The Upshot: Return to the planet of the Monkees!
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
I guess that I liked the Monkees about as much as most people did. I didn’t have all of their albums, but their best songs do have that certain ‘something’ that can pull you in and be infectious. Their song catalog range covered a wide swath, from the rather silly, to the catchiest pop gems. It didn’t hurt that they had a solid, recognizable sound, were very personable guys, and god, their music was just fun! Best of all, their new release, Good Times, will make you a believer again.
The remaining trio have emerged from their black box for a half-century celebration of those good times by following their here-to successful formula of churning out juicy, banana flavored bubblegum pop. Defying all expectations, this thing rocks, and, a closer examination of all involved personnel, reveals critical songwriting input from the usual suspects that penned many of their original hits back in the day.
I must plead guilty to having a bit of a sweet tooth for ‘60’s bubblegum, but most exposure was from AM radio or juke boxes, not ownership. I mean, after all, it was for teeny-boppers, shrieking 16-year old girls. The same ones that ruined live Beatles concerts. The airwaves then were awash with label-produced ‘hits’
by bands with goofy names like The Rock and Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Company of Philadelphia, The Kasenets -Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, The 1910 Fruit Gum Company, The Archies, plus, real bands like The Ohio Express, Tommy James and The Shondells, and Paul Revere and the Raiders.
The Monkees were supposed to be a product, TV stars, based on the popularity of the Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night and Help, with songwriting assist of hit-makers from the Brill Building and others. You know, a manufactured image with no philosophies. It may be lost to time exactly which wag tagged them with the moniker, the Pre-Fab 4, but it has stuck with them over the decades.
Regular contributors to the Monkees’ catalog were writers like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond, and the man with a head full of catchy tunes, songwriter supreme, Jeff Barry, (wrote or co-wrote, “Sugar Sugar,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Hanky Panky,” “Chapel of Love,” and “Leader of the Pack.”) Of the 13 songs on Good Times, there’s one by each of them, plus Harry Nilsson (the title song, with the late Nilsson on vocal and piano), then, one by Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz, and five by the rest of the crew that helped make the whole project gel. Davy Jones makes a rare appearance with lead vocals on the Neal Diamond number, “Love To Love,” a sweet bit o’ honey that I’m delighted that they took the time to resurrect from Jones’ old vocals in a can somewhere since 1969.
Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schesinger had a major hand in the creation of Good Times. He not only produced and co-engineered it, but played on most of the songs, composed “Our Own World,” and contributed to Dolenz’ ”I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time.”) Dolenz, having done superb lead-vocal duties on about half the tunes, and back-up on several more, skipped drum duties throughout, and utilized a few other drummers. Tork plays guitar, organ or banjo on 4 numbers, and da Nez plays guitar on four numbers. And, here’s where it gets interesting, 25 other players were involved on various songs on assorted instruments. Bobby Hart himself leant his vocals to his Boyce/Hart tune, “Whatever’s Right.”
Fresh-blood contributors included XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer Rivers Cuomo, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, and Ben Gifford of Death Cab For Cutie, all contributing very strong songs. Monkees fans all, they knew exactly what to do to inject the primate into the pop.
Being a summer release, the sun really shines down on tunes like “Good Times,” with it’s go-go beat, “She Makes Me Laugh,” “Our Own World,” “Gotta Give It Time,’ and come on get happy with “You Bring the Summer.” The King/Goffin penned “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” with Tork singing, is a little underwhelming compared to the Byrds’ soaring version. However, his personal addition, “Little Girl” is pleasant, endearing and a sweet indulgence. The wistful memoir, “Me & Magdalena” is perfectly tailored for Nesmith to cover, accompanied by Dolenz’ harmonies. Nez’ own contribution, “I Know What I Know” is a plaintive and low-key composition, mostly piano with melancholy string accompaniment. Dolenz’ clever, hand-clapping number rounds out all of the good times, with “I Was There (And I’m told I Had A Good Time,)” because, as you know, if you can remember the ‘60’s, you weren’t really there. Perhaps the most outstanding song is the Gallagher/ Weller psych-folk-pop number, “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” which will leave you feelin’ groovy. Btw, there are a couple of other exclusive songs from the sessions that you can download.
I would easily rate this project an instant classic, and it would take some kind of cynical, red-assed baboon to dis this album. I fully expect it end up on many Top 10 lists at the end of the year. Welcome back to the Monkee house.
DOWNLOAD: ““Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” “Love To Love,” “You Bring The Summer,” “ and
“She Makes Me Laugh.“