Ignore the talk…just listen to the band
Act/Artist: The Monkees
Release: More of The Monkees
Release date: 9th January 1967
Label: Colgems (in US) / RCA Victor (outside of US)
If in doubt…leave it to The Simpsons to get to the truth of the matter…
“The Monkees weren’t about music Marge, they were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval.”
So…The Monkees. Four kids bundled together to make a TV show so executives could truly cash in on this market that The Beatles exploded but couldn’t fully take advantage of themselves. That’s not a criticism of The Beatles or Brian Epstein’s negotiating skills, it’s more an acknowledgment that once Elvis and the Fab Four had popped open the lid of youth culture, there was no containing it and no one band or act would ever be enough to sate the demand from a generation with money to burn…or at least influence over their parent’s spending habits.
We’ll discuss the song-writing controversy surrounding The Monkees in greater depth at a later time but it’s not as if this was the only group who were the public voices of a band while unseen artists were toiling away in the studio. Brian Wilson made sure that the very best musicians were the people bringing his short-form sonic symphonies to life while The Byrds crashed into public consciousness with a little help from their friends.
What we will do now though is completely disregard the earlier Simpsons quote…and talk a bit about the band’s music…as insignificant as some people may think that was!
The debut album, released in 1966, had the TV theme tune (which remains a fantastic song that puts a smile on your face), Take A Giant Step and Last Train To Clarksville which should be regarded as fantastic songs. I Wanna Be Free is decent while Nesmith’s Papa Gene’s Blues is refreshing and with hindsight can be looked at as a template for many of the bands and his own solo work. Okay, it wasn’t too much but Nesmith did write one song and he got a co-write credit on another track on the band’s debut record, a feat he repeated on the second album.
The debut album was going to sell well regardless of the quality of the songs (that’s still the case with film soundtracks and TV cash-ins selling in droves) but there are enough decent songs to justify the collection. Things do go up a gear on More Of The Monkees though with the inclusion of some songs that are still huge favourites today.
She is tremendous (admittedly, that’s a line I say far too often in conversation, mainly about Greta Gerwig or Sienna Miller) but the song She, the opening track of the album, is tremendous. Michael Nesmith said that it was Mickey Dolenz’s vocals that set the group apart from many of their peers and one listen to She tells you that old wooly hat was spot on. The range of delivery and emotion served up by Dolenz was the match of anything that Dusty or Aretha offered in 1967.
When Love Comes Knocking At Your Door would have fitted on Rubber Soul without any fuss or dip in quality, getting in and out in less than two minutes while still leaving enough to get lodged in your mind.
More of The Monkees would be the last album where the band’s input was limited but again, Nesmith made his mark on the song writing process, writing Mary, Mary and having a co-writing credit for The Kind Of Girl I Could Love. The latter is sung by Nesmith and lays a marker for the work he would write and record in years to come. It’s not a giant step from this song to Different Drum, Circle Sky or even Listen To The Band and as much as he may seem quite grumpy about it all, the whole process of being in The Monkees had a lot of positives for Nesmith.
Mind you, Nesmith supposedly already had Different Drum in the bag before he joined The Monkees and the song was released in the summer of 1967 with Linda Ronstadt taking on lead vocals for The Stone Poneys. Anyone clinging to the fact that the individual members of The Monkees were just puppets with no creativity or talent of their own would soon be parted from that opinion…even if they refused to admit or accept it.
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone wasn’t penned by The Monkees, it wasn’t even first released by The Monkees, Paul Revere & The Raiders got their first while Liverpool Five got their second but it was The Monkees that stamped the song into people’s minds. It was this version that sparkled and shimmied, acting as a warning but still having a softer and warm edge that meant people of all ages enjoyed it. You can also bet it was The Monkees version the Sex Pistols were referencing when they played the song.
I also like the penultimate track Laugh but I’m willing to concede that it isn’t a classic for everyone!
The album’s closing track, I’m A Believer is still a jaw-droppingly fantastic pop song. No matter how many times you’ve heard the original or how many awful karaoke versions you’ve been forced to endure, it hits you from the opening refrain and it doesn’t let go until the last second…which is still short of the three minute mark. The song is one of two fantastic Neil Diamond songs on the record, bookending side two of the original album. Just look at the song-writers…even if you ignore the concept of The Monkees and view it as a vehicle for some of the greatest song-writers of the era, you have to say it’s an album that is worth checking out.
