I kid you not! Our favorite Saturday morning re-run rock band just released a new album, their first in twenty years. And, this year marks the 50th year of this band. Critics wrote them off in their heyday, even though the band sold millions of albums and singles. And, who cares if none of them could write them own songs, or few their instruments. They had some of the greatest rock and pop songwriters writing hit after glorious hit for them. I think it’s about time that we all re-evaluate one of the finest bands of all time, The Pre-Fab Four: The Monkees!
Go ahead and admit it! “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer”, and the rest are classic slices of pop and power pop. You just give them their due for their status in the lives of older Gen X-ers. Go back and you will discover that many of the punk artists cut their teeth on old Monkees songs. The Monkees have a unique legacy in the rock world. They were MTV before MTV, Glee before Glee and Nashville before Nashville all rolled up in one glorious show with a shot of ’60s era camp from the Batman show and some timeless slapstick from the Three Stooges. And, they did this with the help of two or three songs per episode. And, we were lucky because we got to watch these shows in Saturday morning syndication. Jackpot!
After the TV show ran its course, the band worked hard to learn how to play their instruments in order to begin writing their own songs. And those little buggers were successful in reinventing themselves with the times of the late Sixties. They became of one the innovators of country rock, thanks to the musical vision of reluctant Monkee Michael Nesmith. Peter Tork’s writing turned the band toward a folk rock bent, all the while Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz continued the band in the pop vein. In other words, The Monkees, in their post prime time TV and during their pre- Saturday morning debut, were becoming rock visionaries.
So, on Friday, May 27, right at the beginning of the Memorial Day three-day weekend, The Monkees dropped their first album in twenty years in order to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. The album is called Good Times!, and this time their album was headed by the sympathetic ears of early Gen X-er Adam Schlesinger of the great alternative/power pop band Fountains of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom”).
Schlesinger’s genius was to uncover gems by original writers Carol King & Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart. Then, Schlesinger employed Monkees fans such as Weezer song-smith Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge of XTC, Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cuties and Schlesinger himself. He also allowed each of the surviving Monkees (Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork) to write a song. Finally, the producer uncovered a Davy Jones-penned song with his vocals, in order to make the album seem as those all of the original members where involved even though Davey left us a couple of years ago.
Now, does this album hold up to the original years? No. But, it does not tarnish their reputation one bit. As a matter of fact, I would say that Good Times only enhances The Monkees’ reputations. Take the opening song, and title song, Good Times. The song was a nugget written and demoed back in the Sixties by Harry Nilsson, and Schlesinger made the demo into a full-fledged duet with Dolenz, which makes the whole thing seem timeless. And, pretty much, that is the album in a nutshell: timeless. My favorite songs are “You Bring the Summer” (written by Andy Partridge), “She Makes Me Laugh” (Rivers Cuomo), “Our Own World” (Schlesinger) and The Beatles/Beach Boys homage “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” (written by Oasis leader Noel Gallagher AND The Jam/The Style Council leader, The Modfather himself, Paul Weller). But, there are other gems on the record, such as Gibbard’s “Me & Magdalena” and Nesmith’s “I Know What I Want”.
Although I have only owned this album for a week, I have not tired of it. This album is much better than it ever has a right to be. But, thank God that The Monkees created this gem. I give this album a B+. It is not a classic album, but it is no where near the embarrassments that those albums released in the Eighties and Nineties. Go get it now so you can play it during your upcoming barbecues and pool parties! May The Monkees live long and prosper. And may we all be as cool as “The Monkees Mobile” is today.