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"Christmas Party" can be a "Monkees Present" put in your stocking this year

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"Christmas Party" is the new album from The Monkees.
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ALBUM REVIEW: The Monkees – Christmas Party (Rhino) 2018

It was 1986, the year The Monkees TV show (1966-68) was reaired on MTV (and Nickelodeon) and a second generation of Monkees fans – myself included – could simply not get enough of Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz. In fact, I write about it in my new book – Rock Catapult: 1966 – The Launch of Modern Rock & Roll. The Monkees play a large role in my book.

And that Christmas, in my stocking, I was excited to find a cassette copy of an Arista Records compilation – Then & Now …. The Best of The Monkees. Not only did we get “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” there were other cuts like the twangy “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?” (with Mike on vocals) and new tracks like the covers “Kicks” (made into a hit by Paul Revere & The Raiders in ‘66) and their Top 20 hit “That Was Then, This Is Now” which had been a single by obscure Sixties band The Mosquitos.

So, for me, there is an undeniable link between The Monkees and Christmas. And yet they had never recorded a proper Christmas album. Sure, they did a Christmas episode in 1967 (with Butch “Eddie Munster” Patrick) and performed an amazing acapella version of the 16th century Spanish villancico chant “Riu Chiu” in said episode. Unforgettable, and it finally appeared on a 1990 Monkees compilation titled Missing Links Vol. 2.

So, in the wake of 2016’s surprise hit Good Times!, which featured Dolenz, Nesmith and Tork (sadly, Davy Jones died in 2012, though an obscure Neil Diamond track he recorded at the height of their success, “Love to Love,” was included) recorded with production help from Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. It was so very good and a great album 50 years after The Monkees were introduced to the world.

So, two years later, the remaining group members returned to the studio, albeit largely separate from one another (as they began doing on their albums after the TV series was canceled in 1968, like The Monkees Present), and none of them playing instruments, save for Tork on banjo on the spare “Angels We Have Heard on High,” his only contribution to the album, likely due to his recent health issues.

So, what we get are two dreamy “cosmic cowboy” tracks from Nesmith (“The Christmas Song” and “Snowfall,” featuring production and instrument assistance from sons Jonathan and Christian Nesmith) and Dolenz doing the lion’s share of the vocal work on jangly pop numbers like opener “Unwrap You at Christmas” (penned by XTC’s Andy Partridge), “What Would Santa Do?” (written by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo) and the 1978 Big Star song written by Alex Chilton, “Jesus Christ,” which is a simple and straightforward religious number.

And while the new songs, some more serious than others, are great, I really found myself repeating the Davy Jones-sung songs – the luau-friendly “Mele Kalikimaka,” originally recorded in 1991 and previously unrelased, and “Silver Bells,” a song meant for Jones’ Christmas album back in 1976, when Jones, Tork and Dolenz briefly reunited, recording “Christmas Is My Time of Year,” which appears on the version of Christmas Party sold at Target stores.

As on Good Times!, Schlesinger is at the production helm, carefully crafting a vintage ’66 sound that puts the listener right there in the studio, like an unseen part of the Wrecking Crew. In fact, my wife, not knowing Adam Schlesinger and members of Fountains of Wayne were playing the instruments said, upon hearing a few songs, said, “That sounds like the band that did ‘Stacy’s Mom.’” Indeed!

And just like me, when I was 14 back in 1986, my three kids are absolutely loving Christmas Party, particularly “Mele Kalikimaka,” “Silver Bells” and the Dolenz-sung cover of the Paul McCartney Christmas classic “Wonderful Christmastime.” Remember, Dolenz and McCartney hung out together while the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band! I am just glad my kids are now big fans of The Monkees, too!

And my wife? She is a fan of the quieter, more reflective Nesmith songs. I love those two. In fact, I love this whole album. But then I'm a huge fan for more than three decades and I  am really pleased Davy Jones' songs were included here. Hearing them, I realize just how much I miss him.

In fact, I’m just glad I have a new Christmas album to play again and again as the years roll by. Thanks guys!

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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