Are there poor songs on the album? Of course there are, this was a record being churned out and it was looking to appeal to a wide audience, which means that there are some clinkers to be found. Notably Your Auntie Griezelda but it’s the Peter Tork song on the album, an accolade even lower than the Ringo track. Even then, it has its charm, drawing slightly on The Stones and their 19th Nervous Breakdown. The section where Tork freestyles noises is going to bring it down with respect to overall song quality but thinking about some of the groups audience, young kids, it was probably an album highlight for some people.
As an 8 year old listening to the Magical Mystery Tour EP (well, the CD album version), it was the weirdness, silly sounds and repetitive chanting that got me interested in I Am The Walrus as opposed to the storytelling, the nods to Carroll and the music. I’m all for gateway music and getting kids into stuff that continues to give them more on repeated listens and this is the sort of song that creates a platform for development.
The Day We Fall In Love and Sometime In The Morning aren’t great but they were never aimed at me or people like me. These were love songs aimed at the girls who loved the band, the girls who snapped up the records, the merchandise and who screamed so loud that the noise around The Monkees roared a little louder than the ebbing reverbations of Beatlemania in 1967.
If you’re talking about cultural impact in 1967, it’s hard to overlook The Monkees. It may not be the story that people want to choose from the year, it doesn’t fit with the psychedelic outlook, the dark and dangerous sounds that were coming out of Los Angeles and New York or the growing opposition to the war in Vietnam…but it was what people were listening to.
A startling thing about More of The Monkees wasn’t just the fact that it was the biggest selling album in the United States in 1967; it was the first rock/pop album to ever hold that accolade. Harry Belafonte had the biggest selling album in 1956, when sales figures were first tracked and Henry Mancini and Herp Albert also topped the list in the first decade, but by and large, the biggest selling record of the year was a soundtrack or a recording from Broadway. That all changed in ’67 and from that point on, the game had changed. After the Monkees, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (with Are You Experienced?) and Iron Butterfly (with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) came through in the manner that we all take for granted about the 60s.
In the United Kingdom, things weren’t really that different. In 1966, there were only five different albums in the Number One spot over the course of the year with The Sound Of Music’s year long reign only being punctuated by The Rolling Stones with Aftermath and The Beatles with Revolver.
In 1967, The Sound of Music clocked up 5 separate reigns at the top, while Sgt Peppers clocked up 26 weeks in three different spells. Val Doonican grabbed the last album Number One of the year but aside from that, the only band taking the top spot in the UK album charts was the Monkees.
The group hit the top spot for 7 weeks in January with their debut record while More Of The Monkees has two separate spots at the top in May. It may not have been the sound that has been foisted upon 1967 but clearly The Monkees were the band of the year, at least with respect to a commercial outlook and what people were engaging with. Not only were people watching The Monkees on their TV and listening to them on their radio, they were going out and buying the records too. Even though the band was being beamed into homes on both sides of the Atlantic, this wasn’t enough for people, people wanted to listen to the band when they wanted, not when the schedules dictated.
The band’s debut album was only knocked off the top of the US album charts by their second album and in total, the Monkees were top of the charts for 31 consecutive weeks with their first two albums. By now, More of The Monkees has sold more than 5 million copies in the US, not bad for a manufactured act, not bad at all.
It’s easy to be sniffy about The Monkees but if you love great songs and fun, likable characters, it was surely a lot easier to take them to your heart. You also find that some people who disliked The Monkees were happy to do some mental gymnastics to slate them while liking others.
Don’t sit there and say Elvis was a musical phenomenon while moaning about The Monkees first couple of records and TV shows. Don’t call the Monkees manufactured nonsense while current pop artists are releasing songs with 10 and 11 different writers all credited as being part of the songwriting process.
Sure The Monkees were manufactured, a boy band designed to make money as opposed to being formed organically due to a love of music or a desire to play gigs…but they were real. The notion of The Monkees as a boyband is so far removed from the insipid incarnations from the 1990s and 200s, the era when the term boyband took on a whole new meaning. Boyzone and Westlife were the biggest culprits because they were the biggest name of that era (the era after Take That and E17 made boybands “acceptable” in the UK again, the era after NKOTB did the same in America and around the world) but there were plenty of terrible acts that made a lot of money for managers and labels but probably not for themselves.
At their peak, Five may have been able to beat up the Monkees (they were the bad boys after all) but in reality, comparing The Monkees and groups like Five or A-1 is a bit like comparing Salvador Dali and your uncle John, because they both do a bit of painting to bring in money. And of course, your uncle John is as mental as Salvador Dali…but apart from that, there’s a world between them…much like there’s a world between The Monkees and the other bands they sometimes get classified along with. No, The Monkees weren’t The Beatles or The Stones…certainly not in the early days, but when it came to impacting on youth culture and kicking open doors that would allow others to follow, The Monkees were as relevant as any other act of 1967.