Guest Author Daniel Eckert: "'The Monkees Present' is the most personal, flawed, and honest album The Monkees made"
This is the eighth in a series of guest articles that have been submitted to The Monkees Live Almanac in celebration of the group's 50th Anniversary.
Daniel is a Monkees fan in his early 20s and was introduced to the band by his dad when he was in elementary school. Much to his father's surprise, Daniel became an avid Monkees follower and collector. "I would love to write a piece about my favorite Monkees album, The Monkees Present, and elaborate on what that album means to me," Daniel said in an email to The Monkees Live Almanac. "I have always found it to be the most personal, flawed, and honest album The Monkees made."
By the end of 1969 The Monkees were almost finished. A prolonged stint of television guest appearances, middling singles, and a troubled North American tour could not restore the group to their previous heights, nor could it save their career as an entertainment unit. Despite the challenges the year provided, Monkees fans were gifted one last great recording.
The Monkees Present should not be as good as it really is, being released in October 1969 just months before Michael Nesmith departed the group. Its ad hoc approach during a period that included occasional infighting within the trio, and after months of commercial disappointments, it would be easy to assume that the results led to a disastrous swan-song. Regarded highly by many Monkees fans, the countrified, stripped down, and punkish album shows a group that was still convinced they could deliver a quality listening experience and carve a niche for themselves within the adult contemporary market. The Monkees Present flows with more certainty than its predecessor (Instant Replay) takes more musical chances than any of their recorded output since Head, and is perhaps their most honest album since Headquarters. And it's also an album that offers a glimpse into what could have been had The Monkees remained a three-piece group into 1970.
To me, The Monkees Present represents the marvels and the missteps that are nearly synonymous with the Monkees brand. The release of the 3-disc deluxe version of the album in 2013 only highlights what many already realized from historical context: Present is good, but it could have been great. In true Monkees fashion excellent songs were sidelined for safe affairs that studio executives were certain would sell more to the kiddies. For example, the roaring "Steam Engine" becomes a victim of finance, and the beautiful "How Can I Tell You" is held back in favor of the groan-inducing 1966 leftover "Ladies Aid Society." What is a Monkees fan to do?
On the other hand, The Monkees Present delivers some of the group's finest. Nesmith's "Listen to the Band" is one of The Monkees' signature sonic moments. "Looking for the Good Times" imparts a Headquarters-esque harmony between Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz that to this day remains a pleasure to hear. "Mommy & Daddy" (in both versions) is a daring and relevant example of the maturation members of The Monkees were experiencing, this particular track having been written, produced, and delivered with confidence by Dolenz. Imagine for a moment if The Monkees would have produced another album in this vein. We can fast forward a bit and see that Michael's second single as a solo artist was the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Joanne." Davy's initial post-Monkees production, "Rainy Jane," experienced success at AM radio. And Micky offered (despite being ignored by the record buying public) a double-sided punch with both "Easy on You" and "Oh Someone." Don't forget the recordings by Nesmith and the First National Band, and clearly an argument could be made that worthy, high quality material was yet to come. A chart-topping hit in 1969 would have restored The Monkees' commercial fortunes and allowed them to leap into the next chapter of their career.
But another Monkees album would not follow Present, and the group would soon dissolve. 1970's Changes would be a Monkees album in name only, and shortly thereafter the curtain dropped as Micky and Davy parted ways in 1971. Despite the complicated history, the music of The Monkees endures all these years later. And The Monkees Present sounds better with every listen. Granted, it doesn't quite reach its potential and in spots is marred by poor song selections. But isn't that The Monkees in a nutshell? And isn’t it precisely The Monkees' tragic flaws that keep us diehard fans returning year after year? How many of us have made playlists for fantasy Monkees albums, dropping cuts like "Ladies Aid Society" for something like "Someday Man"? How many of us will fiercely debate how good a Monkees album could have been, or actually is, depending on our circumstances and musical tastes? The Monkees Present was my first brush with "adult sounds" from The Monkees, and it is the album I play more frequently than any other to this day. When my friends want to know what The Monkees are about, Present graces my turntable and I watch their mouths, slightly agape, as the banjo tears through "Good Clean Fun."
Thanks to Stephen Lewis for sharing his piece on The Monkees' eighth studio album.
This is the fifth in a series of guest articles that have been submitted to The Monkees Live Almanac in celebration of the group's 50th Anniversary.
