This is the second in a series of guest articles that have been submitted to The Monkees Live Almanac in celebration of the group's 50th Anniversary.
The efforts of songwriters/producers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart played a critical role in defining the sound of The Monkees. From the first beats of "(Theme From) The Monkees," their mark would forever be on the project. In addition to the theme song, the series pilot featured Davy Jones taking lead on the classic "I Wanna Be Free," while "Let's Dance On" featured Micky Dolenz, and both numbers were included on The Monkees' debut album. It was a California sound, appropriately reflecting on the characters of four young musicians living in a beach house.
The story behind the early Monkees music, however, was much more complicated. Musical supervisor Don Kirshner had attempted to lure a big name producer to helm the project, and had successfully recruited Snuff Garrett into the studio, which by all accounts, was a disaster. Sessions with Carole King also flamed out, and with a full television season on the horizon, options were growing slim.
Fifty years after the fact, the complications are revealed to be enormous. Andrew Sandoval, archivist, historian, and manager of The Monkees, spoke with Michael Nesmith in an interview for Rhino’s Handmade Edition re-issue of the debut album, The Monkees. "They asked if I would do some things. I said, 'Well, I can do some things, but if I was going to put together a rock 'n' roll band, I don’t know that I would put together a band with David, Micky, and Peter. You know, these are good guys to work with, but we all have very different musical tastes and sensibilities. I'm not that prolific or prodigious.' [They said] ‘Well maybe Tommy and Bobby and you can do it.'"
Time was running short, and by the beginning of July 1966, Boyce & Hart were in charge. Along with Jack Keller, the duo cranked out an enormous amount of material in a short time. Meanwhile, Nesmith produced additional Monkees tracks at a studio nearby. Between them, the entire debut album was recorded in that month's time frame.
Boyce and Hart’s "Last Train to Clarksville" became the choice for the first single. Its power propelled it up the charts in advance of the show, but once the series hit the air on NBC in September of 1966, its success skyrocketed. "Last Train to Clarksville" would eventually hit number one in November, knocking "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians off the top.
The album proved to be even more of a triumph. The Monkees reached number one on Billboard's Top LPs chart, staying entrenched for a remarkable thirteen weeks, at the time a record for any debut.
Following such monumental success, it could be asked, why would musical supervisor Kirshner deviate from the formula of the first album? One of the answers is financial. The guaranteed sales of the follow-up would make landing a spot on a Monkees record a nice payday. Kirshner no doubt would feed the writers on his staff, at the expense of Boyce & Hart. Another reason was that he considered the duo as inferior writers and producers. Now that The Monkees' proverbial train had left the station and picked up speed, Kirshner intended to take another shot at steering. And one significant day in particular allowed Kirshner not only to press his case, but practically remove Boyce & Hart from their role as producers of the Monkees project.
August 23, 1966 was exactly one week after the release of "Last Train to Clarksville" as a single. The Monkees themselves were on a television sound stage shooting the season one episode, "Monkees at the Movies." Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart entered RCA Studio B that evening, working from 7pm until the wee hours of the morning on two novelty songs, "Kicking Stones" and "Ladies Aid Society." Following the well-liked "Gonna Buy Me a Dog" on The Monkees, one could see the appeal of more humor on the next disc. However, trying to reconcile that either of these songs would fit on the second album seems practically unimaginable.
"'Kicking Stones' was originally just a poem by Boyce & Hart's buddy and sometimes hairdresser Lynne Castle," wrote Andrew Sandoval in his book The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation. "The team's regular studio guitarist Wayne Erwin then set her words to music - and out came a fairytale-like creation." Andrew Hickey, author of Monkee Music, an in-depth look at every song The Monkees released, offers a critical assessment of "Kicking Stones." "To be fair to Boyce & Hart, they were producing a lot of material at this time," Hickey opines. "But there was clearly no way tracks like this could have ever been considered remotely releasable, and they must have known it." In his book Sandoval quotes a memo written by Bert Schneider, one half of Raybert Productions with Bob Rafelson that created The Monkees television series, who complains that both "Kicking Stones" and "Ladies Aid Society" were "of dubious value."
Mistakenly listed as "Teeny Tiny Gnome," "Kicking Stones" was eventually released in 1987 on the first edition of Rhino's Missing Links series of Monkees rarities. It can also be found on Rhino's deluxe edition of More of The Monkees.
"Ladies Aid Society," complete with off-key falsetto lyrics, pretends to be a protest song of sorts, with the sound of a brass band and would-be elderly women. The Monkees did choose to include the track on 1969's The Monkees Present.
