far as we know, have you checkef your attic lately just in case?) In retrospect, though, perhaps the most ground breaking factor in these shows was the TV screen that played the band as they performed with clips from the series – a mindblowingly revolutionary idea for much of the audience at home. Oh and some footage of civil rights riots in Selma – the FBU were so concerned that they’re meant to have sent along an undercover member to check The Monkees out (I hope he liked the music above all that screaming!)

The opening was pretty spectacular too: as Monkee music played four fake VOX speakers were ‘delivered’ on to the stage – out of which The Monkees would burst on cue. Tradition also dictated that, following an invitation from Hawaiian station KPOI the night before this first gig, that The Monkees would drop in on local radio stations wherever they played to say ‘thankyou’ to their fans. Bobby Hart’s band Candystore Prophets were the opening act and also played backup during the four Monkees’ solo performances, which were already in place during this first gig (as the band insisted on being seen as ‘individuals’) although the songs they played ar notably different – instead of ‘Gonna Build Me A Mountain’ Davy previews a song intended by Don Kirshner for the band’s third album ‘’I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’, whilst Peter’s banjo solo was ‘East Virginia’ (as briefly intended for ‘Headquarters’) and Micky wasn’t yet James Brown, sticking with the band’s cover of ‘Johnny B Goode’ as his solo piece. Mike, though, always played ‘You Can’t Judge A Book’ during his solo spots all the way through The Monkees’ first two years. Other songs are a surprise too: ‘She’s So Far Out She’s In’ was a song intended for ‘Headquatrters’ that The Monkees never quite nailed despite having played it live for months by the time they made it to the studio, ‘Prithee’ is an outtake intended for ‘More Of The Monkees’ that finally turned up in 1969’s ’33 and a Third’ Revolutions Per Monkee’ film and Davy’s signature tune is not yet ‘I Wanna Be Free’ but ‘I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind’, a song tried out for the debut album but abandoned until ‘Headquarters’ the following February. Some things never change though: ‘Clarksville’ will be played at the start of every Monkees concert from now on, barring the tour in 1969! Audio footage does exist of a Monkees show in Arizona on this tour a month later, included on the super deluxe edition of ‘More Of The Monkees’ – the band’s twelfth show.

2)  Where: Honolulu International Centre When: June 30th 1967 Why: First British Gig Setlist: Last Train To Clarksville You Just May Be The One The Girl I Knew Somewhere I Wanna Be Free Sunny Girlfriend Your Auntie Grizelda Forget That Girl Sweet Young Thing Mary Mary Cripple Creek You Can’t Judge A Book Gonna Build A Mountain I Gotta Woman I’m A Believer Randy Scouse Git (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone

We’ve included this gig partly as a sample for how much the setlist has changed at the start of The Monkees’ second tour (note the appearance of ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’, intended as the band’s new single until a copyright dispute, the change of the solo material and the first time anyone had heard ‘Randy Scouse Git’ three months after it was recorded), but also because of the behind the scenes events. The Monkees were particularly big in Britain – Davy’s local status helped, but so did a primtime slot on BBC television on Saturday nights. The Monkees had already turned up there briefly in March (which is where they first met The Beatles, Mike turned up to the recording of ‘A Day In The Life’ and Micky wrote ‘Randy Scouse Git’ in the first place) but on this visit they were very much special guests, hanging out with the fab four a lot. This was also the infamous gig when Jimi Hendrix, then still very much an unknown best known for working with Little Richard, was their opening act – even in a career full of surreal moments, Micky cites hearing Jimi’s cries of ‘Foxy Lady’ drowned out by a crowd of teenagers shout out ‘Davy’ was the most surreal! New additions to the stage set included an equally surreal flower power stage-set that was more like something The Grateful Dead were using and this time the civil rights footage was updated to include another riot in Alabama. The most controversial moment this time round, though, was when footage of The Rolling Stones were shown during a performance of ‘I Wanna Be Free’ – given that two of them were in prison that very week on trumped up drug charges, it was The Monkees’ subtle way of showing solidarity with their fellow music-makers. The end of the tour was released (twenty years late!) as ‘Live ‘67’ but the British shows don’t seem to have been recorded. A lot of photographs were taken though – the Rhino CD re-issue series uses them a lot!

