The Monkees’ perfect swan song album

Copyright Rhino Entertainment; image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

The Monkees’ final album, Good Times!, was released 27 May 2016 and instantly became a huge surprise hit. Many other bands who release albums so far past their peak of popularity, and without having made any albums regularly for a long time, can only dream of such commercial and critical success. Almost all reviewers had a very positive opinion of it, and lauded it as The Monkees’ finest in years.

The album was #1 on the U.S. Billboard Vinyl Albums chart, #10 in New Zealand, #14 on the U.S. Billboard 200, #20 in Australia, #24 in Scotland, #29 in the U.K., #57 in Switzerland, #58 in Ireland, #83 in Belgium, #95 in Canada, and #130 in Japan.

Rhino executives John Huges and Mark Pinkus suggested the idea of an album to celebrate The Monkees’ 50th anniversary, and hired Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne as producer. A few of the songs were written back in the Sixties, but never released, not even on rarities collections. The leading track incorporates an old demo by Harry Nilsson, and to represent Davy, they used an alternate version of “Love to Love” with new backing vocals by Micky and Peter.

Prior to the release of Good Times!, on 28 April 2016, a music video for “She Makes Me Laugh” was released. This was a great choice for the first sneak preview. The song very much evokes their Sixties sound, and the video is so sweet, fun, and adorable. You’d never guess Micky was anywhere close to 71 when it was recorded! He truly is one of the most criminally underrated male vocalists in rock.

The next song to be released prior to the album’s début was “You Bring the Summer,” which is also a really fun, quintessentially Monkees’ song.

Track listing:

“Good Times” (written by Harry Nilsson; sung by Micky and Harry)
“You Bring the Summer” (written by Andy Partridge; sung by Micky)
“She Makes Me Laugh” (written by Rivers Cuomo; sung by Micky)
“Our Own World” (written by Adam Schlesinger; sung by Micky)
“Gotta Give It Time” (written by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine; sung by Micky)
“Me & Magdalena” (written by Ben Gibbard; sung by Mike and Micky)
“Whatever’s Right” (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart; sung by Micky)
“Love to Love” (written by Neil Diamond; sung by Davy)
“Little Girl” (written and sung by Peter)
“Birth of an Accidental Hipster” (written by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller; sung by Mike and Micky)
“Wasn’t Born to Follow” (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King; sung by Peter)
“I Know What I Know” (written and sung by Mike)
“I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time)” (written by Micky and Adam Schlesinger; sung by Micky)

Bonus tracks on various editions (none of which I’ve yet heard):

“Love’s What I Want” (written by Andy Partridge; sung by Micky) (Japanese edition, Barnes & Noble 7″ vinyl, and and 10″ vinyl Record Store Day [RSD] Black Friday Exclusive)
“A Better World” (written by Nick Thorkelson; sung by Peter) (FYE edition, B&N vinyl, and RSD)
“Terrifying” (written by Zach Rogue; sung by Micky) (digital download and RSD)
“Me & Magdalena” (Version Two) (digital download and RSD)

My favorite tracks are “Me & Magdalena” (so gorgeous!), “She Makes Me Laugh,” “Love to Love” (though was the Davy vault really that dry they had to use an alternate version of an already-released song?), and “Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

Happy 50th birthday, Imagine!

Imagine (John Lennon album) - Wikipedia

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

John Lennon described his proper sophomore solo album as Plastic Ono Band with chocolate frosting. That is, the songs had a similar mood of anger, bitterness, and vulnerability, but there was more of a touch of softness. Imagine is also more commercially-friendly and sugarcoated. It’s long been my next-fave of his solo albums. (To date, I’ve never heard the rather self-indulgent, experimental albums he did with Yoko, but most people consider his solo career to have properly started with POB.)

The album was recorded from 11–12 February and 24 May–5 July 1971, and released 9 September 1971 in the U.S. and 8 October in the U.K. Some of the recording sessions are featured in the 1972 TV film also titled Imagine. At the time, critics lambasted the film as “the most expensive home movie of all time,” but I really enjoyed it.

Imagine was very positively received by music critics, though some felt POB was superior. Just as John described it in annoyance, many critics too noticed it was much more commercial than POB. Predictably, eight of John’s albums were reissued as a boxed set after his murder, and Imagine and its title track both became huge hits all over the world.

