Friday, 11 June 2010
The Monkees "Instant Replay" (1969) (Revised Review) (News, Views and Music 64)
Through The Looking Glass/Don’t Listen To Linda/I Won’t Be The Same Without Her/Just A Game/Me Without You/Don’t Wait For Me//You And I/While I Cry/Tear Drop City/The Girl I Left Behind Me/A Man Without A Dream/Shorty Blackwell
The Monkees “Instant Replay” (1969)
I'm feeling very bad today, a stupid cat got in my way, just as I was trying to review 'Instant Replay', why can't the Monkees sing about a dog, or be like Paul McCartney singing about frogs?, writing this one's going to be a slog, he's stealing all my food, playing Spice Girls down a tube, I think he's very rude... So I built a top hat on a hill, reviewed a record that made him ill, and yet here I am reviewing still...I'm going mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad mad...everybody's singing faster, I can't keep up with my keboard clatter, but anyway it doesn't matter, no one seems to care about that we seem to have forgotten about the cat and besides I'm polishing my hat...I can't think of a word to describe this record other than absurd and am I prepared to top that?, yes I am, am I? I am I...I am!
'I'm going out the same way I came in - the game is over now, I couldn't win!'
In retrospect 'Head' seems like such a neat ending that it's a shame The Monkees didn't end there, having jumped off a bride to avoid becoming themselves and having confused all of their public with a mind-boggling filn and soundtrack that changed the way their public through of the group forever. To some extent The Monkees did end on that bridge in 1968 or being confined to a test-tube on a TV special later in the year: the band's contracts were all up at the end of the year and Peter had decided to bail out on being a Monkee, leaving the band a trio (the news would have been the drama of the 1960s had it happened even just a year earlier but by the end of 1968 nobody cared; there were no wild clamourings for him to rejoin the band the way we had with One Direction earlier in the year, no desperate fans pleading with Peter not to go, no suicide hotlines established for impressionable youngsters and no blaze of publicity as he left; instead Tork's fellow Monkees clubbed together to buy him the traditional 'retirement' present of a gold watch inscribed 'To Peter from the guys at work'). Peter's split wasn't a surprise - he'd wanted to leave since the day the band decided not to repeat 'Headquarters', if not earlier - but the timing was. Peter had finally received the appriasal he'd been looking for since joining The Monkees with his second and third released somgs both appearing on the 'Head' soundtrack, with the hope of more in the future. Though the Monkees of early 1969 weren't in the same shape they'd been as a band in early 1967, with less 'grown-ups' in charge of The Monkees ship it seems lijely he'd have been given more space for his own songs in the future, not less. The few critics paying attention reckoned the fans wouln't notice any difference anyway - though in many ways the best musician in The Monkees, Peter had been silenced on the band's fourth and fifth albums (his two songs on 'Head' being his 'goodbye' present) and without the TV series the band were barely seen on television anymore anyway. However Peter's absence was more key than anyone perhaps realised; there was a reason Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider cast four men in the role and while the last trio of Monkees albums are respectable and occasionally as great as the band ever were, there's a whole quarter of the band's potential influences and styles missing.
It's a shame that Peter left when he did, not least because he'd have been the perfect Monkee for 'Instant Replay', a record made in something of a hurry after the work on 'Head' left the band with less time to prepare than normal (very much of a hurry - with only two months since the 'Head' soundtrack these two records came 4th on a 'shortest gaps between AAA releases' top ten column once, just beating the gap between 'The Monkees' and 'More Of The Monkees'. It seems likely the unusual rush was because the TV series was coming to the end of its scheduled repeats and the label wanted the extra boost, small as it was now becoming). Though nobody mentioned it at the time, 'Instant Replay' is in many ways the first ever rock and roll outtakes set, The Monkees finally cashing in on all the great songs they'd had in reserve over the past six records - well, we say great because the 'Missing Links' series in the 1980s and 1990s reveal how good the majority of the band's unreleased material is but you wouldn't necessarily know that from some of the dodgy selections chosen to flesh this album out. Peter, who'd been recording almost constantly from the first week of the 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' sessions had more outtakesd than most and was technically a Monkee for eight of this album's twelve songs (though he doesn't actually appear on any of them). It's worth pondering for a moment just a revolutionary idea this album was: putting individual songs from previous years onto album had been done before of course, but no pop or rock act had ever released taken two-thirds of an album from years ago: it was unheard of back in thew days when musical styles changed by the week and pressure to be cutting edge was all intense. The Monkees in 1969 were the perfect band for the idea though: one of their unique selling points had always been the fact that they didn't resemble any particular time period, instead containing influences that in Nesmith's case dated back to the roaring twenties and in Davy's case took in already-aging musicals and music hall. And in 1969 they no longer cared about being cutting edge because the world had, largely unfairly, made them out to be old hat.
