I admit it.
It’s time for me to come out of the closet.
I’m a Monkees fan.
Those four crazy guys who starred in that NBC TV series back in the ’60s have never really gone away. Repeated reruns on cable, numerous reunion tours and an occasional album have kept them in the nostalgia spotlight over the past 40 plus years.
Following the death of Davy Jones in 2012, long-time holdout Mike Nesmith agreed to join Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for a Monkees tour late last year and will join them for a series of concerts this summer.
I didn’t really watch “The Monkees” when I was a kid but became fan when it was a staple on the old “Nick At Nite” back in the 1980s. In particular, the 2nd season of the show (originally aired 9/67-6/68) was a revelation. Along with being quite funny, the episodes were at various times hip and more-than-just-a-little bit subversive.
Most of the music was catchy, as well, and I became hooked. When I get hooked on something, I like to do research, so I read everything I could get my hands on about the Monkees. And since the birth of YouTube, I’ve been able to view some of their rare guest appearances on other TV shows.
The more research I did, the more I grew to appreciate them and the harder it got to accept some of the unfair and untrue things written about the group. In the media coverage of Jones’ death, I heard many of those old falsehoods and half-truths regurgitated.
The lie that makes me craziest is the untruth that the Monkees were merely actors and didn’t play their own instruments. Mike, Micky, Davy and Peter could play their own instruments. In the beginning, they weren’t allowed to. Mike Nesmith finally stood-up to the corporate stuffed shirts and demanded that they be allowed to play on their songs (a confrontation that almost got him kicked out of the group).
The 1967 album “Headquarters” is nearly 100 percent Monkee; they did hire a couple of French horn players to perform on the song “Shades of Grey.” Besides that, it’s them playing all the instruments.
And it’s not bad.
They weren’t Cream but they didn’t humiliate themselves, either.
On later albums, they did employ studio musicians but the boys did contribute instrumentally to the sessions as well.
Mike Nesmith, in particular is a talented song-writer and guitar player, Nez felt constrained by the limits of the group from the very beginning. The period when they weren’t allowed to play their instruments, except on a rare cut, buried deep on their early albums, was hard for him.
His best-known composition is “Different Drum,” recorded by Linda Rondstadt but he also penned numerous fine songs recorded by the Monkees. Those include “Circle Sky,” “Tapioca Tundra,” and “Papa Gene’s Blues.”
I think Nez was cool because he never bought-into the plastic image the record company and TV network wanted to impose upon the boys. Brutally honest, he worked to maintain his and the group’s integrity.
In 1996, all four Monkees re-united to record the album, “Justus.” And it was “just” them, playing all the instruments.
“Justus” highlights included an updated version of “Circle Sky,” the a-typical Monkee hard rocker “Regional Girl,” and the blues-soaked, “Never Enough.”
It doesn’t sound like a typical Monkees album.
Led by Nesmith, they recorded what they felt like recording.
If people liked it, fine.
If not, that’s too bad.
It was a very 60’s attitude for the 90s.
So, the Monkees can play a little and have made some great records. (They made some crummy ones, too. What group hasn’t?)
Let’s be fair in evaluating their musical legacy.