Newest Review: ... they released as singles plus some that were regularly heard on the TV show. These are available on Amazon for a little under £10. The al... more
Hey hey it's the Monkees!
The Definitive Monkees - The Monkees
Member Name: Deb_C
The Definitive Monkees - The Monkees
Advantages: great tunes
Disadvantages: some weird track choices
After a quick search for Monkees on dooyoo showed me that the site didn't have any Monkee-related reviews, I decided it was time to write one!
Despite having been born 17 years after the Monkees were first formed, as a teenager I became completely obsessed with the "world's first manufactured band".
~~A little background information~~
The group was put together in 1966 following an advert placed in a magazine requiring "four insane boys" to play members of a pop group in a new TV series. Despite popular belief that they couldn't write songs or play their own instruments, of the successful applicants Mike Nesmith was a guitarist & songwriter, & Peter Tork an accomplished musician able to play several different instruments. Whilst Micky Dolenz was primarily known as a former child actor, he threw himself into drumming lessons; & though Davy Jones (also a former child actor) primarily concentrated on playing maracas & tambourine, he did also learn to play drums & bass guitar.
The problem in the beginning was that their management was not interested in letting them write songs or play their own instruments on their records; they had primarily been hired as actors for a TV show. As the Monkees phenomenon grew, however, they of course had to play their own instruments during their live shows, & as they developed more & more into a 'proper band' rather than a fictional one from the television, they were able to take more & more control over their own records. By the time of their very successful third album, most of the material was written & performed by members of the group. However, the success couldn't last, & after the TV show ended in 1968 the group's popularity began to wane.
After six albums, Peter Tork decided to leave the group. The remaining three Monkees went on to produce two further records; followed by another in 1970 featuring just two of them after Mike Nesmith also left the band.
Since then, all four members of the Monkees have been involved in various solo projects, & there have been two major reunions which each produced a new album - one on their 20th anniversary, in 1986, & another in 1996 - it was during this 30th anniversary reunion that I happened to watch the first episode of their TV show one morning on Channel 4, & I became hooked!
Anyone looking to purchase a Monkees compilation will most likely come across three options: the albums 'Greatest Hits' & 'Very Best of the Monkees' are standard greatest hits albums, containing their most well-known songs: the ones they released as singles plus some that were regularly heard on the TV show. These are available on Amazon for a little under £10. The album 'The Definitive Monkees' is a little different, however, as you get 2 CDs: the first is more like a typical greatest hits compilation, whilst the second CD contains some less well-known songs that are very much worth listening to: these did not appear on any of the Monkees' studio albums. The Definitive Monkees is currently available on Amazon for £10.88.
As you might expect from a Monkees compilation, the first CD opens with the theme from their TV show (unimaginatively titled Theme From The Monkees, but many people would probably know it as Hey Hey We're The Monkees). This is a nice bouncy, lively song which will bring back memories to anyone who used to watch the show.
Next is their first single, Last Train To Clarksville, which got to number 1 in the USA, but only 23 in the UK. This is a catchy tune & one of my favourites from their early days. The song was written by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, a duo who regularly wrote for the Monkees, including writing the Monkees theme.
Another Boyce & Hart song found on the CD is (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone, probably one of the Monkees' most famous songs, which reached number 1 in the UK as a double A-side with I'm A Believer (written by Neil Diamond), which is of course also here. This was the band's only UK number 1.
Of course Daydream Believer also features, a catchy pop tune written by John Stewart. Surprisingly the song only reached number 5 in the UK.
Another famous songwriting partnership who worked with the Monkees were Gerry Goffin & Carole King; four of their songs appear on the CD, including one of my favourites, Pleasant Valley Sunday, a song that reached number 11 in the UK & is an enjoyable pop song.
Songs that are most recognisable from the TV show rather than as singles include Take A Giant Step, Saturday's Child, & Shades of Gray (one of their better slow songs).
Some of my favourite tracks on the CD are those written by Mike Nesmith & showing his country music influence (The Girl I Knew Somewhere & You Just May Be The One, as well as the later Listen to the Band). Another upbeat country-style song sung by Nesmith is What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round.
Also featured is For Pete's Sake, a song written by Peter Tork that ended up being played over the end credits of the TV show during the second series. It's never been one of my favourite Monkees songs though.
