|The Three-kees. "I think I'm a little high". 1969. Photo by Henry Diltz.|
Last month, Rhino Records thankfully continued their line of Monkees Deluxe reissues. Some have been "meatier" (ugh, I hate that term, but it works here) than others. The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees was hands down the best so far, in that it captured the band still on a popular high, while on a creative high (and yes, some of them were often just plain high). I won't go into it, as I've already written about it on this blog. Suffice to say, it contains many a goodie.
Last year's Head reissue was...well the good parts are really good, so I won't get on the "rip-off!" train that some have chosen to board. I love hearing any live Monkees, and while I wish there was more, I do still enjoy the sloppy-as-hell Salt Lake City '68 tracks. I also love hearing what just may be Nesmith and Nilsson playing together on the alternate/extended version of "Daddy's Song". And Peter's demo version of "Do I Have to Do This All Over Again" sounds like a great Nuggets track. Or like something off the first Moby Grape album.
But I'm here to write about the latest release: 1969's Instant Replay, the first Monkees album released after Peter Tork quit the band. Not a good move on Tork's part in retrospect, but he really wanted to get out of the Monkees scene, and in on the next phase of the Laurel Canyon/Groupies and Dope scene that was being born under his nose (or rather, on his patio). Crosby, Stills and Nash were starting, Neil Young was buzzing between them and a solo career, Hendrix and Buddy Miles were jamming...And Peter was partying and playing with all of those cats. So, he reasoned (and why not?), "I'm leaving this sinking Monkee ship, in which I've not been emotionally invested for a while, and, using my recent enormous popularity, I shall ease into the new hip underground. I've got the connections, I've got the musical chops, I've jammed with the best dudes, slept with the best chicks, and in six months I'll be rocking at the Fillmore with my new band."
So what happened? Sadly, not much. He got a band together, Release. His girlfriend played drums. They recorded a demo in NYC for Atlantic, and no one bit. Tork has no idea where the demo is today (which sucks! Who wouldn't want to hear it?).
|Peter Tork and/or Release. 1969.|
Dick Clark tells a story in which Peter called him up after he quit The Monkees and said "you know how you presented a Monkees tour? Well, I got a new band and we wanna tour!". And Dick Clark said "um, well, that's not how it works. You're kind of so two years ago" I'm not sure if Release played many gigs or if they just hung out and got high. How about some quickie research?
|Peter and Girlfriend/Drummer Reine Stewart, 1969-70|
|"You are too a hippie!"--Peter Tork|
According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Tork:
"Striking out on his own, he formed a group called 'Peter Tork And/Or Release' with girlfriend Reine Stewart on drums (she had played drums on part of 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee), Riley "Wildflower" Cummings on bass and - sometimes - singer/keyboard player Judy Mayhan. Tork said in April 1969, "We sometimes have four. We're thinking of having a rotating fourth. Right now, the fourth is that girl I'm promoting named Judy Mayhan." "We're like Peter's back-up band", added Stewart, "except we happen to be a group instead of a back-up band." Release hoped to have a record out immediately, and Tork has said that they did record some demos, which he may still have stored away somewhere. According to Stewart the band were supposed to go to Muscle Shoals as the backing band for Mayhan's Atlantic Records solo album Moments (1970) but they were ultimately replaced. They mainly played parties for their "in" friends and one of their songs was considered for the soundtrack to Easy Rider, but the producers - who had also produced Head - eventually decided not to include it. Release could not secure a record contract, and by 1970 Tork was once again a solo artist, as he later recalled, "I didn't know how to stick to it. I ran out of money and told the band members, 'I can't support us as a crew any more, you'll just have to find your own way."
So there went Peter, off to supposedly greener pastures. Unfortunately, he ended up selling his prime Laurel Canyon real estate (to old buddy Stephen Stills, with whom he had been a starving folkie in Greenwich Village just five years previous), from which he was asked to stay away when The Rolling Stones were staying there in November 1969. That is some primo back stabbing assholery right there. (I'd drink to oblivion too, Pete.)
Of course, at that point, Stephen Stills was on the rock elite A List, where he would stay throughout the 70's. And Peter was about to become pretty invisible for the next 15 years, until he re-emerged, sober and prancing the stage with Dolenz and Jones, in the worst 80's pastels.
What kind of band did The Monkees become after Peter left? Umm, they became a band only in name. They were more like three solo acts who told somewhat lame jokes sometimes.
