Joel Goldenberg: The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees

The Monkees lip-synch and pretend to play an early version of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's Valleri on a first season episode of their TV show

Before we delve into the Monkees' 1968 album, a word about some 45 RPM single edits.

Thanks to some deluxe reissues of some classic CDs, and YouTube, we have access to the versions of famous songs that were heard on AM radio, which usually meant shortened and sometimes fiddled with, mix-wise. This week, I'll take note of three from one of my favourite bands, Kiss.

Detroit Rock City: This is a staple of classic rock. But whoever did the single edit must have been at one of Casablanca Records' many drug parties hours before. The edit sounds like it was done with a hatchet, and the car crash at the end of the song is followed by more Detroit Rock City. On the Destroyer album, the car crash segues into King of the Night Time World. Huh?

Strutter '78: On the Double Platinum album, this remake of the first song on Kiss's first album sounds like it was recorded in a room with no air. The Japanese single version, on the other hand, sounds like a grandiose production, and I like it almost as much as the '74 original.

• Calling Dr. Love.-There are many mixes of this song. The LP version is the best, but the 45 has a clanging sound at the opening that the LP version should have had.

And now to the Monkees:

•••

I wish somebody could explain The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees to me.

First, the usual context. When the Monkees was created as a TV show and, at first, a fictional band, the reality was, for the most part, they provided vocals and session players provided the instrumentation. This was the case on their first two albums, which were a nice mix of pure pop, light rock and country and western-flavoured material.

Then, when the guys — Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and the unfortunately now late Davy Jones and Peter Tork — were allowed to play on their own albums, and have creative input, they produced two excellent album, — Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. The latter, especially, was progressive in a 1967 sense, with some excellent psychedelia and a bit of country as well.

After that album, the guys didn't feel like playing as a band anymore, and instead became the White Album-style Beatles before the fact — most subsequent albums featured what were essentially solo performers recording the kind of music they liked.

This worked on some later albums, but The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees carried this idea to extremes. While the Davy Jones songs veered between ultra-commercial and ultra-schmoozy, and Micky didn't really have a huge creative presence, Mike Nesmith was including material with impenetrable lyrics and, in one case, impenetrable music.

Oh, and Peter Tork didn't have one track on the album, despite having several songs ready for it. Even the cute vocal-only link track Alvin was nixed. His only contribution was piano on the #1 hit Daydream Believer, recorded during the Pisces sessions.

Some say the Monkees movie Head was a not-so-subconscious attempt to destroy the group, but this album may have started the effort. Some of its contents are just baffling.

On the other hand, the rare mono mix of the album has a grunginess throughout that almost gives the album a unifying sound.

Here's my take, song by song:

Dream World: An interesting instrumental opening, and not too drippy a Davy song. However, Davy's voice is so filtered that it sounds like it's coming through a phone line. For some reason, this was a trendy thing to do on some late 1960s recordings. I hate that trend! Remix this please.

Auntie's Municipal Court: One of a few bizarre Mike Nesmith songs, but this one is more palatable than others and is sung by Micky, which helps.

We Were Made for Each Other — Very schmoozy. The only more schmoozy Davy song is the spoken word The Day We Fall in Love, which should be obliterated from our memory banks.

Tapioca Tundra-More bizarre Nesmith. His "Ah! Ah!" sounds at the start of the song are mildly irritating, but the tune does have drive.

Daydream Believer- One of the best singalong songs of all time, and a great Davy vocal. As mentioned, this was from the Pisces sessions, and is kind of heartbreaking as an indication of what could have been for this album.

Writing Wrongs — On some days, I think this Nesmith song is a miserable attempt to emulate the Beatles' A Day in the Life with pretentious twaddle and incoherent lyrics. On other days, I see it as a brave experiment that is probably best experienced while impaired.

I'll Be Back Up On My Feet-This Micky-sung track was the last song recorded for the album, which makes me think they were scrambling to find song #12 —it had been recorded in '66 for the TV show in a version I find to be far preferable. They could have chosen Peter's Come On In, Lady's Baby, Seeger's Tune, the aforementioned Alvin or even the discordant Merry Go Round.

The Poster: Kind of like Dream World. An interesting instrumental opening, a tinny sounding Davy vocal and a song of not much consequence.

P.O. Box 9847 — An excellent quasi-psychedelic song by Monkees stalwart writers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. This could have been a Pisces track. There are some weird, loud drum parts on this that were toned down for the Listen to the Band box set. A great Micky vocal.

Magnolia Simms- Another Nesmith weirdie, and one of many late-1960s songs to emulate the songs and sound of the 1920s. The part where the song "skips" and we hear the sound of what sounds like a dusty stylus always irritates me. The effort is fun as a whole, though.

Valleri- Ultra commercial and slick, with some magnificent guitar playing by session player Louie Shelton. Nesmith called this tune "the worst song in the history of the world." On some days, I think Writing Wrongs qualifies for that title.

• Zor and Zam- An admirable anti-war parable sung by Micky. I kind of prefer an earlier version that is less slick, and which was used for the final TV episode of The Monkees.

Next time: Kermit Schafer's Super Bloopers.

 

 

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