There's also a track written by Micky Dolenz - the rather bizarre Randy Scouse Git (the title was something he overheard whilst in England, but he didn't know what any of the words meant; in the UK the single was released under the name 'Alternate Title' so as not to cause offence!). If you ignore the shouty choruses, it's quite interesting to listen to the lyrics & work out their meaning (e.g. 'the four kings of EMI' refers to The Beatles).
A song for which each of the Monkees gets a writing credit is the highly enjoyable Goin' Down with fantastic vocals by Micky Dolenz. It's fast & jazzy & the lyrics are wonderful to listen to; the song just makes you feel happy.
One of the weakest songs here is I Wanna Be Free, a rather boring & sickly ballad that featured occasionally on the TV show. I'm also not a fan of the rather slow Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) by Neil Diamond.
Porpoise Song is the theme from the Monkees' very odd 1968 film entitled 'Head'. The song is a bit too slow & boring for me, & I don't like the echoing effects added to the vocals.
The Neil Diamond song A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You is unusual in that it was released as a single but did not appear on any of the Monkees' studio albums. This is because it was released by producer Don Kirshner without their knowledge, after he'd already agreed that their next single would be written by them (Kirshner was subsequently fired).
The Monkees' two 1980s singles are also included here: That Was Then, This Is Now (only actually featuring Dolenz & Tork) and Heart & Soul (Dolenz, Tork & Jones). They don't really fit in with the styles of the earlier songs, but they're reasonably catchy & enjoyable.
Other tracks on CD1 that I haven't mentioned: She, Sometime in the Morning, Forget That Girl, Words, Cuddly Toy, Valleri & Mary, Mary.
Whoever put together the second disc was seemingly unable to resist starting it off with the Monkees' theme, so the first track is Tema Dei Monkees: an Italian-language version of the TV show theme tune (still sung by Micky Dolenz, whose pronunciation sounds pretty good to me but then I don't speak Italian). I think this is a bit of an odd track to find on a compilation CD as it doesn't really introduce the listener to anything new.
The second track, So Goes Love, is another rather dull ballad sung by Davy Jones. Unfortunately Jones' vocals just annoy me sometimes - to me it's a bit like all he's interested in is trying to sound sweet & wholesome to keep up with his teen idol image. I'd much rather listen to a track sung by Dolenz or Nesmith.
One of the most enjoyable tracks is the quirky Teeny Tiny Gnome, a fun song about an encounter with a magical gnome sitting on a toadstool. Dolenz's voice is very much suited to singing rather weird songs! Another unusual song that also tells a story is the next track, Mr Webster, about a man who's worked at a bank all his life & is about to retire.
One of Dolenz's performances that I most enjoy is on the demo version of the song Midnight Train, another song that follows a story & has some fast-talking lyrics. The backing vocals are provided by Micky's sister Coco who also has a lovely voice. She also sings backing vocals on the next track, the ballad She'll Be There.
A fun pop song that really should have been on an album is Apples, Peaches, Bananas & Pears (written by Boyce & Hart).
Riu Chiu is an a cappella version of a Spanish christmas carol that featured on the Christmas episode of the TV show. Again this shows off Dolenz's vocals in particular, as well as the vocal talents of all the Monkees for singing a cappella & in harmony.
This CD also features plenty of Mike Nesmith's excellent country music style tracks: Circle Sky, Propinquity, The Crippled Lion, Hollywood, Michigan Blackhawk, Angel Band & Little Red Rider. Mike was always my favourite Monkee & the only one whose solo albums I bought once I'd finished collecting all the Monkees ones!
Other tracks on CD2: Hold On Girl, Love to Love, Merry Go Round, War Games, Seeger's Theme, Party, Shake 'Em Up, Rosemarie, Look Down, How Insensitive, My Share of the Sidewalk, If You Have The Time, Time & Time Again, Storybook of You, You're So Good, Steam Engine.
The CDs also come with a booklet with pictures & information about The Monkees. There are 60 tracks on the CDs altogether.
Overall this is an upbeat CD featuring lots of catchy tunes & great vocal performances. The well-known tracks are always enjoyable, & you may be surprised by how much you like the less familiar songs.
The only thing I'm not sure about it why they used all previously unreleased material for the bonus CD rather than putting on some lesser-known album tracks. It doesn't have a negative impact on the CD, I just wonder why the decision was made.
If you're looking to buy a Monkees compilation CD just to listen to their most famous songs, then you might as well buy one of the slightly cheaper greatest hits CDs; however I think it's worth spending an extra pound or two on this if you have any interest in hearing a bit more from this talented group.
Summary: I love The Monkees!