To be fair, some of 'Instant Replay' does indeed sound old hat. No one seems quite sure who put the record together (The Monkees certainly didn't, although they had a bit more input on what to include than they did on 'More Of The Monkees') though as 'music coordinator' Brendan Cahill's name looms largest on the sleeve (even above The Monkees' own) it seems safe to say he had a hand in selecting the songs. I'd love to know what method he used: divining rod? telepathy? lucky dip? The songs chosen from the vaults are a complete lottery, a mixture of the great and the ghastly with seemingly no thought given to style or substance. Boyce and Hart are particularly well represented, with more songs on this record than any Monkees album since the debut, but they aren't exactly covered in glory by 'Through The Looking Glass' (a shrill leftover from the first album in October 1966), 'Don't Listen To Linda' (a 'More Of' outtake re-recorded in December 1968), 'Me Without You' (a horrendous Beatles-copy recorded as part of 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' in February 1968) or 'Tear Drop City' (a close cousin of 'Last Train To Clarksville' recorded a mere few weeks later in an October 1966 session and released as 'Instant Replay's tie-in single - which after a gap of 28 months in between must count for one of the longest passages of time between recording and chart entry). Just to put this in context, Boyce and Hart had recorded some fantastic material The Monkees hadn't used yet like 'Apples Peaches Bananas and Pears' and (a track released on next album 'Monkees Present' but again recorded in 1966) 'Looking For The Good Times'. Perhaps I should just be grateful that 'Teeny Tiny Gnome' and 'Ladies Aid Society' aren't on this album too and quit while I'm ahead...
Other rather better selections include Goffin and King's 'I Won't Be The Same Without Her' taped as long ago as July 1966 and featuring a rare Nesmith lead vocal (if it sounds a bit odd in context that's because Mike had his tonsils removed in late 1967 and it changed the tone of his voice, making it slightly higher and slightly less sour), Davy's pretty Neil Sedaka cover 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' as tried out for 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' in February 1968, Mike Nesmith's truly gorgeous ballad 'While I Cried' which - taped back in May 1968 - may well be the single best song tapes at the 'Birds Bees and Monkees' sessions, the ballad 'Don't Wait For Me' from Mike's sessions in Nashville in May 1968 which led to a whole album's worth of otherwise unreleased recordings, Micky's sweet ballad 'Just A Game' which was demoed as long ago as 'Headquarters' and again revived for 'Birds' in April 1968 and finally Micky's epic 'Shorty Blackwell', which was constantly being recorded and refined in the 'Birds' sessions between January and June 1968. Unlike the Boyce and Hart material, which for once sounds dated and old-fashioned (most of them were after all two or three years old by now) all six are excellent additions to The Monkees' canon and were long overdue for a release. Of course you could also argue that other songs featuring Micky, Mike and Davy (with classics such as 'I Don't Think You Know Me At All' 'So Goes Love' 'Love To Love' 'War Games' 'Smile' 'Changes' 'Prithee' 'All Of Your Toys' 'Rosemarie' 'St Matthew' 'Carlisle Wheeling' 'Some Of Sghelley's Blues' 'Propinquity' and 'The Crippled Lion') deserved release just as much as these songs, if not more.
The result is an album that sounds like a complete mash-up of all Monkees eras, slung together without a thought for cohesion or style and more of a patchwork quilt than a fully finished record. In some alternate universe where all these songs were released would have made for a fine sampler or 'greatest hits' album. The final album features songs that very much sound tied to the era in which they were recorded: a mash-up between the joyous bounce of 'The Monkees', the slightly sadder bounce of 'More Of The Monkees', the psychedelia of 'Pisces Aquarius' and the experimentation of 'Birds', which makes for a rather schizophrenic album (it doesn't help that the bitter 'Tear Drop City' reads like a later song and very much sounds like an early one). This makes some sort of warped sense to us now, of course, in the compact disc 'n' download age when all eras from the past can be played on 'shuffle' and where compilations tend to merge all these eras together as if they're all part of the 'same thing' anyway (you may have noticed my obsession in some of the compilation reviews with getting the chronological order right - it really does make a difference carefully segue from one timezone to another rather than madly hopping around, as much for the progress in technology as much as the recordings themselves). At the time it would have seemed preposterous: kids of 1969 could barely remember 1966 and were already treating it as a moment in history long passed, never to be repeated (The Monkees' TV show was a rare exception to the rule that shows hardly ever got repeated back in the day; for instance a grand total of three Dr Who stories were repeated between 1963 and early1981 - one of which was caused by Kennedy's assasination and another was unbilled, a last minute substitute for an under-running cricket match!) Before you ask, yes there had been compilations of 'past hits' before this i rock and roll - lots of them in fact - but until the 1970s these were picthed to the collector's market and for teenagers who'd worn out their old 45 rpm singles (which weren't designed to last very long).
Though The Monkees, rather craftily, never referred to the album as an 'outtakes' set as such (though to be fair the world wasn't exactly queueing to interview back then) the very name 'Instant Replay' must have rung alarm bells when you couldn't instantly replay anything unless you owned it (in fact Screen Gems seem to have cannily made this record 'look' like a Greatest Hits album, perhaps in the hope that some unsuspecting parent would buy it). The front cover, you see, is a jigsaw of images, with all three Monkees' images from the past tinted different colours and laid on top of each other with their 'contemporary' selves beaming out from the front. Most 'albums' back in 1969 tended to feature group photographs or illustrations: this sort of collage approach is more the sort of thing you'd see on a 'Greatest Hits' collection. Incidentally, though, while many of the shots are 'old' ones they are all unseen and features such oddities as Mike in a London Bearskin, a top hat and an American Civil War uniform (where, with his Victoriana sideburns, he seems oddly convincing), Micky as a mexican bandit with a gun and Davy in a 'Beatle' cap. Oddly Screen Gems seem to have spent far more time on the cover than the material - an early edition being printed first in 'Go!' magazine on their front cover for March 1969 in a rather blatant bit of plugging (re-printed in the Rhino CD re-issues).
