The Monkees and The Moody Blues share an unlikely characteristic. Each group has been incredibly successful, and both have been maligned by the musical "establishment," especially by so-called musical critics. What do they know, because The Monkees created good music, with catchy tunes and lyrics. Occasionally throughout their musical career The Monkees achieved a musical excellence the reached a level of greatness.
On this debut CD we get to hear Tommy Boyce and Bobby lead a team of writers and musicians to back a group of guys to create good music; perhaps not great music, but certainly good. The concept that creation of a musical team could generate good music was taken to the ultimate conclusion by The Alan Parsons Project, where Alan Parsons selected singers and musicians for each of his compositions, and there is little doubt that some of Alan Parson's music is great. I think that because The Monkees were the first created group, and they were created for a comedy show targeted for a young audience, they caught a lot of undeserved heat. There was a lot of talent in this group, most especially that of Michael Nesmith, who has been called "the greatest musician you've never heard" because he has created excellent, non-commercial music for many years since The Monkees.
On this CD, we kick off with the theme from The Monkees' TV show; catchy and memorable, and actually pretty good for pop music of the mid-60s. The David Gates' penned "Saturday's Child" is pretty standard pop fare, and had a Beatles flavor to it. The guitars and drum styling is lifted right from The Beatle's playbook. "I Wanna Be Free" is a slower and more mellow song, uncharacteristic of the typical manic Monkees' song. Well matched to Davey Jones' voice, this mellow song was an indication of the musical range this group would eventually achieve. "Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day" jumps back into standard Monkees pop; a catchy beat, catchy lyrics and pretty solid bubblegum.
"Papa Gene's Blues" was penned and sang by Michael Nesmith. While the lyrics are catchy, there is an interesting combination of Latin instrumentation with a twist of country flavor that make this one of the standout songs on this CD. This song was used during one of The Monkees episodes, but clearly did not fit The Monkees' bubblegum image well enough to be released as a single.
The next song was one of those penned by a musical great, in this case Carole King and Gerry Goffin. This semi-psychedelic song features oboe, harpsichord, and glockenspiel in addition to standard rock instruments. The lyrics describe looking at the world from a different perspective, a topic that would be much for thoroughly explored in the following two years as psychedelic rock reached its height of popularity.
"The Last Train to Clarksville" is a catchy pop song that was one of The Monkees' earliest hits. The beat and lyrics appealed to its pop-rock audience and rocketed The Monkees to prominence, and critical disacclaim by those who wanted to see rock music treated as a legitimate form of music.
The next song, "This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day" is another routine pop song. The following song, "Let's Dance On," has an opening rock riff that just seems to be an immediate descendant of The Beatles. Even the lyrics are targeted to music and dance styles of the day. "I'll Be True to You" has Davey Jones singing in a heart throb mellow style targeted for the teen girl audience of 1966; not one of Davey's better vocal performances.
"Sweet Young Thing" offers another Michael Nesmith song, written with Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Michael's characteristic country flavor shows through strongly, and he offers another strong vocal performance. This song is another strong song from this CD, and an indication of the excellence of the song-writing team.
"Gonna Buy Me a Dog" is a comedy song with an informal style worthy of some of the leading artists of the time. The lack of polish improves the appeal of an otherwise gimmick song, and gives a touch of experimental edge to this pop album.
There are three bonus tracks on this release. The first is an echoed vocal version of "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind," with backing vocals that move the song into an easy listening category even softer than light pop. It's likely that the style of the song was too light to fit into what was considered to be The Monkees' musical genre. The next is "I Don't Think You Know Me." This version is a good interpretation of the Gerry Goffin and Carole King penned song. I am unsure of why this version was not used. The last song is a short version of the theme from The Monkees TV show, with more echo and including Bobby Hart and Tommy Boyce on vocals. This version may have been an early demonstration track.
The Monkees were an oddity in the music world. They were created, true. However, the songwriters and musicians that backed The Monkees, along with the talent of The Monkees themselves, caused the group to be musical success, and likely influenced a generation of young music listeners, myself included, and perhaps even many future musicians. As noted within this review, some of the songs were as good as or better than many of the pop songs of the day. Much of what they started singing was bubblegum, but they stood by each other and yearned to reach for artistic recognition.