Friday, August 26, 2011

Monkees 5: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees

The TV show was all but finished, but the Monkees still had the time and the clout to keep recording for albums. The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, which was released the month after the last episode aired, is incredibly disjointed, both in concept and history. Each of the members worked alone, and in increasingly opposite directions. And Peter, the one who loved being in a band most of all, isn’t heard anywhere, despite using the likes of Stephen Stills and Buddy Miles on his sessions.
Davy is prominent on the first side. “Dream World” has a decent rock backing, but is unfortunately dated by brass and strings. “We Were Made For Each Other” is more typical syrup with too much harpsichord. In between, “Auntie’s Municipal Court” is a simple three-chord country lope with inexplicable Nesmith lyrics to match the nonsensical title, but being sung by Micky, it’s not that far out at all. “Tapioca Tundra” is just plain odd, signaled by pointedly off-key whistling before escalating into another Nesmith attempt at poetry over a Latin beat. First heard as a B-side (where it belonged), it still managed to hit the top 40. “Daydream Believer”, recorded for the previous album but released as a single instead, finally appears, complete with the jokey slate opening. It’s still a great single, even if those trumpets do sound too much like the Partridge Family. Then there’s “Writing Wrongs”, which begins with a big studio sound anchored by a promising piano part, then takes a two-minute detour into a pointless jam over the same chord, with a couple of flatted-fifths thrown in at random for an attempt at jazz.
Side two offers a few carrots for longtime fans. “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” and “Valleri” had both been featured on the TV show, so new re-recordings are used here. Davy’s “The Poster” is a questionable rewrite of “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!”, but without the menace. Similarly, “P.O. Box 9847” uses Beatlesque production technique for a song written as a personal ad. Nez tries again to defy conventional record making with “Magnolia Simms”, which managed to predict “Honey Pie”, complete with surface noise, but McCartney wouldn’t have included a skipping or scratching effect, or put it only in one channel. Micky gets the last word with the anti-war “Zor And Zam”, which was also prominent in the last episode of the TV show, which he happened to direct.
Considering the disparate sounds here, it’s amazing that The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees was remotely good, or even successful. They were, however, able to choose from dozens of songs attempted throughout the sessions. (So much so that when Rhino released a limited deluxe expansion of the album, it stretched to three full CDs, including both the stereo and mono versions of the LP plus tons of alternates and outtakes, not least of which are a bunch of Mike’s countryish tunes, three versions of Peter’s mysterious “Merry-Go-Round” and FOUR stabs of his never-completed “Lady’s Baby”.) Sadly, there were even some songs recorded during the sessions that would have made the album better, but they were being held over for the soundtrack of their upcoming feature film.

The Monkees The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (1968)—3
1994 reissue CD: same as 1968, plus 5 extra tracks
2010 Deluxe Edition: same as 1994, plus 71 extra tracks

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