Posted in 1980s, Music, The Monkees

The Monkees at 50, Part IV (Enduring legacy and popularity)


Little could anyone have predicted, back when those 437 hopeful young men showed up to audition in September 1965 or when The Monkees débuted in September 1966, what a huge, enduring popularity and legacy was being created. A TV show about a fictional band turned into a cultural icon not only of the Sixties, but of all time.

When Nez let the cat out of the bag about them not being allowed to play (most of) their instruments or write their own music, the powers that be were stunned, but real fans didn’t care. The true-blue Monkeemaniacs weren’t under any illusions about this being a real, organically-created band who lived in that groovy beach house. They knew it was a TV show with actors.

Had The Monkees stayed just a fictional TV band, they never would’ve remained so popular for 50 years. They became a real band, and made some truly wonderful music once they were given the bulk of creative control. Prior to their rebellion, they’d also had a lot of great songwriters, like Neil Diamond and Carole King.


All bands have an initial shelf life, and it seemed as though Monkeemania had ended by 1969. Head was a flop (both due to how weird it was and how most of their fanbase weren’t old enough to see an R-rated movie); the show was cancelled after two seasons; first Peter and then Nez left; and different types of bands and musicians were rising in popularity while many longtime chart staples were seen as unhip and past their expiration date.

This phenomenon was very similar to many silent stars’ decline in popularity during the early sound era (which I’ll be discussing in much greater detail during next year’s series on The Jazz Singer at 90). It wasn’t that they had horrible voices or couldn’t make the transition well, it was that their shelf life was naturally ending anyway, and a whole new crop of talent was coming up.


However, Micky and Davy continued making music and touring together for awhile (albeit without much commercial success). The show also ran in reruns Saturdays on CBS, from September 1969–September 1972, and on ABC from September 1972–August 1973. In September 1975, all 58 episodes were sold to local markets, and mostly appeared on indie stations.

On 23 February 1986, MTV (which actually was a music-oriented channel once upon a time) ran a marathon. Within months, a lot of other channels were airing the show too, Nickelodeon among them. This was Nick’s golden age, much as my younger friends who grew up during the Nineties would heartily disagree with me.

This second wave of Monkeemania during their 20th anniversary year was what snared me and my dearest, oldest friend. I can’t believe we’ve now been fans for 30 years!


The band went on tour during 1986–7, and my best friend and I went to see them when they played in Albany in the summer of ’87. Weird Al was their opening act, and Nez wasn’t with them. As my mother explained to my 7-year-old self, he had a job he felt was more important than The Monkees. Now that I’m an adult, I better understand his reasoning behind not being more involved with the various tours and reunions over the years.

As a kid, I thought he was more boring and adult than the other three, kind of a harbinger of his spotty involvement with the band since 1970. Now, I feel like Nez would’ve been my fave rave had I gotten into them when I was a lot older than just six. Given my personality and interests, he, not Davy, seems the obvious choice, but it feels sacrilegious to switch fave raves when it comes to my first musical love. Of the three surviving Monkees, Nez is my favourite.


MTV tried a spin-off, The New Monkees, in 1987, but it quickly bombed. The attempted comeback album, Pool It!, also wasn’t exactly their strongest material. Due to personal conflicts, the reunion came to an end.

Micky and Davy reconciled, and began another reunion tour in ’94. For their 30th anniversary in ’96, Micky, Davy, and Peter did a reunion tour, and all four Monkees created the album Justus, on which they did all the songwriting and instrumentation.

There have been various other reunion tours over the years, most recently this year, to mark their 50th anniversary. Their new album, Good Times!, is their best work in years.


The TV show is such a quintessential cultural icon of the Sixties, really showcasing the music, fashion, attitudes, and culture of 1966–8. Many future musicians grew up watching the show, both in its original run and in reruns, and it had a huge impact on them.

