Wednesday, November 28, 2012
"The Monkees" by The Monkees (1966)
View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl
"There's just no percentage in remembering the past."
Take a Giant Step, Last Train to Clarksville and Sweet Young Thing
Obvious Filler & Swings-and-Misses:
This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day and I'll Be True to You. I wasn't feeling the Davey songs on this LP, except of course for his smartass interjections on Gonna Buy Me a Dog.
My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)
When I sat down to listen to this record, I already had an idea of what I was going to write about. Between the questionable "live-ness" of Kiss "Alive!" and the not-really-questionable lack of playing on their own records by The Monkees, it was going to be about "faking it." I already had the argument lined out: I would defend "faking it" to the hilt; The Archies and Gorillaz would be my linch pins; I would stop just short of Milli Vanilli. It was brilliant; you would have had absolutely agreed with me.
But then somethiong happened...
As I was relistening to "The Monkees," I found myself singing Beatles' songs. I know, I know, that comparison is as inevitable as it is engineered. But I wasn't just reminded of Beatles' songs, I was actually hearing the melodies and the guitar sound smack in the heart of the The Monkees' tunes. Here are some examples I noticed without even really trying:
I first picked up on it with Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day. It sounds eerily like Another Girl. Matter of fact, I kind of zoned out and started singing Another Girl without even realizing it.
Next came Papa Gene's Blues. While not a dead on carbon copy (probably because it wasn't written by Boyce and Hart), it absolutely copped to the down-home attitude of the songs Ringo sang like Matchbox and Act Naturally.
Last Train to Clarksville - wait, no! This is a signature Monkees' song, it's insanely catchy and laced with an uber-subtle anti-war message. It also smacks heavily of Paperback Writer with that great guitar hook and high tenor countervocals. Go listen to 'em both and see for yourself.
Let's Dance On on the other hand doesn't even try to pretend that it's not Twist and Shout. (I know T&S is an Isley Brothers' song, but The Beatles totally remade it into their own thing.)
I'll Be True to You just wants to be an early Beatles' love song, it doesn't even care which one.
About the only thing that sounds at all original on that first LP is a tune Mike Nesmith co-wrote. It's the acid
tripping, hillbilly freakout that is Sweet Young Thing.
So, The Monkees are Beatles knock-offs. I realize I'm about forty-five years late on that astute observation. I had just never realized just how MUCH like The Beatles they were trying to be. The back of the LP even proclaims "Meet the Monkees" in a huge font. That similarity waned with each successive release, but "The Monkees" doesn't stray from the equation.
What I find interesting about it is that the group was clearly conceived during the early days of Beatlemania, but the group wasn't assembled and the songs weren't recorded until the Fab Four's pre-psychedelic weird middle years. That comes across like a smack in the face on "The Monkees." It's got the harmonies and skiffle-tinged early bits, but it's also got the almost-looped oddness and bizarre detours into strange instrumentations. "The Monkees" really is like "Revolver"-lite. By the way, that's a pretty big compliment.
So, is it an album? No. While it's a compliment, it doesn't overrule the fact that there is nothing tying these songs together. It just happens to be a compilation of the first dozen songs they recorded and released.
Up next, we get to hear a voice that could probably convince me to rob a liquor store. Naked. It's "Cimarron" by Emmylou Harris.