The Pre-Fab Four – now Three – return to the stage to celebrate their breakout album and their lost colleague. The band is currently on a North American tour.
BY MICHAEL BERICK
Daydream believers got their prayers answered, finally. The three surviving Monkees – Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz – are touring together for the first time since 1997, and for their first American tour with Nesmith since 1969. (It started last fall in California and resumed recently, with dates slated to stretch into early October. View the itinerary here.)
The occasion of this tour is bittersweet celebration. These concerts are commemorating both the 45th anniversary of the band’s hard-fought-for Headquarters album (the first record where they played their own instruments) and the passing of their beloved bandmate Davy Jones, who passed away earlier this year.
During a conversation, Dolenz revealed that the guys had been talking about doing this 45th anniversary tour even before Jones’ death, but it was the Los Angeles private memorial service where tour talk fell into place. While chatting with Nesmith and Tork in a corner of a room, Dolenz said he made the suggestion: “Well, you guys want to start a group?”
The idea of a memorial concert in Los Angeles evolved into doing one in the cities where Jones had family and friends (L.A., New York and London), which then snowballed into a 12-city tour. “We aren’t calling it the Davy Jones memorial tour or anything of that nature. It sounds a little weird to me,” Dolenz explained, while adding, “[Davy] will certainly be remembered in a very special way. The fans will be very pleased I think with the way that we pay our homage to him.”
(below: Dolenz & Tork today)
On this tour, the band naturally will spotlight a number of Headquarters songs along with performing classic Monkees hits like “I’m A Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Last Train To Clarksville.” The concerts will also feature a wide of Monkees tunes as well as utilizing plenty of video and other multi-media elements, which is something that fans have enjoyed at recent tours.
(below: Nesmith today)
According to Dolenz, the Monkees’ enduring popularity is because they “really touched a nerve. It really has become quite an important part of the American cultural landscape.” He was quick to give credit for the work to the songwriters, TV writers, producers and the other behind-the-scenes people who helped make the Monkees “into something bigger than the sum of its parts.”
Dolenz offered two reasons for the generation-spanning appeal for the Monkees TV show. On the show, the band was not famous; unlike, as he pointed out, the Beatles in their movies. “They were famous and we were always trying to be famous. That is a real important distinction, because the kids around the world back then – and even today – who are struggling to start a group in the basement, can identify with the struggle.”
He also noted that the show’s comedy had a timeless quality. “The show was not satirical or topical. John Lennon once said it was like the Marx Brothers. The comedy did not date, like I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners – the humor is just the human condition. You can watch it to this day.”
The sense of timelessness also forms the central core of Dolenz’s new album, Remember, which he introduced recently at a special listening session/press conference in L.A. that BLURT attended (see story here). It’s a collection of cover songs resonating personally with Dolenz. The concept, he explained, came about after he started telling stories about music that meant something special to him. Selections include his Monkees audition song “Johnny B. Goode” and “Good Morning, Good Morning,” which was the first Beatles recording sessions he attended.
Some songs are ones he recorded while a Monkee (“I’m A Believer,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Don’t Ask For Love” and “Sometime In The Morning”) and some are tunes he nearly recorded. The old Bread hit, “Diary,” Dolenz revealed, was a song that had been offered to him in the Monkees’ waning days. “And I turned it down like an idiot. I didn’t think I should be doing a ballad at the time.” He also stated that the power pop classic “Sugar, Sugar” was figuratively the straw the broke the camel’s (or in this case, Nesmith’s) back. The Monkees rebelled against their producers over recording this tune – Dolenz said it wasn’t so much the song as the control over song selection – with Nesmith threatening to quit and Dolenz jetting to England where he met the Beatles.
Whether a Monkees track or not, Dolenz and his producer David Harris have done an inventive and extensive job in reinterpreting these songs with vastly different arrangements. Dolenz describes “Diary” as having a Coldplay-like vibe, while Dolenz’s own “Randy Scouse Git” now possesses a heavier, more ominous vibe. As a result, this is a covers album that sounds familiar yet different.
This new Monkees tour, however, relies on more familiar renditions of Monkees’ songs, although Dolenz noted that during rehearsals that he to teach Nesmith some of his own lyrics. “He hasn’t sung these songs in 40 years,” Dolenz said with a laugh. Still, he described the rehearsals as going great, exciting him about this new tour – particularly with the opportunity to once again share the stage with Nesmith.
I love playing with him.” A multitude of Monkees fans also are loving the fact that Mike, Peter and Micky are playing together again.
[Contemporary band photos courtesy the Monkees’ website. Additional reading: check out the BLURT interview with Michael Nesmith, “First National Man,” by contributor Mike Shanley.]