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Archive for August 23rd, 2013

Review: The Monkees, “The Monkees Present: Deluxe Edition”

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The Monkees Present - BoxAnd then there were three.

Peter Tork had departed The Monkees in December 1968, just a couple of months prior to the February 1969 release of the band’s seventh studio album, Instant Replay.  The remaining trio of Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith soldiered on, though, cutting numerous new tracks and updating old ones for an eighth effort.  Issued by Colgems in October 1969 on the heels of an unsuccessful greatest-hits album, it was The Monkees Present and emphasized the slimmer group line-up on its cover artwork.  Like its predecessor, The Monkees Present reached as far back as 1966 for some of its material – but the majority of the songs were freshly composed by the recently-liberated pop stars and derived from a series of sessions.  Also like Instant Replay, it was a blend of disparate tunes that, however terrific (and they were), didn’t necessarily belong together on the same album.  Yet, miraculously, The Monkees Present has arrived, newly expanded by Rhino Handmade from 12 tracks to an altogether impressive 85 – 60 of which have never been released before in any format.  This 3-CD box set (RHM2-535908) is a limited edition of 5,000 units, and it’s a worthy – indeed, essential – companion to the previous boxed editions of The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees, Head, and Instant Replay.

The original 12-track album sequence kicks off this expanded reissue in stereo.  It can roughly be divided into three styles and four songs per Monkee.  Michael Nesmith led the pack with his groundbreaking country-rock songs including the group’s last great single, “Listen to the Band.”  Micky Dolenz continued to find his own voice as a songwriter with his contemporary, jazz-tinged rockers.  And Davy Jones, always at home in pure pop and theatrical settings, offered the material most resembling The Monkees’ earliest records.  The diversity of styles is unsurprising as Present was originally conceived as a double-disc set in which a side would be dedicated to the songs of each Monkee.  The album was pared down to just one LP but the concept of highly individual songs from each member remained.  Each Monkee produced his own material, with the exception of two Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart-helmed tracks recycled for Jones.

Dolenz’ three original compositions all showed an original voice.  Arranger Shorty Rogers cast his album-opening song “Little Girl” with a jazz trio backing, and what a group it was.  Guitarist Louie Shelton (who had played the opening riff on “Last Train to Clarksville” and the solo on “Valleri”) joined Wrecking Crew bassist ray Pohlman and drummer Earl Palmer.  Shelton’s nimble fretwork is a highlight of the song, with Dolenz supplying a delicate lead vocal over his own woozy, ethereal backgrounds, on which he was joined by sister Coco Dolenz.  Shelton and fellow guitarist James Burton joined Dolenz on “Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye.”  Lending a western-movie feel that fit snugly among Nesmith’s country-flavored songs, Hal Blaine laid down the beat with Joe Osborn on bass and Tommy Morgan on evocative harmonica.  “Mommy and Daddy” was Dolenz’s most controversial song, taking aim at hypocrisy, casual pill-popping, war, the plight of the American Indian and a multitude of pressing social issues in a little over two minutes, complete with memorable chanting.  And the finished version was actually a neutered one, with Dolenz’s original lyrics in an even more confrontational vein.  (More on those later.)  Dolenz also fronted the jazz trio to bookend the album with its closing track, the sweet lullaby “Pillow Time” – about as far removed a song from “Mommy and Daddy” as possible.

Four leads were likewise sung by Davy Jones, the voice that propelled “Daydream Believer” to chart success.  Two of Jones’ showcases were the work of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and were initially recorded in 1966.  The uptempo, driving “Looking for the Good Times” has “Valleri”-esque guitar and a couple of years earlier might have found greater success.  Further underscoring the fact that Monkees Present was in reality a collection of solo tracks, it’s also the only song on the original album to feature more than one Monkee on the track, as Micky joined Davy on backing vocals.  “Ladies Aid Society,” on the other hand, was Boyce and Hart at their most twee, with an oom-pah brass band and affected vocals: “We’re the Ladies Aid Society, and we’re really a great bunch of girls/We’re the Ladies Aid Society and soon we’ll take over the world…!”  Jones’ pal Bill Chadwick contributed the remaining two songs, co-writing the lilting “If I Knew” with Jones.  Chadwick’s “French Song” has Tim Weisberg’s flute and Emil Richards’ vibes, both of which add a haunting, exotic texture to the unusual ballad.  The two low-key Jones/Chadwick productions are among the most underrated tracks on The Monkees Present.

Nesmith’s four leads were split between sessions held in Nashville in 1968 and Hollywood in 1969.  His jaunty, barnstorming rave-up “Good Clean Fun” is enlivened by Robert Thompson’s banjo, but its chances as a single were shot by Nesmith’s deliberate and delicious refusal to pander.  The song was a response to an executive who asked for a hook-filled song with “good, clean fun.”  Nesmith duly named the song after the request – but the phrase appears nowhere in its lyric.  Papa Nez did, however, score The Monkees a hit with another Nashville-recorded track, his majestic, anthemic “Listen to the Band.”  A fusion of Nashville and Hollywood – the latter thanks to Shorty Rogers’ horn arrangement – “Listen” remains an indisputable original.  May and June 1969 sessions back in Hollywood yielded Nesmith’s own “Never Tell a Woman Yes” and Michael Martin Murphey’s “Oklahoma Backroom Dancer,” respectively.  Wrecking Crew members Blaine, Osborn and Al Casey joined drawling vocalist Nesmith and barroom-style pianist Michael Rubini for the rollicking “Never Tell.”  Mike Deasy, also one of the L.A. session vets, joined Shelton on guitar, Max Bennett on bass and Eddie Hoh on drums for Murphey’s twangy “Oklahoma Backroom Dancer.”

What extras will you find on The Monkees Present?  As it turns out – plenty!  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 23, 2013 at 10:04

Posted in Box Sets, News, Reissues, Reviews, The Monkees

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