Sunday, March 18, 2012

Album Review: The Monkees' last two studio albums

Since Davy Jones passed away a week or so ago, I loaded up the Monkees' discography on my computer and finally got around to listening to them last night. I know there's always been a modicum of controversy about the Monkees as a recording act, thanks mainly to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, but I hardly see any reason for it in their recorded oeuvre. It's all good pop music, or at least as good as pop music can get with out being too cloyingly bubble gum. I especially enjoyed the last two studio albums produced while the TV show was coming to an end on NBC, in 1967 and 1968.

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. is an excellent album. I believe that most of this album (and the following one) were recorded by the Monkees separately, with only one or two members of the band in the studio at the same time. I don't think it was really a matter of egos; it was more along the lines of all of them being tired from and tired of their hectic promotional schedules and being especially tired of having to defend themselves to the music press for having used studio musicians on their albums. This was and still is a common practice. Take a close look at any hip-hop act; at least the Monkees could play instruments. Just because the Monkees had the glare of their TV series to contend with, they became bigger targets for a lot of idiots.

This album features one of the Monkees' iconic hits, "Pleasant Valley Sunday", which has always been one of my favorite pop songs simply for the thinly-veiled aspersions of discontent that pervade the number. "Daily Nightly", "Salesman" and "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round" are also superlative cuts. Despite the cover art, the album doesn't really have anything that would be considered psychedelia.

The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees is an album of similar quality, but has a lot more cuts that take some chances. We have the standard hits, this time in the form of "Daytime Believer" and "Valleri", as well as some pseudo-psychedelic sounds in "Tapioca Tundra", "Zor and Zam" and "Writing Wrongs". The album is balanced out with the same sort of hook-laden pop that the Monkees usually made. I did feel that a lot of the songs had a little more of a personal verve to them, like the guys were trying to take more control of what they were doing. Which by all accounts is exactly what they were doing. Much to the chagrin of The Powers That Be, who even released this album with a cover that wasn't approved by the Monkees themselves, quaint though it may be.

These may have been the last two studio albums of the original Monkees (their last release was the soundtrack to the movie Head), but neither sounds like it was produced by a band with major internal squabbles. Each person had his own little specialty on each album and there was still a cohesion that made their music work. This was not, for example, the last album and tour by Iron Butterfly, where the band members so loathed each other that they virtually would not appear on stage at the same time. Both albums have Mickey and Davy handling most of the lead vocals, and Mike doing some of his country rock-style tunes, and Peter getting a go on a song or two as well. That's pretty much the way all six of their original albums go, and the only change is a steady progression of professionalism and a sense of being comfortable with what they were doing. I'm certain the daily grind of the show, live performances and promotional appearances took their toll on the group, as it would any in that situation. But they kept themselves professional on vinyl.

I'm not the biggest pop music fan; I prefer progressive rock and dinosaur metal music. But I've always had a soft spot in my head for the Monkees. No matter what the musical pundits would like to imply, they sounded good back then and they still do now.


by Rich Meyer

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