Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Monkees

While the Monkees have now garnered more respect that they received in their hey-day, I still find it annoying how most people don’t consider them a “serious” band, simply because they were “manufactured”. Lots of groups were put together in the 60’s (especially), but that doesn’t negate the greatness of the music! Session musicians were often used on record – again, especially in the 60’s – and no one can argue that the Monkees had some of the best on their songs, when they weren’t playing everything themselves. If it wasn’t for the stigma attached to this group, I think that they were be revered as the best, and one of the most influential, pop bands of the time!

People seem to forget that Mike & Peter were known musicians long before they joined the Monkees and that Mickey sang in r’n’r bands for years previous to this group. They were put in silly situations in the TV show, and they all obviously had great senses of humor, but they took the music serious!

Mike Nesmith was a terrific songwriter – who had already written “A Different Drummer”, the hit for Linda Rondstant’s Stone Ponys - who should be known as the creator of “country rock” as opposed to latecomer Gram Parsons. His “Papa Gene’s Blues”, “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” and his cover of “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?” are superb examples of what that genre should be. He had many other excellent tunes with this band including “You Told Me’, “You Just May Be the One”, “Sunny Girlfriend”, and “Circle Sky”, to name a few.

Mickey showed off his r’n’r roots voice in yowlers like “Let’s Dance On” and “No Time” and his versatility in songs like “Sometime in the Morning”, “Steppin’ Stone” (covered by artists as varied as Jimi Hendrix – a pal of Peter’s – and the Sex Pistols), his self-penned “Randy Scouse Git” and “Daily Nightly”. The latter song by Michael turned a few heads and finds its place in r’n’r history by being the first pop song with a Moog on it (played by Mickey)!

Peter’s input has always been overshadowed, but his musical skills already had garnered him friendships with everyone from the Mamas & Papas, Stephen Stills (who told Peter to try out for the show after Stephen was turned down), and, as said before, Jimi Hendrix. He helped Michael to make the Monkees into a real band and while his songwriting was not as prolific, his tune, “For Pete’s Sake” ended up being the closing song for the show! His voice was a bit weaker than the others, but he still did a great job on songs like “Words” and “Do I Have To Do This All Over Again”.

I’ve never been a big fan of Davy – he was always a bit too corny for me, even when I was a kid – but he still puts in an excellent performance in the fuzz-rocker “Valleri” (which one rumor has it that George Benson played the guitar solo on!) and “Star Collector”, a groupie put-down years before the Stones “Star Star”! Coincidence? I don’t think so!

So, although this group was among the first hugely popular band to experiment with genres, styles, instruments, social commentary (“Randy Scouse Git”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “Last Train To Clarksville”, etc) and on & on, had great tunes, great musicians and great production, they are still considered by many to be a joke. To me, this is especially sinful when critics continue to fall over themselves to heap praise on “undiscovered” Beach Boys songs! Man, at the time, the BB’s were as square as you could get! I mean, when you had drugs, sex, the Vietnam War and the pop culture explosion going on all around you, who, other than the jocks and cheerleaders, could really care about “Be True To Your School”?! Or even “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, a song about waiting until marriage until having sex! Sure, they had some good songs, but they were so old-fashioned and safe that even a band like the Monkees were radical in comparison! Of course, the Monkees really were involved in current events and were actually part of the counter-culture even while being TV icons!

Maybe someday they will receive their due, but in the meantime, the records just seem to get better and better!

The best 3 garage singles of the 80's.....

….not made by the bands that I’ve already listed and that I don’t play on!

Lyres – Help You Ann / I Really Want You Right Now
I always preferred DMZ to the Lyres – I dug the high energy and loud guitars of Monoman’s 70’s group, and I didn’t think the Lyres were nearly as consistent song-wise. But this single is one of the best things to come out of the 80’s!
"Help You Ann" starts with a heavily tremeloed, great guitar chord-riff and when the band kicks in, this song is driven full-tilt and never stops! Catchy as all fuck – it is nearly impossible to get this song out of your head once you’ve heard it – this builds to a super climax and shows what this band was capable of!
The flip - "I Really Want You Right Now" - is slightly more subdued, but still an intense piece and the repeating call & response of the end sends Monoman almost to the point of talking in tongues! Wow! If the rest of their output had been like this they would have been unstoppable!

The Fuzztones – Bad News Travels Fast / Brand New Man
I’ll admit I have been a bit jealous of the popularity that the Fuzztones managed to achieve, but they did work hard at it! Rudi is still going at it to this day – well over 20 years later. He always had rockin’ musicians in the bands and never stopped pushing. Personally, I thought that he was sometimes a bit over the top, especially with his “non-stop-sex” persona – for me that wore a little thin at times – but obviously it has worked for him! The Fuzztones were probably the only 80’s garage band to sign with a major and they toured with more bands and played more festivals than probably anyone else I know!
To me, this single shows the groups at its best. Sure, the lyrics are still caveman-esque, but cleverer than average and the music rocks!
"Bad News Travels Fast" steals the basic riff to the Sonics “Cinderella” yet still comes off as original and the sound is great and the band cooks through the entire thing – with screams, cool harmonica and rippin’ guitar solo!
"Brand New Man" is more of a fuzz stomper, either live or with added “audience sounds”, but whichever, it works! And it’s actually about a girl leaving rather than the other way around!
These two tunes are excellent all the way around - playing, sound, songwriting, singing - and this is what should have put these guys on the map!
This isn’t to say that nothing else that the Fuzztones did is worth listening to – because there are plenty of other rockin’ moments in their huge catalog! – but for me this is the best of what this band was going for!

The Lime Spiders – Slave Girl / Beyond the Fringe
"Slave Girl" totally blew me away when I first heard it! An amazing, heavy, pounding, rockin’ riff drives this tune to the edge with the singer growling his way through and when ya think it can’t go any farther, the lead guitar comes positively screaming through your brain! Despite all the chaos, you can still sing along and this is another song that you’ll never forget once you’ve heard it!
Unfortunately, nothing could follow that recorded explosion and though "Beyond the Fringe" does its best, it is just not nearly as memorable or ferocious. But one absolute classic song is more than most bands can claim and Slave Girl will go down in history as one of the best of this time!