The Monkees – ‘Listen to the Band’ 1969’s The Monkees Present Album

by | Jun 5, 2016 | 0 comments

In light of the recent resurgence and renewed interest in
the Monkees’ and because I dig em, today I am spinning what would be in reality their swan song record, The Monkees Present. Released in October 1969 the recording finds the band in
some opinion somewhat outdated and passé at this point in their career. But
when inspected in hindsight and context the record features for the time, contemporary
as well as very interesting music. Peter Tork had left the group of his own
accord in late 1968 while Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and David Jones decided
to soldier on, with Nesmith soon leaving the group after the release of this
aforementioned record. 
The original intention of The Monkees Present was to spotlight a side of the record for each
individual member of group; but with Nesmith’s interest waning and the band’s
supporters losing interest, the record ended up being released as a normal
collection in its current and circulating form. The record as a whole is
interesting for each member’s original compositions as well as its diverse
array of genre and collective musicianship. One gets the feeling the Mike
Nesmith was holding back his best work for his First National Band project which would be the culmination of
Nesmith’s suppressed and simmering musical abilities and his debut solo project
released ion the following year. Regardless, the Monkees Present paints a realistic and aurally interesting document
of the Monkees, an often controversial and criticized group among rock fans,
but with no doubt, a talented assembly of musical and artistic expressionists.
Dolenz ‘show-biz psychedelia elements, Jones heart break voice and
stage presence and Nesmith’s revolutionary country rock song skills collaborate
to express why the Monkees regardless of their genesis were greater than the
sum of their parts. They all respectively knew exactly what they were good at
and used these abilities to create a catalog of work worth of inspection. The
grooves of this record are bumpy, but moments both good and bad are still
worthy of taking note.
The needle drops on the first side of the record revealing a
Micky Dolenz original ‘Little Girl’. A small three piece group of studio musicians
support the dreamy jazz like structure. Dolenz rhythmic lyrical approach to
songwriting pulses through a series of pleadings supported by airy guitar
trilling. In my opinion the following song, Nesmith’s ‘Good Clean Fun’s would
have been an even better opening number, but its honky-tonk aesthetic must not
have meshed with certain record company criteria. “Little Girl’ does the job
admirably and is the first of a series of great Dolenz tracks.
The follow up number on the first side is also the LP’s
single, Nesmith’s ‘Good Clean Fun’. The unabashedly ‘country’ number, is a
standout song. The tune did not make much of an impression on the record buying
public, but does reveal the forward thinking Nesmith pushing the ‘country rock’
genre that he helped create and popularize. Unfortunately Nesmith was per usual,
too ahead of the curve musically as well as trying to sell a genre that the
Monkees fan base was not wholly a proponent of. 
The track is catchy, hot and has its beginnings hailing from Nesmith’s
groundbreaking 1968 Nashville recording sessions. (Which as a side note are in
desperate need of a complete official release) Ticklish banjo and pedal steel
abound and Nesmith drops musical clues as to what lies down the road. Track of
‘If I Knew’ completes the first triad of songs with each
Monkee featured once and here Davy sooths his female admirers with a delicate acoustic
based and piano love number. The track co-written by Jones by long time
collaborator Bill Chadwick and is tailor made for Davy’s sensibility while emitting
a certain timeless grooviness.
‘Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye’ is a wonderful song, shifty and
syncopated Dolenz vocals bound with grace over a whining harmonica and an
understated chicken picked arrangement. The backing band is made up by none
other than ‘Wrecking Crew’ members Hal Blaine, James Burton and Joe Osbourne
which confirms the tight and crisply played honey tonk. An excitable banjo
enters into the mix as Dolenz’s vocals weave together raising the track to
exceptional status. Competition for best song of side one and a solid rock rock
by any group. Enjoy.
Nesmith original  ‘Never
Tell a Woman Yes’ comes next and features the same backing band is the previous
number and offered as a sepia toned saloon narrative earnestly told by ‘Nes’.
