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."