Of course, some of this album is older than other parts - and frustratingly the most modern recordings on the album show such style and purpose it's a real shame we don't have a full album of songs in a similar style. Bones Howe was an old fashioned producer brought in to The Monkees project ostensibly as a replacement for Chip Douglas, but in truth more of a replacement for the departing Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (who were too busy filming 'Easy Rider' to care about The Monkees - 'Instant Replay' is the first band record without their input too). Though on paper The Monkees shouldn't have got on at all - Bones was experienced, disciplined and 'old school', scoring hits with more 'traditional' rock and roll acts like The Association and The Fifth Dimension - his saving graces were his humour and his patience. Howe had a healthy amount of respect for his young clients which won him theirs and was particularly close to Davy, who appreciated the attempts to give him deeper and more adult material to work with. Howe was announced to the world's press with the promise of a more adult sound and a 'more contemporary rhythm and blues and country vein', which would have suited both Micky and Mike respectively too. However Howe was given the push after just one flop single (the excellent 'Someday Man') and this album's similarly deep 'n' heavy Goffin and King cover 'A Man Without A Dream'. Both recordings are amongst the best of the period and while we never did get to hear what Howe might have done with Micky and Mike on the evidence of his sessions with Davy we might yet have had a final classic Monkee album in 1969.
Davy also recorded the session's other 'new' song 'You and I' in a session he produced himself (and which seems likely to have been the band's last collaboration with long-standing arranger Shorty Rogers). Most fans agree that the song - punchy hard-hitting and bitter about The Monkees' sudden fall in the music industry - is one of the last great Monkee gems, performed by Davy at his most hard-edged and with a killer guitar performance by special guest Neil Young (who, after an aborted look through the session directory for someone who 'could sound like Neil Young' was contacted through Peter's friendship with bandmate Stephen Stills and was in a rare amenable mood; it remains the only session Neil played in the 1960s and 1970s outside his cameos with Crazy Horse and CSNY solo albums). However appearances are not what they seem: though Davy had a major hand in every other song co-credited to him, he simply altered the lyrics a bit to a song Monkee friend and auditonee Bill Chadwick already had ready about the frustrations of rising and falling in the record business; though Davy naturally identified with the song (and turns in one of his most 'confessional' performances) the original lyrics hadn't given a thought to The Monkees. Even so, 'You and I' stands as the album's theme song in many ways: 'you don't care any more so why should we?' However The Monkees are simply too talented and have been through the mill for too long not to care. The theme of unwanted separation and jealously crops up on a few other songs too (interesting given the different perioss this album was made in): Micky's memorably named pet Shorty Blackwell gets jealous of a fellow kitty, Davy worries about 'Me Without You', Mike 'Won't Be The Same Without Her', Davy again urges his friend not to listen to Linda's cruel comments, Davy yet again is thinking about the girl he left behind him...'Instant Replay' is the closest The Monkees ever got to a 'breakup' album, though the 'breakup' in this case is mainly between the band and its fans.
Luckily, despite the falling sales, each of the Monkees has reached something of a peak of artistic confidence in this period and each of the three Monkees’ choices for this record find them coming up with some of the most archetypal music they ever made for the band. Micky’s songs develop his themes of fragile, orchestral ballads and over-ambitious Sgt Peppers-esque suites that might mean everything or nothing at all. Mike’s songs continue his run of country-rock songs, dominated by pedal steel. Davy’s song shows the most change of all as, like many a late-period Monkees albums, his songs are the best of the bunch: the hardest rocking Monkees song of all barring ‘Circle Sky’. There are so many tracks here that are so much better than they have a right to be and unlike the similarly up-and-down 'Birds, Bees and Monkees' all three Monkees get their highlights in the spotlights: Mike charms with 'While I Cried', sounds mighty good on the recycled 'I Won't Be The Same Without Her' and is passable on 'Don't Wait For Me' (why, out of all the great Nesmith songs from the Nashville sessions, did the powers that be choose this one?!) Micky charms with his own 'Just A Game', confuses with the monstrous epic that is 'Shorty Blackwell' (by turns playful and sinsister and everything you'd expect from a man who'd visited The Beatles while they were making 'A Day In The Life' and wanted to copy it - without the same budget, orchestra or drugs) and palls on Boyce and Hart leftovers 'Tear Drop City' and 'Through The Looking Glass'. Unusually Davy gets the most songs to himself and they too are a random bunch: the great 'You and I', the gorgeous 'Man Without A Dream', the nice 'Girl I Left Behind Me', the passable 'Don't Listen To Linda' and the gruesome 'Me Without You'.
Released at the wrong time, with many of the 'wrong' songs included, 'Instant Replay' is perhaps The Monkees' most forgotten LP. Released in the middle of the four month period between the premiere of 'Head' and the 'Thirty Three' TV special, 'Instant Replay' is like neither project, humble and worried and purely musical without the sub-plots of wicked cackling or the manufactured mockingness of the visual projects. In some way sit deserves to be forgotten: anything after 'Head' was always going to sound like a backward step but the reach back to the band' beginnings is ill-timed and mis-guided, rooting the band's image ever further into 1966 at a time when the band were nicely poised to re-invent themselves all over again for 1969. Taken as a whole, 'Instant Replay' is probably the band's most uneven record - but that doesn't necesasarily make it bad. 'Instant Replay' is like 'Instant' anything - half the taste for half the work, only this time around its the record label not doing the work, instead of the consumer. Yet considering that this album was purely a desperate attempt by record label Colgems to milk some money from their biggest cash cow (Cash Monkey?), ‘Instant Replay’ is a far more progressive kind of album than its often given credit for. Unlike 'Monkees Present' the choices from the vaults do at least strike gold occasionally and unlike 'Changes' The Monkees are more actively involved, with original songs by all three included. It is, perhaps, the only sensible solution to what to make post-'Head', going back to where it began with a few new ideas for new directions, with a few Boyce and Hart covers that accidentally got passed too.
