For The Monkees, the third time's the charm. The 1966 debut album from Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike has been expanded twice before on CD - first in 1994 on one CD and then in 2006 as a two-CD set. Rhino Handmade has recently unveiled the third and most comprehensive release of this album yet, and with 45 previously unreleased bonus cuts among its 100 songs, The Monkees: Super Deluxe Edition (R2-543027) is not just Monkee mania, but Monkee manna. The story of this American fab four has been told numerous times on CD, DVD and the printed page over the years, but producer Andrew Sandoval has unearthed plenty of new discoveries on this stellar set which, in a fun touch, is told in reverse chronological order on these three CDs: CD 3 has the pre-Monkees recordings of Jones and Nesmith, CD 2 has the album sessions, and CD 1 has the album as released and the television versions.
Though The Monkees didn't organically come together as a band, they doubtlessly ended up as one - a triumphant rock-and-roll story. While The Monkees features Jones, Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith primarily as vocalists, the LP boasts songs written and produced by Nesmith, plus instrumental contributions from Tork. Producers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and entrepreneur/mastermind Don Kirshner, weren't yet ready to hand over creative freedom to their charges, but they certainly surrounded The Monkees with the best. Boyce provided seven compositions - six with Bobby Hart and one with Steve Venet, including "(Theme from) The Monkees," "I Wanna Be Free" and the No. 1 hit "Last Train to Clarksville." The album also has tunes from Nesmith ("Papa Gene's Blues") David Gates ("Saturday's Child"), Carole King and Gerry Goffin ("Take a Giant Step," "Sweet Young Thing," co-written with Nesmith) and Goffin and Russ Titelman ("I'll Be True to You"). The cream of the crop from the L.A. Wrecking Crew brought their considerable skills to the album, too, including Glen Campbell, James Burton, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, Jim Gordon, Al Casey and Mike Deasy. Upon its release, The Monkees spent 78 weeks on the Billboard chart - thirteen of those at No. 1. It's still one hell of a record.
The Monkees is presented in mono and stereo on the first disc of this release, with twelve bonuses added including previously unissued mono television versions of many of the tunes, promo spots and jingles. The album successfully showed off The Monkees' many facets but especially their facility for raw rock. "Saturday's Child" is a charged, aggressive riff-rocker from future Bread frontman David Gates; country-rock and light psychedelia tinged a number of the songs like Nesmith's stomping Goffin/King co-written "Sweet Young Thing," and Boyce and Hart's ironically rollicking "This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day." Even Goffin and King were modernizing their style, with Dolenz imploring listeners to "take a giant step outside your mind..." Of course, Tommy and Bobby synthesized their pop mastery with rock-and-roll urgency on the unforgettable Dolenz-sung chart-topper "Last Train to Clarksville." Of his lead vocals, Davy Jones shone brightest with his tender reading of Boyce and Hart's "I Wanna Be Free," which tapped into the zeitgeist of the era with eloquence and emotion. (The "fast version" for TV, with Jones sharing the lead with Dolenz, premieres here in its mono mix. Fascinating though it is, especially with Michel Rubini's burbling organ part, the producers clearly made the right choice in selecting the touching ballad version for the LP. Other takes of the "fast version" are included on Disc Two.) Even the least enduring songs on The Monkees - like the decent garage-rocker "Let's Dance On" and the goofy "Gonna Buy Me a Dog" - have charm in abundance.
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The 31 tracks on the second disc are all previously unreleased, though some appeared in different mixes in the past. This disc of session material is an inside-out journey through the development of the familiar songs, boasting rehearsal takes, finalized backing tracks, demos and alternates. The Overdubbed Demo/Take 2 of "I Wanna Be Free" (one of four versions of the song here) features just Davy's voice and Tommy Boyce's guitar for a pretty, understated and still powerful reading of the song. You can hear Micky on Disc One's mono TV take of "All the King's Horses" or Mike on the alternate vocal version on Disc Two; Micky shines on a new stereo remix of "I Don't Think You Know Me," another slice of pop perfection from Goffin and King. (The other Monkees took stabs at the song, too.) The Brill Building legends are also represented on the second disc with various in-development versions of "Sweet Young Thing," "I Won't Be the Same Without Her" and "So Goes Love." On the new stereo remix of "I Won't Be the Same," the song's soaring Association-esque sound (courtesy Nesmith and unknown backing vocalists) comes to the fore. One of Jones' alternate takes of the haunting "So Goes Love" features studio instructions to Glen (Campbell) and Billy (Preston) not to fight each other with their distinctive playing on guitar and electric piano, respectively! The musicianship of The Wrecking Crew (and guests like Preston) makes even the backing tracks largely fascinating listening.
