Even today, the name Kodak is synonymous with photography. But in 1980 Japan, Kodak was synonymous with The Monkees. The venerable company had scored a popular commercial there with the group's recording of "Daydream Believer," leading to a fresh wave of Monkeemania. Word spread, and soon, Davy Jones and Peter Tork were touring the country as solo acts. Micky Dolenz was third to arrive, having comfortably reestablished himself as not only a stage star but a theatrical and television director. Early 1982 saw him make the trip - his very first as a bona fide solo artist. Much as Jones had adopted the Japanese group Ricky and Revolver as his backing band, Dolenz took on a band there with the rather American moniker of Marlboro. (The band's drum head was even adorned with the logo of the American cigarette manufacturer.) Also like Davy, Micky made sure to have a freshly-recorded single - in his case, "To Be or Not to Be" b/w "Beverly Hills" - to sate the Japanese audience's demand for new music. 7a Records, home to all things Monkees-related, has chronicled Micky's Japan adventure (and more!) on a splendid new CD/DVD set as well as on a separate vinyl release. Live in Japan is a companion to Davy's release of the same name, filled with not just great music but a big dose of Dolenz's budding solo showmanship.
The centerpiece here is the concert which is presented on both CD and region-free NTSC DVD. With a tight, lean band, Dolenz didn't recreate the sound of the original records, but captured their essence with zest and an extra dose of adrenaline. Though he kicked off the evening with the crowd-pleasing "(Theme From) The Monkees," he signaled with the early appearance of two Headquarters tunes from Mike Nesmith's pen (the rollicking "Sunny Girlfriend" and a storming, urgent "You Just May Be the One") that there would be room for deep cuts, too. The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees' offbeat "Zor and Zam" got its first-ever airing on the concert stage. Among the other unexpected treats are the sweet lullaby "Pillow Time," co-written by his mother Janelle Scott, from The Monkees Present, and Hank Cicalo's rip-roaring "No Time" from Headquarters.
The 18-song set was top-loaded with hits, all sung robustly by Dolenz: not just the theme song, but also "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer," both of which would typically be encore-worthy. For perhaps the first but certainly not the last time, Dolenz took the lead on songs introduced by Jones including the tender ballads "I Wanna Be Free" and "Shades of Grey" (the latter on which Jones shared the lead vocal with Peter Tork) and inevitable "Daydream Believer." The band shines here on rockers such as Nesmith's "Mary, Mary" and Boyce and Hart's "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" as well as the jazz-inflected "Goin' Down." Background vocals are more often than not loose but the energy of the performances compensates for it.
The recording captures Micky's playful banter with the audience in Japanese and English, and he treated them to an encore consisting of "To Be or Not to Be" and "Beverly Hills" rather than a Monkees song. Both songs are also included on this release in their original single versions (previously part of 7a's MGM Singles Collection). B.A. Robertson and Terry Britten's "To Be or Not to Be" is a catchy and tuneful power-pop nugget; its flipside, Dolenz's self-written "Beverly Hills," amiably rides a relaxed groove.
In addition to the studio versions of "To Be" and "Beverly Hills," three more rarities complete the audio portion of Live in Japan. Micky's Semi-Final and Final performances of Robertson and Mike McNaught's "I'm Your Man" from the 1979 World Popular Song Festival (think an alternative Eurovision) are included; the song placed 16th in the competition through no fault of Micky's full-throated interpretation. Paul Williams' "Tomorrow" was part of his score to Bugsy Malone. Post-Japan tour, Dolenz directed the musical's 1983 West End debut but didn't appear in the show which featured a cast of children. However, he did record the appealing "Tomorrow" for a one-off single produced with a dance beat by Mike Batt (Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes," The Wombles) and engineered by Elton John's future wife Renate Blauel. Micky, credited on the sleeve as Michael Dolenz, channeled his innate theatricality to bring it to life, a quality which served him well in the stage version of Harry Nilsson's The Point and in future musicals including Hairspray and Aida. (The 45's flipside didn't feature Dolenz but rather the young cast.)
Executive producers and 7a co-founders Iain Lee and Glenn Gretlund are to be commended not only for their exhaustive work in tracking this material down and making it available, but also for the sound restoration. While the mix on the concert audio isn't ideal at all times and the vocals are sometimes too low, the overall sound as mastered by Dave Blackman at Hiltongrove Mastering is crisp, clear, and clean throughout.
The 50+-minute concert film on DVD (in a 4:3 aspect ratio) has an identical track listing to that of the CD; the viewer can select to watch by song or en toto. Dolenz's energy is utterly infectious, and he appears to be having a blast as he swaggers, shimmies, saunters, shakes his tambourine or maracas, and dodges the occasional flying streamer. The video isn't up to the broadcast-quality standard of Davy's Live in Japan release, particularly with regard to its color, and the edits between songs are obvious. But it is, without a doubt, eminently watchable and a rare treat that longtime fans will savor. Likewise, the sound on the concert film is listenable but not as strong as on the accompanying CD - especially as Dolenz frequently gets drowned out by the screaming audience. He brings one adoring fan onstage for a serenade of "I Wanna Be Free," turning the microphone over to her at one point. The CD has his solo version.
The packaging here is every bit as lavish as fans have come to expect from 7a beginning with the terrific cover and its faux OBI strip. The two discs and the full-color 24-page booklet are housed within an eight-panel digipak illustrated with photographs and memorabilia. Mark Kleiner has written a detailed and lengthy essay featuring new quotes from B.A. Robertson, and 7a's Glenn Gretlund has also supplied a couple of pages of helpful Production Notes taking listeners into the label's journey to this release.
Almost forty years later, Micky Dolenz is still the consummate entertainer as The Monkees' new Mike and Micky Show live album proves. This is a winning companion to that release. No shades of gray here: Live in Japan is another labor of love from the team at 7a Records.