January is barely over yet, but 2018 is already shaping up to be another banner year for The Monkees. Davy, Peter, Michael, and Micky have just met The Archies in a zany time-travelling comic book adventure, and fans have had the perfect soundtrack: the new, 3-CD/1-45 RPM single super deluxe box set edition of sophomore album More of The Monkees (Rhino Handmade R2 560125) - in time to mark 51 years since the LP was first released, in January 1967. This sixth installment of the long-running series may be the richest volume yet thanks to sheer volume of rarities curated by producer and Monkee guru Andrew Sandoval. Of the 91 tracks on these discs, encompassing alternate and television mixes, outtakes, early and alternate takes, backing tracks, live performances, and more, a full 55 are previously unreleased. With that in mind, opening More of The Monkees (first expanded in 1994 and then again as a 2-CD set in 2006) can't help but be akin to opening a newly-found treasure chest filled with gems from the pop heroes.
The runaway success of The Monkees on record took everybody by surprise, turning what might have been just a hit tie-in to a successful television series into a bona fide phenomenon. But Don Kirshner, initially pulling the musical strings of the headstrong actor-musicians, was at the ready. Between the end of June through November, 1966, Kirshner oversaw the recording of 30 new songs intended for the group; the television show didn't even premiere until September 12 and the debut album didn't drop until October 10. Kirshner had access to the cream of the crop of pop songwriters. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart had produced debut album The Monkees (and written half of it) and penned and produced their first single "Last Train to Clarksville" (both of which reached No. 1 on the charts), but of the dozen-plus songs they recorded for More of The Monkees, Kirshner only selected two. Famous or soon-to-be-famous names dotted the final album landscape, including Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Carole Bayer (not yet Sager), and Jeff Barry, among them. In sprawling and comprehensive fashion, this new box reveals More of More of The Monkees.
The original, 12-song More of The Monkees was assembled from recordings made in Kirshner's home base of New York and in Los Angeles. With six of the twelve tracks, producer Jeff Barry had the biggest hand in shaping the LP's sound. Excepting two tracks from Michael Nesmith as writer-producer, The Monkees had scant involvement other than as vocalists, but listening to the quality of their vocals here - accompanied by the finest studio musicians on both coasts - there's no doubt that the group was already a "real" band beginning to find a true voice.
More of The Monkees yielded numerous classics. Micky took the lead on stomping garage blasts from Boyce and Hart ("She," the immortal "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone"), as well as Goffin and King's disarming slice of sweet folk-rock, "Sometime in the Morning," and the song that became The Monkees' biggest hit - Neil Diamond's impossibly catchy, utterly euphoric "I'm a Believer." Micky also was featured on Nesmith's driving "Mary, Mary" (first recorded in a style closer to Nesmith's original vision by Paul Butterfield's Blues Band) while Michael took the lead himself on "The Kind of Girl I Could Love" (co-written with Neil Sedaka's sometime-collaborator Roger Atkins) with its vibrant country-rock feel. Heartthrob Davy delivered swooning vocals on Sedaka and Bayer's bubblegum-folk blend, "When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door)," plus the rhythmic Brill Building confection "Hold On Girl" (from writers Jack Keller, Ben Raleigh, and Billy Carr) and Diamond's crunchy rocker, "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)." (The overdone recitation "The Day We Fall in Love" from Four Seasons tunesmiths Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, wasn't quite as successful.) Even Peter got into the action when producer Jeff Barry gave him the lead on Keller and Diane Hildebrand's novelty "Your Auntie Grizelda."
More of The Monkees opens this super deluxe set with beautifully-remastered versions of the mono and stereo mixes of the LP. Their most successful record, it spent 70 weeks on the Billboard albums chart (18 weeks at No. 1 in 1967 alone!), was the year's top release, and became the third best-selling LP of the 1960s (above any Beatles record, Andrew Sandoval points out in his copious liner notes!) in the United States. The multitude of recordings associated with the album and included here add up to an exhaustive and fascinating look at the complicated makings of the original LP. Virtually every song on the album is revisited at least once in this set, with the only exceptions being "When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door)" and "The Kind of Girl I Could Love."
The first disc rounds out the mono and stereo mixes with eight session outtakes. The catchy "I'll Be Back Up on My Feet" from the Linzer/Randell team was first recorded alongside "The Day We Fall in Love," and it's a mystery as to why the lesser of their two songs was selected by Kirshner for the original LP. A re-recorded version of "Back Up on My Feet" was finally released in 1968. Other highlights here include the twangy, Nesmith-led "Of You," and various mixes of tunes by Boyce and Hart, including "Tear Drop City," which wouldn't find its way onto a Monkees release until 1969, and the CD debut of the Mono TV Mix of "Valleri," also later re-recorded by The Monkees. From the Goffin and King team, there's a previously unissued mono mix of "Sometime in the Morning," and the Peter Tork-led Second Version of "I Don't Think You Know Me." ("I Don't Think" is only song to have recorded leads by all four Monkees; a new stereo remix of the Tork version is found on Disc 2 of this collection along with its backing track, and the First Recorded Version with a stronger Nesmith lead. Whew!) The Mono TV Mix of Neil Diamond's "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" premieres on Disc One, and is joined by three more distinctive versions elsewhere on this set: the Take 3 backing track, an unedited stereo version, and a newly-remixed version with Peter's tongue-in-cheek narration over the instrumental sections. "The feel of Neil" is also evident on the bouncy backing track to "I'm a Believer" as well as the new remix of Micky's (equally confident) alternate vocal as first included on the 1994 expanded reissue.