‘Instant Replay’ has enjoyed something of a revival amongst Monkees fans in recent years, due in part to the fact that it sold so badly few fans bought it at the time and the few who ccame after just couldn't find it. For much of the 1970s and 1980s Monkeenians (a new word we're trying out ©Alan's Album ArchivesTM) were put off by the high price tag, the lacklustre contemporary reviews and the less than flattering reminisces of the band, who were less involved with the record than they had been with albums three to six. However this noncharting oddity became widely available for the first time in the mid-1990s as part of the superlative Rhino Monkees re-issues (a true showcase for why bands should sign their albums to record companies that love them rather than the ones that give them the most money) and in many ways it was a revelation: the fact that 'Tear Drop City' sounded like the sound of 1966 and 'Shorty Blackwell' sounded like the sound of 1967 (despite being recorded in 1968) on an album that otherwise sounded like the sound of 1969 didn't matter anymore: all years were distant memories by then. The fact that The Monkees never sounded the same from one song to another also mattered less to modern audiences that it did at the time and the fact that the record showed off several aspects of Monkeedom in one place made it a much more 'immediate' album than the more one-sound albums like 'Pisces Aquarius' and 'Changes'. Few other records run the great gamut of emotions the band experienced in thwir whirlwind four year, nine album career - what other records zips along to 'Tear Drop City' to the heartfelt emotion of 'While I Cried' and 'You and I' to the period weirdness of 'Shorty Blackwell'?!Though the sheer variety of styles and the long list of producers and recording dates was a minus bacl in 1969, it's a plus today with 'Instant Replay' one of the more rounded Monkee albums, especially with the addition of 'Someday Man' 'Smile' 'St Matthew' and 'Rosemarie' on the CD as bonus tracks (classics all). Why, this obscure album even features in the excellent and unofficial series of album covers re-created in Lego (seriously go and have a look – they do most of the Beatles album covers in Lego too) and if that isn't the ultimate modern-day sign of acceptence I don't know what is.
A good example of this album’s confused heritage comes with the opening track. ‘Through The Looking Glass’ is a Boyce and Hart song first recorded as long ago as September 1966 during sessions for the band’s second album ‘More Of The Monkees’ (this recording can be heard on ‘Missing Links Three’ although it’s not actually all that different from the finished version).The second version was taped during sessions for ‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’ (and can be heard as a bonus track on the Rhino CD). The third 1969 version uses the basic track of the second version but adds a completely different vocal arrangement on top – an awful lot of work for such a relatively simple track. And yet could you say whether this song has a 1966, 67, 68 or 69 vintage? It’s kind of a muddle of all those styles and ideas, part 1966 freakbeat, part 1967 psychedelia, partly 1968’s back-to-basics rock and partly 1969’s country leanings. A lot of fans love this song and scratch their heads as to why on earth it never got released before it did and the song’s authors agree, saying that they always intended it to be a single and were a miffed when it didn’t come out originally. But ‘Looking Glass’ has never been one of my favourite tracks – it’s strident piano opening is a great idea but it never really goes anywhere, Micky Dolenz uncharacteristically sounds as if he’s sick of singing the darn thing (he probably was after two re-makes) and the shrill off-key vocal at the end, as an offkey Micky and sister Coco caterwaul against a backdrop of an out-of-tune tack piano and some shrill brass, must count as one of the most awful 30 seconds of the band’s career.
And yet it’s hard even for me to hate this song. The idea is a solid one: in true Boyce and Hart style, the narrator thinks he’s brilliant but the world doesn’t agree – in this case its the girlfriend who seems so far away from him at times that she’s ‘through the looking glass’. Tommy Boyce remembers in the sleeve-notes that they wrote this song to be ‘an Alice In Wonderland thing’ and on first hearing this track is delightfully surreal – tack pianos, bass, drums and an orchestra aren’t often heard together without guitar parts and the result is a wonderfully surreal mix of a slip-sliding track that is always shifting and can never quite be pinned down. But when you listen to the lyrics, what strikes you is how down-to-earth they are: this is a very real and very detailed song about the break-up of human relationships, of how two people need to be realistic and factual if they want the partnership to last, not being away with the fairies the whole time. And perhaps that’s why this track has such a peculiar history: its music is firmly in tune with 1966/67 but the ideas – that imagination and psychedelia are no match for real life – firmly belong in the world of 1968/69. In the end, though, so much fuss for such a cute but rather innocuous song seems like a waste of time when the band could have been reviving something else from their archives that’s even better.
