The Monkees are receiving the accolades that eluded them during their heyday. Unless you’ve ignored the media totally since the 1980s reunion, most people know the band broke out of the manufactured TV image with Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork writing and/or performing their own music starting with 1967’s Headquarters.
Aside from “I’m a Believer” and other hits, the songs featured on the TV show and the Head soundtrack, there are many more cuts most people have missed. Some of them may cause listeners to do a double take and say “That’s the Monkees? I never would have guessed!” I’m talking really deep cuts here, recorded during 1967-1970 and unavailable on official releases until the rarities collections and box sets of the 1980s and beyond. Songs those only loyal fans and music collectors esteem.
I’m not counting the more obscure songs featured on the TV show or in Head, which even casual followers of music and pop culture have seen. That still leaves scads of outtakes, alternate versions, half-finished songs and originally unissued recordings. For purposes of keeping this article down to a reasonable length, I’m limiting myself to four songs …
“NINE TIMES BLUE,” (THE MISSING LINKS VOL. 1, 1987): A tender song of lost and regained and lost again love penned by Mike Nesmith, “Nine Times Blue” was first demoed in 1967. An instrumental version featuring an all-star big band on appears on Nesmith’s 1968 solo album The Wichita Train Whistle Sings. The orchestral version of “Nine Times Blue” holds up pretty well, actually, but that’s a subject for another time. While one of Nesmith’s lesser-known compositions, it is highly regarded by some fans. There’s even a power-pop band in Atlanta named after the song.
Many other Nesmith compositions that were originally recorded during Monkees sessions later showed up, in slightly different versions, on First National Band albums. They include “Crippled Lion,” “Propinquity,” “Carlisle Wheeling” (renamed “Conversations”), “St. Matthew,” “Some of Shelly’s Blues” and the list goes on.
In July 1969, before the release of The Monkees Present, the Monkees second album sans Tork, they appeared on the Johnny Cash Show. Johnny sang “Last Train to Clarksville,” the boys did some comedy shtick, and the trio sang “Nine Times Blue.” A shorter re-recorded version of the song appeared on First National Band album Magnetic South, but the original wasn’t issued until 1987’s The Missing Links, Vol 1. That version has Mike on lead as well as background vocals, but this clip from Johnny Cash appearance, features Davy and Micky on sublime harmony vocals.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: In a terrific Chicago show, Mike Nesmith reflected on his career both solo and with the Monkees, lending his present experience to his classic tracks.]
“MOMMY AND DADDY,” (THE MONKEES PRESENT, 1994): Similar in tone to “Shorty Blackwell,” Micky Dolenz’s atmospheric ode to late-1960s LA, “Mommy and Daddy” takes a political stance favored by many hipper groups of the time. Instead of a high energy rock beat, its stark piano and drums and chanting background vocals give it an eerie vibe. The lyrics are an indictment at the hypocrisy of pill-popping adults who condemn their kids for drug use, the plight of the Native American and other hotbutton issues of the time.
Though musical Svengali Don Kirshner was long gone, the band still had to deal with other powers that were, and a few offending lines omitted from the 1969 release were included on the 1994 Rhino CD issue of The Monkees Present.
By this time, the band’s orginal teenie-bopper fans had grown up or moved on to Bobby Sherman and Tommy Roe. Few remaining fans warmed to the post TV-show releases. By the time the album Changes was released in 1970, the band were down to Two-kees, Micky and Davy, and back to bubblegum tunes by Boyce and Hart and Jeff Barry.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Kingpins of genre-blending, the Monkees performed a great job flaunting their mercurial talents on the underrated ‘Birds, the Bees and the Monkees.’]
“WRITING WRONGS,” (THE BIRDS, THE BEES AND THE MONKEES, 1968): After the collaborative efforts of Headquarters, the group recording dynamic faded over the next two albums. With The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees, the last studio album to feature all four Monkees, most of the tracks were recorded separately by each member with his own backing musicians.
There are a few of the usual upbeat AM radio tunes and Jones’ signature song and the band’s most iconic hit “Daydream Believer,” but the rest of the LP is a combination of psychedelic pop and Nesmith’s country rock. The Nesmith tunes on the album include the esoteric “Auntie’s Municipal Court,” “Tapioca Tundra,” “Magnolia Simms” and “Writing Wrongs,” a composition virtually unknown to all but hardcore fans. Clocking in at five minutes and six seconds, “Writing Wrongs” with its cryptic lyrics and haunting organ is experimental rock with an atonal jazz freak-out in the middle.
It’s not something a casual fan would expect. Listen to the mono version in the dark with a strobe light on for maximum effect.
“COME ON IN,” (MISSING LINKS VOL. 2, 1990): Peter Tork handles lead vocals, keyboards, guitar and bass on this lovely ballad recorded during the Birds, Bees and Monkees sessions. Written by folk singer Jo Mapes, it’s a shame this lovely ballad wasn’t released at the time. It debunks the myth that Tork couldn’t sing lead except on novelty songs like “Your Auntie Grizelda.”
“Come On In” is a nod to Tork’s time as a Greenwich Village folk singer. It first appeared on Missing Links Vol. 2.
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