Happy 50th birthday, BB&M!

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Released 22 April 1968, The Birds, the Bees, & The Monkees was The Monkees’ fifth studio album, and their first to not reach #1. It reached #3 in the U.S., #5 in Australia, #6 in Canada, #8 in Finland, #28 in the two Germanies, and #44 in Japan. The album failed to chart at all in the U.K.

This album came at a very difficult crossroads in the band’s career. Their awesome TV show had been cancelled (the last episode aired 25 March 1968); their trippy movie Head was a box office flop; and the bulk of their fanbase were starting to move on to other music.

Track listing of the most widely-available remastering, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Dream World” (written by Davy and Steve Pitts)
“Auntie’s Municipal Court” (Nez and Keith Allison; an unusual example of Micky singing lead on a Nez song)
“We Were Made for Each Other” (Carole Bayer and George Fischoff)
“Tapioca Tundra” (Nez) (#34 in the U.S.)
“Daydream Believer” (John Stewart) (#1 in the U.S.; #5 in the U.K.)
“Writing Wrongs” (Nez)
“I’ll Be Back Up on My Feet” (Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell)
“The Poster” (Davy and Steve Pitts)
“P.O. Box 9847” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart)
“Magnolia Simms” (Nez)
“Valleri” (Boyce and Hart) (#3 in the U.S.; #12 in the U.K.)
“Zor and Zam” (Bill and John Chadwick)
“Alvin” (Nicholas Thorkelson)*
“I’m Gonna Try” (Davy and Steve Pitts)*
“P.O. Box 9847” (Early Mix)*
“The Girl I Left Behind Me” (Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer)*
“Lady’s Baby” (Peter)*

I have a 1996 vinyl reissue with two bonus tracks, “I’m Gonna Try” and an alternate mix of “P.O. Box 9847.” It was sealed, but I had to open it. I normally don’t buy sealed editions, but that was the one and only copy in stock at either branch of Last Vestige Records. This was also 2003, so it wasn’t that old. I never would’ve opened a sealed LP of very old vintage. The plastic wrap is still loose around it.

In 2010, Rhino released a deluxe 3-CD edition, available only online from their website. As far as I can determine, it’s no longer for sale through Rhino, though one can find it through third-party sellers on sites like Amazon and e-Bay (for quite a steep price). This boxed set has the original album in both stereo and mono, along with over 60 bonus tracks, an essay booklet, and a commemorative pin.

My favourite tracks are “Writing Wrongs,” “Tapioca Tundra,” “I’ll Be Back Up on My Feet,” and “Zor and Zam.” The lattermost appears in the final episode of The Monkees, and the end never fails to give me goosebumps. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t heard it. “Zor and Zam” is also powerful evidence for Micky as one of rock’s most underrated male vocalists.

A lot of people trash “Writing Wrongs” as one of the band’s worst songs, but I absolutely adore how trippy and out there it is. The comparison to The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” is very apt. Many people hate that song too, but I’ve listened to it on repeat many times. You either love or hate it.

BB&M is often called The Monkees’ White Album, with each Monkee doing songs in his own respective style, a band album that’s more like a solo showcase for each. While I’d rate this album 5 stars without contest, I can see how it might not be the most ideal album for a potential new fan. It’s more of an album to save for after one’s fandom is stronger and more established.

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Happy 50th birthday, PAC&J Ltd.!

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Released 6 November 1967, Pisces, Capricorn, Aquarius, & Jones Ltd. was The Monkees’ fourth album. Like their previous three, it too went to #1. Though picking a favorite Monkees’ album is like picking a favorite child, I’d pick this one in a pinch.

The title comes from the boys’ sun signs. Micky is Pisces, Peter is Aquarius, and Nez and Davy are Capricorn. Since the lattermost two shared a birthday (albeit three years apart), Davy’s surname was also included to avoid any potential confusion.