Artists who’ve done Monkees’ covers, or songs written by Nez, include The Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Linda Ronstadt, Run-D.M.C., Smash Mouth, George Benson, and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Other artists who cite the band as an influence include The Beach Boys, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and Glen Campbell.

The show is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Head has been given the master treatment by the prestigious Criterion Collection.

Many Monkees’ songs have been used in movies and other TV shows over the years, and the band, their music, and the TV show have been referenced in a number of other shows and movies.

Not bad for a band that started out as fictitious.

Posted in 1980s, 2010s, holidays, Music

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! (My fandom story)


Since taking this photo several years ago, I’ve added the lovely, underrated Big Thing (1988) and the spin-off The Power Station (1985) to my vinyl collection, but I didn’t feel like reshooting this picture!

To mark Duran Duran Appreciation Day (a fan-initiated holiday falling on the anniversary of Simon’s near-drowning experience in 1985), I decided to finally share my story of how I became a fan. It’s hard to believe this year makes it five years since I’ve been a Duranie. My path to fandom wasn’t the typical one, since it happened so many years after their greatest wave of popularity, I wasn’t some screaming teenybopper, and I’ve always most gravitated towards classic rock and pop.

To quote the lesser-known song “Beautiful Colours,” “Life isn’t standard-issue, it’s customised.” Not everyone has the same reasons for joining and staying in a fandom. I also like to discover bands, books, films, actors, writers, etc., long after the heyday has passed. I’m getting into them for my own reasons, not because of massive hype.

I’d actually bought Rio in July 2007, after finding it in the $2 stacks at a Northampton record store which has since gone out of business. At the time, I justified it to myself as indulging my Eighties nostalgia, a guilty pleasure I only had to part with $2 for. I listened to the album a few times, but it didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t the right time for me to become a fan.


I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this now, but for a long time, I dismissed the band because I thought they were just a bunch of prettyboys who were only around in the Eighties, just some talentless boygroup for mindless teenyboppers. It took awhile for me to realise they’re a real band, and just happened to be heavily marketed to teenyboppers the way my belovèd Monkees were a generation earlier. Real fans stuck around after their heyday, while the fairweather fans moved on to the next big thing pimped by the media.

As some readers might remember, in November 2010, I finally went back to my long-hiatused book Little Ragdoll from scratch and memory. Around this time, I seriously started using YouTube, and began making playlists to listen to while writing. One of those was my Hollies’ playlist, which was my majority soundtrack for writing the book. I also made soundtracks for The Four Seasons, The Monkees, several other bands and artists, and the Eighties.


 Of course, I searched out several Duran Duran songs for the lattermost playlist, and ended up clicking on a lot of their other recommended videos. As 2010 turned into 2011, I found myself liking and listening to them more and more. I’d “liked” the band’s official Facebook page by early February 2011, since I remember there was a post celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Planet Earth” shortly after I joined.

Then on Valentine’s Day, the page asked about fans’ choices for most romantic songs. A number of people named “Come Undone” as super-romantic and babymaking music, and I looked up the video on YouTube. I ended up watching and listening to it over and over again, hooked. That’s the song that really threw the switch and made me realise I was a real, active fan, not just disinterestedly indulging Eighties nostalgia. I consider Valentine’s Day my anniversary of becoming a Duranie.

During this early period, while watching their videos and listening to their songs, I found myself thinking, “Wow, the blonde dude [Simon] is really handsome!” This was pretty noteworthy for me because I’m almost never physically attracted to blondes. I’ve always been all about the dark hair and eyes, and consider blonde hair and blue eyes a rather boring, cliché look. A guy with those features has to be really, really special for me to pay attention to him.

On 23 March 2011, the band did a YouTube-broadcast concert for American Express, with truly bizarre video work by David Lynch. I was getting more and more into them, and starting to feel really self-conscious about it. That summer, I began writing the first draft of The Twelfth Time, and often listened to them as my writing soundtrack. All the while, I felt weird when I caught myself listening to them too much. I didn’t want to admit to myself I’d become a real fan and fallen in love with them so deeply, since I was afraid of being made fun of.