Ironically, in the days just before and after these disasters, three Boyce & Hart classics would be laid to tape: "She," "Words," and "Valleri." Each would be featured prominently during the first season of The Monkees' television series. "She" eventually opened More of the Monkees. Although viewers would become familiar with the others, their releases would be significantly delayed. "Words," re-recorded under producer Chip Douglas and featuring a Monkees backing track, was chosen as the B-side to "Pleasant Valley Sunday" nearly one year later, and would climb to #11 on the charts. "Valleri" was also revamped and issued as a single in 1968, the band's last Top Ten hit.
Viewers of the TV show were also introduced to "I'll Be Back Up on My Feet." Composed by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, it was nowhere to be found on More of the Monkees, but was ultimately re-recorded for the band's fifth album, The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. The song was brought out of mothballs by Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, showing up frequently on set lists during a series of concerts conducted by the duo in 2015.
Don Kirshner used Bert Schneider's skepticism of Boyce & Hart's latest productions to his full advantage. The competition for the second album heated up in October of 1966. While Boyce & Hart, and Michael Nesmith, toiled in Los Angeles, Don Kirshner's newest handpicked producer, Jeff Barry, worked out of New York, tackling tracks by Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, as well as Neil Sedaka & Carole Bayer. "I was very friendly with Boyce & Hart," Kirshner told Andrew Sandoval years later when explaining the move away from the pair in the recording studio. "But my fiduciary obligation to Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems is to get the best record, okay? My objective was one thing: not to show favoritism. I had a competitive environment, no different than, say, American Idol. The four finalists are there, you can only have one, and each of them could be a hit record star. And that's what I strive for."
Barry's productions included both "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" and "Sometime in the Morning," while Sedaka and Bayer were at the helm for "When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door)." All were fast tracked to the new album. The novelty song "Your Auntie Grizelda," featuring Peter Tork on vocals, "Laugh," and the sappy spoken word "The Day We Fall in Love," were soon added to the mix, and ultimately, the LP. Boyce & Hart's take on "Hold On Girl" (heard below) would later be substituted for a version produced by Barry and Jack Keller. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who produced ten songs on the debut album, were left with two on the follow-up, the same number as Michael Nesmith. The Don Kirshner takeover was complete.
More of the Monkees, as released on January 9, 1967, held the top spot on Billboard's album chart for an incredible eighteen weeks. The LP has been certified platinum five times over by the RIAA, a success that would never again be matched by the group. "I'm a Believer" would remain at #1 for seven weeks, the band's top selling single. For all its perceived weaknesses in its released form, it arguably furthered the Monkees project to dizzying levels of success.
But it still begs the question, what would a Boyce & Hart-produced second album have sounded like? We can take a pretty good guess.
The Monkees' second single, Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer," would be a given, as would the flip side, Boyce & Hart's "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," which peaked at #20 on the Billboard singles chart in its own right.
Sandoval’s book revealed an interview with Tommy Boyce, who spoke highly of "Tear Drop City," "Through the Looking Glass," and "Don’t Listen to Linda." "I always liked that song ['Through the Looking Glass']," Boyce told Andrew Sandoval. "I knew it was a fabulous song and we always thought it should have been a single, but it never was, of course. I think it was an imaginary song we wrote about a couple of girls we knew. Sort of like an Alice in Wonderland type of thing: you walk through the mirror, 'Through the Looking Glass'...and go through this glass into a different world." One can presume, had Boyce & Hart still been in charge, that these already completed songs would have found a place on More of the Monkees. Instead, they were shelved for roughly two and a half years, before finally being released on Instant Replay, the band's seventh album.
Michael Nesmith, who received two slots on both The Monkees and More of the Monkees, had several tracks to choose from for the LP. "Mary, Mary" and "The Kind of Girl I Could Love" were the ultimate choices, but "You Just May Be The One" (first recorded version) was featured several times on the television show, and could have been chosen just as easily. "Of You," written by John and Bill Chadwick, had also been tracked by this point. "All The King's Horses" and "I Don't Think You Know Me" were other options.
Considering both Boyce & Hart as well as Kirshner's team took a crack at "Hold On Girl," it stands to reason this song would also be given heavy consideration.
Here's my educated guess - the track listing for the unreleased Boyce & Hart-produced
More of the Monkees album:
The ultimate quality of this collection can only be judged by the ear of the beholder. It is heavy on tracks sung by Micky Dolenz, and includes only three leads by Davy Jones and one by Nesmith. It does stand to reason, however, that it would have also propelled the Monkees project in a significantly positive way. The lows in this collection seemingly don't sink to the levels exhibited by "Laugh" and "The Day We Fall In Love" that appeared on the actual released version of More of the Monkees. In a theoretically perfect world, several of these songs were deserving of a place on the album, and would have mixed well with some of Kirshner's preferred tracks.
But one critical lesson from The Monkees is that nothing was as simple as it seemed.