THEY WERE THERE (AND THEY HAD A GOOD TIME): The Monkees

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Hey, hey, it’s The Monkees – they are back with a surprisingly strong album that successfully turns back the clock to 1967.

BY MICHAEL BERICK

There are many reasons to be dismissive of a new Monkees album. For one thing, the release is timed to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. Several songs are donations from well-known musicians, while other tracks incorporate material recorded in the 1960s, including one with Davy Jones, who died in 2012, singing lead. Plus, when was the last time the Monkees released a memorable album? [That would be 1968, with Head, not so coincidentally the last time the complete original lineup would record together for nearly three decades.Fanboy Ed]

However, all of this sardonic skepticism disappears once you play the album. Far from an embarrassment, Good Times!, surprisingly, is good stuff.  Released via Rhino, it is really quite an achievement that Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith—these 70-somethings—have made an album that exudes the same youthful joy they had in their heyday.

A good deal of credit goes to producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne co-founder). He has impressively crafted an album that sounds like a better-produced version of something the Monkees might have done in 1967, although (happily) without the goofy novelty numbers.

Schlesinger smartly solicited songs from musicians who are Monkees’ fans: XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s River Cuomo and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Partridge’s “You Bring The Summer” and Cuomo’s “She Makes Me Laugh” both help get the album off to a strong start and these fun, catchy tunes well serve Dolenz’s cheerful vocals.

Gibbard’s “Me & Magdalena” provides Nesmith a chance to contribute a quieter, more acoustic moment to Good Times!. He later teams with Dolenz for the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller number “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” a swirly ditty that distills all of the Monkees’ psychedelic musical trips into 3 ½ delightful minutes. Schlesinger himself contributes “Our Own World,” which battles “Laugh” for the album’s hookiest tune (even if it taps a Sesame Street riff).

Another of Schlesinger’s major achievements is how he resurrected demos from 1967-69, added on newly recorded tracks, and made them fit seamlessly with the CD’s wholly new songs. It is a bit of shock to hear a “new” Davy Jones tune, but the Neil Diamond number “Love To Love” does feel like a classic Davy love song, along with serving as an affectionate tribute to their old bandmate. Similarly, the appearance of the late, great Harry Nilsson dueting with Dolenz (who was pals with Nilsson) on the lively Nilsson-penned title track provides a touching nod to this departed friend.

The other “new old songs” also come from the Monkees’ original stable of tunesmiths. The Jeff Barry/Jerry Levine number “Gotta Give It Time” is a little garage pop nugget and Tork gives a nice reading on a lightly trippy take of Gerry Goffin/Carole King’s “Wasn’t Born To Born,” which was made famous by the Byrds on the Easy Rider soundtrack. The Monkees’ main songwriting duo, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, are represented here too and, while their “Whatever’s Right” isn’t one of album’s resurrection jobs, it does stand as two minutes of ‘60s AM radio goodness.

Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz each contribute songs, and none are fillers. In fact, Nesmith’s “I Know What I Know” and Tork’s “Little Girl” are gentle, heartfelt love odes that add an emotional soulfulness to the album. Dolenz’s “I Was There (And I Was Told I Had A Good Time),” a co-write with Schlesinger, nicely wraps up Good Times! on a light, humorous note. While suggesting a look back to the Monkees’ glory days, the song also works more universally as a morning-after-an-epic-party tune.

This duality represents what makes Good Times! such a terrific CD. Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith have created an album that evokes those golden days when they were “Micky, Peter and Mike,” while also filling it with songs that sound good today, stripped of any nostalgic bias. [Below: Micky and Peter, currently on tour; Nesmith had a prior commitment and could not tour at this time.]

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