Then I remembered, I’ve always cared less when people trash my belovèd Monkees and accuse them of being only for shallow, brainless teenyboppers with poor taste in music. I know the real story behind their origins and evolution, and love their music no matter what. Sometimes good bands get famous really quickly, and are heavily marketed to teenyboppers. As a result, they develop a stigma it can take decades to shake, and many people don’t take them seriously as real bands. Why was I being such a hypocrite about loving a band with a similar story?

I finally admitted to my head what my heart already knew, and no longer felt ashamed or self-conscious about how much of their music I was watching and listening to. Five years later, I’m not embarrassed to admit I sleep under a vintage framed poster of the band or to go out with a vintage button on one of my purse straps. My fave rave is Roger, though my giant stuffed frog is named Simon because I already named my stuffed tiger after my first Roger, the handsome Roger Harry Daltrey.

I’ve used lines from some of their lyrics as inspiration for chapter and part titles in my books, and narrative lines in general. Favourite songs include “The Seventh Stranger,” “Secret Oktober,” “Out of My Mind,” “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” and “To the Shore.” My favourite music video is the long version of “Wild Boys” (so deliciously macabre!)

And, of course, “Come Undone,” the song that made me come undone.

Posted in 1980s, Music

How to create a knockout début album


Copyright EMI; used solely to illustrate the subject in the context of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine. I unfortunately only have the 1983 American repackaging of this LP (which doesn’t have the same cover art), and thus can’t take a picture of my own album to showcase the cover art.

Some of my readers might remember 10 August is Duran Duran Appreciation Day (a totally real holiday). This year, I decided to review the band’s incredible début album (which is now 35 years old) on Monday, and on the actual holiday, I’ll finally be sharing my story of how this proud classic rock and pop fan ended up becoming a Duranie at the age of 31. I can’t believe this year makes it five years I’ve been a fan already!

Released 15 June 1981, this eponymous début was initially only a success in the U.K. It was released in the U.S. with some modifications (“To the Shore” got the chop, and the Night Version of “Planet Earth” was used instead of the single version), but it wasn’t a success. Meanwhile, back in the U.K., the album reached #3, and spent 117 weeks in the Top 100.

Following the band’s U.S. success with their awesome sophomore album Rio, their début was released again in 1983, with the current single “Is There Something I Should Know?” substituted for “To the Shore.” This time, it reached #10, and stayed on the Billboard 200 for 87 weeks.


Thanks to Spotify, I now have access to the deluxe 2010 reissue, with tons of awesome bonus tracks. I’ll always be a vinyl person, but I can’t complain about MP3 music when it’s free and it has so much extra content!

 Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Girls on Film” (their Top 10 breakthrough in the U.K., and a #5)
“Planet Earth” (their début single, reaching #12)
“Anyone Out There” (kind of reminds me, thematically, of The Beatles’ “No Reply”)
“To the Shore” (such a gorgeous, underrated song!)
“Careless Memories” (their second U.K. single, released 20 April 1981, but a relative flop at #37)
“Night Boat” (a song I hated at first, since the video is really weird even by my standards)
“Sound of Thunder”
“Friends of Mine”
“Tel Aviv” (instrumental)
“Late Bar”* (the B-side of “Planet Earth”)
“Khanada”* (The B-side of “Careless Memories,” and the name of my current journal. It’s pronounced Ka-NAY-da, not like the name of the country.)
“Fame”* (originally done by David Bowie)
“Faster Than Light”* (the B-side of “Girls on Film”)
“Girls on Film” (Air Studio version)*
“Tel Aviv” (Air Studio version, with lyrics. It’s a completely different song from the instrumental, not just because this one has lyrics.)*
“Anyone Out There” (Manchester Square Demo version)*
“Planet Earth” (Manchester Square Demo version)*
“Friends of Mine” (Manchester Square Demo version)*
“Late Bar” (Manchester Square Demo version)*
“Night Boat” (BBC Radio 1 Peter Powell session)*
“Like an Angel” (BBC Radio 1 Peter Powell session)*
“Planet Earth” (Night Version)*
“Girls on Film” (extended Night Version)*
“Planet Earth” (Night Mix)*
“Girls on Film” (Night Mix)*

A Night Version is an extended dance remix, intended to be played in a nightclub. They’re basically longer versions of the songs with more instrumental breaks.