A new stereo remix of Goffin and Russ Titelman's teen-pop throwback "I'll Be True to You" allows each element improved clarity, from Jones' sweet lead to (especially) the harmonies by Boyce, Hart and Ron Hicklin. Another treat is another new stereo remix of the original version of Boyce and Hart's warmly vaudevillian (led by Davy, of course) "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind."
The third disc, a.k.a. The Colpix Sessions, places the spotlight on the early solo endeavors of Monkees Davy and Mike. Jones' 1965 debut David Jones (previously released on CD in mono by Friday Music) on Colgems predecessor Colpix is presented in both mono and stereo along with two single sides, while six single sides from Michael Blessing a.k.a. Nesmith are also here, two of which have never been released before in any format. This disc concludes with four more demo recordings of "I Wanna Be Free."
Jones' first long-player was an enjoyably twee affair filled with teen-aimed pop for the Herman's Hermits set. It played to his strengths as a Tony Award-nominated singer-actor (from the original Broadway cast of Oliver!) with tracks like the catchy, delightful "What Are We Going to Do?" ("If your dad finds out we're in love?") or a "contemporary" revival of the British music hall standard "Any Old Iron." But despite a token stab at folk-rock with a decent cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" and fine songs from Tony Hatch and the team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, album producer Hank Levine didn't push his young charge to fully explore his nascent rock and roll fantasies. "What Are We Going to Do?" did, however, manage to place within the Billboard Hot 100, and today David Jones is an charmingly enjoyable listen with other highlights including Hatch's bouncy "Baby It's Me" and "This Bouquet," by producer Levine and future Parade members Murray MacLeod and Smokey Roberds. The album's stereo presentation here (long thought an impossibility) sounds superb; note that the track "Dream Girl" is absent because no true stereo version exists. Two mono singles are appended - the Charles Calello-arranged "Take Me to Paradise" written by Steve Venet and Toni Wine, and the Goffin and King nugget "The Girl from Chelsea," helmed by another future Monkees writer, David Gates.
While Jones was pondering "What Are We Going to Do?," Michael Nesmith was also recording for Colpix under the name of Michael Blessing. The Colpix Sessions disc premieres Nesmith's four single sides on CD, and adds two more previously unreleased tracks intended for single release. Somewhat surprisingly, only one of the six songs bore a songwriting credit for the prolific Nesmith, and even then, it was only as co-writer. Sam Ashe and Bob Krasnow's "The New Recruit" was an ironically lively and lyrically potent protest song ("The hand grenade is something that I just don't understand/You've got to throw it quickly or you're apt to lose your hand!/Does it blow a man to pieces with its wicked mumbled roar?/I've got so much to learn, for I've never killed before..."); it was backed with Ashe, Krasnow and Russell Nields' dark, surf-inspired instrumental "A Journey with Michael Blessing." Papa Nez's second single had a string-drenched treatment of Buffy Saint-Marie's oft-recorded "Until It's Time for You to Go" on the A-side, with Krasnow and Nesmith's acerbic "talking blues" (with Nesmith speaking with an affected accent) "What's the Trouble, Officer?" on the flip. Two covers were shelved, and make their first appearances anywhere here: Bo Diddley's raucous "Who Do You Love" and Allen Toussaint's "Get Out of My Life, Woman." Interesting as these are, it seems as if Nesmith hadn't allowed his true voice to blossom as it would so memorably when he joined The Monkees and led the charge for creative control of his own destiny.
The Monkees: Super Deluxe Edition is happily packaged in the same size and flip-top box style as the previous 3-CD releases in this series, with a 24-page oversized booklet boasting copious liner notes by Andrew Sandoval and full credits. The individual CDs are housed in mini-LP sleeves; special note must be made of the wonderful design of the Sessions sleeve which imagines an album that never existed in period style. Art directors Sandoval and Rachel Gutek, also the set's designer, have naturally used period labels for the CDs, as well. Monkees veteran Dan Hersch has splendidly remastered all three discs.
Collectors likely know that they will have to hold onto the two previous CD expansions of The Monkees, as Sandoval has opted to present new tracks or mixes rather than duplicate all of the previously-released ones from those reissues. (He has enlightened fans as to his process for crafting this new set at The Monkees Live Almanac, and it's a must-read. Sandoval's liner notes - which hopefully end on a "To Be Continued" - feature compelling quotes from Dolenz and Nesmith reflecting on their frustration with Kirshner and co.'s initial choice to downplay reality and lead buyers to believe The Monkees were, at that time, a self-contained band unit. But even if that crucial transformation came later, The Monkees is still a thrillingly vital, musically exciting, and yes, fun debut album. With this exhaustive presentation, Rhino isn't monkeying around.
The Monkees: Super Deluxe Edition can be ordered directly through The Monkees' online store!