More of the Monkees, the group's second LP released in January 1967, became one of the two biggest selling original Monkees albums (certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA) and was the longest to stay at #1 on the Billboard chart (18 weeks). It contains their biggest hit, "I'm a Believer," and songs that have been forever associated with The Monkees since its release ("Mary, Mary" and "Steppin' Stone" to name two). Its track listing includes selections that have long been a part of the group's live show (even to the current day) and it features contributions from songwriters like Michael Nesmith, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Diane Hildebrand. But in many ways it has always been the album I listen to least, feeling somewhat disjointed in areas and containing a couple of subpar tracks selected by Don Kirshner, who at the time of its assembly was clearly exercising his power as the group's musical supervisor.
How's about a little back-story:
Despite The Monkees beginning to find their own sound during initial rehearsals early in 1966, music publisher Kirshner was eventually brought in by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson to speed up the process of producing Monkees music. Though Schneider and Rafelson were supportive of The Monkees making their own music, deadlines had to be met and the day to day rigors of filming, recording and promotional appearances were becoming too much to maintain. Recording sessions began in June 1966 at RCA Hollywood. At this point, The Monkees were adding just their vocals to the recordings, with Kirshner refusing to allow the band to play on the tracks in order to streamline the process. Michael, however, produced his own separate sessions, promoting a more united atmosphere with the band providing group backing vocals as well as seeing both Michael and Peter adding guitar to several songs. Nesmith and Tork in particular were very interested in the musical aspect of the project, wishing to write, produce and arrange songs for the albums, but Kirshner was keeping a close eye on everything. Ruling with an iron fist when it came to which tracks were selected and which songs were released as singles, Michael and Peter, later joined by Micky and Davy, began to rebel against the process of how the music was being recorded.
Tensions continued to brew after The Monkees' debut album was released in October 1966 and stayed at #1 for an incredible 13 weeks (More of displaced it from the top spot). In the earliest stages, the idea of a Monkees album was merely to be a soundtrack to their television series. But to everyone's surprise, the music quickly became more successful than the TV show. "I'm a Believer" was released in December 1966 and quickly found its way to the top of the charts. The Monkees were becoming a recording juggernaut. However, Kirshner, and not The Monkees, was in charge of the music, but that was not to last.
When word leaked that The Monkees were not laying down the instrumental tracks on their albums, controversy brewed and Michael put the situation bluntly. While conducting their first live concert tour, Nesmith, in an interview with The Saturday Evening Post in January 1967, made the situation clear. "The music had nothing to do with us. It was totally dishonest. Do you know how debilitating it is to sit up and have to duplicate somebody else's records?"
Looking back today, the 'controversy' seems silly as many of the top groups of the day were recording much like The Monkees, using ace studio musicians like The Wrecking Crew. But in 1967, along with the 'manufactured' criticisms already befalling the group, the "they don't play their own instruments" story line became one that has never fully dissipated. (This controversy is even more sillier to me since those playing on the early Monkees records weren't simply phoning it in on second rate songs. These were first rate musicians playing their hearts out with enthusiasm and vigor on first rate songs, and of course, the inspired vocal performances by The Monkees themselves made the entire exercise nothing short of first class.)
While on tour in January 1967, The Monkees discovered that More of the Monkees had been released and went to a record shop to pick up a copy. (Wow!) They disliked the cover image, Kirshner's self-congratulatory liner notes and the song selections. The group, led by Michael, eventually took their concerns to both Schneider and Rafelson, who sympathized with The Monkees. Shortly after a tense meeting with the band and Kirshner in a Beverly Hills hotel room in January 1967, where Nesmith put his fist through the wall, Kirshner was dismissed. Michael later told Melody Maker magazine that More of the Monkees was "probably the worst album in the history of the world."