While the three different versions of ‘Looking Glass’ differ in only little ways, the two released versions of Boyce and Hart’s ‘Don’t Listen To Linda’ couldn’t be more different (you can hear the original 1966 version as a bonus track on the ‘More Of The Monkees’ CD). The first is a cute, straight-from-a-musical song with a backing chorus and a jaunty nonchalant air; the second is a mature, orchestra led ballad with no other real backing and Davy singing much deeper and soulfully than before. Play the two back to back and it’s a good example of how the Monkees philosophy changes between 1966 and 1968 from pop to something a bit deeper. Yet even this version of the song was troubled – Davy’s vocal was added in 1968 to a 1967 re-make of the song. Davy’s vocal on this track – and indeed throughout this album – is a revelation: singing a full deeper octave lower than in the past rally suits Davy’s voice and shows what a fine singer he was in the late 60s when producers stopped asking him to swoon teenyboppers. Again, the song is solid but not spectacular and revisit that old ‘She Loves You’ formula of a narrator telling his best friend to be more careful with his girlfriend. What makes it special this time is the arrangement: the sweeping strings are on the verge of being overpowering but never are, while Davy’s growing confidence allows him to really attack the song, holding notes for long periods and adding a bit of a whisper into the verse for the last verse which are tricks of the trade he could only dream of in 1966. The result is a quiet triumph, with The Monkees – for perhaps the only time in the late 60s – revisiting a song and making it better (the overdubs on old tracks for ‘Monkees Present’ make them even worse – just check out the world’s worst comedy effort ‘Ladies Aid Society’ to see what I mean).
‘I Just Won’t Be The Same Without Her’ is a Nesmith-sung version of a Goffin and King song that for once on this album was left completely alone following its first recording in 1966. Goodness only knows why this classy version of a classy song wasn’t released on the first two Monkees albums (it was taped at the same session as ‘Sweet Young Thing’) wasn’t released at the time – perhaps Mike, producing only his third session for the band, was under the impression he was owed more songs on the band’s first album and wanted to use one of his own compositions rather than a cover. Have a look at the credits and things get even more interesting – that’s Peter playing the snappy rhythm guitar for the first time ever on a Monkees session and Micky on backing vocals, with the band showing a togetherness in the studio they wouldn’t have again until ‘Headquarters’. Mike’s vocal is noticeably more nasal than his other tracks on the album too, betraying the date of recording (Mike is thought to have got his much ‘clearer’ voice after having his tonsils removed in late 1968, following an attack of tonsillitis during filming for the TV episode ‘Monkees On The High Seas’ where his character ends up being sea sick and having a quiet lie down for most of the episode).
Anyway, enough about the circumstances of recording: ‘I Won’t Be The Same Without Her’ is another good example of The Monkees taking a tired formula (‘how will I cope now my girlfriend’s left me?’) and making it sound like the truest, most heartbreaking thing in the world. Mike’s vocal is excellent, sounding completely devastated and lost with Micky’s ghostly harmony a good reflection of what he’s lost (along with ‘Sweet Young Thing’ this is the first time the world ever heard Micky and Mike singing together, a sound that will brighten up many a Monkees album over the years). The song’s structure is interesting: most of the song’s melody is built on long downward falling phrases that mimic the sound of sobbing rather well, with each new couplet coming out in half-gasped pangs of remorse. The end of each verse seems to be rallying with a sudden turn to the major key (with Micky’s da-da-da-da-das lightening the load a great deal) only for a new realisation to dawn on the narrator and the song falls right back down the minor key hole again. The timid middle eight then feels like the narrator peeking out from behind his hands and trying to rationalise more clearly what the changes in his life will mean, only to give up as a new wave of panic creeps over him(‘it isn’t easy to forget her...she changed my life the day I met her’). Like many of Mike’s early productions the song has a decidedly country feel, despite being written to the usual Goffin and King pop template, something which probably annoyed the Monkees bosses no end. Another excellent find from the vaults that should have come out a lot sooner.
‘There’s A Way’ is an early song of Micky’s that was first written shortly after ‘Randy Scouse Git’ and Micky can be heard running the band through the song for some future proper recording during the end of the ‘Headquarters’ sessions (as heard on the Rhino Handmade Headquarters Sessions CD). Alas, by the time the song was finished The Monkees were no longer recording as a band and instead this song became yet another ‘Instant Replay’ re-recording taped with just an orchestra backing. Arranged by legendary jazz man Shorty Rogers, this song was one of many collaborations between the pair and Rogers obviously saw something in Micky’s tentative wordplay (this song is a sort of slow-motion version of scat singing after all), turning in one of his more suitable arrangements for The Monkees. The result is a short but sweet if rather top-heavy song, with Micky’s simple song about pleading with a girlfriend to stay with him rather crumpling under the weight of all the horns and strings by the end. Still, the rather stirring opening which unfurls bit by bit like a flower is very moving and many of Micky’s lyrics are nicely inventive, with their poetic imagery and short half-rhymes. It’s just a shame there aren’t more of them: even for The Monkees a 1: 46 running time is selling the song a bit short.
‘Me Without You’ is the first truly contemporary track on ‘Instant Replay’ – and yet such is the curious ways of this album it sounds like it was recorded in a different decade. A third Boyce and Hart song, its a bit of a Merseybeatish throwback, with Davy back to using his higher-pitched and rather shrill vocal and a true call-and-answer backing vocal session. Many commentators have pointed out that this song borrows heavily from The Beatles’ ‘Your Mother Should Know’ and the songs both share the same gauche, self-conscious air that prevents both songs from really taking off. This wouldn’t be obvious either if the arrangement hadn’t lifted the same horn lick because the two songs share a rather different set of lyrics, but as it is this is one of the few cases of The Monkees actively copying their inspirers. Boyce and Hart should have known better – this song is just too self-aware, arrogant (the narrator simply assumes that the girlfriend will fall back in love with him if only she drops her silly feud against his mistakes, missing the point that he’s as much to blame for the fallout as he is) and familiar for its own good. Yet given a different, less brassy less copyist arrangement this too could have been an album gem.
