The Monkees

The Monkees

Colgems, 1966

http://www.monkees.net

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/19/2014

Ah, those lovable Monkees. Though I wasn’t alive during the band’s initial heyday, I was fortunate enough to ride the second wave of their popularity in the mid-‘80s. That’s when re-runs of their wacky two season sitcom started airing on television sets all across the country, eventually leading to a three-man reunion (Mike Nesmith, the one with the wool cap and Wite-Out family fortune, wisely chose to sit out), for the badly dated Pool It. Only for their thirtieth anniversary in 1996 would Nesmith return to the Monkee house for their last album to date, Justus. Sporadic touring would follow, until British-born Davy Jones’ untimely death in 2012.

Their eponymous album from 1966 was where it all started, though it wasn’t without its share of controversy. Yes, Mike, Davy, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz can all be heard singing, but – oh, the shock, the horror – they didn’t play a lick when it came to the instrumentation. That would be farmed out to session musicians, who were all properly credited, albeit to no avail. It simply wasn’t good enough for the critics, who slammed the pseudo-band by labeling them as fraudulent imposters. Okay, so maybe it didn’t help matters any to see the foursome pretending to play on their TV show, but it was what it was at the time.

If the critics were fuming, you can just imagine how utterly pissed off the band was by seeming like nothing more than the producers’ puppets. Mike and Peter were both crackerjack guitar players in their own right, so there was no legitimate reason why they couldn’t or shouldn’t play for real on their records. Only a revolt by the Monkees themselves could prove the naysayers wrong. Eventually cooler heads would prevail, Micky would learn the drums and the Monkees played their own material from their third album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Headquarters on through their eventual breakup and cancellation in the early ‘70s.

It’s somewhat ironic that the first two albums would be the most popular among the fans. They couldn’t give a fig – or in this case, a banana – that the Monkees were a manufactured band for a television show, where the music was supposed to be secondary. Comparisons to the Beatles were bound to build the Monkees up to mythic proportions, but that’s exactly what happened. One look at the live footage from 1967 proved just how intense Monkeemania really was. One listen to the #1 hits “Last Train To Clarksville,” “I’m A Believer” and “Daydream Believer,” would silence any skeptic. And one viewing of an episode of The Monkees and you were hooked. Concocted or not, this was one band you simply could not resist.

From the potent drumroll at the start of “(Theme From) The Monkees,” to the spontaneous comedic studio patter in “Gonna Buy Me A Dog,” their self-titled debut seemed to have something for everyone. Alternative rockers of the future should take note of the garage-feel of “Saturday’s Child,” while overprotective mothers will breathe a collective sigh of relief whenever the non-threatening and adorable Davy Jones would take center stage, as he does on the earnest ballads “I Wanna Be Free” and “I’ll Be True To You.” And to this day, I won’t hesitate to put on the raucous “Let’s Dance On” or the foot-stomping “Sweet Young Thing,” if I want to really get the party started.

As noteworthy as “Last Train To Clarksville” deserves to be, its flip side “Take A Giant Step” also deserves to be singled out as a key cut. Honestly, there is very little filler to be found on this first Monkee effort, even though the strange country-Latin hybrid “Papa Gene’s Blues” has never truly registered for me. As for those session players, they also deserve a lot of credit. You sure don’t hear oboe, harpsichord or the glockenspiel in pop songs anymore. But by God, wouldn’t I love to! The sixties had so much going for it when it came to REAL MUSIC that wasn’t computer generated as it is today. Even hearing music live is a torture to sit through now, because all you hear is the static thump of bass.

Once you’ve heard the best, who needs the rest?

Rating: A

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© 2014 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Colgems, and is used for informational purposes only.