Here they come…again! The Monkees have just released their first new album in twenty years, and all is right with the world.
That much is evident from the opening track which gives the LP its title. “Good Times” was demoed by Harry Nilsson for The Monkees, never recorded by the group, and later released by Harry (and “The New Salvation Singers,” natch) on Capitol’s Tower imprint. Now, the late Nilsson’s happily un-ironic, churning pop nugget gains new life as a duet with his very-much-alive pal and fellow Hollywood Vampire Micky Dolenz, and it’s a match made in rock-and-roll heaven: “There’s a good time comin’ on/I can feel it in my bones/Said a good time comin’ on/I can tell it won’t be long/Till there’s dancing in the streets again…” The opening song’s promise is fulfilled mightily on this effervescent romp through the evolution of The Monkees. These Good Times could well refer to the past – songs by Monkee mainstays Nilsson, Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and of course, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart are all featured here, as is a posthumous performance from Davy Jones – but there’s nary a whiff of mothballs or pastiche anywhere. Thanks to the spirited productions of Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger and the fresh vocals and instrumentation provided by Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork individually and collectively (not to mention one original song contributed by each), it’s clear that the Good Times are today.
Good Times makes no concession to the sound of modern pop. Rather, it’s most often the classic Monkees style refracted through a muscular, power-pop prism. Micky Dolenz, whose vocals improbably sound as youthful as they did in, say, 1966, takes the vibrant leads on the effortlessly melodic trio of “You Bring the Summer,” “She Makes Me Laugh” and “Our Own World,” composed by XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and Schlesinger, respectively. The warmly nostalgic “Summer,” sweetly romantic “Laugh” and bouncy “World” all feature Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith in a sunny and shimmering vein. “Laugh,” in particular, strikes a fine balance between youth and maturity with its references to playing Scrabble and canoeing, added to the tune at Dolenz’s keen urging. (Cuomo was apparently destined to write for The Monkees; not only did he attend the same high school as Tork, but his band Weezer covered “I’m a Believer” for Shrek Forever After.)
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s “Whatever’s Right” was mooted for The Monkees back in 1966 – and indeed, would have sounded just right alongside “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” and “Last Train to Clarksville” – but has been recorded anew for inclusion here. It has that instantly recognizable, driving Boyce and Hart sound in both the call-and-response vocals and crisp instrumentation (here with carnival-esque organ and prominent guitar licks) propelling the taut track for its under-two-minute length. The languid, atmospheric “Me and Magdalena” from Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard is the album’s most dreamy track, featuring Nesmith on lead accompanied by Dolenz on tight harmony. Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher’s co-written “Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” sung by Mike and Micky, returns The Monkees to Head territory with its shifting rock-meets-vaudeville soundscapes.
In addition to “Good Times,” three other vintage tracks have been tapped for inclusion here. Jeff Barry co-wrote the lean garage rocker “Gotta Give It Time” with Joey Levine, and the January 1967 recording (featuring Artie Butler and Al Gorgoni, among others) channels a “Stepping Stone”-esque vibe. Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s beautiful “Wasn’t Born to Follow” – also recorded by The Byrds, Dusty Springfield and King’s band The City, among others – is built around a countrified 1968 Wrecking Crew track with Mike Deasy, Al Casey and Dennis Budimir on guitar, Earl Palmer on drums, Mike Melvoin on harpsichord and Milt Holland on vibes. Peter Tork’s weathered lead has the right gravity for the late Goffin’s mature, poetic lyrics in the face of the changing musical times. The most recognizable cut on Good Times is Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love,” an outtake originally recorded in 1967 and 1969 and already released in two different mixes. Regardless of its familiarity, it still boasts a prime Davy Jones vocal – sweetened with Tork and Dolenz’s newly-recorded harmonies. Diamond’s moody melody and its psych-pop arrangement (played by Butler, Gorgoni, Hugh McCracken and other session vets) make for a seamless addition to the lineup here.
Mike Nesmith is responsible for the most touching moment on the album, his low-key and ruminative “I Know What I Know.” Driven by Adam Schlesinger’s piano, it’s a virtual solo (and in fact was first recorded by Nesmith some years back), and an attractively melancholy showcase. Of the other original Monkee-penned songs, Peter revives his gentle “Little Girl” (previously recorded on his duo album with James Lee Stanley) as a tribute to Davy, whom he originally hoped would sing it as a follow-up to “I Wanna Be Free.” Micky bookends Good Times with a Schlesinger co-write, the tongue-in-cheek “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time).” A chunky, pounding Beatles/Billy Preston-esque blues piano riff showcases Micky’s dry sense of humor (“We are here and we’re gonna have a good time/Like we did before/Supposedly…”) on this track which sends The Monkees’ 50th anniversary record off into the sunset on a high note.
Rhino’s release, overseen by executive producer John Hughes with A&R contributions from Jason Day and longtime Monkees steward Andrew Sandoval, features a thick booklet with full lyrics for each songs as well as track-by-track annotation and credits. Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork are currently touring behind Good Times, with Nesmith hinting at a possible reunion with his Monkee mates in the near future. Note that several retailer-exclusive bonus tracks are available via FYE, HDTracks/iTunes, and Barnes and Noble (the latter in conjunction with the upcoming vinyl release). The Japanese CD version features one of the two B&N tracks (Andy Partridge’s “Love’s What I Want”) on CD. Those who purchase from select independent retailers might also receive some free, swell Monkees swag (a Good Times! coloring book)!
Has there ever been a more worthy story still yet to be acknowledged by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than that of The Monkees, four kids hired to play a band on TV who actually became one and are still making great and yes, relevant, music five decades later? But the only validation The Monkees truly need is one they’ve received over all those years: the joy that Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike’s music has brought over the years. Don’t hesitate. Listen to the band!