3)  Where: Coliseum Concert Bowl, Vancouver When: March 29th 1969 Why: First Sam and The Goodtimers Gig  Setlist: I’m A Believer Pleasant Valley Sunday Tapioca Tundra I Wanna Be Free ‘Show Me’ A Man Without A Dream Daydream Believer Goin’ Down Someday Man Listen To The Band Don’t Wait For Me ‘Summertime’ ‘For Once In My Life’ ‘Johnny B Goode’ I’m A Believer

By 1969, with Peter out of the band and their reputation on the slide, nobody cared about what The Monkees did on tour – except the band themselves and a small core of loyal fans. Booked in advance in huge arenas that could never be filled, Mike took the opportunity to plug a soul band he’d grown friendly with, ‘Sam and the Goodtimers’, who till now were best known for backing Ike and Tina Turner (just as with Chip Douglas Mike saw them at a local club on Sunset Boulevard and asked them on the spot). With Micky free to walk about the stage without having to play drums and only Mike wiuth an instrument this tour it made sense to work with somebody – but the band choice only confused those loyal fans who’d bought ‘Instant Replay’ all the more. This time Mike, in his long surreal career, always says that watching Davy belt out Sam and Dave’s ‘For Once In My Life’ was his surrealist moment as a Monkee! ‘Show Me’ was the other exclusive cover (perhaps best known to AAA readers for Lulu’s version), belted out by Micky – Mike, perhaps sensibly, stuck to country songs.  All The Monkees songs got a soul makeover too, making it all the more sad that nobody seems to have recorded any of these shows and that all we have to show for them are some photos of The Monkees looking uncomfortable playing to three or four people in some big hats! The tour ended in disarray with several shows cancelled after ticket sales were so slow – alas it would be the last tour with Mike in the band for twenty-seven years and they didn’t even know it was their last show at the time! Some surviving TV footage does exist though, of Sam and the Goodtimers backing the Monkees on the Joey Bishop Show where a soulful ‘I’m A Believer’ sounds particularly strong (no wonder this lineup both opened and closed their show with it!)

4)  Where: Concord Hotel, New York When: May 24th 1986 Why: First ‘Proper’ Comeback Gig Setlist: Last Train To Clarksville A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone Valleri Cuddly Toy Your Auntie Grizelda Yes I Will Sometime In The Morning ‘I’m In Love With Six Girls’ Daydream Believer What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round? Rainy Jane I’ll Love You Forever Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On ‘I Want You I Need You I Love You’ ‘Lucille’ Gonna Buy Me A Dog Shades Of Grey Star Collector I Wanna Be Free Cripple Creek Higher and Higher Randy Scouse Git Pleasant Valley Sunday I’m A Believer

The Monkees had kinda, sorta, reunited in 1976, with Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart (‘The Guys who sang ‘em and the guys who wrote ‘em’ – well some of them, in both cases!’) becoming a cult hit, especially in Japan where they even released a live album. However it was another ten years before The Monkees first performed under their brand name again – a full seventeen years after their last tour. The gig we’ve listed here is the first one, a full nineteen years since Peter had taken the stahge with his colleagues, although Mike – busy inventing MTV and with a busy career of his own – stayed out of it for now. Wanting to keep things away from the big press until they were ready The Monkees started with a short Australian tour but that only featured Peter and Davy (Micky was busy) so we’ve skipped that and gone straight to ‘the 20th anniversary tour’ which took place about three months later and had three Monkees all present and correct. The Monkees were briefly a quartet too, thanks to a blow-up doll of a bearded Mike Nesmith made for them by a fan which they insisted on sitting alongside them at their press conferences! The idea was Monkee fan and tour promoter David Fishoff, who had put many 1960s bands together and sold the idea to Peter first – at first the tour was booked for twenty venues but (in contrast to 1969) there was so much fuss that this first tour eventually ended up playing two hundred dates (by far the most any line-up of the band ever played in one go). Sales were no doubt helped by a decision of MTV to repeat Monkee episodes in a regular slot (the first time these had been seen on America since 1971) and Rhino’s re-issue of many of the original albums on vinyl. As a measure of how big The Monkees were again their opening acts included Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and even Herman’s Hermits, for a time The Monkees’ only serious rivals for concert sales after the Beatles and Stones ‘retired’ in 1966. However, despite all this sudden fame, no one thought to record the concert shows, in sound or video, so all fans have are memories.

