Monday, February 18, 2013

Monkees 8: Present and Changes

Granted that “fan” is short for fanatic, it’s understandable there are people rabid for anything the Monkees have done. While some of their albums have merit, our main complaint about the Pre-Fab Four is that their post-TV show albums make it all too clear that they weren’t really a band. Onstage they may have supported the singers okay (and Nesmith insists that, if anything, they were Davy’s backup band) but their separate work in the studio left no possibility for unity. They didn’t merely work separately—they practically partitioned themselves from each other. Their individual idiosyncrasies blended somewhat in the early days, but once Peter left—taking his classical training and folk tendencies with him—Davy always sounded like Davy, Nez was increasingly obsessed with straight country instrumentation, and Micky seesawed between pot-fueled social commentary and bubblegum pop.
However, even after the show had transitioned to Saturday morning reruns, the boys still had keys to the shop, and were still allowed to record to their hearts’ content, fuelling the hubris that nearly led to a double album with each side spotlighting an individual member. Since they were down to a trio anyway, The Monkees Present was limited to a single LP totaling half an hour, barely worth the plastic it was cut upon.
Some of the digging that filled up the last three albums remained in place, with two 1966 recordings spruced up to no real pleasure. “Looking For The Good Times” is practically a backwards version of “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”, while “Ladies Aid Society” was a hideous idea that Ray Davies would have done better. Both of these songs were sung by Davy, where Micky and Peter would have been better suited for them—that is, if they weren’t so awful. Mike offered more cuts from his trip to Nashville the previous summer; “Listen To The Band” and “Good Clean Fun” were both singles, and are arguably the best of those sessions.
As for the “newer” songs, they’re nothing special. Micky’s “Little Girl” is a gentle song performed way too fast. “Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye” is a barely expanded riff on the chant at the center of “Mommy And Daddy”, his truly scathing indictment of middle-class hypocrisy. (Unsettling as it is, the alternate lyrics in the version on the Rhino reissue are even further from acceptable teenybopper fare.) Then there’s “Pillow Time”, a lullaby written by his mother, which gives him the opportunity to close the album yet again. (Some 20 years later he’d market a collection of lullabies called Micky Dolenz Puts You To Sleep.) Davy attempts to tug heartstrings with “If I Knew” and “French Song”. Mike continues his country explorations with the music hall/saloon delivery of “Oklahoma Backroom Dancer” and “Never Tell A Woman Yes” (which predicts Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider” by a few years).
Those 12 songs only scratched the surface of the studio time spent to come up with this masterpiece, and true to Rhino form, three discs were crammed full of alternate mixes, outtakes and other tests of fandom as part of a so-called Deluxe Edition in 2013. To mirror the original album, these include further spruced-up rejects from 1966 and more Nashville tracks by the itchy Nesmith. Some songs only heard on the reruns now appear in context, like the bafflingly popular “Steam Engine” and even their Kool-Aid commercial. While a few songs were repeated from other Deluxe Editions, at least the set stuck to the one period.

There would be one more album under the moniker, 1970’s exceedingly bland Changes. By now the “band” was down to Davy and Micky, and like good little soldiers they added vocals to a pile of generic tracks hurriedly recorded by people clearly inspired by the Partridge Family (as evidenced by the backing vocals). To ensure a connection to the past, they also dredged up a couple of tracks from a pre-Headquarters session, and let Micky include his own “Midnight Train” (which appears in a much more palatable demo elsewhere in the catalog). In all, a dull end to a career that had already ended.

The Monkees The Monkees Present (1969)—
1994 Rhino CD: same as 1969, plus 5 extra tracks
2013 Deluxe Edition: same as 1995, plus 68 extra tracks
The Monkees Changes (1970)—1
1994 Rhino CD: same as 1970, plus 3 extra tracks

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