“Here they come, walking down the street, they’re getting funny looks from…….. everyone at the post office”….. (on pension day!)…..For those of you who care, (and yes, I do)…the 3 surviving Monkees, (Tork, Dolenz and Nesmith), are currently making a new album, (‘Good Times’), to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Yes, you read that right, a NEW album. ‘So what’, ‘big deal’, you may well think, (O.K., fair enough, each to their own…). But for me, and other music mad kids who were young enough to pick up on them when their T.V. show first hit Britain…we loved them, we loved their music and we loved their humour, and it IS a big deal. For those who were a few years older than us at the time, of course they mostly looked down on them as just a ‘kids band’, which perhaps they were at the time, but I’ll bet they all secretly sung along to all those classic songs when their mates weren’t around!
The Monkees have enrolled some guest songwriters for this new album, (just like the good old days), quality musicians who, like me, also loved the Monkees. They’ve got Paul Weller, (Yes , him from the Jam, and my home-town Woking), Rivers Cuomo, (Weezer’s main man, who’s music I have loved since ’96), Andy Partridge ( X.T.C.), Ben Gibbard, (Death Cab for Cutie), and even Noel Gallagher, (Oasis and Man City fan), a pretty strong line-up I reckon, and I look forward to hearing the results. My money’s on Partridge for the most ‘Monkee’ sounding song! There will also be contributions, made many years ago, by the great Harry Nilsson, and, of course, little Davy Jones himself…’Gor bless him Guv’!
But for me the best songwriter of the lot, (yes, seriously), is their very own Mike Nesmith, who, for me, and many others, wrote their best songs back in the day, and went on to write many more later. He was rated by Lennon, Harrison and Zappa, among others! Forget your Hart, Boyce, Goffin, King, Mann, Weill, Douglas, Diamond and all , (as good as they all undoubtedly were), Nez songs had that certain extra special ‘something’ that just set them apart, that ‘something’ which put them on an altogether different, higher, almost, dare I say it, more ethereal level! When I heard that jangly Gretsch and his slow Texas drawl I knew it was another Nesmith gem heading my way. You can keep your ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘I Wanna be Free’, I’ll take one of Nesmith’s quirkier songs every time. He was, and is, a general all round genius, he has crammed so much in since his youthful ‘Monkee’ days, but that alone is what he will be remembered for by ‘Joe and Jane Public’ when he sadly leaves us behind one day. It’s strange how the mainstream (music) media dictates who is ‘great’ and, by omission, who isn’t. But many of us, especially my fellow ‘Nez heads’, know that in life the best things are often well guarded secrets known only by the lucky few. He is, among many other things I’m sure, an art media innovator, (his work led directly to the ‘invention’ of the music video and M.T.V.), a philanthropist, an author, a storyteller supreme, a producer, and also a naturally sharp and funny guy, and that’s why I still care!
For those of you who still like to repeat that tired old chestnut “They never played their own instruments, and they never wrote their own songs”. You are only half-right. (Do the research). Both Nesmith and Tork were already on the folk music circuit in N.Y.C., and were skillful musicians and growing performers. Jones and Dolenz, it is true, were actors and not bona fide musicians, but it would be churlish not to accept that Dolenz has an amazing voice; (check out his amazing version of the old hymn ‘Oh, little town of Bethlehem’), and Jones too, (R.I.P.,) although his voice is not so much to my taste, but there’s no denying that he was very good at the occasional cabaret type number or ballad.
It is true, however, that their albums and singles, especially the early ones, were often played on by professional session musicians, and that many of the songs were written by composers such as those I mentioned earlier. But in those days that wasn’t so unusual, so why pick on them? It should also be noted, to their credit, that they did increasingly take ‘ownership’ of their albums in both the writing and producing, and while not actually putting out an entire album of their own material, they did have a heavy creative input on both ‘Headquarters’ and ‘The Birds and the Bees…’, a testament to the very fast learning curve they were on, which is always overlooked by those who like to ‘rubbish’ them. They did this because they had pride in themselves and their own increasingly creative abilities and musicianship. They were fast outgrowing the ‘apron strings’ of their first years, and it should also be remembered that they were still very young. Check out the two albums I mentioned and hopefully you will hear the variety and depth of their work, and off the top of my head, from memory, you may hear what I can hear, the influence of their finest contemporaries, (they were soaking it all up like a musical sponge), shining through in their songs, that of Arthur Lee’s incredible band ‘Love’ and the Beatles, to name but two. There was even a 1920s jazz influence from Nesmith on ‘Magnolia Simms’!
As a ‘proper’, but very short-lived, live band, (I’m not talking ‘post’ the first break-up), they very much learnt on the job, always in the public eye in front of their screaming young fans. (Most of us played in our garages or village halls first!) It was said that when they came over to Britain for the first time they had only just begun to gel into a proper band, and for those who actually listened they sounded more like a raw garage band than an alleged cheesy pop group! But the problem was that their young fans, well the girls anyway, weren’t really listening at all, they were all far too busy screaming “Davy! Davy! Davy!” and wetting their knickers.
As I got older I got into many other genres of music. Everything from Slade to the Undertones, to Stevie Wonder, via the Wedding Present, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Teenage Fanclub, the Faces, Weezer, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and the Jam, and many dozens of other bands and artistes in-between! In more recent years I’ve discovered the likes of John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Morgan T Davis, the Milk Carton Kids, the Felice Brothers, early jazz, and, yes, Nesmith’s (4 decades + worth) of solo work. But the ‘harmony constant in all of these things’……..(A little joke there for those in the know)….is that I still like to play Monkees C.D.s in my car, and at home, every now and then, and that my kids love them too! They deserve their place in pop’s great canon, they have worked bloody hard for it.
Micky Dolenz telling a lovely little story about how he came to write ‘Randy Scouse Git’.
Constructive comments below are very welcomed. Glowing praise even more so. It’s how I know that you have been here. Offers of highly paid writing gigs, though unlikely, would be lovely too. But just for the record, all spammers can just go and **** themselves.
All written work by Mark Anthony Wyatt, Bude, Cornwall. February, 2016.
Note; Any written work, music, images or videos that Mark Anthony Wyatt has created, remains his personal intellectual property! But any other images, videos, quotes etc., that were NOT created by me remain the intellectual property of those who created them, and NOT me!
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