‘Don’t Wait For Me’ is a Nesmith song that’s the most obvious example yet of Mike’s growing interest in country music. Good as this song is, its surprising that it made it out of the vault when similar and in my opinion slightly better Nesmith songs got the push (such as St Matthew, Carlisle Wheeling, the gorgeous Propinquity and many many others that fill up a good third of the Missing Links outtakes compilations). For ‘Wait For Me’ is one of the most uncompromisingly country songs of all – its a real my-horse-died-and-my-life-has-gone-wrong-weepie, with a cowboyish banjo backing and that pedal steel taking centre stage once more. Yet someone obviously liked it because not only did this song make it to the album, it made it to the band’s set lists too. It would be unfair to dismiss this song out of hand, though, as it must have sounded quite radical in early 1969 when comparatively few people had thought of joining country with rock (in the sleeve-notes for this album, Mike claims that his backing crew in Nashville had such a good time making these recordings for The Monkees they ended up doing it full time in Area Code 615 as a direct result).
As regular fans of this website will know, I don’t generally agree with other reviewers about the best anything. But while playing Devil’s advocate can be fun sometimes (surely there can’t still be people out there who think the lacklustre Sgt Peppers is in anyway shape or form better than the masterpiece Revolver?!) even I have to admit when reviewers have it right. Most commentators claim that Davy’s ‘You and I’ is ‘Instant Replay’s highlight and they’re right: it’s a searing, angry defiance at how The Monkees were being passed over for a new generation and how the music business is shallow and fickle. What’s surprising to many fans is that this song is really a Bill Chadwick song dating from a lot earlier which Davy identified with so much that he urged the near-Monkee and band follower to let him record (as well as being a songwriter, Chadwick had got through to the last Monkees audition and occasionally worked as a double on the TV series). Davy does seem to have had a hand in re-writing the song, though, and the barbed comments about ‘in a year or maybe two, we’ll be gone and someone new will take our place’ is one of the most self-aware lines committed to vinyl, a far cry from the modern ‘manufactured’ bands who seem to think they will always be in fashion and success is their birth-right (who mentioned the Spice Girls?!)
Cue this quite amazing song which is angry in the extreme, with another classic vocal from a triple-tracked Davy backed by a tight band including some terrific Stax-like bass from Joe Osborn and – best of all – fellow AAA member Neil Young guesting on guitar. Allegedly the band were discussing who they could hire to sound like Neil when they figured they could just ask him outright – a popular story which sounds strange to me given that Neil had already appeared on the session for ‘As We Go Along’ just a few months before (Neil’s Buffalo Springfield buddy Stephen Stills was a good friend of the group too and no stranger to sessions, especially those of close friend Peter Tork who he recommended for the Monkees job in the first place). Whatever the circumstances, though, I’m glad he was asked: Neil’s biting guitar part is well up to his best – and it’s the last time fans ever got to hear his ‘Buffalo Springfield’ guitar style – this session took place just five days after the Springfield’s ‘farewell’ gig and from hereon in Neil will develop a much slower, looser style of playing (kicked off by meeting Crazy Horse the following year). Frustratingly, there’s a second Davy Jones track featuring Neil Young on guitar which has yet to be released on any of the many Monkees outtakes/box sets/retrospectives out there: ‘That’s What It’s Like Loving You’. Listen out too for the melody of this song – many people assume that loud and angry songs have to be fast, but that’s not necessarily the case: this song gets its emotion across by the long-held notes of each line, sitting in slow seething fury against the backdrop of an ever changing world behind it as the musicians cook up a storm. Excellent stuff.
‘While I Cry’ is equally excellent, although this second Nesmith song takes a completely different tack. A gorgeous slow acoustic ballad of the type Mike excelled in during the late Monkees days, this song remains one of his most under-rated and moving compositions. Like many of the songs on this album, you just have to shake your head over why this lovely track, recorded deep in the midst of ‘The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees’ sessions, was passed over for two releases before being dug out late in the day for a third. The song was around even longer than that though: an instrumental version adorned with strings and brass is the highlight of Mike’s ‘The Witchita Train Whistle Sings’ album of 1968 (under it’s original title ‘While I Cried’) and like the majority of that album’s tracks might pre-date the whole Monkees project by some years. It’s not often we get the chance to hear one Monkee more or less on his own with very little backing and Mike excels with this song with perhaps his best ever vocal, dripping pathos while he tells us the simple tale that he should have known better who he falls in love with. All the more puzzling, then, that this is one of the few Monkees songs he still largely dismisses, as just a generic song based around an intriguing guitar riff he found: whilst among the most simple of Mike’s songs there’s no doubting the honesty of the performance. There are two extra magical moments to this track: one is the chorus, mixed very low as if to mimic the good times the narrator remembers and featuring a full chorus of three Monkees singing, one of the few times on this album and a great shame seeing as their voices mixed so well; the second is, no prizes for guessing, the middle eight: the song really swells up to a peak of indignation here with Mike’s vocal so cross he simply gives up singing the lines and lets out a long falsetto wail. All in all a magical track, beautifully poised between emotional and overbearing.
