Magnetic South was the first solo album released by Michael Nesmith after his departure from The Monkees. Arriving in June 1970, the LP featured The First National Band: Red Rhodes (pedal steel), John Ware (drums), and John London (bass). It was the first in a trilogy of albums by the group, containing brand new material along with many songs that were recorded during the Monkees era but ultimately passed over for release on Monkees albums. Tracks like "Calico Girlfriend," "Nine Times Blue," "Little Red Rider," and "Hollywood" were re-recorded and reinterpreted during sessions for Magnetic South.
The first single, "Little Red Rider," failed to chart, but "Joanne" became a hit, peaking at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite this success, Magnetic South would only reach #143 on the Billboard Top LPs chart.
Loose Salute followed in late 1970, and the trilogy was completed with Nevada Fighter in 1971.
Note the dedications made by Nez on the back cover: to his fellow Monkees, Lester Sill, Bert Schneider, Jack Nicholson, and Mimi. The "Tomorrow Man" is thought to be a sly reference to Don Kirshner, who was producing a group named Toomorrow at the time (which featured Olivia Newton-John as one of its members).
Last year, Monkees fans voted Magnetic South as their favorite Nesmith solo album.
As always, thanks a lot to Ben Belmares for providing the front and back cover images, along with the labels, that are seen above!
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings was the first solo album by Michael Nesmith, recorded during weekend sessions on November 18-19, 1967 at RCA Hollywood while he was still a member of The Monkees. The album comprises instrumentals of Nesmith originals that were performed by a full orchestra, including members of the Wrecking Crew, Los Angeles' top session musicians. Shorty Rogers, who scored "Daydream Believer" and other tracks for The Monkees, handled the arrangements, and Hank Cicalo, engineer on numerous Monkees recordings, was also on hand. Michael acted as producer and co-arranger. Here's the track listing of the LP:
Several of the songs had been previously aired on Monkees albums or would be heard on subsequent releases, while two others ("Carlisle Wheeling" and "Nine Times Blue") remained unreleased in their original form until Nesmith re-recorded them with the First National Band (with the Monkees-era versions remaining in the vaults until the Missing Links series in the late 1980s).
Michael spoke about the Wichita sessions with Keith Altham of New Musical Express. "I've been writing for a year and a half and I did not want to be blinded by dollar signs or tied down to what is commercially acceptable. I wanted to find something new. This is it. It cost me approximately $50,000 to do it."
True to his word, Nez spared no expense. Not only did he hire the best musicians (who would be paid double time due to the weekend booking), Michael had the whole event catered by Chasen's, a top tier restaurant in Los Angeles. Over 50 musicians contributed to the Wichita project, including Red Rhodes (pedal steel), Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer (drums), Larry Knechtel (piano), Tommy Tedesco (guitar), and Doug Dillard (banjo). "Earl Palmer and I were on cloud nine, because it was a drummer's dream to be able to kick this gigantic band in the butt," wrote Blaine in his 1990 autobiography. "The town was buzzing with excitement about the session. Shorty Rogers was doing the arrangements...It sounded like World War III. In fact, Nesmith was going to call it that, but changed it to The Pacific Ocean and ultimately called it The Wichita Train Whistle."
The weekend recording fest was also famous for an incident that occurred at the end of the sessions. The lead sheet for the final track attempted ("Don't Call On Me") included an instruction that called for the players to improvise a cacophony of sound. As the track concluded, Tommy Tedesco took off his Fender guitar (which was still plugged into the amplifier), and threw it high into the air. The guitar hit the floor and smashed into pieces. "He had the pieces mounted and framed," Blaine later recalled. Members of the Wrecking Crew reminisced about that infamous moment in a recent documentary centered around L.A.'s top players:
Hal Blaine had nothing but fond memories of the Wichita sessions. "The Nesmith dates came off without a hitch. It was the greatest party I've ever been invited to. Two days of Chasen's food, and more music than you could expect in a lifetime. Gene Cipriano, the saxophonist/oboist, got his reeds jammed with caviar. We were like kids in a candy store."
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings was released in 1968 by Dot Records. The final issue of Monkee Spectacular covered Michael's first solo endeavor:
A party was held to mark the occasion. Nez cut a cake in the likeness of the LP's front cover:
An advertisement for The Wichita Train Whistle Sings appeared in the June 8, 1968 issue of Billboard:
The UK publication Monkees Monthly noted positive reviews for Wichita, including one from the Los Angeles Times:
Music journalist Leonard Feather wondered if the sounds heard on The Wichita Train Whistle Sings were a preview of what contemporary popular music would be like in the early 1970s:
"Don't Cry Now" was selected as the LP's first and only single, backed with "Tapioca Tundra." The A-side is noteworthy as it never appeared on a Monkees album or any of Nesmith's later solo efforts, nor was it ever given a vocal treatment (though Michael has confirmed that lyrics existed for the song).
