Good Times: The Monkees Are BACK

12th Studio Album Better Than One Can Imagine & Full of Surprises

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   By: Robert 'Bo' White

26th September, 2016     0

Good Times is the twelfth studio album by The Monkees. It was released on May 27th, 2016 to resounding critical acclaim. It was an unexpected treat for baby boomers who love jangly rock & roll and pop music with a hook. The disc was produced by Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne) with some additional bonus tracks by Andrew Sandoval to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the band.

Rhino executives John Hughes and Mark Pinkus initiated the project. The Monkees initially agreed to use unreleased songs by the songwriters utilized during their initial run in the sixties. They enlisted such stellar Brill Building songwriters as Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart,  along with contemporary rock & roll songsmiths such as Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge, Ben Gibbard, Noel Gallagher, and Paul Weller.

The title track Good Times was a demo written by Harry Nilsson in the late sixties and it was resurrected as a duet with Mickey Dolenz.  To this writer the resultant album is simply stunning. It is a tribute to the heyday of rock & roll and it recaptured that sixties jangly guitar sound and layered vocals with keen harmonies. The Monkees continue to astound critics and music fans alike. It was like a baseball hit deep out to left field and the wind blows it out of the park.

I was a fan from the sixties onward and by the time I was married with children. I passed on the gene for Monkeemania to my son Ryan. I gave him duplicates of all the albums and he played them relentlessly. He sang along with those great songs from 1966-67. He learned to read and write from copying the titles of all the songs and the names of Micky, Peter, Davy, and Michael. Ryan was at the head of the curve. In 1986 I took Ryan and the rest of the family to Charlevoix to see The Monkees perform. It was a thrill and the band was on top of their game. I even bought a Live Monkees album at that performance and I display it prominently in my collection.

A few years later I saw the band perform at Pine Knob. It was another triumphant evening! Years passed but I never forgot the thrill of those incredible songs and the spirit of the Monkees self-effacing humor. They gave us a nod and a wink and never wavered from their unique position in the annals of rock & roll. The Beatles got it back then even if critics could not be persuaded.

Time passed but The Monkees never went away. They released Pool It in 1987 and Justus in 1996 to mixed results despite their best efforts to be current. The Monkees reunited for their 45th Anniversary Tour in 2011 with three of the founding members including Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz. They performed 40 songs. I attended the show in Detroit with my son Ryan and it was simply triumphant.

The set list went beyond the hits and reached into their substantial back catalogue including several songs written by Michael Nesmith. The status of The Monkees turned sour when Davy Jones died of a heart attack on February 29th, 2012.  On Sunday April 7th 2013 this writer witnessed Nesmith’s solo show @ the Magic Bag in Ferndale just outside of Detroit. He re-imagined his hits and used spoken word and poetry to introduce his songs. The Monkees toured with Michael Nesmith throughout the summer of 2014. It proved to be a fitting tribute to Davy Jones, one of the most popular and beloved singers from the sixties, but it also signaled the incredible lure and charm of The Monkees. They already knew what the little girls understand. The group knew how speak to the baby boomers as well as Millennials. They taught their children about truth in harmony and good vibrations. Good Times is the musical equivalent of a holy grail that doesn’t exist.

Listen….

Good Times hearkens back to the days when music mattered and every hot blooded teenager would be listening to the latest songs on a low-fi transistor radio. The music and lyrics spoke to us in that secret language all teens share. It could be groovy or fab and it mattered. This song is an outtake from a Harry Nilsson session that speaks to us boomers in so many ways; it could be the jangly guitar, organ washes and sloppy drums. The late great Nilsson’s singing is double tracked with a strong Mickey Dolenz vocal. A great track!

You Bring Summer brings a minimalist vibe that gives the song room to breathe without the sludge of heavier sixties ROCK, it’s more like an early sixties Brill Building classic that swings and sways. Dolenz hasn’t lost a step and in the coda he sings “Summer Baby, you bring the summer along.” The bass vocal gives the harmonies a nice bottom. This is an Andy Partridge song (XTC) that pops.