‘Tear Drop City’ is the album’s big reach back to the good old days when The Monkees were just actors doing a bit of singing on the side and the real creativity came from producers and writers Boyce and Hart. The song was recorded as long ago as October 1966 and sessions for the second album, although not the first time on this record it sounded completely different originally: a slow, bluesy song that sounded a little like ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ did when first written. However, as featured here (and re-recorded at the end of the same month) ‘Tear Drop City’ has been re-arranged to sound like a fast pop song – and thanks to some speeding up processes in 1969 ended up sounding more or less identical to ‘Clarksville’. That’s the main problem with this song: however good elements of it are (and they are – Micky’s vocal is great, Louie Shelton’s guitar riffing is as good as ever and the band turn in a cooking track here) we’ve heard all this done before so much better on that first Monkees single. After all the time dedicated to such a simple song (three sessions in 1966, one in 1969) and the similarities to the band’s original formula you’d think that the record company would be keen to push it, but instead the song went unheard for three years and then got pushed half-heartedly as a single that – coming on the heels of the out-there ‘Head’ – was doomed to failure (the song never even made it onto the TV series re-runs). Most fans are really confused by this song – The Monkees progressed at such a rate it sounds deeply out of place here and just sounds plain wrong nestled against the mature songs on this album. But hear it out of sequence and do your best to put ‘Clarksville’ out of your mind and it’s not actually that bad, with a driving rhythm, great production and a terrific lead vocal. Had this come out in 1966 as intended (Boyce and Hart considered it a good album filler for the second album, unaware just how many producers and songwriters had been asked to submit songs for it), ‘Tear Drop City’ would have had a much better reputation.
Talking of mature, ‘The Girl I left Behind Me’ is a moody ballad from one of the band’s other early collaborators Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer and would have sounded badly out of place had it been released on ‘More Of The Monkees’ as originally intended. Unusually for ‘Instant Replay’ a later re-recording of the track from the late 1967 ‘The Birds, The Bees’ sessions (intended to segue into a Davy Jones/Charlie Smalls collaboration ‘A Girl Named Love’) was passed over in favour of the earlier recording. Like many a Davy Jones ballad it has nothing to tie it to any era anyway: it could have been 19302, 60s or 90s: no one would know. While the re-recording slows things down and Davy over-emotes like mad, this original and released version is much more upbeat about the whole thing, with the narrator seeing the loss of his partner as a challenge as much as a cause of sadness. If you like moody Davy Jones ballads you’ll like this one too, but in all honesty there are much better examples of Davy doing his romantic balladeering both on other 1960s Monkees albums and in the vaults. There is, incidentally, a third version of this song recorded during February 1968 which has never seen the light of day which is near complete, abandoned only because of production difficulties correcting a mistake on Davy’s vocal.
‘The Man Without A Dream’ is one of only two songs released by the Monkees’ official producer Bones Howe (the other was the 1969 single ‘Someday Man’), who must surely have had one of the shortest official posts in musical history. Nobody quite knows why he jumped ship so suddenly either, after such two sessions featuring Davy Jones (none of the other Monkees seems to have met him, despite huge amounts of publicity in the music press about how Howe would ‘take The Monkees out of their image and into a more contemporary rhythm and blues/country and western vein’). While it’s hard to imagine what Howe would have made of Mike, Micky or Peter’s songs, his production style is spot-on for Davy’s more relaxed, older style. Davy really sounds at home on this overlooked Goffin and King gem about letting chances slip by and losing direction in life and the new style demands a lower pitched, less strained, less frantic singing from the Monkee who shows off his abilities like never before on these two tracks. Perhaps Davy’s relaxed feel comes from the fact that this song is the fifth – yes fifth – attempt at recording this song; the youngest Monkee must have been highly relieved to see the song released at last! (the song was originally picked up by Peter, although his ‘Pisces, Aquarius’ era demo is sadly still unreleased). Most Monkees fans dislike Howe’s short tenure with the band and its intriguing to wonder what would have happened had he stayed with the band longer, but for these ears the two tracks we know about sound like two of the best recordings any of The Monkees made in 1969.
And now for the closing song ‘Shorty Blackwell’. How on earth do I explain on papert a song that starts out being about Micky’s pet cat, develops into a moody song about a missing girlfriend, takes a sudden left turn into a diatribe against a pill-popping figure on a hill going mad, switches to factory workers making vinyl records at a manufacturing plant and ends on an existential riff questioning the existence of being. Micky is horribly embarrassed about this song nowadays and it has to be said that its aged very badly now we’ve had multiple ‘back to basics rock’ fashions and several attempts to destroy self-indulgent songs by arrogant pop stars. But put this song back in context, as one of the earliest songs by an actor who fell into music by accident and was desperate to add the exciting new sounds of 1967 to the canon of a band who left no musical road unturned and it actually shows some promise. For a band dismissed as being ‘square’ ‘boring’ and ‘safe’ The Monkees didn’t half have some fascinating twists and turns in their musical catalogue that braver bands of the period would have been afraid to release and while not the best ‘Shorty Blackwell’ certainly isn’t the worst. The fact that this song works so well owes much to both Micky’s sister Coco whose delightful and very similar harmonies give this song quite an eerie feeling when the siblings sing as a duet and arranger Shorty Rogers who audibly seems to relish the challenge of a track that changes mood and personality almost every other bar.
