First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2006, Volume 13, #9
Written by John Metzger
The road that winds through the history of pop music is littered with the dusty remains of acts whose fame and fortune were prefabricated completely, but none were quite as successful from a commercial and, arguably, from an artistic perspective as The Monkees. Initially, however, the quartet of Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Mike Nesmith was largely a front for Don Kirshner’s functionally effective Frankenstein’s monster of talent. Although they eventually would wrest some creative control away from Kirshner, their input into the ensemble’s self-titled debut was limited to providing the vocals — save for the guitar accompaniment that Tork added to Papa Gene’s Blues and a pair of tracks that were penned or co-penned by Nesmith (Papa Gene’s Blues and Sweet Young Thing). Outside of a few contributions from David Gates, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Russ Titelman, most of the material was written by the team of Tommy Boyce and keyboard player Bobby Hart, while the music was created by Hart along with an array of topnotch L.A. session men that included drummers Hal Blaine and Billy Lewis; guitarists Wayne Erwin, Gerry McGee, and Louis Shelton; and bass player Larry Taylor.
Not surprisingly, The Monkees’ eponymous endeavor was a mediocre concoction, and the lone highlights were the suitably playful theme song and the Beatle-esque Last Train to Clarksville. While the ensemble held its own throughout the set, it also failed to rise above its blatant mimicry of the era’s chart successes. For all its jovial exuberance, Let’s Dance On essentially was a fusion of The Young Rascals’ rendition of Good Lovin’ and The Beatles’ interpretation of Twist and Shout; while Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day recycled the intro to Last Train to Clarksville, The Beatles’ Another Girl, and the rock-oriented aspects of The Mamas and The Papas’ If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. Elsewhere, hints of Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds drifted through Papa Gene’s Blues; Sweet Young Thing drew directly from The Who’s psychedelic etchings; Take a Giant Step dabbled in the folk-pop of Simon & Garfunkel; and bits of The Yardbirds were tucked inside the title track.
The latest repackaging of The Monkees’ debut not only presents the entire album in both stereo and mono formats, but it also boasts a wide assortment of bonus material. Granted, a majority of the extra cuts were made available via the initial reissue of the set as well as via the three volumes entitled Missing Links, and hence, they are less revelatory than they otherwise might have been. Yet, taken in full, they still manage to do a terrific job of highlighting the forces that were pulling upon the group during its formative moments. The most intriguing selections include a faster version of I Wanna Be Free, which fares far better than the song’s incarnation as a limp ballad, and several recordings that were taken from the sessions that were helmed by Nesmith. Rather than drawing from the British Invasion bands, Nesmith’s concept for the ensemble was anchored, not surprisingly, by California’s rich music culture. All the King’s Horses, for example, was indebted to Jefferson Airplane, while I Don’t Think You Know Me was informed by The Byrds. There’s nothing here that moves The Monkees beyond the notion that it was a derivative product that was designed for mass consumption, but that doesn’t make the outing any less of a treat.
The Monkees [Deluxe Edition] —
Bonus Tracks —
The Monkees [Original Album] —
Of Further Interest...
The Monkees is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box