According to some quotes, Mike Nesmith was ecstatic after Peter left. There are many unflattering Nesmith quotes in which he doesn't mince words about his dislike for Peter. For example, in Hit Parader in February 1972, Nez said "I don't like Peter Tork. Never have liked him. I don't like him as a man..and I probably will never like him. I didn't enjoy playing in a band with him, and I still don't".
Well, that's gotta hurt too. (I think the liquor store's still open, Pete.)
He does go on to say that Peter "did a lot of wonderful things for and to me" and attributes his dislike to a "very visceral attitude". Truth be told, in 1972, Nesmith was on a creative tear while also going through a divorce (just listen to the excellent And the Hits Just Keep On Coming, which I see as Nesmith's Blood On the Tracks), so his mind and mood were probably not as stable as could be.
Speaking of tracks, I've once again gone way off them. 1969! Monkees! Instant Replay!
Ok. Tork's gone. The film Head flopped beyond belief. Rafelson disowned them, despite both Nesmith and Tork asking about contributing a song to Easy Rider. Teeny boppers were growing out of the Monkees, and older fans could care less about what the dudes were doing.
Even their famous friends (Beatles, Hendrix, Mamas and Papas etc) were inching away because The Monkees, nice and talented as they may be, were collecting dust on the discount rack, and were being marked down from $2.99 to $.49.
So..what to do?
Try whatever you can and see what sticks. So they tried the following:
|"It's our CSN bag! Which way to Woodstock?"|
|Ready for the Electric Power Trio Set. Or not....|
|The Johnny Cash Show. 1969.|
(in Nashville, yes, but in rock world '69, those three were pretty friggin' tame in the music world. Have a look at The Grateful Dead on the Hugh Hefner Playboy Hour, from the same time. Or The Doors on PBS Critique. Or the muddy, direct-from-Woodstock clan that invaded Dick Cavett later that year. Them thar were freaks). The Monkees at this point were about as out-on-a-limb as The Beach Boys.
Here's the lovely song. This was left off the Johnny Cash Show DVD and that really kind of makes me angry. No justice. Cash loved The Monkees, for reals.
So that appearance didn't stop the world or get them a call from Bill Graham to open for The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Nesmith also was quoted at this time as saying that he thought The Monkees' future lay in "adult comedy" a la Laugh In. This may have been the seed for his 1980 "Television Parts".
And it did seem to maybe be a smart way to keep the band afloat. I mean, at least Mickey was totally crazy and Nesmith was dry and witty. Perhaps get them on Laugh-In!
|With Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In. 1969|
Well, that went Ok....but still didn't seem right. They may have been a bit too on the side of "stoned musicians" and not enough on the "cutting edge comedy". Though how cool is Nesmith with his beard and shades?
Well, then. TV commercials. For Kool-Aid. It's back to kids-ville, but maybe a certain kind of wink-nudge, "Hey, Kool-Aid! Get It? Look how happy we look! Psychedelic!" vibe would resonate with the older teens.
But again, no one really felt like caring.
|On the set of a Kool-Aid Commercial.|
They also did other appearances, like on The Tonight Show, the Joey Bishop Show and Hollywood Squares. But none of it was happening. Simply put, without good writing, they didn't come across as particularly funny. Especially as a trio. If they wanted to get back on the radar, they had to deliver some serious musical goods. And that was no guarantee either.
|The vacant, glassy-eyed look.|
So what did the world get with Instant Replay? They got a serious mish mash which shows just how quickly pop music had evolved in three short years. In fact, arguably THE three years in which pop/rock evolved the fastest. And to their credit, The Monkees were on top of it, and changed with it. They just changed in three completely different ways.
Instant Replay contains a handful of songs that were recorded for The Monkees first two albums.
I hate that fact. It's like Crosby Stills and Nash putting "Bus Stop", "Go and Say Goodbye" and "Lady Friend" on their first album (Hollies, Buffalo Springfield and Byrds songs respectively).
It's jarring and stale and lame. Especially because all three Monkees had dozens of current, unreleased, quality songs in the can. (the one old song I dig is "I Won't Be The Same Without Her", which would have made More of The Monkees a lot less of a crapwich). But Instant Replay really would not have appealed to too many people. It's spread way too thin.
As for the new songs, well, now we're (mostly) talking.
Micky Dolenz wrote two winners: "Just a Game" and "Shorty Blackwell". The first had been worked on in 1967 for Headquarters. He described it as a "modern rock song" in the early '67 studio chatter. But it was unfinished. By 1969, under the spell of Harry Nilsson, Dolenz gives the finished song a feel that wouldn't sound out of place on Harry's Ariel Ballet.
