Saturday, April 28, 2012

In praise of Michael Nesmith (and the Monkees too)

I became a Monkees fan in 1976-77 watching the reruns on local UHF TV. My favorite Monkee usually went back and forth between Peter and Micky. Mike (of course with his wool hat on in the 1st season) kind of stood back a bit a took in the proceedings; sometimes dishing out some words of wisdom near the end of an episode. He always seemed the smartest and wisest one; the calming influence. Of course, this was a TV show ABOUT a band as the men who played "The Monkees" always say. But of course, it became more. The guys battled that age old dilemma of "commerce" vs. "Art" and took over the reigns of their own musical destiny, getting Don Kirshner fired off the project.

Of course, the recent passing of Davy Jones has put the Monkees back in the spotlight again a bit. I've always felt I've had to defend my love of the Monkees music. You might as well tell people you love "The Archies" or "Justin Bieber" but these same people who scoff have probably never listened to anything beyond the big hits by the band....

On the first two Monkees albums, Mike was the only Monkee to get some of his songs recorded and credited for some of the production. Even then, even Kirshner couldn't deny Nesmith's talent. 

It didn't hurt that Mike wrote the song "Different Drum" done by a young Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.


 Mike's live version from the 90's

I am always puzzled when hipsters always heap praise on Gram Parsons for his pioneering of country rock (It pisses off the guys in Poco too) when Nesmith was writing tunes like this in 1966. A lot of his style seemed to mix country with some of the chord changes of early standards , and of course rock n roll, to create a unique blend.

     The Monkees "Papa Gene's Blues"

also from the Monkees first album, this blend of country and psychedelic pop written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin with Nesmith, Not many rock bands had fiddle in their songs...

                  "Sweet Young Thing"


Most people probably don't realize Nesmith wrote the song "Mary, Mary". 
 Very selfless of him to let Micky sing it. 
 I thing Run DMC even covered or sampled it in the 80's! 

Peter Tork is credited as one of the guitar players as is Glenn Campbell


another country pop gem co-written by Mike

            "The Kind of Girl I Cold Love"

after a winning a showdown with Don Kirshner demanding control of the musical direction of their own albums, the guys got to work starting with this track written by Nesmith. Mike took a shot at the lead vocal, but the final version featured Micky's lead vocal. Peter shines on the harpsicord. Amazingly this song was only a b-side (it now appears on the cd reissues of the Monkees third album "Headquarters") This is one of my favorite Monkee songs and someone should do a remake!

 "The Girl I Knew Somewhere"
  (live 2002)


                                                version with Mike's vocal


"Headquarters" is probably my favorite Monkees' album. It went to #1 in the summer of 1967 only to be knocked out of the top spot bt the Beatles "Sgt Pepper's". Well, if you've got to be beaten, it might has well be by the best. lol

The guys played most of the instruments on the album. Mike turns in some of his best tunes.

  a great tale of when a girl breaks her promises, ah....

                       "You Told Me"

                    "you Just may be the One"

           more great country oriented rock 

                     "Sunny Girlfriend"

On the next Monkees' album, 
 "Piecies, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd."
 Mike did some great intpretations of some other writers work.

This one co-written by Michael Martin Murphey is one of the best Monkee tracks
"What am I doin Hangin Round?"


Their producer Chip Douglas co-wrote this with band friend Bill Martin, sung by Mike

     "The Door into Summer",another gem


Mike wrote "Daily Nightly" about riots that happened in LA around that time. He really dives into the psychedelic spirit of the era on this one. Once again, Micky takes the lead vocal. Mike plays the erie organ figure while Micky experiments with one of the first Moog synthesizers.

                         "Daily Nightly"


  "Don't Call on Me' intentionally tries to capture the lounge music feel. Maybe a bit mocking but yet an homage at the same time.

                      "Don't Call on Me"

"the Birds. The Bees and The Monkees" was not as strong an album but still had some good songs

  Mike co-wrote another breezy country rock tune with band friend Keith Alliston. Micky on lead vocal. Another often over-looked song.

           "Auntie’s Municipal Court"              (Michael Nesmith/Keith Allison)

Mike definitely got experiemental on the album, When I was a kid I didn't really didin't dig this one, but as I got older, I grew to love it

                     "Tapioca Tundra"

                   Mike must still like it. 
 Here's a more recent version

When the Monkees were in London in 1967, they hung out with the Beatles. Mike befriended John Lennon, who he was probably most like. Lennon invited him to attend the recording of the strings for "A Day in the Life". You can see Mike in the video for that song. This one seems to be very influenced by Lennon, Very experimental.

                        "Writing Wrongs"

"Head" was the soundtrack to the movie of the same name and the last album to include all four Monkees for almost 30 years.

Mike's "Circle Sky' is viewed as one the highlights and considered a garage rock classic these days. 

                      "Circle Sky"

With Peter gone and the TV show canceled, the guys forged on with mixed results.

Here they are on the Johnny Cash show doing an older Nesmith tune that didn't turn up on cd until the 90's. I wish they would have done more stuff like this. Like an early version of "Unplugged"

"Nine Times Blue"

Saving one of the best for last, Mike contributed the wonderful "Listen to the Band" to "The Monkees Present". The last Monkees album he would appear on for 27 years.

          The perfect swan song. The recent passing of David makes the footage even more bittersweet                           

              "Listen to the Band"


After leaving the Monkees, Mike went even deeper into the country sound with his "First National Band". I confess I'm not that familiar with the material from that era but I do like                  "Some of Shelley's Blues"


Always ahead of the curve, Mike got into video production early on, music and comedic long-form pieces as well as movies. He also formed his own label and distribution company. He is partially credited with the development of music video and Mtv to a certain degree.

He still makes some very good music. This one is from about 8-9 years ago


Mike's store:

I would highly recommend subscribing to him on Facebook.

Once again, let's celebrate artists while they are STILL ALIVE. Mike Nesmith is still among us.  

These days the thrice-divorced Nesmith lives alone with his dog "Dale" and seems in a reflective mood; perfectly natural for a man that will be 70 this December. His posts are very inspirational, bittersweet and sometimes vulnerable. . He generously shares with us his travels on the path of the pursuit of love and wisdom.