Like many, my Monkees obsession began with the group's revival in 1986 during their 20th Anniversary. On my 13th birthday, I watched the MTV marathon and was immediately hooked. I began grabbing everything I could find of The Monkees' recorded work. My first purchase came in March 1986 when I picked up the Arista Greatest Hits (the hasty reissue of Refocus from the '70s), quickly followed by a Spanish version of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. on LP, causing my father to nearly evict me when I paid $30 for it at a flea market!
What puzzled me most as a teenager in the '80s was the fact that Peter, and later Mike, weren't involved in certain albums, until I discovered more information after reading The Monkees Tale by Eric Lefcowitz. I loved Instant Replay but found The Monkees Present to be a bit dismal. Changes was fun, but a few tracks drove me nuts, particularly "I Never Thought It Peculiar." And thus, my inspiration for this article.
As I grew older and the Missing Links series was released, it baffled me how many great songs were left in the Monkee vaults in the 1960s. Despite this sort of exercise having been attempted countless times before by other fans like me, I have created three "fantasy" albums of The Monkees' recorded work between 1969 and 1971.
Let's start with The Monkees Present, my least favorite album in its original format.
You can check out the LP's track listing as issued in October 1969 below:
Today I envision it as a more sophisticated collection featuring the following line-up:
Side 1: The Monkees Present (Reimagined)
1. Someday Man
A fantastic song co-written by Paul Williams, it should have become the second "Daydream Believer."
2. If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again
Nez does Glen Campbell! This song was intended for single release at one point but was shelved, perhaps because of its subject matter of unwed pregnancy.
3. Steam Engine
Famous for its ultra expensive production by its author and producer, Chip Douglas, this brassy-bluesy number also features Red Rhodes on pedal steel. Micky Dolenz at his wailing best!
4. If I Knew
A gorgeous Davy Jones ballad, it was co-written with Bill Chadwick.
5. Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye
A unique Dolenz original (co-written with his longtime friend and stand-in Ric Klein), it also featured Davy on backing vocals.
6. Nine Times Blue
Advertised by Micky during an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show as a song "off our new album," the inclusion of this Nesmith classic on The Monkees Present would have made that statement true.
Side 2: The Monkees Present (Reimagined)
7. Listen To The Band
No explanation needed! It was also performed by the original quartet on their 1969 NBC television special, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.
This is another lovely ballad composed by Davy, and it features guitar work by Neil Young.
I'm going with the Missing Links version - it's funky Dolenz and very underrated.
10. St. Matthew
Like "Rosemarie," there are various mixes of this song, but the Missing Links Volume 2 version without the fuzz vocal is superior. Nez does Dylan - a fantastic anthem!
11. French Song
An atmospheric Davy ballad - always loved this one!
12. Pillow Time
I'll end my reimagined Present LP with this one - a lullaby composed by Micky's mom, Janelle.
Some great songs from The Monkees Present (like "Good Clean Fun") were omitted in my reworked version of the album, but don't worry, Parts 2 & 3 of this article will shed more light. Stay tuned for my fantasy take on Changes, where Davy completes his songwriting partnership with Bill Chadwick and Nez hangs around, along with my alternate universe final Monkees album (featuring Dolenz & Jones), a 1971 Jeff Barry-produced affair entitled Do It In the Name of Love.
Michael Nesmith's "Good Clean Fun" was The Monkees' 13th U.S. single and final as a trio, released in September 1969. The song peaked at #82 on the Billboard charts, and later appeared on The Monkees Present LP. As with many other Nesmith compositions (like "Papa Gene's Blues," "Tapioca Tundra," and "Daily Nightly"), the title of the track doesn't appear in the lyrics.
"That’s poetic license," Nesmith remarked to Monkees archivist Andrew Sandoval in the liner notes of The Monkees Present deluxe edition. "That was a direct insult to a music publisher who told me that in order to have successful tunes I had to write music that was, 'Good clean fun,' and that had a recurring theme or hook line. Of course, I just rejected that out of hand. So what that was was just, 'Okay, I'll write a song called "Good Clean Fun." I just won't put it in there anywhere.'"
By the time The Monkees Present was released in October 1969, the group's commercial fortunes had dwindled. Their eighth LP, it peaked at a disappointing #100 on the Billboard charts. Original plans were more substantial than the product that was finally delivered. "It's going to be a double album," Micky said during an appearance on The Hy Lit Show in late 1968, "where we'll each have a side where we produce our own particular sounds, whatever." Peter Tork's subsequent departure, combined with The Monkees' steady drop in popularity, nixed those ideas.