The album was recorded in December 1980. It was difficult to keep recording after getting the news of John Lennon’s murder, but they pressed on to complete the album.

It’s been said women tend to prefer Rio, while men tend to prefer the début album. Originally, I preferred the poppier Rio, but now I’ve switched and prefer the rockier sound of their début. I also like the darker tone to Simon’s voice on this album; as it was pointed out in a blog post on The Daily Duranie awhile ago, most of the rest of the band’s songs were written in a higher register than his natural key. Those songs are awesome and make his voice very recognisable, but I wish he would’ve stayed with this key for more songs.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this album as a writing soundtrack! It’s just so atmospheric and insistent. It’s a 5-star album, no question.

Posted in 1980s, Music

Happy 30th birthday to White City!


WC Front

White City, released 11 November 1985, was Pete Townshend’s fifth solo studio album, and fourth official solo album altogether. A number of the albums in my dinosaur collection have landmark anniversaries in 2015, like Help! and Under a Raging Moon, but WC is so criminally underrated, and I love Pete’s solo work so much, it just deserves as much love as it can get.

Pete got a huge amount of two new kinds of fans when he went solo, which really surprised him—women and gay men. It weren’t as though he suddenly stopped doing traditional rock songs, but rather that he was free to channel his gender-atypical feelings once he was only making music for himself. Let’s be honest, no one familiar with The Who could picture Roger agreeing to sing a song like “Somebody Saved Me,” “Stop Hurting People,” “And I Moved,” “Hiding Out,” or “Sheraton Gibson.”

When I became a serious Who freak in late 2000, I began realizing I might not be quite as gender-atypical as I’d always felt myself to be. Since the majority of fans have always been men, I was able to pick up on how many of us on my estrogen Who lists had much different reactions and tastes than the men on the notorious Odds & Sods and the less intense but still testosterone-saturated IGTC list. For example, we loved songs like “Sunrise” and “A Man Is a Man,” while most guy fans derided them. To say nothing of how I refuse to hate It’s Hard and Face Dances for not being exactly like their Seventies hard rock.

WC Back

However, since I’ve always been rather gender-nonconforming and considered myself more masculine than feminine (though not in terms of physical presentation), I’m attracted to Pete because he’s so in touch with his feminine side and more feminine than masculine. Psychologist Daryl Bem’s Exotic Becomes Erotic Theory says we tend to be attracted to qualities we don’t have, the other, the foreign. Of course, nowadays a certain exploding trend is making it nearly impossible to raise gender-neutral or gender-nonconforming children, but I’ve got a huge rant planned on that in the new year!

Pete being Pete, he seriously billed WC as a novel. You’ve gotta love how pretentious the man can be, and to his great credit, he’s totally up-front about his pretentious inclinations.

The songs:

“Give Blood”
“Brilliant Blues”
“Face the Face”
“Hiding Out”
“Secondhand Love”
“Crashing by Design”
“I Am Secure”
“White City Fighting”
“Come to Mama”

WC Sleeve

WC was also released as a 60-minute film, though the last I heard, it still hadn’t been transferred to DVD. Protagonist Jim is a grownup version of Jimmy from Quadrophenia. The story is set in, naturally, White City, the northern part of Pete’s native Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of London. Jim has come home to the projects where he grew up, and discovers you can never really go home again. Along the way, he deals with other issues including racism, frustrated love, bleak memories, and the hopeful, idealistic dreams of his Sixties youth.