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings peaked at #144 on the Billboard charts. Michael talked frankly about the reaction to the album with Flip in its December 1968 issue:
FLIP: From what we've seen, everyone liked Wichita Train Whistle, but few bought it, despite the fact that your being a Monkee is supposed to be a big selling factor and the fact that it was a good album. Any idea what happened?
Nesmith: You overestimate the selling power of The Monkees. They don't sell.
FLIP: The Monkees records sell. Every album they've put out has been a million seller.
Nesmith: Yeah, but that's the Monkees records, and they don't sell that much now. Now that we're off television they're not selling worth a darn, not anymore. The album (Wichita Train Whistle) sold very well actually, where it was played. In Los Angeles alone it sold over 22,000 albums. And if the rest of the country'd played it, it would have been alright, but the rest of the country didn't.
FLIP: Any idea why?
Nesmith: There were a lot of managerial problems. It wasn't promoted right, it wasn't distributed right, and couple that with the fact that being a Monkee has with it the stigma of being a bull artist, and nobody gave a damn. Nobody cares what we play or say or think or anything, 'cause they think, "well, you're just a bunch of plastic weirdos," except the kids, you know, and the kids aren't old enough to do anything yet, but when they're old enough then you'll see something.
FLIP: You'd think this album would have done away with a lot of that and that a lot of people would have realized that at least you are a legitimate musician.
Nesmith: Yeah, but a lot of people didn't, a lot of people didn't want to mess with it, just refused to accept it, just because of the fact I am a Monkee.
FLIP: You think that hurt more than it helped?
Nesmith: Yeah, I'm convinced of it.
FLIP: Any plans to do it again?
Nesmith: Oh yeah, you know we made some good money off the album, so we'll probably do another one, probably just one more though, no more.
FLIP: Will you collaborate with Shorty Rogers again?
Nesmith: Yeah, I'm sure I'll go with Shorty again.
Over time, an urban legend developed (mentioned by Wichita musician and renowned drummer Hal Blaine in his autobiography) that Michael recorded The Wichita Train Whistle Sings as a tax write-off, a notion that Nez has disavowed over the years. "I made the record to make the record," he told Andrew Sandoval in the mid-2000s. Listen below to the Wichita version of "Nine Times Blue."
Lindsay Planer of AllMusic broke down the sounds of Wichita in a part of her assessment of the album:
Immediately evident is the big-band style in which these sides were physically documented -- incorporating an open microphone placement which is used when recording larger orchestration. The resulting effect lends a natural-sounding warmth that closely miked and/or amplified techniques often lack. The music itself reflects Nesmith's left-of-center attitude and often unpredictable sense of humor. For instance, the full-bodied and otherwise bombastic arrangement of "Nine Times Blue" is speared right through the middle with a Doug Dillard banjo solo. He throttles up the tempo as the full orchestra breaks into a double-time mambo for the second half of the song. Other reinventions include the once psychedelic "Tapioca Tundra" into a freewheeling escapade replete with a soaring string section that remains amazingly agile throughout. The Wichita Train Whistle Sings project also allowed Nesmith the opportunity to record a few songs that he would revisit during his solo career, such as the pseudonym-esque "Carlisle Wheeling." The strict, if not somewhat lumbering, 4/4 time signature performed here is the antithesis of the easy country-rock sound most synonymous with the tune. He would eventually issue it under the name "Conversations" on his second solo album, Loose Salute. Also worthy of note is "Don't Cry Now," as it is the only track on the album to have never been issued by either The Monkees or Nesmith. Wichita Train Whistle Sings is much more of a timepiece or cultural artifact than an album designed to express artistic achievement or in any way reestablish Nesmith's post-Monkees direction. Fans of his quirky and offbeat sense of humor as well as his delicious melodies will find much to enjoy.
A big thanks to Ben Belmares for sharing his scans of The Wichita Train Whistle Sings LP with
The Monkees Live Almanac:
I'd also like to acknowledge JD at Monkee45s.net, who is responsible for some of the scanned images appearing in this piece.
Thanks a lot to Mike for the heads up about this podcast!
Check out this photo that Michael recently shared on Facebook...anybody know when and where this was taken???
Last month, I highlighted the many versions of Michael's song, "Nine Times Blue." I neglected to include the one he recorded for his very first solo album, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, an all- instrumental/orchestral affair that hit shelves in 1968. I can't believe I forgot it - it's one of my favorites from the Wichita LP. Thanks to Brian for reminding me of my omission!
"The Garden was nominated for a Grammy in 1995 as best New Age album. It was in the New Age category because I didn’t have clue what category to put it in so NARAS just put it in New Age. It didn’t win the Grammy that year – but the nomination was very satisfying even though I didn’t then, and don’t now, know what New Age is.