Track listing and writing credits, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Salesman” (Craig Vincent Smith)
“She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry)
“The Door into Summer” (Chip Douglas and Bill Martin)
“Love Is Only Sleeping” (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill)
“Cuddly Toy” (Harry Nilsson)
“Words” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart)
“Hard to Believe” (Davy with Kim Capli, Eddie Brick, and Charlie Rockett)
“What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey and Owen Castleman)
“Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” (Peter)
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Gerry Goffin and Carole King)
“Daily Nightly” (Nez)
“Don’t Call on Me” (Nez with John London)
“Star Collector” (Goffin and King)
“Goin’ Down” (stereo mix) (all four Monkees with Diane Hilderbrand)*
“Salesman” (alternate stereo mix)*
“She Hangs Out” (alternate stereo mix)*
“Love Is Only Sleeping” (alternate mix)*
“What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” (alternate mix)*
“Star Collector” (alternate stereo mix)*
“Riu Chiu” (TV version) (traditional)*
Original first thirteen tracks in mono*
Special Announcement*
“Salesman” (alternate mono mix)*
“Cuddly Toy” (alternate mix)*
“Goin’ Down” (mono single mix)*
“The Door into Summer” (2007 remastered alternate mix)*
“Daily Nightly” (alternate mix)*
“Star Collector” (alternate mix)*

As with their previous album Headquarters, the boys exercised a great deal of creative control, though there were more studio musicians brought in. Nez takes center stage on five of the original tracks, while Micky only sings lead on three. Micky had vocally dominated their previous three albums.

Davy sings lead on four, and Peter gets the short novelty song “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky.”

The album yielded the double B-side “Pleasant Valley Sunday”/”Words,” the former song of which went to #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100; #2 in New Zealand and Canada; #4 in Norway; #10 in Australia; #11 in Ireland and the U.K.; and #18 in Germany.

“Words” was somewhat less popular on the charts, though it went to a respectable #11 on Billboard.

A Moog synthesizer is famously heard on “Star Collector” (as well as featured in “Daily Nightly” and “Love Is Only Sleeping”). PAC&J was one of the first mainstream, popular albums to feature this instrument, which Micky had discovered and introduced to the band.

My favorite tracks are “The Door into Summer,” “Words,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” and “Star Collector.” This is an excellent album for new fans to get to know The Monkees beyond their most overplayed singles.

Happy 50th birthday, Headquarters!

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Released 22 May 1967, Headquarters was The Monkees’ third studio album, and their first with almost complete creative control. The few outside musicians were properly credited, as were the professional songwriters.

Though The Monkees began life as a TV show band, assembled from four guys chosen via auditions, they rebelled against their handlers and became a real band. It was also beshert, destiny, that those four guys were chosen out of everyone who auditioned, and that they meshed together so well.

HQ immediately reached #1, but was dethroned by the most overrated album of all time a mere week later. It stayed at #2 for the next 11 weeks. HQ also reached #1 in Canada and the U.K. In Norway and Finland, it charted at #2.

Track listing, with stars by the 2007 bonus tracks:

“You Told Me” (Nez)
“I’ll Spend My Life with You” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart)
“Forget That Girl” (Douglas Farthing Hatlelid)
“Band 6” (mostly instrumental)
“You Just May Be the One” (Nez, with a chorus line some people have famously misheard as “Oh, Nimbus” instead of “All men must”)
“Shades of Gray” (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil)
“I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind” (Boyce and Hart)
“For Pete’s Sake” (Peter and Joey Richards; used as the closing theme for the second season of the TV show)
“Mr. Webster” (Boyce and Hart; reminds me very much of “Richard Cory” on Sounds of Silence)
“Sunny Girlfriend” (Nez)
“Zilch” (a fun nonsense number that’s a group effort)
“No Time” (Hank Cicalo)
“Early Morning Blues and Greens” (Diane Hildebrand and Jack Keller)
“Randy Scouse Git” (Famously written by Micky about his wild, exciting experience in London and meeting his first wife. The title translates as “Horny Liverpudlian Jerk,” and was hence retitled “Alternate Title” in the U.K.)
“All of Your Toys” (Bill Martin)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (Nez)*
“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” (Neil Diamond)*
“She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry)*
“Love to Love” (Neil Diamond)*
“You Can’t Tie a Mustang Down” (Jeff Barry)*
“If I Learned to Play the Violin” (Joey Levine and Artie Resnick)*
“99 Pounds” (Jeff Barry)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (single version)*
“Randy Scouse Git” (alternate version)*
“Tema Dei Monkees” (Boyce and Hart)*
“All of Your Toys” (early mono mix)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (second version)*
“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” (mono single remix)*
“She Hangs Out” (mono single mix)*
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (mono single mix)*
“Nine Times Blue” (Nez; demo version)*
“She’ll Be There” (Sharon Sheeley; acoustic duet)*
“Midnight Train” (Micky; demo version)*
“Peter Gunn’s Gun” (Henry Mancini; jam session)*
“Jericho” (studio dialogue, arranged by Peter)*
“Pillow Time” (Janelle Scott and Matt Willis; demo version)*

I absolutely adore this album, and easily give it 5 stars. The bonus tracks on the most updated reissue are also awesome, though I personally feel like they go on too long and start detracting from the listening experience. The last few bonus tracks are kind of like the endless jam sessions on the third LP of ATMP, where I’d constantly wonder, “Isn’t this over yet?” It would feel less bloated with less bonus tracks, and the rest saved for a boxed set or disc of rarities or outtakes.