My favorite tracks are “Brilliant Blues,” “Give Blood” (which some people criticise for having such a long intro), “Face the Face,” “White City Fighting,” and “Come to Mama.” The album finishes with such a perfect flourish, really summing up the angsty, bittersweet, emotional journey we’ve just gone on with Jim. The ending rather reminds me of that of “In a Hand or a Face,” the closer on The Who by Numbers, which has been compared to water being sucked down a drain.

If you’re interested in Pete’s solo work, definitely give this one a try. You’ll soon see why his solo persona is like night and day compared to his Who persona you’re probably familiar with.

Posted in 1980s, Music

Empty Glass review

EG front

Released 21 April 1980, Pete Townshend’s first proper solo album, Empty Glass, is now 35 years old and still stands up as an awesome, timeless, quintessentially perfect classic. It’s one of those albums which is so awesome, I’d rate it a 6 out of 5 stars. I love this record so much, I used to listen to it every single morning, and often played it multiple times a day.

The album starts with the gritty classic “Rough Boys,” whose lyrics suggest homoeroticism to some. Pete typically hasn’t helped the matter by his rather ambiguous statements about it over the years, which can be interpreted more than one way. However you choose to read it, and whether or not Pete falls anywhere on the bisexuality spectrum, it’s still an awesome song. I frankly don’t care whether or not he’s ever slept with another man, or how many or few. It’s all about the music, not what he may or may not have done in his intimate life!

“I Am an Animal” deals with our conflicting dual nature, at times vulnerable and at other times animalistic. I always used to smile at the lyric “I am an angel,” since Pete really did have, in my opinion, the voice of an angel in his vocal prime.

“And I Moved” is such a gorgeous, erotic song. Pete has more guts in his pinky finger than many modern-day singers for singing such a song, let alone writing it. He originally wrote it for Bette Midler, since he was told she liked dirty songs. Her handlers never even showed it to her, and told Pete, “This isn’t dirty, it’s smutty.” Not one to let great material go to waste, Pete proceeded to sing the song himself, even though it’s about a sexual encounter from a female POV. Can you imagine many other guys voluntarily singing lyrics like “And I moved/And his hands felt like ice exciting/As he lay me back just like an empty dress”?

Most people know “Let My Love Open the Door,” his biggest (and most overplayed) solo hit. It reached #9 in the U.S. It’s definitely more poppy and upbeat than the other songs on here.

“Jools and Jim” is about gossip-mongers and their clacking typewriters, people who don’t care about the real lives of their subjects. In this song, Pete ably demonstrates his ability to sound both angel-sweet and more traditionally masculine.

EG back

“Keep on Working” is an awesome little rocker, showing he was capable of solid rock songs as well as just personal, introspective numbers. “Cat’s in the Cupboard” is also a great rocker.

“A Little Is Enough” is about Pete’s difficult marriage to his now-ex-wife Karen, with whom he had enjoyed one of rock’s longest-lasting marriages. It was also inspired by a conversation he had with Adi Irani, the secretary of Pete’s late guru Meher Baba. It’s one of my favorite songs from the album.

“Empty Glass,” the title track, is such an anthem for Pete in this period of his life. He felt so out of control regarding his alcoholism and depression. This is also one of three songs from this time period with lyrics about falling or jumping off of a ledge (the others being “Love Is Coming Down” and “Street in the City”). The demo version included as a bonus track on the remastered Who Are You contains the line “Killing each other, then we jump off a ledge,” though by the time of the solo album, it had been changed to “Killing each other by driving a wedge.”

This is just such an awesome song about Pete battling his demons and winning, and celebrating what really matters in life. “Don’t worry, smile and dance/You just can’t work life out./Don’t let down moods entrance you/Take the wine and shout.” This is also another fine example of Pete alternating between his angelic tenor and a more traditionally masculine range.

The album closes with “Gonna Get Ya,” which shows him in a totally manly role, no more ambiguity about his sexuality or feminine-leaning nature. It’s an awesome rocker and perfect closer.