Originally, the album reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, The Netherlands, Japan, and Norway, #2 in Canada, and #10 in West Germany. In 1981, it was #3 in Norway, #5 in the U.K., #34 in Sweden, and #63 in the U.S.

John had a star-studded sessions band including such luminaries as George Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Nicky Hopkins, King Curtis, Alan White, Jim Keltner, and Mike Pinder.

Track listing:

“Imagine” (co-written with Yoko) (#1 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and South Africa; #5 in Switzerland and The Netherlands; #6 in Norway; #12 in Belgium; #14 in Japan; #18 in Germany upon original release; #1 in Ireland, #6 in the U.K., and #19 in Sweden upon 1975 reissue; #1 in the U.K. and Ireland, #2 in Switzerland, #3 in Norway, #4 in Austria, #5 in The Netherlands, #6 in Belgium, #7 in Germany, #23 in New Zealand, and #43 in Australia upon 1981 reissue)
“Crippled Inside”
“Jealous Guy” (later covered by Roxy Music, who had a huge hit with it)
“It’s So Hard”
“I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”
“Gimme Some Truth”
“Oh My Love” (co-written with Yoko)
“How Do You Sleep?”
“How?”
“Oh Yoko!”

The 40th anniversary LP reissue also came with a bonus EP with the following songs (most of them alternative versions from the recording sessions):

“Baby Please Don’t Go” (written by Walter Ward)
“Imagine”
“How Do You Sleep?”
“Jealous Guy”
“Oh My Love”
“I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”

My fave songs are “How Do You Sleep?” (which so gives the finger to Paul!), “Gimme Some Truth,” “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier,” “Crippled Inside,” and “Jealous Guy.” I got my vinyl copy from the $2 wall at Mystery Train Records in October 2002, during my first Alumni Weekend. It was marked as-is, and that turned out to mean there’s a skip on “Jealous Guy.” I’m so used to hearing it that way, I mentally expect the skip when I hear the song on the radio or Spotify.

Sadly, all my records are 900 miles away and haven’t been shipped to me yet, since my little brother has made it clear he cares more about woke ideology and his ridiculous, unhealthy ménage à trois than his own family, so I’ll have to get some friends still in that area to take over from him.

John said it best: “One thing you can’t hide/Is when you’re crippled inside.”

Happy 40th birthday, Double Fantasy!

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Released 17 November 1980, Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s seventh and final studio album, and the fifth album he did in collaboration with Yoko Ono. Many critics panned it initially, not necessarily because of the music itself, but because they thought it painted an unrealistic picture of John and Yoko’s marriage. Strangers always know best about other people’s personal lives, don’t they?

Sales weren’t particularly good until John’s murder three weeks later. The album then proceeded to jump to #1 in many countries. It also won 1981 Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards, and was ranked #29 on Rolling Stone‘s list of best Eighties albums.

But does it hold up on its own merits 40 years later?

DF is a concept album, structured as a call-and-response dialogue between John and Yoko. They each sing seven of the fourteen songs, going on a journey through their relationship, from fractured bonds on Side One to domestic bliss on Side Two.

This was the second of John’s solo albums I got, since it was the only one available at Mystery Train Records on that day. Back in 2002, online shopping hadn’t really taken off, so we were at the mercy of whatever merchandise was in a store, or had to put in a special order.

I gave it 5 stars on my old Angelfire page, and really liked it. Listening to it again after many years, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars. There’s a lot of strong material, but it’s not one of the greatest, most memorable albums of all time. Some of the songs also veer a bit close to filler.

If you’re a Yoko-basher and don’t want to even try giving her music a fair listen, you’re gonna have a bad time with this album. Half of the songs are hers, like it or not, and it wouldn’t be the same album if it were only John’s songs.

Yoko was well-known and respected in the avant-garde world long before she met John, and her music has been hugely influential on other artists. Like The Velvet Underground, her influence is massively disproportionate to actual sales, radio play, and visibility.

People who think she only did tape loops and screaming betray their total unfamiliarity with her musical evolution. Sure she doesn’t have a classically-trained, conventional voice, but her music took on a more mainstream direction as time wore on.

Some of her DF songs have a very New Wave sound, which was right in line with other early Eighties music.

