The Monkees have not released an album of original material since 1996. That year, all four members of the group recorded a dozen new songs that ultimately became Justus. In interviews during the lead-up to the 2013 tour, however, Michael and Micky both alluded to the potential for a fresh Monkees album. "I'd love to make a new one," Micky told Rolling Stone last April. "We haven't had any discussions about that beyond, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a new one?' We're just taking this whole thing one step at a time." When asked about the possibility of returning to the recording studio with Micky and Peter, Michael was upbeat. "I'm always open. I would not say 'no' without giving it a good look." At the same time, Nez seemed unsure as to where The Monkees would fit in today's pop music landscape. "It's a weird time for the music business, and particularly a weird time for us. I don't even know what a song is these days. I mean, it doesn't look like a pop song of the Sixties. It doesn't look like a pop song of the Seventies. And so it would be hard to understand what to do and how to play it and how to put together the team to produce that sort of stuff."
While it still remains to be seen if The Monkees will record a new album, perhaps they could consider other options in the recording studio. Over the course of the last two Monkees tours, several warhorses in the group's canon have undergone some changes, which in turn has given a fresh spin on the old classics. "Sweet Young Thing," for instance, was completely rearranged. Other songs had more subtle nuances. A lot of fans enjoyed the reworkings, and I've heard more than a few calls to re-record these songs in their new arrangements.
If The Monkees are indeed thinking about a new album, what better way to get the creative juices flowing than by recording new versions of classic songs that were revamped during the last two tours. Admittedly, some would cringe at the thought of re-creating songs that have been a part of their collective conscious for years, but everyone from Paul McCartney to Bruce Springsteen and more have done it. Even U2, after performing cuts from their 1997 album Pop on the road, re-recorded several of the album's songs that were hammered out to better results after playing them onstage night after night. In McCartney's case, his reworkings of Beatles tunes like "Yesterday," "Good Day Sunshine," and "For No One" on the 1984 Give My Regards to Broad Street soundtrack were near universally disdained. How, people asked, could Paul improve upon perfection? But McCartney didn't offer anything new. If The Monkees were to go this route, they've already shown in their live concert show that they can put a new spin on the original take. In addition, various members of The Monkees have re-recorded the group's songs over the years; Micky recently rearranged "Randy Scouse Git" (and a couple other Monkees cuts) to great effect on his album Remember.
Below are some Monkees songs that were reinterpreted in some fashion over the last two years by the group in concert, along with a couple I think would make interesting choices to revisit. And if Michael, Micky, and Peter aren't thinking about a new album, this alternate approach of revisiting past classics with a new twist could help satisfy the desire in the fanbase for new music from The Monkees.
"Sweet Young Thing"
A song Nez co-wrote with Gerry Goffin and Carole King from the group's debut album, "Sweet Young Thing" became a slow, brooding, banjo-laden stunner on the 2012 Monkees tour. With Nez strumming his trusty Gretsch, Micky banging a beat box, and Peter providing the ace banjo work, this version would be a prime choice for a studio re-recording.
"Mary, Mary" has always been a rollicking highlight at Monkees concerts over the years, but it has just smoked on the last couple of tours. Micky beats the drums with a controlled reckless abandon and everyone else comes along for the ride. On the 2013 tour, you may have noticed the addition of some bluesy backing vocals (led by Micky's sister Coco) and some "Oooooo's" during the climax of this Nesmith classic. A new studio version of this song could combine all of these elements and also let Nez take the familiar "Mary, Mary" guitar riff to task on the Gretsch. It's bound to be a winner.
"Early Morning Blues and Greens"
"Early Morning Blues and Greens" was played live for the first time on the 2012 tour with Peter thoughtfully taking Davy's place as the lead vocalist. Peter has played this one in his solo show for quite some time, and it's known to be one of his favorites. The song seems to serve as the perfect outlet for him, and he was able to respectfully make his own mark on this Headquarters track in a live setting.
"As We Go Along"
Micky's performance of this classic from the Head soundtrack seems to get better with each passing tour. First performed live in 1989, "As We Go Along" as heard on both the 2012 and 2013 tours was definitely a high point at each show. And though the arrangement was true to the original, a new studio version could incorporate both Michael and Peter in the backing track along with Micky's soaring vocal.
"The Kind of Girl I Could Love"
One of the treats for fans attending shows on the 2013 tour was hearing this long lost Nez tune from the group's second album, More of the Monkees. Its new arrangement featured some smooth slide guitar work from Peter, making it an early showstopper in the set. Peter's guitar work, coupled with Micky's harmonizing with Michael, makes "The Kind of Girl I Could Love" 2.0 deserve a studio version in its own right.
Interview with Wayne Avers