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FULL CIRCLE: The Monkees mine their classic 60's style with "Good Times!"

Rhino Records
"Good Times!" is the new album from The Monkees.
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ALBUM REVIEW: The Monkees – Good Times! (Rhino Records) 2016

Last night, singer/drummer/actor Micky Dolenz of The Monkees appeared to me in a dream.

It was the Micky of today, not from the 50-year old TV show that grabbed my attention in the mid-1980’s, when it was rerun on MTV and Nickelodeon, introducing a new generation to their madcap comedy and timeless pop gems. It's weird to think that their comeback single - "That Was Then, This Is Now" - came out 30 years ago this summer. I have fond memories of listening to this one on my hand-me-down KLH turntable in the family den in Wichita. I've been hooked on The Monkees ever since.

Anyway, in this dream, I was driving down a road, deep in the woods and there was Micky, standing on the side of the road, waiting for a ride. I slowed down and came to a stop. I rolled down the window and the first thing I said was: “I can’t believe my luck! An actual Monkee here on the road! Say, Micky, could you sing the line, here in the road?”

Micky looked puzzled at first and then said, “Oh, you mean … ‘Here we come, walking down the street, we get the funniest looks from, everyone we meet …” The opening lines to the theme song for The Monkees, of course.

I was smiling. He was smiling and I gave Micky that ride to his destination. And that’s all I remember.

Yes, since the release of the brand new Monkees release Good Times! late, last month, The Monkees have been on my mind quite a bit.

The Monkees just released Good Times! on Rhino Records (Billboard.com)

I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that it has been 20 years since the Pre-Fab Four last released an album – Justus – a record that was more a product of the 1990’s guitar-rock environment (as Pool It! was before it in the synth-centric, pop-rock heavy 1980’s).

So, with the 13-track Good Times!, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

To say I was impressed with the results would be an understatement.

Produced by the multi-talented Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and That Thing You Do!, Good Times! brings things full circle for The Monkees, even four years after the death of Davy Jones.

The sound is more in line with their 1960’s material, starting off with the Harry Nilsson-penned title cut, “Good Times,” where Dolenz gets to share a lead vocal with his late friend Nilsson.

The soulful and muscular “Good Times” was originally worked on back in January 1968, but Schlesinger adds instrumentation and an updated sound. Needless to say, Dolenz sounds positively gleeful getting to sing with Nilsson here.

Nilsson and Schlesinger aren’t the only notable pop music names involved in this Monkees project, which also includes Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork. The delightfully jingle-jangle number “You Bring the Summer,” with Dolenz on lead vocals, was penned by XTC’s Andy Partridge, a guy who has dropped the Monkees name in interviews at the height of his own band’s popularity. This is one of the best songs of 2016, enhanced by a backwards-guitar outro that brings to mind the sounds of ’66. Psycho-jello!

Another alt-rocker, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, wrote another key song here – the More of the Monkees-esque number “She Makes Me Laugh,” which features a lead vocal from Dolenz, some backing vocals from Tork and Nesmith, who also provide banjo and guitar, respectively. It’s such a shame Davy Jones wasn’t here to participate on this recording.

Schlesinger wrote a positively groovy bubblegum pop song, perfect for Dolenz’s unmistakable voice – “Our Own World” – which starts off with a Sesame Street-like harpsichord/keyboard intro, courtesy of Tork, reminding me a bit of 1967’s “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” or the fabulous single-that-never-was, “All Of Your Toys.”

This is so good that it could have been written for any one of The Monkees’s original 1960’s albums.

An old gem from early ’67 – “Gotta Give It Time” – written by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine, is another uptempo, Dolenz-led number that has some 2016 updates, while keeping its classic, funky feel.

Another contemporary songwriter, Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, gives us “Me & Magdalena,” a rootsy,  melancholy folk-rock ballad featuring Nesmith on lead vocals and Dolenz singing background. These two septuagenarians still sound amazing!

And an old songwriting pal of theirs – Bobby Hart – helps out on background vocals on an old Boyce & Hart original titled “Whatever’s Right,” which sounds like it was unearthed from a time capsule buried in 1967. Tork’s cheesy organ riffs are mouthwateringly delicious. Yes, it’s that good, gang. (BTW, check out our review of Bobby Hart’s recently-released autobiography, Psychedelic Bubblegum, here).

