Left to right: Walls and Bridges (John Lennon, 1975); 1962–1966, a.k.a. The Red Album (The Beatles); Headquarters (1967); Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. (1967); The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees (1968); The Monkees (1966); More of The Monkees (1966); Quadrophenia (The Who, 1973).
Their eponymous début released 10 October 1966, and spent 13 weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. It’s mostly bubblegum pop, meant as a cash cow for the producers and a way of pimping the show to the huge teenybopper fanbase. As fun as these songs are, they’re not the kind of classics or strong material serious fans have in mind when we talk about how awesome The Monkees are.
I also love how they’re all smiling on the cover except Nez. Reportedly, he was getting really frustrated at how many takes they’d done, and didn’t notice the camera snapping.
More of The Monkees released 9 January 1967, much to the band’s shock. They had no idea this album was being put together until they saw it in stores. If I weren’t such a longtime Monkeemaniac, I doubt I’d like this album nearly so much. Again, it’s mostly lightweight bubblegum pop, and Davy sings not one, not two, but three incredibly schmaltzy, sappy, saccharine songs. “The Day We Fall in Love” isn’t even a song, just a sappy monologue set to music!
However, it does have the classics “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “She,” and “I’m a Believer” (overplayed though it might be). There’s also the gorgeous, underrated “Sometime in the Morning.”
It spent 18 weeks at #1 on the Top 200, the longest-reigning #1 of any Monkees’ album.
Headquarters released 22 May 1967, and shot to #1 in the U.S., #2 in the U.K. The most overrated album of all time unseated it from #1 in the U.S. HQ was their first album as a real band, with very little outside songwriting and instrumentation. On the back cover, The Monkees credited these session musicians instead of pretending they did it all by themselves.
Every single track is perfect! I also love most of the bonus tracks on the modern reissue.
PAC&J released 6 November 1967, and was the band’s fourth consecutive #1 album. It takes its names from the boys’ sun signs. Micky is Pisces, Peter is Aquarius, and Davy and Nez are both Capricorns. Davy and Nez also have the same birthday, 30 December.
This is an excellent album, with somewhat more outside musicians, but still with a big amount of creative control. It’s an ideal starting-place for a new fan.
The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees released 22 April 1968. Their show’s final episode aired on 25 March 1968, though the boys were still sustained by their established popularity. However, BB&M was their first album which didn’t reach #1. It attained a respectable #3 in the U.S., and didn’t chart at all in the U.K.
This has been called The Monkees’ White Album, with each Monkee demonstrating his own musical style and personality in his respective songs. As much as I adore this album, though, I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to a brand-new fan. One’s fandom should be a bit more established and secure before diving into this type of album.
Many people hate the Nez song “Writing Wrongs,” though I typically love it. This song has been compared to The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9,” which I also predictably love. I love “Revolution No. 9” so much, I’ve often listened to it on repeat.
The Head soundtrack released 1 December 1968, and was Peter’s final album with the group till 1986’s attempted comeback Pool It! It was also the last Monkees’ album to feature all four until 1996’s Justus. This trippy album only went to #45, and the film famously bombed. Like most bombs, however, it’s developed a cult following.
The highly underrated Instant Replay released 15 February 1969, and went to #32 in the U.S. Though it was released after the first wave of popularity had begun bursting, there are lots of awesome songs. I’d rate it 4.5 stars, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the later Monkees.
The Monkees Present released 1 October 1969, and only went to #100 in the U.S. This is another highly underrated album worth a listen by the serious fan. It contains lots of deep, serious, complex songs, as well as “Listen to the Band,” a Nez song which has become an anthem of sorts for the band.
If you want a good laugh, check out this old version of the Wikipedia page on the album! There’s so much POV all over it, as well as overly casual language.
Changes released in June 1970, by which time only Davy and Micky were left, and failed to chart. This album is only for completists, and definitely not something I’d recommend a new fan listen to first or even fifth. It’s best saved for last. With the exception of a few songs, this is pure elevator muzak.
Over the years, there have been many compilation albums, the 3-volume Missing Links rarities series, some live albums, and three latter-day albums—Pool It! (1986), Justus (1996), and Good Times! (2016) The lattermost released to wild success this May, and is their best album in years, even considering Davy’s absence.