I have never claimed to be cool. Let’s be completely clear on that point. So what I am about to tell you really should not change your opinion of me whatsoever.
After my post about my ten-year anniversary last week, I would think I had properly conveyed the level of awesomeness my husband possesses. However, during our anniversary dinner, he went and outdid himself by giving me the best gift I could have imagined. Diamonds? No. Pearls? No. A ticket to the three-day Monkees Convention in March of 2013? Damn straight!
I know, I know. A Monkees convention probably ranks up there in cool points along with Star Trek and Comic-Con conventions. But I’m not in middle school anymore, and I really don’t care if this precludes me from being in the popular crowd. I would probably rather hang with Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter anyway. Besides, I have clearly found a man to share my life with who accepts my oddities enough to have spent the last ten+ years with me and even indulge me in my fanaticism. WINNING!
Still, my comfort level with being an attendee of a Monkees convention does not make me any less annoyed when people constantly question WHY I am such a huge Monkees fan, insinuating that Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and the late Davy Jones do not have enough talent to warrant such devotion. I am not going to lie…it irks me something terrible. Not because I think every person in the world needs to love The Monkees, but because there are still too many people who will not give them enough of a fair shake to open their minds just a bit and discover that this group really was more than just the sum of skeptical reviews by music snobs with axes to grind. They really were more than a “Beatles knock-off,” more than “bubble gum rubbish,” and more than “a make-believe band who didn’t play their own instruments.” Actually, not one of those overly-documented descriptions is even true. But before I ever even knew about any of those controversies or misnomers, there was something that did make me fall in love with them and, more importantly, KEPT me in love with them. (For more on how The Monkees have played into my life, see Why I Like Bananas.)
The Monkees television show was how I got my first taste, and in itself, it is a reason to love them. It was revolutionary for its time, winning two Emmy Awards, yet its timeless slapstick and improvisational comedy allows it to continue to survive generations. But nevermind the fact that they were comedic television geniuses. For me, it was the music that brought it all together and kept me coming back for more. Everyone knows the big hits like I’m a Believer, (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Last Train to Clarksville, and Daydream Believer. All are great songs. But The Monkees were really so much more than these…and even BETTER than these, especially when they fully evolved into an “authentic” group, taking solid control over the sound they put out. Unfortunately, the average person has probably never heard most of these songs. So I would like to give you six reasons WHY I have loved, do love, and will always love The Monkees:
1. Porpoise Song – This is the theme song from The Monkees’ movie entitled Head. The movie is pretty trippy, and probably not for everyone. However, this song is an undeniable masterpiece. Written by the great Carole King and Gerry Goffin, the song’s mixture of powerful instrumentation and Micky’s transfixing, emotional vocals never fail to make me stop what I am doing so I can close my eyes and take it all in. Its magic is never lost on me, no matter how many times I listen to it. If I HAD to pick a favorite Monkees song, this would probably be it.
2. Circle Sky – Also from the Head soundtrack, this song was written by Mike Nesmith, who is a poetic genius. Nez’s downward sliding guitar riff sets the tone, but Micky’s performance on drums drives the song. As a band, they are a well-oiled machine at this point. And the live concert footage is enough to turn me into one of those screaming girls in the audience. (Just a fair warning: there is some violent footage from the Vietnam War at one point in the video. They wouldn’t be good protesting hippies without it.)
3. Door Into Summer – This gem is off of The Monkees fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones LTD. and features one of my favorite pairings of Mike on lead vocals with Micky on backup vocals. M&M (as I like to call them) melt in your ears (not in your hand) with their perfect harmonies. Written by Chip Douglas and Bill Martin, it has some really great story-telling lyrics.
4. Can You Dig It? – One more selection from the Head soundtrack, this song was written by Peter Tork and sung by Micky Dolenz. ‘Nuff said…well, it’s me, so NOT ’nuff said. Peter’s Eastern religious, free-loving, hippie sensibilities mingle seductively with Micky’s silken voice. If smooth, melted chocolate had a sound, it would sound like Micky Dolenz singing. And this song certainly satiates my craving.
5. Shades of Gray – This song sings to the collective, collaborative spirit of The Monkees third album, Headquarters, where they finally were able to take control over their music. I am a fan of the whole album. But on “Shades of Gray” especially, it strikes me how, for four guys who were pieced together by outside forces, their voices and musical vision blend together seamlessly. And Davy and Peter take solid command over the shared lead vocal duties.
6. Goin’ Down – You reach a new level of Monkee fan once you have learned and can sing the words to this song. But to expect to sing them with the speed and clarity of the smooth and silver-tongued Micky Dolenz is another thing. Maybe the “Micro Machines Guy” could do it. This song was written by all four Monkees along with Diane Hilderbrand, and attempting to commit suicide in the mighty Mississippi never sounded so snappy. They also get bonus points for making the line “stayed there floatin’ like a mama cow” sound totally natural.
Hopefully these selections have shed new light on a band who many consider to be a joke. I used to tell my students when they would complain about the books we read in class (not naming names but…ahem, Hemingway) that they did not need to learn to love the books, but hopefully they could learn to appreciate why they were classics. That’s all I’m doing here. I’m an educator, folks, and I’m just trying to educate.
Fortunately, in about eight months I will find myself in a vast sea of educated people, and I can finally geek-out about things like whose version of Harry Nilsson’s “Daddy’s Song” was better – Davy’s or Mike’s? And then I will proclaim, “These are my people.”
Like I said, I never claimed to be cool. Just happy.