Dolenz’s vocals are prominent throughout the disc and he hits the high notes without any problems. He takes the lead double tracked vocal on She Makes Me Laugh. The jingle jangle of the e-string gives it some flavor as well as a low-tech tambourine that shakes it all up in a frothy malt flavor that gives it a Summer Means Fun vibe as the boys chase the girls and laugh all the way to the beach.  The chorus is awesome!

Our Own World is another triumph with Dolenz leading the way with his exquisite singing. He hasn’t lost a step. He is an expressive singer who can ooh and ahh and punctuates the singing with other vocalisms. The bass string lead-in is perfect. Gotta Give it Time is like a walk in the sunshine. It’s another Dolenz nugget. The background singers chant, “Give it time now baby, ahh give it time, your time.” This is a cool low-tech minimalist construction with no double tracking or analog layering.

Mike Nesmith takes the lead vocal with Dolenz on Me & Magdalena.  It is a Ben Gibbard composition that resonates with the hope of love and recovery. It’s apparent that the singers have a shared history. It is the siren call of old friends who love each other despite the interlude of time. The lyrics share the ideals of love and promise for the future.

Here’s a sample…

What do you see in the depths of the night /  Do you see a long lost father? /  I know everything lost will be recovered / When you drift in the arms of the undiscovered

Whatever’s Right sounds like an outtake from a 1966 session at Colgems, in fact it is a song written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. The instrumentation is sparse and allows the music breathe with a tambourine, strummed guitars and a precise keyboards and organ fills that sound like Peter Tork’s doing.

Love to Love is a mid-sixties song written by Neil Diamond. It was a sleeper from its very inception, a bit cloying yet irresistible. It has been recorded by several different artists with a pop sensibility. It was a Monkees outtake when Davy Jones recorded it for Colgems. It was an unfinished nugget until it was resurrected for this album. It shows Jones in good form. He was an expert for filling in gaps and crafting cool mid-tempo rockers. The backing vocals are courtesy of Dolenz and Tork. The sessions were recorded on January 21st, 1967; February 4th and 5th, 1967; August 5th, 1968; February 2016.

Peter Tork’s Little Girls is a gem and shines the light on his compositional skills.  The e-string solo sounds a bit like Dick Dale’s surf guitar. His understated vocal is simply charming, low key like a Ray Davies outtake on Sweet Lady Genevieve sessions. Dig the lyrics;

Cheer up, come with me / Leaving castles in the sand /  Like the rising sun over the sea  /  Shining and soft like my song

Perhaps the best song on the disc is Birth of an Accidental Hipster. It was written by Noel Gallagher (Oasis) and Paul Weller (The Jam). Nesmith takes on the echoed lead vocal and gives it all he’s got. Dolenz adds a vocal counterpoint like Lennon & McCartney on We Can Work it Out.  Mike Viola’s rock guitar echoes the sentiment as a piano trill segues to a sweet honky tonk groove. The e-string guitar provides substance to the coda.

Tork’s version of I Wasn’t Born to Follow is one of those Brill Building chestnuts. It is a cool version though The Byrds version from Easy Rider still takes the prize.

I Know What I Know is quiet and contemplative and stunning. It reminds me of Brian Wilson’s Till I Die . Nesmith’s lyrics are incredible thoughtful, quiet. It’s about love.

I know nothing without you /  I know what I see  /   I see nothing without you /  Alone I am with a waiting heart  /  Alone I am a world apart   /  I know what I have  /  I know nothing without you

I Was There bops like a barrelhouse piano played by McCartney. It’s a drinking song filled with spirits. It harkens back to the sixties glory days when we were young and pushing our luck.

I was there  /  I was told I had a good time  /  I could swear you were there with me

Terrifying is a little too adolescent for a 70-year old rock star. Yet it still works on this playing field as the artists are replaying simpler times with primitive equipment and recordings heard through a transistor radio. For me it’s is the real deal as each sound, vocal, bass guitar or drum gets a turn to shine. It is the perfect ending to an incredible piece of music.

As one reviewer stated:  The Monkees return is better than it needed to be, full of real heart and energy.

 

Comments

Please login to comment

LOGIN

Events

Current Issue

Login

Don't have an account?

CREATE AN ACCOUNT