As mentioned, the ‘Shorty Blackwell’ of the first section is Micky’s cat and may well have been created by the ever musical Micky as a call to his cat to come in at night. Alas, the song suddenly veers from third person to first as Micky and Coco become the cat, making the song highly confusing, and immediately introducing a second cat to the mix, one without any manners that’s ‘gonna change the mood’. For such a silly song, the line ‘I’m feeling very bad today’ really sticks in the throat, especially when the song switches to a minor key without warning, telling us of a fool (on a hill, naturally) who is miserable despite owning vast amounts of money and going mad on ‘pills’. The most any Monkees book will say about this fascinating verse is that ‘it relates to an unspecified member of the group’ – though it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this unhappy member is Peter, the one whose just left the group and was well known in hippie circles for his drug taking (it was recorded the day before Tork’s ‘Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?’ whose very title backs up this idea). Whoever this part of the song is about (and it might be just a work of fiction after all) the whole thing is highly unnerving, as the sweet and innocent little melody turns all nasty, with the oompah-ing horns creating a noise like thunder and the Dolenz’s vocal turning all accusatory and Mr Webster-ish. The call and response on ‘he’s going mad’ suddenly becomes an overlapping round, with a quite horrifying accompaniment of distorted and dissonant ha-haing horns emphasising the madness of the character.
Originally, the song ended here at 2:10, after a reprise of the opening verse, but a full month after taping his original backing track Micky decided the song needed a bigger ending and added a second section of the song, tying the ends together with a rather obvious edit. This third section of the song is the best of the lot, a really revealing passage about the workload the Monkees were under, with the band no more than the frustrated workers at a vinyl manufacturing plant, under constant pressure to come up with something from the men in shiny shoes who run the offices. There’s also a line about ‘getting everything you wanted’ and finding it isn’t enough, a common complaint of the band who discuss the lure and price of fame often during the ‘interview’ sections of their TV series, while the ‘taunted by the power’ is the frustration all four Monkees felt at not being able to speak their mind and use the power of television and music for the good of their fans as they saw it (such as the ‘Devil and Peter Tork’ episode of the TV series, making fun of the censorship laws of America or the oft-quoted example of the band being told to ‘keep quiet’ after airing their views on the Vietnam war). As a view of the Monkees phenomenon from the inside out, as it were, this is a fascinating glimpse into the pressure the band were after and ‘Shorty Blackwell’ might have turned out a better song had Micky worked on this section more.
However, there’s a couple more twists in the song to go yet. After a linking piano passage that sounds almost classical (and really is Micky playing by the way – he learnt the keyboards much faster than the drums!) the narrator is caught at a traffic lights, trying to cross the road, watch the cars and his feet all at the same time. This very dis-orientating section is played deliberately out of tune and is almost as painful for us as it is for him, although there’s an intriguing closing line about ‘how will you know what they’ll do when they say’, which sounds to me like another line damning the powers that be running the show, who often gave false promises over which songs, rushes and recordings would go onto the albums/into the TV episodes. The song then rouses itself for a big strong ending – and falls in on itself instead. ‘I can’t think of a word to tell you what I’ve heard’ is the perfect summation of this rather surreal trip into Micky’s inner thoughts, but the song gives up on giving us this rounded ending with the line ‘I’ve been away’. The song then discards the final note we’re expecting to hear in favour of a bossa nova dance that sounds not unlike the ending of CSN’s ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ released the same year, with Micky and Coco repeating the existentialist refrain ‘I am I am I, I am I am I’. If ‘Shorty Blackwell’, often mentioned by an embarrassed Micky as being semi-autobiographical, really is a snapshot of events in his life when he was writing it, then the Monkee seems to be suggesting that everybody is made up of images like these and that the situations of our life have some impact on our personalities. But equally, like the rest of the track, it could just be Micky messing about: ‘Shorty Blackwell’ is one of those tracks like ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘American Pie’ that could either be classic genius art or complete gibberish depending on our mood and I can’t tell which of these it is either. Still, Micky shouldn’t be embarrassed – at least he was trying something different and something vaguely honest and revealing, exactly the sort of thing all the Monkee critics of 1968 and 69 hated the band for.‘Shorty Blackwell’ sums up ‘Instant Replay’ quite well in fact: none of it really belongs together in the same space, being stylistically thematically and musically opposed – and yet when heard together such is the range and scope of what The Monkees are trying to do it sounds like more than the sum of its parts. Moments of it, too, are pure genius – among the best moments of any Monkees album in fact – there just sadly aren’t quite enough of them to account for both the sheer hours of studio work spent on it and the lesser moments let out of the vaults when better stuff was available and ready to go. But I really like ‘Instant Replay’ for its eclecticism and its sheer refusal to stick The Monkees’ sound in a box and restrict them to just one or two formulas. While not as happy as the first two albums, as exciting as ‘Headquarters’ and ‘Pisces Aquarius’ or as innovative as ‘Head’, ‘Instant Replay’ is still a fine and overlooked album that is much better than it had any right to be. By 1969 the band had lost one member, lost their creator and cheerleader Bob Rafelson and the project had lost it’s reason for being after the television series was axed and the film and TV special were finished. And yet The Monkees just kept going, with hour after hour in the studio and track after track providing new hopes for a Monkee sound. This isn’t so much ‘Instant Replay’ as this album’s throwaway title suggests as a possible way forward that in other circumstances might have provided the band’s biggest highs of all.