"Shorty Blackwell" is....where to start? I've always said that, had Brian Wilson wrote this, there'd be BOOKS about it. "What was he thinking? Why this chord and not that chord? Was he barefoot?"
I also see it as the grandfather of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Think about that next time you hear it. Dolenz was a lazy songwriter. He wrote 5 great Monkees songs and said "that's enough. Let's smoke". "Shorty Blackwell" is a master work. It's insanity. I'll get to the alternate version in a bit.
Davy Jones: As always, there are Davy songs that I can only imagine appeal to 95 year old women in nursing homes. They disgust me, frankly. "Don't Listen to Linda"? How about "DON'T LISTEN TO THIS SONG? EVER!?"
(EDITOR'S NOTE: this blog entry was written a few weeks before Davy's untimely death. otherwise, I would have chosen kinder words. still, I can't change how I feel about said song. kinder words come below.)
However, this album has one of Davy's most shining moments; his contribution to HARD ROCK '69, and a very perceptive insight to The Monkees' sinking ship... I speak of "You and I".
Great great tune. Starts with Neil Young's decapitating riff. Really. It'll chop off what ever part of you that is sticking out closest to your speakers. Later, plays a very Neil solo, and I always picture him doing that herky jerky head/torso bob (you know the one, Neil fans!) as he repeats the three note figure at the end of the solo. And again, the alternate mix is rad.
Mike Nesmith: winner and reigning champion....well, how could he NOT be? "While I Cry" is just a wonderful, maudlin song that has the advantage of not sounding like 70% of Nesmith songs from this time (he found a new progression! and when that happens, amazing things happen!)
There's also "Don't Wait For Me". Ok, good tune. One of the 9 tunes from the Nashville sessions...but perhaps the most strained. It's still a great song. But it's no "Crippled Lion" (one of the most beautiful songs Nez ever wrote).
I read in reviews from the time on THIS AWESOME SITE THAT YOU NEED TO CHECK OUT that on tour, Nesmith would do this song solo acoustic. I do wish I could see/hear that. Unfortunately, not many people bothered with documenting the '69 tour. Or even attending it.
Follow that link to see.
So yeah, then they toured.
|Davy, in suspenders and no shirt, appears to be ready to pass the doobie.|
It seems to have been all about partially-filled stadiums, and strange Vegas-like performances.
Rolling Stone finally decided to write a story on them, and probably because they knew that their '69 Oakland show would be a sad site. The writer is sympathetic, and The Monkees all seem to be aware of of their dead scene. Poor guys.
So, The box set....
What to say. Once again, like with Birds and Bees, if The Monkees were in complete creative control in 1969, this could have been a much hipper album. Not visionary, per se, as Birds and Bees COULD have been. This is like 3 distinctive dudes walking in three directions. Davy and Mickey wanted nothing to do with pedal steels. Mike steered clear of Vegas. Micky....was visiting other planets, bars and weed dealers.
I've prepared a Spotify mix at the end that presents a different and hipper story than the semi-limp album that Colgems released in 1969.
Kudos to Andrew Sandoval for presenting the entire Nesmith Nashville '68 sessions, even if he didn't listen to my advice about how to go about it (yeah yeah, I know I'm just another revisionist nerd with no industry power...still, I woulda done it.)
So here's my Best of The Instant Replay Box Playlist, with some commentary and a link to the special Spotify playlist for your listening enjoyment. I've divided it into chapters, if you will...
Brian's Best of The Instant Replay Box:
I: 33 and 1/3 Television Special: This was The foursome Monkees' last gasp. A TV show that was supposed to be "far out", with guests like Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and Buddy Miles. Instead, it veered between chaotic and lame. The best parts were Nesmith's solo bit and the first 3 minutes of the "Listen to the Band" finale (before 100 people start playing at once, and not at all in a cool way). I did not include Peter's song, "I Prithee" because it's just not good. I know he'd stopped caring, but if he wanted to go out with a splash, he could have like done a sci fi jam with David Crosby and Paul Kantner.
What I did include was Nesmith's awesome "Fuck You!" to Donnie Kirshner, "Naked Persimmon", and a few Nesmith-produced backing tracks to the show's songs. They are in fact MUCH COOLER without vocals. And I alsways love Nesmith's voice giving orders in the control booth. In "Goldie Locks", his contempt for the cheesiness of the song is wrapped in humor.