This track is also a top shelf selection and may be a track that has escaped
some Nesmith fans notice. The astounding clip clop’d drumming and clear pouring
of piano underscore Nesmith’s additional joyful  wordless vocalizations and plaintive circular story
In contrast musically, the choice for the David Jones track
to follow came from an early collaboration with song-smiths Boyce and Hart. ‘Looking
for the Good Tmes’ closes side one amidst fuzz guitar and a colorful strobe light
delivery.  The song surpasses the arrangement
by reveling in Jones all out vocal investment and the strength of a usually strong
Boyce/Hart melody. An acceptable ending to a fulfilling side one.
Side two then opens oddly with the strangely placed ‘Lady’s
Aid Society’. The song is sung with slight parody by Jones while the songs
audio verite arrangement and silly street band chorus are questionable.
Falsetto parade singing and sound effects try to make the bland song pop, but his
one is useful only for its novelty and goofy ‘Brit’ attitude. Boyce and Hart
deserved a better second representation on the record and quality control missed
this one in my opinion.  I get what they
are going for, it just doesn’t do it for me.The song does reflect the diverse
musical display of the recording, if anything. 
‘Listen to the Band’  saves the day and picks things back up with
one of Nesmith’s finest melodies from the era. The song has since become a statement
for the Monkees’ as a group and has proven its longevity.   Streaking
horns, slippery steel and a big sound are the hallmarks of a song that should
have been huge. I don’t get it, this track, the era, the content and the melodic
prowess, the song should have reached greater commercial acceptance. It had opportunity
as a single but as an album track it certainly levitates the side it inhabits.
Nesmith’s vocals are strong morning coffee, richly filling the soundscape.  For good measure there is a short trip out mid-song
organ interlude and then a well timed fade, before reprising the chorus and
then ending to recorded applause. 
David Jones makes up for his previous blunder on side two with
the atmospheric ‘French Song’. The song slinks like a sexy soundtrack, a percussive
heart surrounded by a flittering flute. Jones tells the tale of lovers, his
usual M.O., but kept here in a satisfying package of ace musicianship and clean
Dolenz ‘Mommy and Daddy’ is a rare expression of social
commentary by a group and that was often kept squeaky clean and with suppressed
opinion. Oddly, when the group did begin to break that established mold they
then crumbled. While an even more shocking alternate version is available, here
Dolenz points fingers and asks pointed questions that at the time would cause
flushed cheeks and turned heads. Dolenz is again found here contributing a
quality track to the pot with a deeper aesthetic; and when the song breaks into
a ‘big band’ beat at its conclusion; he sings like Grace Slick confidently and aggressively
pointing fingers at a Jefferson Airplane gig. 
Nesmith turns to another songwriter for his final donation
of the album, with the ‘country honk’ of ‘Oklahoma Backroom Dancer’. A funky
Nesmith production is laid on the song that also features a rollicking piano
interlude and sweet Nesmith rock and roll vocals. As previously stated, Nes may
have been stashing tracks for a solo turn but there is no questioning the
quality of the tracks he did contribute to this record. The production and
instrumentation are of the expected quality and care.
Dolenz closes the strange sequencing for the second side and
the recording with the plush jazz hands of ‘Pillow Time’. The song does what it
does well and is notable for Dolenz’s diverse throat and by framing his comforting
crooning. Micky certainly can sing the kids to sleep with the the lullabies! The
track stretches then sweetly snoozes and lays the listener down concluding a
slightly erratic side two. The song settles into a puffy comfortable groove, but
does leaves me wanting at its conclusion for another track. Oh well.  
In spite of its questionable running order and soft spots
the Monkees’ 1969 album The Monkees
offers a useful and enjoyable listen. The album reveals the
distinct personalities of its principals and their production values as well as
clues into the band’s incredible success, eventual demise and established
longevity.  Hindsight offers  the listener a nonjudgmental critique and historic
reflection on this obscure collection of great music. 


Talk to the Rock Room!

Discover more from Talk From The Rock Room

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading