The Monkees, Good Times! – Released in honor of the group’s fiftieth anniversary, it’s the first album they’ve done since their thirtieth anniversary. The members are known for not getting along all that well with each other, although when they do reunite they make a show of being old friends. I guess that’s true for a lot of old bands; being in close quarters often breeds enmity. Mike Nesmith finally agreed to tour with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork after Davy Jones died, but whether that was due to particular animosity between Mike and Davy or just coincidence, I don’t know for sure. All three surviving members contributed to the record, and Davy is present in Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love.” While this song had previously been released as a bonus track, here it adds new backing vocals from Micky and Peter. Other older songs are revisited as well, with the title track (okay, it slightly differs from the title with the lack of exclamation point) adding Micky’s vocals and some new instrumentation to a demo by the late Harry Nilsson, and Jeff Barry and Joey Levine’s “Gotta Give It Time” and Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow” receiving similar treatment. The King/Goffin song is folky in its sound, so it’s not too surprising that Peter takes the lead vocal. It sounds like there’s some banjo on it, but it isn’t mentioned in the credits. Peter identifies it in the liner notes as “Dylan-esque,” which I guess I can hear, although it also puts me in mind of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” It’s lyrically epic, but based around a repetitive riff. Boyce and Hart’s “Whatever’s Right” is another older composition, although it was apparently fully recorded this year, including a backing vocal by Bobby Hart. The newer songs were largely contributed by indie musicians, but are quite intentionally sixties-sounding, so it’s not like there’s a lot of contrast between these and the more traditional ones. Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne produced the album, wrote “Our Own World” and co-wrote “I Was There (and I’m Told I Had a Good Time)” with Micky, and played various instruments. “I Was There” reminds me of the Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” only much shorter. Other modern songwriters who contributed are Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, and most significantly for me, Andy Partridge of XTC. I remember reading a story about how Andy bought his first tape recorder when winning a prize for drawing a caricature of Micky in a contest, or something like that. The song is very much in his style, but still well-suited to the Monkees. Like “She Makes Me Laugh,” it’s a catchy bubblegum pop number. Gibbard’s “Me & Magdalena” is a slow, mellow song, with Mike on lead vocals. Gallagher and Weller’s “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” (not a title you’d likely associate with the Monkees) is psychedelic with bits of English music hall. Personally, I think Scott McCaughey would have done a good job writing a Monkees song, but he’s probably too obscure. Peter and Mike each have one of their own compositions here as well. The former wrote “Little Girl” for Davy to sing, but this never happened, and here he sings it himself. By the way, I think this is the second title used for two completely different Monkees songs, the other being “You and I.” Mike’s “I Know What I Know” is a sweet piano-driven love song. Beth ordered the album from FYE, and their version has a bonus track written by Peter’s brother.
Beth and I went to see the Monkees in concert on Wednesday night. We’ve seen them together a few times, and most of the pre-song banter has been exactly the same every time. We discussed that a bit after the show, and she pointed out that, while she’d like to hear more improvisation, the corny old jokes are likely what the majority of the audience wants. The title of “I Was There” comes from the introduction to “Randy Scouse Git.”
It’s just Micky and Peter on this tour, although Mike did play “Papa Gene’s Blues” over Skype.
They also sang and played along to some pre-recorded vocal tracks from Davy. While there was a full backing band, the two main guys did play instruments on many of the songs. Sometimes this just meant a tambourine or maracas for Micky, but he played guitar or drums on others. They included a few songs from the new album, but mostly stuck to the old hits. Peter brought out the banjo occasionally, as on “D.W. Washburn” and a bluegrass-tinged cover of “(Your Love Is Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” For some reason, I tend to associate “Washburn” with “Goin’ Down,” a concert stable, even though they’re not really all that similar.