I finally finished The Ocean – the final part of The Prison, The Garden and The Ocean trilogy. The trilogy is titled Infinitia. The limited (200), numbered, and signed First Edition boxed set of Infinitia ships October 12th – and were available for pre-order about 24 hours ago. As I write this there are a few left.
Following that First Edition shipment the regular Infinitia box set of all three, Prison, Garden, Ocean, – as well as the Ocean CD solo album and CD download will be available and ship around the first week of November.
I’ll submit The Ocean to NARAS, but again, I have no idea what category to submit it for. It’s taken forty years for this trilogy to come to life and in that forty years I still don’t quite know what New Age Music is. I don’t think of Infinitia as New Age – I’m not sure what category it fits – only that I’m very happy this is done. It feels like a chapter has closed and a door has finally opened.
Everything I mention here is, or will be, available at Videoranch.com – and the other usual outlets that we have come to know and love. Naturally I will be most happy to see you at Videoranch.com."
(September 24, 2015)
Here's the latest from Videoranch:
Infinitia (infin-EE-sha) by Michael Nesmith is complete.
The First Edition Infinitia Box Set includes, The Prison, The Garden, and the soon to be released album, The Ocean. The trilogy began with The Prison, a book with a soundtrack, which was released in 1974. In 1994, Michael released The Garden, the second addition to the trilogy. The Garden follows the same format as The Prison, providing a book and music to be experienced simultaneously. This November, The Ocean will be released to complete the trilogy, Infinitia.
Each of the 200 First Editions comes signed, numbered and dated.
The First Editions will only be available while supplies last. By placing a PRE-ORDER today, you will be purchasing 1 of the 200 First Editions. Your card will NOT be charged until the product is shipped to you. After your order is placed, you will receive an email as proof of purchase. We will be receiving the First Editions from our manufacturer the week of October 12th, 2015 and plan to begin shipping them that same week.
Micky, Davy, and Michael performed Michael's song "Nine Times Blue" live during an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show in the summer of 1969.
Several different attempts were made recording the song, and each of them remained in the vault until years later. There's a version featuring Davy Jones singing the lead vocal (accompanied by Michael on acoustic guitar), recorded during sessions for The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees in early 1968:
Michael also tackled the song around the same time. Both of these attempts remained unreleased until the 2010 Rhino Handmade deluxe box set of the Birds album.
In the summer of 1968, Nez released his first solo album The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, an all-orchestral affair that included an instrumental take on"Nine Times Blue."
Nez actually demoed "Nine Times Blue" while recording Headquarters in early 1967:
Michael revisited the song once again in April 1968, accompanied by Red Rhodes on pedal steel and Chip Douglas on bass. It was this version that first saw the light of day on the 1987 compilation Missing Links:
Michael recorded "Nine Times Blue" once more in 1970, and it was featured on his initial solo album with The First National Band, Magnetic South.
A big thanks to David for the heads up about this video!
And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' is Michael's fifth solo album during his post-Monkees career for RCA Records. Recorded and released in 1972, the album features only Nesmith on vocals and acoustic guitar and Red Rhodes on pedal steel guitar. It peaked at #208 on the Billboard album charts.
A big thanks to Ben Belmares for supplying scans of the back cover and the gatefold!
Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma was released in May 1979 and is Michael Nesmith's ninth studio album as a singer/songwriter during his post-Monkees career. The LP was Nesmith's third to be released on his own label, Pacific Arts. To continue developing Pacific Arts' multimedia projects, Nesmith originally developed Infinite Rider as a "video album." It peaked at #151 on the Billboard chart.
To promote the release of Infinite Rider, Pacific Arts issued a promotional album entitled "The Michael Nesmith Radio Special." The program intertwines an interview with Nesmith with the anticipated slate of songs for the LP.
A big thanks to Ben Belmares who supplied the scans seen below:
From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing was released in 1977 and is Michael Nesmith's eighth studio album as a singer/songwriter during his post-Monkees career. The LP was Nesmith's second released on his own label, Pacific Arts.
Michael experienced a moderate worldwide hit with the lead-off track "Rio" (including a Top 30 placing in the United Kingdom), and later produced a promotional video for it. The video for "Rio" helped spur Nesmith's creation of a television program called PopClips for the Nickelodeon cable network. In 1980, PopClips was sold to Time Warner/Amex. Time Warner/Amex ultimately developed PopClips into the MTV network.
Due to the success of "Rio," Nez returned to the stage, making a series of concert appearances in Australia and recording the Live at the Palais album during his visit there. The success of "Rio" didn't translate into swift sales for From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing, which bottomed out on the Billboard charts at #209.
(Thanks a lot to Ben Belmares who supplied the scans for the inner sleeve and the back cover of the LP.)
Issued in 1973, Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash was Michael's sixth album of his solo career and the last for RCA Records. A big thanks to Ben Belmares for supplying the scans of the back cover and the gatefold!