1) Wind Up Man (Backing Track - Take 1) 1:102) Naked Persimmon 2:36
3) Darwin (Backing Track - Take 2) 0:52
4 ) String For My Kite (Version 2 Backing Track - Take 1) 1:14
5) Goldie Locks Sometime (Backing Track - Take 4) 3:30
II: Best songs from the original Instant Replay release. Remastered and sounding GREAT!
6) Just A Game 1:497) Don't Wait For Me 2:41
8) I Won't Be The Same Without Her (Backing Track - Take 1) 3:58 (I put the backing track because, doncha know, Mike broke the rules and had Peter Tork play guitar on this song. Not sure which of the 4 guitars, but I'm gonna take a guess that that is him noodling around before the take. He does a lot of that type of noodling during the Headquarters sessions. Possibly trying to impress the session pros.)
9) While I Cry 3:00
III: Alternate takes/mixes of songs from the Instant Replay Album that I think are superior.
10) Through The Looking Glass [Fuzz Guitar Vesion - Mono Mix] 2:50 (WILD HENDRIX-ISH LEADS played by ???)
IV: Nesmith's Country Session in Hollywood with Red Rhodes on Pedal Steel, Chip Douglas on bass and Nesmith on acoustic and electric guitars.
13) Carlisle Wheeling [Alternate Stereo Mix] 3:1714) Nine Times Blue (Backing Track Take 6) 2:22
I put the vocal-less version of Nine Times Blue because 1) how many times do you need to hear that song and 2) it's always groovy to hear Nez pickin' away. And this was the seed of his life long musical relationship with Mr Rhodes.
V: Nez in Nashville! Refer to my aforementioned post. Suffice to say, this in itself, especially with 2011 mastering, makes for a great EP. If the world only knew what he was up to. This was all happening as The Byrds were making waves with Swetheart of the Rodeo. ("Don't Wait For Me" was also recorded in the Nashville sessions, but I put it rightfully with the Instant Replay original album tracks).
16) Don't Wait For Me [Alternate 1968 Stereo Mix] 2:35
17) Good Clean Fun [Mono Mix] 2:19
18) Hollywood [1968 Stereo Mix] 2:17
19) How Insensitive 2:32
20) Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care) [1968 Stereo Mix] 3:21
21) Some Of Shelly's Blues [1968 Mono Mix] 2:30
22) St. Matthew (Alternate Vocal) 2:48
VI: Davy Steps Out and Gets Down! Davy was working hard trying to establish himself as a "Broadway Rocker" for the Neil Diamond et al crowd. The 9-5ers who were smoking grass on weekends but still dropping their kids at school each day. This also should have happened, but didn't. Shame, because these are all good songs. "Smile", like "You and I" has Neil Young on guitar.
23) Smile [1968 Mono Mix] 2:2424) War Games [1968 Mono Mix] 2:51
25) Party [1968 Mono Mix] 3:07
26) Look Down 2:51
27) Changes [1968 Mono Mix] 2:36
28) Someday Man 2:42
VI: Micky Trips Out! Only two songs from Dolenz. The first would be scrubbed clean of the more objectionable lyrics. The second would emerge on Missing Links in 1990. I always loved disco dancing to this song in my dorm room. Shut up. It was fun. You try it.
29) Mommy And Daddy [1968 Mono Mix] 2:2730) Rosemarie (Alternate Stereo Mix) 2:36
"Saginaw" was slated to be a sort of Nesmith-does-Glen Campbell-doing-Jimmy Webb, but it was never released. They lyrics aren't weird enough anyway. But I enjoy playing and singing this on the acoustic every once in a while. Especially because I don't have any illegitimate kids to feel guilty about that I had with a 17 year old. It's a lovely song.
"Sidewalk" was the TREASURE of the boxset in my book. An instrumental, rearranged version of this already great song. It has that 60's Hollywood feel that the best Brian Wilson instrumentals have. You must hear it. It makes me very very happy.
Lastly, "That's What It's Like.." is a backing track to a great sounding Davy Jones/Steve Pitts song that never got any vocals put to it. This was the same session that Neil Young showed up for, but he wasn't on this track.
31) If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again 2:4532) My Share Of The Sidewalk [Version 2 - Mono Backing Track] 2:51
33) That's What It's Like Loving You (Backing Track - Take 1) 3:04
So that's that! A scattered album, but this playlist is nothing if not rewarding and enjoyable. So reward yourself by enjoying it. As you would with a pizelle or a flan.