Tuesday, January 13, 2009

204. The Monkees: More of the Monkees (1967)

On the original back cover of 1967's More of the Monkees, there's an interesting bit of propaganda from supervising producer Don Kirschner saying basically, "Look, I know we lied to you last time, but this time we won't pretend the boys wrote the songs. But look who did!" Kirshner was on his way out anyway.

Though he'd been instrumental in the musical side of the Monkees empire, he was also a victim of its success. While Davy, Peter, Mickey, and Mike were out on tour, the T.V. show ruled the ratings, and I'm a Believer topped the charts, Kirshner capitalized on the frenzy by rushing out an album made up of songs the boys had already put the finishing touches on the previous summer and fall. He slapped a photo of the four Monkees wearing clothes from J.C. Penney on the front cover and called it More of the Monkees. The four band members were barely involved.

Mike Nesmith was especially furious. Already battling accusations that they weren't real musicians, the band had been robbed of a chance to prove it. Instead, the album title was frustratingly accurate. Everything that made the first album feel less-than-genuine (songs written by other songwriters, played by studio musicians, and featured in the T.V. show) was repeated. What's worse, many of the songs weren't as strong as the ones on the band's debut.

In a bit of angry hyperbole, Nesmith called it "the worst album in the history of the world." It's not. It's not even the worst album in the Monkees' catalog, but it is a disappointment. Here's the lowdown, broken into five handy categories:

The Classics
I'm A Believer, an undeniable pop composition from Neil Diamond, is so good that not even a Smashmouth could ruin it. The Monkees' rendition is definitive, mostly thanks to Mickey's inspired vocal. Speaking of great vocals, (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone rides Mickey's moxy and a garage band feel to immortality. As I kid I especially enjoyed the series of lines that goes, "When I first met you girl you didn't have no shoes / Now you're walkin' 'round like you're front page news / You've been awful careful 'bout the friends you choose / But you won't find my name in your book of who's whos."

The Surprises
The organ-driven album opener She makes unexpected use of minor chord change to tell the tale of a heartbreaker ("And now I know why she keeps me hangin' round / She needs someone to walk on / So her feet don't touch the ground."). It was a contribution from Boyce and Hart, who had been so instrumental in the first album and would continue to be an integral part of the Monkees' story. More on that later.

Mary, Mary, written by Nesmith, features a groovy beat, skipping lead guitar, and another strong Mickey vocal (do you see a theme?). RUN-DMC picked up on that irresistable drum bit and reinterpreted the song on their 1988 Tougher Than Leather album. Everyone knows I'm a Believer, but Neil Diamond also wrote Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow). Davy takes the lead to tell a unique tale of a man who has 24 hours to choose between two girls (Mary who has "lips like strawberry pie," and Sandra who has long hair). Who does he pick? The song never tells.

Finally, The Kind of Girl I Could Love is a signature Mike composition: Brief, countrish, with a great bridge. The only thing atypical about it is the fact that the title words are actually featured in the song itself! Though, one notices that he's not telling the girl in question that he loves her, just that she's the kind of girl he could love. No promises there.

Comme Ci, Comme Ca
When Love Comes Knockin' At Your Door is a scratchy Neil Sedaka / Carole Bayer tune that lets Davy be as twee as he pleases. No thanks. Sometime in the Morning is a pedestrian Carole King / Gerry Goffin song, and would probably be more interesting with King herself on vocals. Hold On Girl has some interesting instrumental bits, but is hardly a standout.

There are three awful missteps on More of the Monkees. I'll list them from least to most egregiously bad. Your Auntie Grizelda is a Peter Tork novelty showcase that features (no joke) baby noise scatting. The liner notes indicate that producers had a hard time finding proper material for Peter, and this is clear proof. Laugh is a Davy Jones trainwreck with awful lyrics ("Laugh, when you go to a party / And you can't tell the boys from the girls"). Davy also takes lead on what may be the single worst Monkees song in existence, a turd called The Day We Fall in Love. In a breathy voice, Davy recites a love poem (sample lines: "There'll be birds singing everywhere / And the wind will be blowing through your hair / I'll look in your eyes / And wait for the prize"). The musical accompaniment is minimal, allowing the awfulness of the lyrics to take center stage.

The Bonus Tracks
One problem with the bonus tracks on these album reissues is that the compilers wanted to avoid overlap with the Missing Links series (collecting rare Monkees tracks), so there wasn't much left of quality. Mostly you end up with alternate versions of songs from the same or other albums. I'll Spend My Life With You and Don't Listen to Linda both appear on later albums in official versions. Both Neil Diamond songs get second plays, inessentially. There's even an alternate version of I Don't Think You Know Me, one of the bonus tracks on The Monkees. Peter takes the lead vocals and unfortunately can't top Mickey's performance.

Don Kirshner's rush-the-second album plan paid off in sales, if not in quality. It also was the second-to-lat straw for his relationship with the Monkees. Soon after More of the Monkees was relased, the band flexed their newfound muscle, and Kirshner was forced out. As tends to happen, the monster he created turned on him.

Grade: C
Fave Song: Mary, Mary


Nite Owl said...

HOW did it take me so long to find your site??? I love your reviews... very insightful and enjoyable commentary without being overbearing, pretentious or overly snarky. Great stuff! And I love the Monkees too.

However, I'd have to say the only track on this album that doesn't hold up for me 45 years later (I was born in 68) is the oft-derided "Day We Fall in Love," just because it's so mawkish.

I LOVE "Sometime in the Morning" (Did you hear the live stripped down version Micky does on Youtube) and "She" quite a bit. Ironically, I was never that big on I'm a Believer or Steppin Stone as a kid. I always preferred Look Out to Believer, for example. But I've grown to love those songs too.

Great site! Hope you can review these bands at some point: The Kinks, The Damned, and/or Roxy Music.

Have a great day.

Anonymous said...

i thought this was an ok album