John and Yoko famously separated during the 18-month Lost Weekend, reconciled at the start of 1975, and welcomed their son Sean on John’s 35th birthday that October. From that time on, John was a contented househusband and put his musical career on hold.

During a sailing trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda in mid-1980, John was caught in a bad storm, and was the only one not stricken by seasickness or fatigue. As the last man standing, he had to steer the yacht for hours.

This experience fortified John’s confidence and made him contemplate the fragility of life. As he explained, “I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos—and all these songs came!”

John and Yoko recorded dozens of songs that autumn, some of which later found their way onto the posthumous Milk and Honey (1984). Their sessions were top-secret, and they had to pay for studio time out of their own pockets, since they weren’t signed to a record label.

Once their publicist broke the news, offers from record labels swarmed in. On 22 September, they signed with the new Geffen Records because David Geffen spoke to Yoko first and considered her John’s equal. Mr. Geffen believed in them so much, he signed them before hearing any songs.

John made it clear from the jump that Yoko would be an equal partner on this album (which is subtitled A Heart Play). The strength of her material compelled record execs to take her seriously. She earned her place on DF through her own talents.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (#1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, and The Netherlands; #2 in Austria, New Zealand, and Norway; #3 in Sweden; #4 in South Africa and Belgium; #6 in West Germany; #9 in France)
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” (ends with an extremely realistic faked orgasm and very sexual words in Japanese)
“Cleanup Time”
“Give Me Something”
“I’m Losing You”
“I’m Moving On”
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”
“Watching the Wheels” (#3 in Canada; #6 in Switzerland; #6, #7, and #10 on various U.S. charts; #12 in Austria; #20 in Ireland; #30 in the U.K.; #45 in Australia; #46 in West Germany)
“Yes, I’m Your Angel”
“Woman” (#1 in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe; #1, #2, and #4 on various U.S. charts; #2 in Switzerland; #3 in Austria; #4 in West Germany, Australia, and South Africa; #5 in Norway; #11 in The Netherlands)
“Beautiful Boys”
“Dear Yoko”
“Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”
“Hard Times Are Over” (gut-punching, knowing what would soon happen)
“Help Me to Help Myself”*
“Walking on Thin Ice”* (released 1981) (#6 in Sweden; #13 on U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs; #18 in Australia; #22 in Canada; #35 in the U.K.; #48 in New Zealand; #58 on U.S. Billboard)
“Central Park Stroll” (dialogue)*

DF reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, France, and Japan; #2 in West Germany; and #6 in Italy. It was certified triple platinum in the U.S.

While DF has never been one of my favoritest albums or something I regularly listen to, I’ve always liked it and found it very solid. I understand why some people might be off-put by songs about a relationship they’re not in (regardless of who the couple is), but this is after all a concept album telling a story. It just happens to be a real story, not a fictional one.

Happy 50th birthday, Plastic Ono Band!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 11 December 1970, Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon’s first proper solo album. While he’d done four prior solo albums, they were all collaborations with Yoko Ono, not 100% his own songs.

There were also two Plastic Ono Band albums released that day, with slightly different covers, though most people are only familiar with John’s album of that name. Yoko’s POB only reached #182 on the U.S. Billboard chart, and none of the six songs became singles.

John’s POB was the very first solo album by him I got, in January 2002. At the time, John was still my favorite Beatle, so it made sense to start my journey into the band’s solo work through him.

These songs are so raw and emotional, strongly influenced by the Primal Scream therapy John had recently undergone with Arthur Janov. He’s laying his heart, soul, and mind bare for the world to see, exposing these deep pains and traumas which had stalked him for so many years.

The first time I heard the opening track “Mother,” maybe two years before I got the album, I deeply sobbed through almost the entire song. That was one of the most emotional listening experiences I’ve ever had.

Penultimate track “God” is also one of the three songs which always gives me full-body goosebumps, getting stronger and stronger with each “I don’t believe in…” declaration. (The other two are The Monkees’ “Zor and Zam” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Seven o’Clock News/Silent Night.”)

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks. (Though it just seems wrong for there to be any bonus tracks! The album was already perfect as-is.)

