When The Monkees’ Instant Replay was released in February 1969, less than three years had passed since the band’s vinyl debut in October 1966. But the pop world of 1966 might have been a lifetime ago. Five days before Instant Replay‘s February 15 release, The Beach Boys unveiled the album 20/20, on which America’s band surreptitiously recorded a song by Charles Manson. Two days after, The Temptations skyrocketed to Cloud Nine, meeting psychedelia head-on. By the year’s end, the dream of peace that had flowered at Woodstock seemed shattered in the violence of a Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway. It was into this heady time that Instant Replay was released, the product of a fractured group of Monkees. Peter Tork had departed the group after filming the 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee television special in December 1968, which would air to disastrous ratings the following April. Instant Replay fared somewhat better, climbing to No. 32 to stake its claim as The Monkees’ final Top 40 album. The album’s production period was not without tension, and Michael Nesmith would depart the band after just one more album, leaving Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones to soldier on as the lone Monkees as 1970 progressed. Instant Replay is unmistakably the sound of a fractured group, with Nesmith having assessed it as “a final choking cough of the engine before it completely died.” Andrew Sandoval to the rescue! The producer has uncovered enough hidden treasures to warrant its journey from a 12-track LP to a 19-track CD in 1995 to finally, a lavish 89-track box set containing three CDs and one 45 RPM vinyl single (Rhino Handmade RHM2 528791, 2011).
Instant Replay is marked chiefly by the sound of three individuals rather than a band. It’s tempting to call the album the Monkee equivalent of The White Album, but a more accurate comparison might be to a hypothetical LP containing tracks from McCartney, All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band and yes, Ringo’s Sentimental Journey! The grab-bag of songs is disparate and varied, and don’t sound as if they necessarily belong on the same album; the remaining band members originally intended the LP to echo the sounds of the past while still looking musically forward. The greatly expanded content of the box set works in the album’s favor, illuminating each nook and cranny of what once resembled a crazy quilt of Monkee music.
The three discs of the new Instant Replay are largely arranged by mixes. The first disc is dedicated to stereo and contains a newly-remastered and restored transfer of the original album, expanded with 16 additional stereo mixes including “nearly all” of Nesmith’s 1968 Nashville sessions (more on those soon). Disc Two is all-mono, which is particularly intriguing as Instant Replay was never issued in true mono. (The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees was the band’s last Colgems album to see such a release.) But most of the album’s songs were mixed into mono, so those tracks make their first appearances here. Rare and unreleased recordings round out the disc. Finally, Disc 3 is subtitled “Sessions,” and two thirds of the disc is devoted to backing tracks, though the completed songs from the surviving video master of 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee should intrigue even the most difficult to please fan of the group!
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Among the six (!) groups of producers named on the album, the most surprising might have been Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the hitmakers who propelled the band’s early records to the top of the charts. One-third of Instant Replay was devoted to their productions, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. “Through the Looking Glass,” with a fine Dolenz vocal, has a unique sound due to Bobby Hart’s tack piano. Dating back to 1966, it was re-recorded in late 1967 and reworked again in late 1968. Davy Jones has the lead on the duo’s “Don’t Listen to Linda” (“She’ll only break your heart”), cushioned by Don McGinnis’ wistful arrangement, with Bacharach-esque horn accents and sweeping strings. It had a similar lineage as “Looking Glass,” and began life as an up-temp song before being re-envisioned by its producers. Just as good is “Me Without You.” It tips its hat to the Beatles (think “Getting Better” or “Your Mother Should Know”) with its insistent piano and impish “bop-bop-shoo-bop” backing vocals, but it’s still top-notch Boyce and Hart, pop craftsmen with ears for pastiche. The weakest of the bunch is “Tear Drop City.” A rewritten “Last Train to Clarksville,” it was a last-ditch attempt to court the charts. It worked, albeit briefly, managing a No. 56 chart placement.
Besides the Boyce and Hart oldies, the album’s remaining tracks can roughly be divided into Nesmith’s country rock, Dolenz’ psychedelic experiments and Jones’ straight-ahead pop productions. One track that blurs the lines is one of the album’s strongest. Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “I Won’t Be the Same Without Her” finds the songwriters in an atypical (and absolutely infectious) folk-rock bag, with Nesmith not only producing, but taking both lead and backing vocals. Peter Tork made his only appearance on the album, playing guitar on the 1966 track! (King and Toni Stern’s 1968 “Look Down,” with a Davy Jones vocal and Artie Butler arrangement, appears among the box set’s bonus material.)
Equally lovely as “Don’t Listen to Linda” is Jones’ lush “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” another 1966 leftover. Producer/songwriter Neil Sedaka laments in Andrew Sandoval’s liner notes that he had difficulty placing this Carole Bayer (later Sager) co-write on an earlier Monkees LP, and after hearing it, you’ll share his disappointment. Another side of Jones comes forward on “You and I,” a self-written track which features Neil Young’s recognizable, scorching guitar out front. Hal Blaine contributes some reliably impressive drumming to the propulsive rock track.
Davy Jones is also front and center on Bones Howe’s dramatic production of Goffin and King’s “A Man Without a Dream.” It was the only Howe production to make the album, which is rather inexplicable considering the quality of such songs as Paul Williams’ and Roger Nichols’ tremendous non-LP single “Someday Man,” which is, of course, included. Howe’s “Man Without a Dream” is a big production that, from its first notes, will feel comfortable to those familiar with Howe’s sublime work with the 5th Dimension and The Association.
