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's 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.
In 1976, the mail order company Laurie House produced a 2-LP Monkees set. The front and back covers were the same, and no track listing was offered on the album jacket.
Check out the songs included and more at Monkee45s.
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 distinct country rock sounds heard prominently on Nez's albums with the First and Second National Band in the early 1970s (and on subsequent solo works) were less prevalent on Infinite Rider, whose songs featured more electric guitars than pedal steel. "I adopted a much 'heavier' sound on this record because the band had those capabilities and we went exploring," Nez wrote in the liner notes of a 2008 compact disc reissue of Infinite Rider. "The sound was driven by their skill more than anything else. It was a conscious decision to abandon the country stylings."
Michael's pioneering work in the realm of music video continued to progress during the Infinite Rider era. In an attempt to develop multimedia projects under the umbrella of his Pacific Arts corporation, Nez originally envisioned Infinite Rider as a "video album," which ultimately resulted in several music videos being produced. Those clips (seen below) were featured in Elephant Parts, a home video collection of comedy skits and music videos produced by Nesmith that won the first-ever Grammy Award for Music Video in 1981.
The album's second single, "Cruisin'", saw its video receive airplay during the early days of cable music television shows. Nez looked to the groundbreaking video production of his 1977 single, "Rio," as a guide. "Cruisin' was the basis for the second video we made, and where we used the same techniques we had tried on 'Rio' - just to verify they were in fact techniques, and would work in broad application."
In promotion of Infinite Rider, Pacific Arts produced The Michael Nesmith Radio Special and sent it to radio stations in 1980. The program intertwines an interview with Nez along with select songs from the album.
Each track on Infinite Rider has only one word in its title. However, on the LP's labels and its inner sleeve, every song is denoted with a parenthetical subtitle. "The one-word titles for the songs on the outer sleeve just worked out that way - unplanned," Nez said in 2008. "The longer titles on the inner sleeve title are the way I had titled them while I was working on them."
Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma peaked at #151 on the Billboard chart, but "Cruisin'" received frequent airplay on rock radio stations in the summer of 1979.
"'Cruisin' was very confusing to the band," Nez recalled. "I was essentially reciting the lyric over the backing track, and only sang the refrain. It seemed odd at the time, and the musicians all counseled against it. Now, however, as we all know, this is very much the norm."
Years later, Michael performed the song live in concert with The Monkees during the group's 1989 appearance at Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.
In the liner notes he penned for the late 2000s CD reissue of the album, Nez discussed some of the tracks on Infinite Rider. "With regard to individual songs, my musings in 'Tonite' are about my history in TV, while 'Horserace' is not simply about a horse race, it is metaphysical."
"I'm not aware of any other song that deals with the subject matter of 'Capsule,' which is one of the reasons I wrote it. To date, nobody has sampled its backing track, but I may just do it myself!"
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, who ultimately developed PopClips into MTV.
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 post-Monkees solo career and the last one for RCA Records. The album is available for purchase at Videoranch and can also be downloaded on iTunes.
"Some of Shelly's Blues" was originally completed by Nez in Nashville in 1968 while still a member of The Monkees. It appears on Ranch Stash in a newly recorded version.
If you look closely at the cover of the album, you'll see in small print the words "Buy This Record."
A big thanks to Ben Belmares for supplying the scans of the back cover and the gatefold!
Nevada Fighter was the third and final album recorded by Michael Nesmith and The First National Band. Released in May 1971, it failed to make the Billboard Top 200, bubbling under at #202, but the title track managed to reach #70.
Both John London and John Ware left the First National Band in late 1970, despite the album being incomplete. Michael asked James Burton and Joe Osborn and a few others to help finish the project. Both Burton and Osborn were longtime studio session players for The Monkees.
Loose Salute is Michael's second post-Monkees solo album as well as his sophomore effort with The First National Band. Issued in November 1970, it features new versions of a couple songs Nez originally finished while still in The Monkees: "Listen to the Band" and "Conversations" (recorded during the Monkees era as "Carlisle Wheeling"). A big thanks to Ben Belmares for supplying a scan of the back cover of the LP.
Rolling Stone reviewed the album:
Australian music newspaper Go-Set also reviewed Loose Salute:
The Monkees Greatest Hits was released by Arista Records in 1976. As Monkees albums were hard to come by in the mid-1970s, and possibly due to other factors like the return of the group's TV show in syndication repeats and the activities of Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart, Greatest Hits sold well and peaked at #58 on the Billboard chart that year. It remained in print through the 1980s, when it was treated to cassette and compact disc editions.
In 1982, Arista finally released a follow-up, More Greatest Hits of The Monkees. This collection, while containing chart hits like "Valleri," "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," and "Words," concentrated more on songs often heard on the television series, which was still in syndication at the time.
Tantamount To Treason Volume 1 is Michael Nesmith's fourth post-Monkees solo album. Released in 1972, it's the only LP Nez recorded with the Second National Band, which included O.J. "Red" Rhodes (pedal steel), Michael Cohen (keyboards and Moog), Jack Ranelli (drums), José Feliciano (congas), and Johnny Meeks (bass). The First National Band, which had backed Michael on his initial solo efforts (Magnetic South, Loose Salute, and Nevada Fighter), disbanded in 1971. Red Rhodes was the only FNB member to continue on with Michael. The album also features a contribution from Bill Chadwick ("Talking to the Wall").
In the early 2000s, Tantamount To Treason was reissued on compact disc with three bonus tracks: the instrumental "Cantata & Fugue in C&W," a cover of "Rose City Chimes," and "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)."
On a personal level, most days it's my favorite Nez solo album. Check out its review on AllMusic, too.
Here is the rear cover of the LP, complete with Michael's own personal home-brew recipe!
You can download Tantamount to Treason directly from Michael's Videoranch website or iTunes, and stream it on Spotify.
In the United States (and elsewhere) in the 1970s, tracking down Monkees albums was often a challenge. Long out of print, fans from this era often resorted to auctions or garage sales for their Monkees vinyl fix. Japanese fans, however, experienced better luck as Bell Records released the original Monkees albums in Japan throughout 1973 and 1974.
The spread below displays the Japanese Bell issues, highlighting the alternate covers chosen for the debut album, Headquarters, and Head.
Be sure to check out JD's page on these LPs at Monkee45s.net to peruse the unique artwork that accompanied these releases!
Even before the huge comeback of The Monkees in 1986, Rhino Records had licensed the rights to the group's original nine albums and immediately began a reissue program. The first round of releases occurred in 1985 and included The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, Head, Instant Replay, and The Monkees Present.
This is my copy of the 1985 Rhino reissue of The Monkees Present. It featured a colorized version of the back cover. (In its original 1969 incarnation, the photos appeared in black and white.) When Bell Records reissued this album in 1974 in Japan, they colorized the back cover. Apparently Rhino decided to stick with that layout.
Fans from the '80s are also likely to recall the promotional stickers attached to the shrink wrap of each of the reissued Monkees albums.
Here's a look at the original Colgems back cover as it appeared in 1969:
Micky Dolenz Live
Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart returns