5)  Where: Wembley Arena When: March 19th 1997 Why: Final Fourway Gig Setlist: Last Train To Clarksville Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) That Was Then  This Is Now The Girl I Knew Somewhere A Little Bit me A Little Bit You Randy Scouse Git Your Auntie Grizelda Shades Of Grey Words Valleri Mary Mary I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet ‘Girl’ ‘Lucille’ ‘Purple Haze’ ‘Since I Fell For You’ Heart And Soul I Believe You I’ll Love You Forever Goin’ Down For Pete’s Sake You and I #2 Porpoise Song Listen To The Band Higher and Higher I’m A Believer (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone Daydream Believer Pleasant Valley Sunday
Technically the last Monkee gig seems to have taken place in Australia (on December 16th 2016), at least if announcemernts to the press to be believed. This was a three-way reunion tour with Mike to promote the ‘Good Times’ CD, while the last with Davy took place in Milwaukee on July 23rd 2011. However the final Monkee concert to ever feature all four men on stage came at the end of their lengthy ‘JustUs’ tour celebrating their reunion in which The Monkees played every single note themselves for the first time since 1967. Very good it was too, having been to the British leg of the sixty date tour, with some real surprises thrown in (‘Only Shades Of Grey’, sung by an older sadder band, was particularly spot-on and the live debut of ‘Porpoise Song’ was pretty special tour). The Monkees again used back-projectsion screens, just as they had thirty years earlier, whilst they opened most shows by doing the ‘Monkee walk’ on to the stage! The support act, in the UK at least, was Nancy Boy with one Christian Nesmith on guitar – the same offspring mentioned in the TV show’s second season, now aged thirty. The last song sung by all four men together on stage? ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’, meaning the Monkees story ends in an oddly fitting swirl of ffeedback. Mike was meant to play the following US tour as well but bottled out after poor review of the band’s UK shows and looming deadlines – that tour ended, amazingly enough it’s Headquarters improve ‘No Time’ – a song choice that is even more poignant when you think about it!

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) The sad fact is Ther Monkees were never ‘cool’ in a way many of our other bands were so not as many musicians ever covered their actual songs (a real pity as Mike, Micky, Davy and Peter were all first-class songwriters). More often than not The Monkees were covering other people’s material anyway. However there are some exceptions – two songs by Mike that snuck in under the radar and a one-off that’s technically by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil but was written for The Monkees and is too good to leave off this list. Usually we tell you here about an album of cover songs by other artists we recommend – but neither 1992’s ‘Here No Evil’ or 2012’s ‘Steppin’ Stone’ are much cop sadly, with not one decent song anywhere as young and trendy bands try far too hard to be ‘ironic’. No we’re sticking to outside sources for this article with one example from before, one during and one after Monkeemania for you…



1)  [  ] Mary Mary (Paul Butterfield Blues Band ‘East-West’ 1966)

You were a youngster in the mid 1960s who insisted on liking The Monkees after the older kids had pointed out that they weren’t a ‘real’ band, beat you up and stole your lunchbox. What did you do? Well, if you were hip enough to have a wider record collection you might have done worse than to point at how respected Mike Nesmith was as a composer even before he was a Monkee. Hot on the heels of Linda Ronstadt and her first band ‘The Stone Ponys’ covering ‘Different Drum’ was the much-respected Paul Butterfield Blues Band turning a pre-Monkee version of ‘Mary Mary’ into a thrilling slab of pulsating blues and soul. Adding an intriguing doo-der-dum depressed riff to the song , a harmonica break and transplanting the guitar solo to the piano in every verse break, Paul Butterfield and guitarist Mike Bloomfield (before he formed The Electric Flag and worked with Stephen Stills and Al Kooper  on ‘Super Session) re-arrange the song heavily. Clearly The Monkees could never have done this quite so ‘heavily’ in their early bubblegum phase and it’s hard to hear past Micky’s superb vocal on The Monkees’ version. But this is one of the few Monkee songs done better outside the band, with the heavier more desperate and emotional feel far more fitting for Mike’s tale of woe as Mary leaves him. The result is easily the best Monkee cover out there and comes from the Butterfield Blues Band’s best album by far. Kudos to you if you’re a music fan enough to own both polar opposites!

