Tomorrow, April 28, Varese Vintage will reissue one of the most delightfully unexpected Monkees-related titles in recent memory with the compact disc premiere of Stu Phillips Presents The Monkees Songbook, as played by The Golden Gate Strings. The 1967 Epic Records release featured ten favorites from the height of Monkeemania, all rendered in lushly orchestral “easy listening” style.
Veteran composer-arranger Stu Phillips (Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider) spearheaded the project. Well-versed in both pop and cinematic scoring, Phillips was the Colpix Records A&R man who arranged and produced Shelley Fabares’ hit “Johnny Angel” in 1962. He was engaged to compose the original background music for The Monkees on television (having previously handled music for another Screen Gems production, The Donna Reed Show, for four years) and in the second season of the show, also began working in A&R for Epic Records’ West Coast office.
At Epic, Phillips devised the idea of taking his Hollyridge Strings formula, which he had perfected at Capitol Records on songbook sets by The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Four Seasons and more, and applying it to The Monkees. While the Hollyridge Strings name was committed to Capitol, Phillips was able to get around his contract by creating The Golden Gate Strings for Epic. He produced the LP and handled most of the arrangements, per his new liner notes for Varese’s reissue, along with the credited Sid Feller, Ernie Freeman, and Lincoln Mayorga. Feller also conducted the grand string and brass charts.
Ten of the six songs on The Monkees Songbook hail from the pens of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart including the rousing “Last Train to Clarksville,” a baroque take on “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day,” an attractive “I Wanna Be Free,” and dramatically slowed-down reinvention of “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone.” Even The Monkees‘ famous theme was reinterpreted, in more relaxed fashion. Phillips and co. also tackled a peppy version of Neil Diamond’s chart-topping “I’m a Believer,” a slinky reading of Mike Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary,” and an elegant turn on David Gates’ “Saturday’s Child” with classical piano flourishes. Jack Keller and Diane Hildebrand’s “(Your) Auntie Grizelda” has the feel of a dramatic cue from a lost film.
Varese’s reissue has been newly remastered by Mark Wilder from the original tapes at Sony’s Battery Studios, and includes both original artwork and labels, as well as a booklet with brand-new reminisces from Stu Phillips about the album’s creation. Look for this fun addition to your Monkees library on Friday; it’s available now for pre-order at the links below!
- Last Train to Clarksville
- This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day
- I Wanna Be Free
- Mary, Mary
- I’m a Believer
- (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone
- Saturday’s Child
- Auntie Grizelda
- (Theme From) The Monkees