Mike Nesmith recorded “Don’t Wait For Me” in Nashville with some of the cats (Jerry Carrigan and David Briggs, to name two) responsible for Elvis Presley’s Elvis Country sessions. Even James Burton “took care of business” on some of the other Nashville tracks appended here as bonus tracks. Nesmith recorded enough songs in Nashville to have made one helluva country-rock album under The Monkees’ name, and nearly all of these recordings have been collected here together for the very first time. Nesmith even explored his C&W leanings in Los Angeles’ studios on tracks like “Carlisle Wheeling” and “While I Cry,” with its twangy guitars and laid-back vibe. “While I Cry” benefits from the stereo mix on the core album, enhancing its subtle backing harmonies.
Micky Dolenz’ productions are the oddest on Instant Replay and the closest to the psychedelic spirit of Head. On “Just a Game,” Dolenz’ tense vocal is whispered over a baroque background, while “Shorty Blackwell” – inspired by Micky’s cat and arranged by another Shorty, Rogers – is a bizarre studio workout that wouldn’t have felt out of place on the Head soundtrack! It’s about as far-removed from the Boyce and Hart-style pop as is possible. A previously unissued early mix of another Dolenz/Rogers collaboration, “Mommy and Daddy,” shows just how much Micky was expanding his musical horizons. The potent polemic, with its multi-layered vocals and blasting brass, is an arresting experiment very much of its time, and the song’s lyrics as heard here (mentioning many of society’s ills from prescription drug abuse to the plight of the Native Americans!) were toned down for the subsequent, released version. Socially conscious songs, though, weren’t new for The Monkees; they were tapped into their era as far back as “Last Train to Clarksville,” however subtle that song’s commentary. (Dolenz’ funky “Rosemarie” is a highlight of the bonus material, as well.)
Ironically, what works against Instant Replay as an album – its grab-bag sensibility – is what makes the second and third discs of this set such a comprehensive portrait of the band in flux, grasping at straws but still able to create truly enduring music. Following in the footsteps of the deluxe sets of The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees and Head, Instant Replay rounds up many related bonus tracks (outtakes, alternate mixes) originally issued on Rhino’s Missing Links series as well as premiering material for the first time.
Nesmith’s RCA Nashville sessions may make the biggest impression. Whether stretching his own, considerable writing muscles or giving a country makeover to Brill Building songwriters Jack Keller and Bob Russell with “If I Ever Get to Saginaw Again,” Nesmith had his finger on the country-rock pulse. Nashville cats such as Carrigan, Briggs, Felton Jarvis and Charlie McCoy brought their talents to the tough, electric “St. Matthew,” the good-time hoedown “Hollywood,” the rather remarkable “Propinquity” and a dramatic reinvention of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova standard “How Insensitive,” country-style. Clearly, Michael Nesmith had found his voice.
To these ears, the stereo mixes on Disc 1 are the real gold, but some will prefer the authentic AM mono sound of these not-quite-hit records on Disc 2, some of which are premiering for the first time. Disc 2 also offers a fuzz guitar-infused take on “Through the Looking Glass” which is just as valid as the final version. The backing tracks on the third disc go a long way in revealing details buried in the completed mixes, including the piano (credited to the Wrecking Crew’s Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles) on “Someday Man.” Both “Someday Man” and “A Man Without a Dream” are heard in alternate mixes with unique vocals from Davy Jones and skeletal backings; these tracks offer a rare glimpse into Bones Howe’s production of these tracks.
Chief among the new discoveries are the Howe-produced tracks rescued from 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, including a previously-unreleased 1968 version of Michael Martin Murphey’s “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love,” with Peter Tork’s only lead vocal on these three discs! From that television special, you’ll also hear “Naked Persimmon,” “Goldie Locks Sometime,” “Darwin” and a bizarre, frenetic cover of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield’s “I Go Ape.” None of these records are revelatory, and most are quite strange, as they were intended to match the action onscreen. Backing tracks of “String for My Kite” and “Wind Up Man” have also been excavated. Acetate versions of “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love” and “I Go Ape” are extras, on the vinyl single only.
Andrew Sandoval’s indispensable liner notes are the central feature of the 24-page booklet, and they’re needed to follow the convoluted history of virtually all of these songs: re-recordings, remixes, songs shuffled from one album to the next. Thankfully, Sandoval is the ideal tour guide for this Monkees journey. Only track-by-track liner notes would have sweetened the pot even more. He’s joined by ace art director Steve Stanley. Attention to detail is a hallmark of Stanley’s work both for Rhino Handmade and his own Now Sounds label, from the bright, vibrant color scheme of the booklet to the Colgems-style CD labels. Without a doubt, this package – from the cover to the mini-LP sleeves which house the discs themselves – is every bit as eye-grabbing as the previous two in this series. (Check out the photo above, courtesy Andrew Sandoval and reprinted at Monkeesconcerts.com!) A Handmade box set edition of Headquarters was released in 2000; wouldn’t it be nice to see that title repackaged or revisited in this format?
Well, one hopes that this isn’t the end of the road for The Monkees at Rhino Handmade. After all, there are still treasures to be mined on The Monkees Present (Nesmith’s final album) and Changes (the final “original” Monkees album), and well, I’d go ape for those…!