HQ is definitely one of the key albums to get acquainted with if you’re just getting into The Monkees!

The Monkees at 50, Part V (What they mean to me)

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Seeing as I’m a second-generation Monkeemaniac who was hooked by the huge second wave of 1986, I’ve now been a passionate lover of this wonderful band for 30 years. At the age I am now, that’s a good 90% of my life. The vast majority of my life has been spent as a Monkeemaniac. I fell in love with them only a few years into being able to remember, so that means an even greater percentage of my memoried life has been spent as a Monkeemaniac.

I’ve never been like most folks, and amn’t about to suddenly up and start now. The di was cast for me to love all things from previous generations all those years ago. I honestly never understood why so many of my peers went gaga over contemporary music, movies, actors, and other aspects of popular culture.

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The Monkees were my first musical love, and remained my fave raves for seven years, until the spring of ’93, when I was thirteen. They were dethroned by The Four Seasons, and a year later, 9 April 1994, I declared The Beatles as my favourite band. In late 2000, they in turn were dethroned by The Who. All these years, I’ve held The Monkees as my third-fave band. The Who are my #1, and The Beatles are the musical love of my life (whom I also strongly feel saved my life), but The Monkees will always have that special place as my first musical love.

All these past 30 years, hearing The Monkees just makes me so happy. While they certainly have more than a few deep, serious, complex songs, I love them most for their fun, sweet, innocent songs. Sometimes you just want something fun, peppy, and lightweight to relax to, to step inside a more innocent mood, to relive happy memories.

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Being all of six years old when I became a Monkeemaniac, I immediately chose Davy as my fave rave. No deep, thoughtful, mature reasoning went into my choice. I just thought he was the cutest. This was the exact same reason Paul was initially my favourite Beatle. I did later admit to myself John had become my favourite Beatle (after awhile of trying to pretend to myself I had two faves), and now I’m coming to realise my preference has strongly shifted towards George. But for my first musical love, dethroning Davy as my fave rave seems so sacrilegious.

My dearest, oldest friend, who got into the band with me, chose Micky as her fave rave. Some years back, she was able to fulfill a longtime goal of interviewing all four Monkees (at separate times).

I think we were in second grade when we did The Monkees’ theme song for the school’s annual lip-synch. We had shirts with felt letters spelling Monkees. Hers said Micky on the back, but I was too embarrassed to have only Davy’s name on mine, and wanted all four of their names. My parents said that would be far too expensive. Mine might’ve been plain on the back.

Our lip-synch bombed horribly, even with her father trying to help us out by jumping into the audience dressed as a monkey. She was pretty pissed at me as we walked back to our seats, feeling I messed our act up. Thankfully, we soon made up. We’ve been friends since September ’85, when we were in kindergarten.

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Of the three surviving Monkees, Nez is my favourite. I really think he would’ve been my fave rave had I gotten into them at an older age, or maybe Peter.  As a child, I always saw Nez as the boring, adult one, a bit apart from the other three. This was a striking harbinger of his spotty involvement with the band in the years since 1970. Little did I know how popular he is among my fellow second-generation Monkeemaniacs.

He also seems to have done the most with his life outside of his Monkees’ career. Not only did he create MTV, but he’s also a very successful solo artist and songwriter, and one of country rock’s pioneers.

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I was absolutely devastated when Davy was taken from the material world on 29 February 2012. I never dreamt he’d be the first one to go, nor that he’d be taken so relatively young. I still can’t believe he’s really gone. It was as much of a shock as when John Entwistle died. It’s not as though either of them had been sick for a long time, like George Harrison, and everyone knew they were dying. Both deaths were so out of the blue.

My steadfast love for The Monkees has grown deeper and more multifaceted as I’ve journeyed through life. They’ve meant different things to me at each stage of life, and the way I hear their music has evolved too. After 30 years, it almost feels like a marriage of sorts.

It’s safe to say I’ll never stop loving The Monkees. How could I, after investing 90% of my life in this relationship?

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.