The second and third discs progress more or less chronologically through session outtakes in varying stages of completion. Boyce and Hart's "Whatever's Right" was a rip-roaring highlight of The Monkees' 2016 album Good Times! Its previously unissued backing track here, however, reveals that the producer-writers originally intended it to be in a laconic, country-and-western vein with a touch of vaudeville in the percussion. Though Boyce and Hart's contributions were minimized on More of the Monkees, these discs are veritable B&H bonanza via backing tracks to "Valleri" (happily spotlighting Louie Shelton's distinctive guitar) and the second version of "(Theme From) The Monkees," plus mono TV mixes of "She" and "Words," a look at the evolution of the oom-pah-ing outtake "Ladies Aid Society," and new 2017 remixes of two more cut songs, the baroque "Mr. Webster" and brash "Through the Looking Glass." The latter first appeared on Instant Replay in 1969 alongside the ironically peppy warning "Don't Listen to Linda" and the "Last Train to Clarksville"-aping "Tear Drop City." Versions of both have been newly remixed for this set as well as "I'll Spend My Life with You" and "Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears." Perhaps best of all is the backing track of "Looking for the Good Times," a close cousin to "Valleri" that wasn't released by The Monkees until The Monkees Present in 1969.
"Kicking Stones," which B&H produced but didn't write, is also heard in its backing track and mono mix; it hailed from the same sessions as "Ladies Aid Society" and shares its brass band sound. "Hold On Girl" was re-recorded by producers Jeff Barry and Jack Keller for More of The Monkees, but Boyce and Hart's original, less urgent version is here, too, in a new stereo remix.
Among the curiosities are three (very) brief snippets of Davy Jones rocking his way through a couple lines from composer Stu Phillips ("I Love You Really"), a goof on the 1938 popular song "Undecided," and Nesmith accompanying himself for an off-the-cuff fragment of his soon-to-be-famous "Different Drum." There's also plenty of horsing, er, Monkee-ing around on 10+ minutes of a vocal overdub session for "Mary, Mary." The backing track for the first attempt at Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer's "The Girl I Left Behind Me," featuring Sedaka on keyboards and a lush string orchestration, is a rather lovelier treat.
The most thrilling find is a 10-song live set from Phoenix, Arizona's Memorial Coliseum from January 21, 1967. This concert was filmed for the final episode of Season 1 of The Monkees, but vocals were later overdubbed. These original performances represent the earliest live recordings from Davy, Micky, Peter, and Michael; to put it in context, the band had only performed its first full-length live show a few weeks earlier, on December 3, 1966 in Hawaii. Even as the audience's screams threatened to drown out the music, the Monkees were clearly feeding off the energy in the venue. The boys accompanied themselves as a tight little four-piece garage band, other than during a solo spotlight number for each member in which their opening act - Bobby Hart's band, The Candy Store Prophets - joined them. The stereo sound is surprisingly good on these tracks (although the vocals are still in competition with the screams - especially when heartthrob Davy sings!), and certainly better than on past bootleg versions.
Highlights include Mike's lead on "She's So Far Out She's In" - attempted but never completed during the Headquarters sessions - and "Papa Gene's Blues," plus the specialty turns including Peter's solo voice-and-banjo "Cripple Creek," Davy's straight-from-Broadway rendition of "Gonna Build a Mountain" from Stop the World - I Want to Get Off, Mike's rousing take on Willie Dixon's blues "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover," and Micky's full-throated spin on Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman." Ironically, the big hits like "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer" (the concert's opening and closing songs, respectively) aren't here, though they were performed on the tour.
This exceptional package, well-remastered by Dan Hersch at D2 Mastering, is completed with a 7-inch single boasting two exclusive tracks: a vibrant 2017 remix of the released "I'm a Believer," and a "stack o' vocals" treatment for "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." Everything's housed in a lavish flip-top box in the style of The Monkees' five previous super deluxe sets (not to mention the complete TV series Blu-ray collection), beautifully designed by Rachel Gutek with deft period flourishes. (Just try not to smile at the vintage JC Penney's advertisement reprinted within!) A 24-page booklet boasts producer Sandoval's detailed liner notes, and each disc is stored in a sturdy, "tip-on" style mini-LP jacket with a protective inner sleeve.
The 2017 iteration of More of The Monkees adds context to, and deepens one's understanding of, the beloved original album. You won't be able to leave it (on the shelf) if you tried!