Take the Last Train To Clarksville

The Monkees are celebrating their 50th anniversary. They have a new release, called “Good Times“, largely made of unreleased out takes from their heyday. It includes a song by Davy Jones, who died in 2012, in much the same way the Beatles released “Free As A Bird”. It is good. It is very much a Monkee’s release. Sadly, they didn’t get another hit off it (yet). The Monkees were really good. For a while, more popular than either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. It took the release of Sgt. Pepper’s to knock them out of number 1.

It’s widely commented that the Monkees were a fake band, assembled by a production company as part of a sitcom idea. They didn’t record their stuff themselves, they used LA studio cats to cover songs that had been prepared for them. So, basically they were a band that was having their material written by the likes of Carol King and Neil Diamond, and getting help from Stephen Stills and Neil Young in the studio. I defy you to find a band working today that would turn that down! I agree with John Lennon, who told them he thought they were the best comedy since the Marx Brothers, he loved the show, and they had the difficult task of developed a very successful band while doing a weekly TV show.

While is cannot be argued that they were brought together by casting calls, it must be said, they outgrew that quickly. By their third release they had battled the studio execs to get a good deal of creative control, and their best work was done while they maintained the same amount of creative direction as any band active at the time. In 1967 they outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. Their list of hits is impressive. The Last Train To Clarksville, I’m a Believer, I’m Not your Stepping Stone, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Daydream Believer, Valleri, The Porpoise Song, just to name the ones that really had some traction. But the Monkees, at least on their own, didn’t simply make pop hits. Some of their cuts are amazingly experimental, psychedelic, provoking. Deep. Real.

They won the lottery. Fame was simply handed to them because of an interview. 2 musicians and 2 actors, tossed together to make a show about a musical band. As I see, they could have rode that wave for a while. They didn’t. First the musicians, and then all of them, began to fight to make something more, to become a band, to make their own music. In the end their fight for creativity was their undoing, the studio decided it wasn’t worth the fight and canceled the show after its second season. The next incarnation (from the point of view of the studios) of The Monkees was the cartoon group The Archies. Toons don’t ask for creative control. There were no takers for their idea to move to a more Variety Show format. So, The Monkees made more music.

Their finest release is  Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., and was the last release made for the TV show (its songs peppered season 2, along with cuts from Headquarters). Both were recorded by the Monkees, with no more use of studio musicians than any other rock band. The soundtrack of their movie “Head” shows a lot of promise going forward. Sadly, as with so many bands, creative differences finally broke up the group in 1971, long after the show had been canceled.

The local rock group down the street
Is trying hard to learn their song
Seranade the weekend squire, who just came out to mow his lawn

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

See Mrs. Gray she’s proud today because her roses are in bloom
Mr. Green he’s so serene, He’s got a t.v. in every room

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don’t understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery

Ta Ta Ta…

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land

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