2)  [  ] Papa Gene’s Blues (Floyd Cramer ‘Plays The Monkees’ 1967)

One of the weirdest examples of Monkeemania is country legend Floyd Kramer appealing to an audience half his age with not just one song but a whole album of Monkee covers. It has to be heard to be believed – especially when ‘The Monkees Theme’ sounds like it comes from old Tennessee or Nashville or ‘I’m A Believer’ turned into an instrumental Christian lament. One wonders why Floyd made it – even when they were popular real musicians hated The Monkees and few fans were likely to mistake his oldened wizened self on the back cover for a Monkee (there are some cute toy monkeys on the front playing instruments though, aww). It’s a pretty good album though, especially on the Monkee tracks that already have a countrified edge, which goes double for technically the only Monkee original on the album. ‘Papa Gene’ is much the same, but losing the vocals means we get to hear more of what a beautiful tune this song has and while the guitar part is much the same (and most likely features some of the same musicians) the vocal part is handed over to a twinkly piano part which sounds really good. What a shame poor sales meant we never got a whole pile of AAA cover albums – Floyd plays The Byrds would have sounded amazing!

3)  [  ] Love Is Only Sleeping (The Luck Of Eden Hall ‘A Phase We’re Going Through’ 2010)

Love Is Only Sleeping is not the most obvious Monkee song to cover but it sounds mighty good in a 21st century twist on psychedelia, all banging booming drums, backwards guitar loops and thick fiery bass runs. With more budget than The Monkees had for a Tv series, the amount of effects on this track is impressive and it sounds superb, easily the highlight of a various artists album looking at how modern bands might sound growing up in the flower power era. Named for a glass beaker discovered in Egypt owned by the Musgrave family of Cumberland, this timeless version of a timeless song could have truly been made in any era, from the 1960s to the future. Most modern bands sound stooped doing psychedelia and tend to go too soft or too silly, but these guys – one of the first bands to be supported by crowdfunding - sound great. The only downside is how quickly the song fades without the stunning epic ending on ‘Pisces, Aquarius’.


Other Monkees-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading: 
'More Of The Monkees' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/more-of-monkees-1967.html

'Headquarters' (1967)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-10-monkees-headquarters-1967.html

'Pisces Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD' (1967)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-18-monkees-pisces-aquarius.html

'The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees' (1968)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/news-views-and-music-issue-34-birds.html

'Head' (1968)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-27-monkees-head-1968.html

'Instant Replay' (1969)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/news-views-and-music-issue-64-monkees.html

'The Monkees Present' (1969)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/news-views-and-music-issue-148-monkees.html

'Changes' (1970)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-95-monkees.html
‘JustUs# (1996) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/the-monkees-justus-1996.html
'Good Times!' (2016) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-good-times-2016-or-are-they.html
'Only Shades Of Grey' : The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/university-dissertation-monkees-in.html
Auditions, Screen Tests and Pre-Fame Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-monkees-auditions-and-screen-tests.html
Surviving TV Clips http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-monkees-surviving-tv-clips.html
The TV Series - Season  One (19966-1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/the-monkees-tv-series-season-one-196667.html
The TV Series - Season Two (1967-1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-tv-series-season-two-1967.html
'HEAD/33 and a third Revolutions Per Monkee/Episode #761' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-head33-and-third.html
Monkee Sidetrips: The Boyce and Hart Catalogue http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/monkees-side-trips-boyce-and-hart.html
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1967-1975
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-livesolocompilation-albums.html
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1976-1986
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-livesolocompilation-albums.html
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1987-2014 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-livesolocompilations-part.html

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