“Mother” (#3 in Switzerland, #9 in Austria, #10 in The Netherlands, #12 in Canada, #26 in West Germany, #30 in Japan, #43 in the U.S., #57 in Australia)
“Hold On” (includes John’s impression of Cookie Monster)
“I Found Out” (he so gives the finger to everyone in this song!)
“Working Class Hero”
“Isolation”
“Remember” (ends with a reference to Guy Fawkes Night and the sound of an explosion)
“Love”
“Well Well Well”
“Look at Me”
“God”
“My Mummy’s Dead” (only 49 seconds long)
“Power to the People”*
“Do the Oz”*

My favorite tracks are “God,” “Love,” “I Found Out,” “Mother,” and “Working Class Hero.”

The album reached #1 in Canada and The Netherlands, #3 in Australia, #4 in Norway, #5 in Japan, #6 in the U.S., #8 in the U.K. and Sweden, and #39 in West Germany.

POB is widely considered John’s greatest solo album by far, and it’s always been my personal favorite as well. Many of those incessant best-of lists rank it quite highly.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly, highly recommend this album!

My Quadrophenia story, twenty years later

Though I first listened to Quadrophenia on 18 November 2000, my history with the album truly began in 1993. I’d been looking at my parents’ fairly paltry vinyl collection since I was a kid, but I wasn’t drawn back to it till I was thirteen and getting into classic rock and pop. Since we no longer had a record player, I had to make do with reading the story booklet and looking at the photos.

Being that classic kid who read too much and understood too little yet again, I twisted myself in knots trying to figure out just what the title meant. I thought it was a real word whose definition eluded me!

A certain lyric in “Doctor Jimmy” also greatly unsettled me for years. When you only read lyrics instead of hearing them actually sung, let alone in the context of a complex story being told through a rock opera, you tend to miss a lot of important details.

Jimmy isn’t really saying he plans to rape a virgin. He’s reached the end of his rope and isn’t thinking straight by a long shot. There’s so much clutter swirling in his head, with the four warring parts of his personality. Jimmy’s angry, confused, a hot mess who needs help.

That lyric is also nothing next to some of the jaw-dropping awfulness featured on The Rap Critic’s Worst Lyrics episodes. The all-time worst I’ve heard is the Lil Wayne guest verse in “Karate Chop,” comparing rough sex to the beating of Emmett Till.

17–19 November 2000 was my very first weekend staying on campus at UMass instead of obediently going home to Pittsfield like an overgrown little kid with no life. It’s no fun being a victim of learnt helplessness, even if in my case it wasn’t the result of deliberately malicious intentions. I also only transferred after two years of community college. While that saved lots of money, it didn’t do my emotional, psychological, or mental maturity any favors!

That Saturday afternoon, I walked into town and went to Mystery Train Records. What luck, I found Quad in the used CD section for only $16! I was hungry for a third Who album after Tommy and Who’s Next, and had heard so many people on my lists highly recommending it as one of the best albums to get early in one’s fandom journey.

Was I blown away when I got back to my single dorm room on the first floor of Chadbourne! I loved Quad so much, I played it twice that day, and many more times in the coming weeks. Love at first listen. When I finally quit trying to overanalyze the story and title, and just listened without prejudice, I got Quad.

This album would’ve meant so much to me during junior high. It’s a story just about every adolescent who’s ever lived can deeply relate to—not fitting in, being different from the others, feeling alienated from everyone around oneself, not getting along with parents, being bullied, feeling on the verge of cracking up if one more straw hits the camel’s back.

Each of the four bandmembers is represented by one of the warring aspects of Jimmy’s psyche. Roger’s theme is “Helpless Dancer” (a screen name I’ve used at a few message boards), Keith’s theme is “Bell Boy,” John’s theme is “Doctor Jimmy,” and Pete’s theme is “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The themes appear as instrumentals in the title track and “The Rock.”

In “Quadrophenia,” they’re played separately, signifying how fractured Jimmy’s state of mind is, at war with himself, wanting and trying to be so many disparate things to so many different people.

In “The Rock,” they initially appear individually, but gradually start merging, faster and faster, until finally they emerge as one and Jimmy makes peace with himself in “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

Twenty years later, Quad is still an emotional tour de force every single time. It’s been with me through half of my life and counting, and never lets me down. Words shall never express my deep love and gratitude to this wonderful band and all they’ve meant to me for so long.