A lot of hardcore Monkees fans will already be familiar with Davy Jones’s take on Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love,” recorded in 1967 and 1969 and released  It’s a classic Neil number and features a strong vocal from Jones. I’m not sure what new was added here, because it sounds like the version released on the 1996 odds n’ sods disc Missing Links Vol. 3.

Peter Tork does take lead vocals on a couple of numbers here, fortunately. The first is his original “Little Girl,” an idiosyncratic, folk-styled tune that has a waltz-like element to it and is totally Tork.

The other Tork-led song is a cover of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin Baby Boomer classic “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” a song about freedom and independence that is very much of the 1960’s Laurel Canyon era that Tork and The Byrds (who recorded it in psych-country-rock style for The Notorious Byrd Brothers in 1967 and also had it featured in the film Easy Rider) and many others of that time were a part of.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning Michael Nesmith’s contributions here. Nez is my man and my favorite Monkee. Always has been. I love everything he has done. And hearing his vocals on the quirky “Birth of An Accidental Hipster,” written by Noel Gallagher (Oasis, High Flying Birds) and Paul Weller (The Jam, The Style Council) is a total highlight for a hardcore Nezhead, such as myself.

This is an ambitious song.  It’s the sort of song that would have fit comfortably in the ’68-’69 era of The Monkees. Guitar-pop mixed with a sort of Dixieland jazz, a'la The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees-era material. Mike Viola plays some heavy guitar chords here. Lots of percussion (courtesy of Fountains of Wayne drummer Brian Young, who plays most of the drums on Good Times!) Since it was recorded in the weeks after the death of David Bowie, I somehow sensed the other David Jones might have some influence here?

Sings Dolenz, who shares vocals with Nez: “High in a rooftop / Singing a song / Choirs of angels / All sing along / It’s late and I’m scared / So don’t be long / I’m still not sure / Where I came from / Feeling low …

And man, is it wonderful to hear “I Know What I Know,” which Nesmith wrote and sings lead on. There is a depth and beauty to this simple-yet-grand song, with its dominant piano and Nez’s clear and strong vocal. Of all the songs I’ve heard Nesmith sing over the years, both his Monkees stuff and the solo material, I don’t think I’ve heard him sing anything quite as moving as “I Know What I Know.” In the liner notes accompanying the CD, Nesmith writes, poetically, of this song: “The long ago now returns and returns – and here we are again – a whole new set of friends – ever presents.”

The album wraps up with Dolenz doing his “Goin’ Down”-styled R&B number (where he also plays drums, thankfully!) “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time).” When Dolenz laughs at the ends and says, “I dropped my stick!,” I couldn’t help but think of Ringo Starr screaming “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the end of “Helter Skelter.”

It is particularly validating for me to see The Monkees getting so much attention with Good Times!, so much that it was the number one seller on Amazon.com the first week it was released.

And while Justus was like the grassroots Headquarters in spirit, since the guys played most of the instruments, with Good Times!, it reflects the spirit of late ‘67’s excellent Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. in that they brought in top-notch songwriters and professionals who understood the Monkees style, while also contributing, themselves, instrumentally when appropriate. I can certainly appreciate that.

Anyone who knows me knows what a Monkeemaniac I’ve been for 30 years. The group plays a key role in my upcoming book Rock Catapult: 1966 – The Launch of Modern Rock & Roll, released in this year where we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of not only 1966, but the launch of The Monkees as well.

Good Times! is the best material The Monkees have recorded since their Sixties heyday. Something tells me this may be the last LP we ever get from the three remaining Monkees. And I can live with that. After all, after being derided by the hipsters and establishment for so long, The Monkees are now getting their due.

Sure, I was a nerd back in 1987, wearing my Monkees concert T-shirt, while my friends wore shirts supporting the music of the day - Motley Crue, Beastie Boys and The Cure. They didn't understand my Monkees obsession. But I knew, deep in my heart, The Monkees were it and either you get it or you don't.

Everything does come full circle, it would seem.

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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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