Yes, those Monkees and their early-summer release, Good Times.
I’m not late to the party, though I’m certainly late to posting about the party—an ear candy party that popped in and out of my earbuds and speakers throughout the summer. A near-perfect pop album that always felt at once nostalgic and fresh. Every time it slipped into me I came to the same conclusion:
Huh. Whaddya know. I like it — a lot! It may not be the Most Significant Artistry of the Year, but every time I listen to Good Times I feel just a little bit better than I did before.
It’s exactly what a good pop album should do.
Here’s the thing: I can’t possibly write about this album without conceding that I have a checkered mental relationship with this band.
I was a lonely girl in second grade. I got fine grades in school and thought my teacher Mrs. Milbourne could make the sun shine, but recess—most often associated with unwelcome games of Dodge Ball—was my least favorite hour of the day. Given a choice, I would have preferred to be in my bedroom reading a book or better yet, listening to music.
My dad had already turned me on to The Beatles, Ian and Sylvia, and Peter, Paul & Mary. My mom preferred movie soundtracks, especially The Sound of Music.
But The Monkees were my own discovery, and I was certain I was on to something uber special. I had every album. I never missed a shown TV, and I was certain that Davy Jones was singing directly to me. He was my first crush, and it was strong. I drew hearts around his pictures on albums (though I drew horns on Mike Nesmith’s wool caps).
So strong was my pull that when Headquarters was released, I feigned illness (an ear ache), and forged a note from my mother so I could stay home from school and listen to the album. Mrs. Milbourne detected the forgery of course, but she called my mom to come pick me up anyway. I felt incredibly guilty about the lie until about the second track. Never mind that The Beatles were a week away from releasing Sgt. Pepper. At age 7, I had found my own way with The Monkees.
I daresay that this is the trajectory of most Monkees fans around my age over the decades:
- Mid 1960’s – We fall in love with the wacky foursome, even if Mike never seems to be quite in the game with the rest of them.
- Late 1960’s – We fall out of love with them as the show is cancelled. They are yesterday’s news, and we’re kind of embarrassed to have adored them. Sgt. Pepper is out there now, and what on earth were we thinking?
- 1970’s – We live through middle school and high school without giving them a thought. We like our electric guitars very much. We’re immersed in Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and Yes. We’re Going for the One.
- Early 1980’s – We’re in and out of college now, and that’s where we hear about this old cult movie, Head, from Bob Rafaelson and Jack Nicholson. We’re puzzled by this. We consider the possibility that The Monkees were really cool after all–they’d just been co-opted by the forces of network television–and that means we must’ve also been really cool after all as well! We go see Head in an art house cinema, and our impression of the movie is probably dependent on whether or not we’ve ingested any psychedelic substances that day. Afterwards, we decide they were cool enough, and we were cool enough, and then we get back to The Clash, Talking Heads, B-52s, and Elvis Costello.
- Mid/late 1980’s – We don’t think about The Monkees once, nope, not once. But we sure wonder how it is that their contemporary Paul Simon could release that masterpiece Graceland “at his age.” We are otherwise obsessed with all things Prince. And maybe XTC.
And so forth and so on.
I wish I could fact check myself on this, but I swear I saw Davy Jones playing at Disneyworld in the spring of 1999. I was there with my extended family but off on my own for a few hours. It was an outdoor show, not all that crowded from the looks of it; I stood on the sidewalk to watch for a song before moving on.
Otherwise, the closest I get to a personal “Monkees Moment” is that I know a great singer/songwriter out in L.A. who also happens to tour with Peter Tork as his sideman.
There are plenty of reviews for this album out there (here’s a link to Metacritic), but here are the two things worth paying particular attention to:
- Mickey Dolenz’s vocals are the bomb diggity. The guy is 71 and still has it. Yes, I’m sure they applied a little digital scrubbing for questionable notes, but still…
- Check out that list of songwriters—they span every decade from the past 50 years. You know their work, and if you don’t, your parents do.
Here’s the track that got me to hit “repeat” over and over… and over again. It’s written by Andy Partridge (XTC), and damned if the production doesn’t absolutely nail the XTC vibe.