When The Monkees Present hit record stores, the original double album concept had been pared down to a single disc. Even the cover art fell victim to the group's plummeting fame. Michael Nesmith recalled the change years later in a conversation with Andrew Sandoval. "The one that had the black and white cover done with Marks-A-Lot," said Nez when referring to Neko Cholis' sleeve design, "that was supposed to be in color. Apparently it was in color and they wouldn't do a color separation, because by that time we were, you know, as cold as yesterday's soup. Nobody would spend any money."
In 1994, The Monkees Present made its compact disc debut courtesy of Rhino Records. It was finally issued with a color cover, redrawn and designed by Lisa Sutton:
Here's the unused original color gatefold art for The Monkees Present. Like the color cover design, the gatefold style was not utilized when the LP was ultimately pressed.
The current Live Almanac poll (which can be found in the blog sidebar to the right) is asking fans to choose their favorite Monkees album cover. The Monkees Present is at the bottom of the barrel, garnering just 1.15% of the hundreds of votes cast at the time of this blog post.
Don't forget to vote!
Don't forget to vote in the poll (in the blog sidebar to the right)! "What is your favorite Monkees album cover?"
When "Someday Man"/"Listen to the Band" was issued as a single on April 15, 1969, "Someday Man" (written by Paul Williams and produced by Bones Howe) was the designated A-side and the song that was being pushed for airplay. Events would quickly change that altered the course of The Monkees' second post-Peter Tork single in 1969.
Shortly after its release, Micky, Davy, and Michael performed both sides live (along with "I'm a Believer") on The Joey Bishop Show on April 24, 1969. For this appearance the trio were supported by Sam & The Goodtimers, The Monkees' backing band throughout their 1969 concert tour.
In short time many DJs decided that they preferred the B-side, Michael's own "Listen to the Band," and started to give it more airplay. As a result, a second picture sleeve was produced by Colgems designating it as the A-side.
Despite the artistic merit of both tracks, the single's performance with the record buying public was more than underwhelming. By 1969 the popularity of The Monkees had waned, and each side of the single languished on the Billboard charts. "Someday Man" placed for just three weeks, peaking at #81 on May 17, 1969. "Listen to the Band," however, proved to have more staying power, charting for 9 weeks and peaking at #63 on July 19, 1969.
Both "Listen to the Band" and "Someday Man" were mainstays in the set list on the 1969 North American Tour, and "Listen to the Band" has been played during every Monkees tour since the group reunited in 1986. "Someday Man," however, was not performed live again by The Monkees until 2011.
Today, "Listen to the Band" is considered one of The Monkees' most enduring songs, having become an anthem of sorts for the group over time. In a 1997 interview with the British publication Melody Maker, Michael Nesmith expressed his fondness for the song.
"We [The Monkees] were off the air and it was right at the end of everything when I delivered that record and everyone said, 'No, that is not a Monkees song. This won't work.' But, much to my satisfaction, it's proved to be one of our most enduring songs. I think I was able to get everything I wanted to say about The Monkees into it. And I love the way the music recurs, the way it rolls around on itself again so it can be played over and over and over."
Nez also offered his interpretation of the song and its lyrics:
"Well, it says, 'Plays a song and no-one listens.' That's the phrase that really says it and it's able to crystallize, still, everything I was feeling at that time. It's 'He plays a song and no-one listens, I need help, I'm falling again.' It's the feeling of falling backwards into this thing of nobody getting it. But it's also, 'Play the drums a little bit louder, tell me I can live without her,' so the only thing that's going to give me comfort here is what I'm doing. It takes the spirit of the idea and really conveys it and that's what makes me the most proud. I'd love to hear someone cover that song. I don't know who could."
The votes are in! For the last month, Monkees fans have been asked to choose as their favorite one of the three albums recorded by the group at the tail end of their original formation. With 51.61% of the vote, The Monkees Present came out on top. Last summer, the album was treated to a deluxe retrospective by Rhino Handmade, being expanded to a 3-CD boxed set featuring the original album re-mastered, plus two extra discs packed with unreleased mixes, never-before-heard backing tracks, and previously unreleased songs.
Take time to vote in the new poll (to the right in the blog sidebar) which asks what season of The Monkees television series is your favorite.
MOJO: "The Monkees Present is far too weird and strange to be dismissed as merely OK. It’s one of the great damaged wonders of late ’60s pop. Seek it out."
Mojo talks late era Monkees in an article that can be read by clicking on the image below.
Thanks, Al, for the submission!
I believe (but am not certain) that two music magazines have reviewed the box set to date. If that's so, and you can scan the other review for the Live Almanac, please contact me.
I thought these images might come in handy for those of you who would like to use them for your iTunes library...