It's with all these occurrences happening that More of the Monkees is released. An abundance of songs had been recorded for the album by various producers that included Boyce & Hart, Nesmith, Jeff Barry and Gerry Goffin & Carole King. Quality songs were leftover from sessions for the debut album, some which ended up on More of. When it came time to assemble More of's track list, there was seemingly no challenge in finding quality material for the LP. It's here where I question some of Kirshner's selections. Inevitably some of you will disagree as we all have our personal favorites, but songs like "The Day We Fall in Love," "Laugh" and "Hold on Girl" seem to me to be clearly weaker material than other songs left in the vault at the time. But in some cases, Kirshner was promising his stable of songwriters that their songs would appear on a Monkees album, and perhaps loyalties to his songwriters took precedence over the quality of the actual songs being selected.
So, with all of the previously mentioned success this album received, who am I to question its contents? Over the course of the last two Monkees tours in 2011 and 2012, eight (!) of its 12 songs were on the setlist. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of first rate material on More of the Monkees. "She," "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," "Mary, Mary" and the ace single of "I'm a Believer"/"Steppin' Stone" more than speak for themselves. "The Kind of Girl I Could Love," a Nesmith original featuring some great steel guitar work by Nez, also shines. "Sometime in the Morning" is regarded as a Monkees classic. I recently heard "When Love Comes Knockin'" on a college radio station here where I live, and it sounded pleasant and poppy, two big themes of Monkees music.
In retrospect, I would have liked to have seen More of the Monkees be an album that represented the diverse type of music being recorded by The Monkees at that time and one with more group involvement. I would take less of the sappier love songs Kirshner was projecting to fit the 'television image' of The Monkees, especially Davy. But as we know, an artistic statement was not yet the purpose of a Monkees album...that would not come until their next release, Headquarters.
Using the superior tracks from More of the Monkees combined with songs that were recorded before or during the sessions for it, here is my revised track listing. (Click on each track to hear the song on YouTube. I've used the mono versions when available as I think More of is best heard in mono.)
2. When Love Comes' Knockin' (At Your Door)
3. Mary, Mary
4. I Don't Think You Know Me (Peter's vocal)
5. Valleri (First Recorded Version)
6. I Won't Be The Same Without Her
7. Steppin' Stone
1. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) - longer TV show mix with additional keyboards
2. The Kind of Girl I Could Love (using the alternate mix with the up-front group backing vocals)
3. I'll Be Back Up on My Feet (First Recorded Version)
4. (I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love (Davy's vocal)
5. Sometime in the Morning
6. Your Auntie Grizelda
7. I'm a Believer
This track listing gives greater representation to the Nesmith sessions by adding the excellent "I Won't Be the Same Without Her" and Davy's vocal take on "(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love." Peter is given a second track on the album with his turn on "I Don't Think You Know Me" (which also happened to be revived for the 2011 tour). A song that was featured during the first season of the series and deserved inclusion, "I"ll Be Back Up on My Feet," is also added. And, the original version of "Valleri," which I consider to be superior to the re-recorded 1968 single, is used for More of the Monkees. (The first take on "Valleri" that appeared in episodes during the first season received airplay on the radio when DJs around the country anxious for new Monkees material taped it off the TV show and played it on the air.) There are also 14 songs here instead of the 12 that appeared on the original release. With the plethora of material available at that time combined with the fact that both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had albums during this period featuring 14 tracks, it seems to make sense to me. And, with this track listing, you have multiple members of the group appearing on the same track (Side A: tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and Side B: tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7).
My revised More of track list would alter future releases like The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees and Instant Replay since songs like "Valleri," "I'll Be Back Up on My Feet" and "I Won't Be the Same Without Her" eventually appeared on them. But the story remains the same for those later albums, too. There was plenty of great material available and the songs that appear on this fantasy version of More of that ended up appearing on Birds and IR could easily have been replaced with songs recorded around the time of those LPs. (However, I do like the Birds version of "I'll Be Back Up On My Feet"!)
Drop me an email or add a comment below and let me know what you think.
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Dolenz sings Nesmith - The EP