Joel Goldenberg: The Monkees: Listen to the Band

Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones, following the departure of Peter Tork, singing Nine Times Blue on The Johnny Cash Show in 1969.

On the day I'm writing this, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2020 inductees, and I and other fans remain outraged at two omissions.

One is Eric Carmen, who pioneered power pop with the magnificent Raspberries, which combined the best aspects of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Who into numerous timeless songs; and also produced prime pop as a solo artist with such hits as All By Myself, Change of Heart, She Did It and Never Gonna Fall in Love Again, amongst many others.

The other is the Monkees, maligned in their day for being a group created by TV producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, rather than organically by members Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones; and for, at first, not playing their own instruments on their studio recordings. They did play instruments live, on their Headquarters album and to a large extent on their Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. LP, and each member was an estimable songwriter and producer in his own right.

Long ago, when I first started concentrating on listening to the groups of the 1960s and 1970s, I felt the same way as the critics. What did I know? I first became aware of the Monkees through the Saturday morning CBS reruns in 1969 and 1970, and the only songs radio played were the inevitable Last Train to Clarksville, I'm A Believer, Daydream Believer and maybe, just maybe A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, Pleasant Valley Sunday and Valleri.

Then came the early 1990s, the golden age for comprehensive CD box sets, which combined in many cases hits, album tracks and revelatory unreleased songs. I snapped many of them up, including those by the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Patsy Cline, the two Motown Hitsville USA collections and... the Monkees.

As implied above, I was not at all deeply into the Monkees' music, but the Listen to the Band box set was highly inviting, owing to the colourful packaging, the promise of a deeper look into the band and the super booklet and liner notes, all put together by Monkees expert Andrew Sandoval.

What a revelation. Not only were the previously released tracks well chosen, but the outtakes (some of them already released on the Missing Links series of Monkees CDs, which I later bought) were revelatory.

Some of my favourites among the outtakes:

Nine Times Blue — This Mike Nesmith song, which he, Micky and Davy sang together during a 1969 appearance on The Johnny Cash Show, is, in my mind, one of the greatest songs of the last 100 years.

• I Don't Think You Know Me At All — This song, a bit of a hit by the American Breed (of Bend Me, Shape Me fame), was pure pop perfection. Several versions were recorded, including two by Micky and Mike, but the one chosen for the box had a Peter lead with all the other Monkees on background vocals, and is the best version.

Carlisle Wheeling and Some of Shelley's Blues — two other magnificent Mike Nesmith early country-rock songs.

Also, the box prompted me to delve deeper into each of the individual albums, all of which I like to either a total or some extent— the soundtrack to Head is a revelation. The only ones I'm not wild about are Changes from 1970, which sounds like it was produced on the cheap; and 1987's Pool It, in which the synthesized 1980s production is as much a turn off to me as holy water is to demons.

But getting back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Monkees deserve entry for many reasons:

• The sheer diversity of musical styles on each of the albums.

• Nesmith's pioneering of country-rock, and his creation of the eccentric rocker Circle Sky.

• The very brave movie Head, which not only tackled the perception of the group being manufactured head on, but inspired at least one book examining the film in detail.

• Micky's magnificent vocals on songs like The Porpoise Song (another one of the best songs of the past 100 years, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin), Sometime in the Morning, (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone and countless others; and his own very interesting songs like Mommy and Daddy, Randy Scouse Git, Shorty Blackwell and Midnight Train, many of them sung in exquisite harmony with Micky's sister Coco.

• Peter's humble vocals and great songs like Lady's Baby, For Pete's Sake (sung by Micky but co-written by Peter), Come On In, Seeger's Theme, the wild Tear the Top Right Off My Head, and others.

• Davy's better "Broadway rock-style" songs.

• And, of course, their innovative TV show, which among many other things, pioneered music videos.

Also, how many groups have almost all their albums issued in Deluxe and Super Deluxe editions, including every outtake that could be found (thanks again, Andrew Sandoval, who hosts the 1960s music radio show and podcast Come to the Sunshine), but also had two box sets issued (The second is Music Box)?

It's time to immortalize the worth of the Monkees.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.