“Here we come…..walkin’ down the street….” Okay I’ll stop there, you know the rest. We all know the rest!
Despite being sarcastically labeled “The Prefab Four”, The Monkees are part of our pop music DNA.
My parents watched them in the late 1960s, I watched reruns after school in the early 90s, and I’m not sure if a day goes by where any oldies station doesn’t play “Last Train To Clarksville” or “I’m A Believer”. Whether they’re considered legitimate artists or not, they’re an integral part of pop culture.
The Monkees was an NBC sitcom starring Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Michael Nesmith as a fictional band trying to land their big break in LA. It featured witty banter inspired by The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night film, combined with over the top cartoon adventures. While the actors didn’t play a single instrument until their third album, they had a string of hit songs on the charts and successful world tours (that even featured Jimi Hendrix as an opening act at one point). The show was cancelled after two seasons but The Monkees continued making legitimate music up until 1971 as well as multiple reunion tours throughout the 1980s. Even after the 2012 death of Jones, the remaining members had a successful US tour, proving they were still a viable act.
Good Times! is the first Monkees album since the critically panned Justus in 1996 and comes in just a few months short of the 50th anniversary of the debut episode of the show. Instead of writing their own songs with various degrees success of the aforementioned 1996 album, the surviving members decided to enlist the help of producer Adam Schlesinger along song writers such as Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge, Noel Gallagher, and Paul Weller among others, to craft an album that celebrates the band for what they were instead of trying to prove themselves as relevant mainstream artists.
By all rights, the Monkees’ Good Times! should be a trainwreck of old grandpa has-beens, trying not to sound creepy or laughable singing sugary teeny bopper pop songs, but shockingly enough, it actually works! Quite well actually.
The lead single “She Makes Me Laugh” is the kind of pop drivel Cuomo could write in his sleep as Weezer album filler but under Schlesinger’s slick production and Dolenz’ boyish vocals, ends up sounding like 1967 was a few days ago and we’re all ready for season 3 of The Monkees! Gallagher and Weller’s psychedelic “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” recalls the glory days of Brian Wilson and The Beatles’ friendly competition of writing the perfect pocket symphony. Even Schlesinger’s team up with Dolenz “Our Own World” reminds the listener this band, legitimate or not, holds their own among the greatest pop bands of the last 50 years.
There’s some classic songs and reworked demos from the likes of Boyce & Hart, Carol King, and even a Neil Diamond track that features the haunting pre-recorded vocals of Jones, but surprisingly the best songs are the ones written by artists who weren’t even born until long after the show was canceled. They created these songs out of love and respect for the band they grew up watching and listening to. That in itself speaks volumes about the impact The Monkees have had on popular music.
In many ways, this album isn’t a vehicle for Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith to prove themselves as Lennon-McCartney temporaries, and by no means the crowning achievement of their careers. Instead it’s a celebration of why The Monkees are still dear to so many people still today.
This is a band that was born out of a Hollywood script session with full on intentions of capitalizing on the tween dollars of Beatlemania, but some how taught us pop music doesn’t have to spark a revolution to be enjoyed. Are The Monkees just as important to secular music as The Beatles or Beach Boys? God no but they are a whole lot of fun to listen to when you are looking for something simple and sweet.