UPDATED DECEMBER 2020: 7a Records' announcement earlier this year of a deluxe remastered and expanded edition of Peter Tork's only solo album, 1994's Stranger Things Have Happened, marked a major milestone for the label. Over the years, 7a has already delivered a treasure trove of releases from Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Michael Nesmith on CD and vinyl, but with the inclusion of the late Tork, its roster of artists finally seems complete.
The path to Stranger Things Have Happened was a long one. Tork was, by and large, musically inactive during the 1970s as he came to terms with a post-Monkees world, the ups and downs of fame, and the struggle for sobriety. (He did help produce a single for Dolenz and record some material for Nesmith's label.) In 1980, he achieved a hard-won sobriety, and the following year he entered the studio to record a new single. Peter Tork and The New Monks released a new version of The Monkees' Boyce and Hart-penned "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" b/w a bluegrass-flavored revival of Jackie Wilson's timeless "Higher and Higher," but the small release on an independent label didn't make much noise - in the U.S., at least. Peter took the New Monks to Japan where he embarked on a successful concert tour, much as Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz did. (Their sojourns to Japan have been chronicled by 7a on a pair of recent releases.) Both sides of that rare single make their first CD/digital appearance on this reissue as two of nine bonus tracks on the CD - including several seeing their first release in the digital domain - and six on vinyl. (This is the album's first appearance on vinyl, too.)
Peter then reconnected with his folk roots in New York City, re-establishing himself in small Greenwich Village clubs without the shadow of his old group following him. Everything changed for him, though, in 1986 when the second wave of Monkeemania hit the States. He recommitted to the group and toured with them through 1989. When it was time to go solo again, he formed the band The Dashboard Saints with whom he played around L.A. and once again in Japan. Crucially, he hooked up with old friend James Lee Stanley of Beachwood Recordings. Stanley would shepherd Tork's new music and the album that became Stranger Things Have Happened.
The LP was primarily in a pop vein with rock and folk influences. It featured six songs penned by Tork including two remakes from the recent Monkees reunion: "MG-BGT" (a live version of which was on the flipside of the group's "Heart and Soul" single) and "Gettin' In" which had appeared on the Pool It! album. A charming acoustic version of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Take a Giant Step" was another echo of The Monkees filtered through Tork's own sensibility. Mackenzie Phillips and Owen Eliot-Kugell, daughters of The Mamas & The Papas' John Phillips and Cass Elliot, respectively, brought a touch of that group's rich harmony sound to "Giant Step."
His live band including drummer Darren Elpant, bassist Pat Holloway, and ex-Zappa keyboardist Tommy Mars joined him for the album as did some other special guests including Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit, Wings' Laurence Juber, Micky Dolenz, and Michael Nesmith. His two bandmates appeared together on the frothy "Milkshake," with Dolenz particularly audible in the vocals. Nez also popped up to add his recognizable tone to the bouncy "MG-BGT." (The liner notes reveal that Davy Jones had planned to make an appearance, too, and even showed up at the studio. But the old friends spent so much time catching up that Jones' vocals were never laid down.)
Tork's voice didn't have the sweetness of Davy Jones', the guts of Mickey Dolenz's, or the laconic drawl of Michael Nesmith's. He occasionally reached for the notes on Stranger Things Have Happened, whether on the electronically pulsating title track featuring Schmit, the hard-driving "Get What You Pay For" and "Miracle," or the sleek "Gettin' In" (one of the songs which most reveals the LP's early '90s production). But he coasted on both charm and a complete lack of pretension, not to mention the stellar musicianship. There's some particularly tasty electric guitar from Tork sprinkled throughout (and from Laurence Juber on "Milkshake"), plus joyful banjo to transform "Higher and Higher" from R&B rave-up to bluegrass revival, much as he had with The New Monks' earlier recording.
The bonus tracks fill out the story with demos, live versions, acoustic duo performances with James Lee Stanley reflecting how four of the album's songs were originally conceived, both sides of the New Monks single, and "I Don't Understand," a traditional folk song recorded by Peter for a magazine. Some might prefer the acoustic duo versions to the slicker, more produced album takes as he's arguably even more confident on these intimate recordings. The 2010 demo of Stanley's "Easy Rockin'" with its multi-tracked vocals and bright pop sheen might have made for an ideal latter-day Monkees track.
While Peter never recorded another solo LP, his collaboration with James Lee Stanley happily blossomed into a number of studio and live releases from the twosome; he also cut five albums, including a live set, with his group Shoe Suede Blues. (His recordings with Stanley are still available through JamesLeeStanley.com.) He reunited with The Monkees for several reunion tours in various configurations through 2016. Peter died in 2019 after a battle with cancer at the age of 77.
7a's CD reissue of Stranger Things Have Happened boasts new cover artwork that honors the colorful spirit of the original (which is reprinted within the digipak). Within the attractive six-panel digipak is a 32-page full-color booklet featuring a comprehensive new essay by Mark Kleiner. It's stuffed with so much information that some is bound to be new to even the most dedicated Monkees devotee. The limited edition LP version is pressed on 180-gram neon magenta splatter vinyl.
This beautifully-designed, copiously-annotated, and bonus-packed edition of Stranger Things Have Happened is a delightful addition to 7a's catalogue and a significant piece of the puzzle for Monkees fans and collectors. It's available now at the links below!
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Peter Tork, Stranger Things Have Happened (Beachwood Records BR 2522, 1994 - reissued 7a Records, 2020)
- Stranger Things Have Happened
- Get What You Pay For
- Sea Change
- Giant Step
- Gettin' In
- Tender Is
- Higher and Higher
- Milkshake - with James Lee Stanley
- MG-BGT - with James Lee Stanley
- Miracle - with James Lee Stanley
- Pirates - with James Lee Stanley (*)
- Get What You Pay For (Live) (*)
- Easy Rockin' (Demo) (*)
- I Truly Understand (from The CooP: The Fast Folk Musical Magazine SE 105, 1982)
- (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone - with The New Monks (Claude's Music Works single MW 1001, 1981)
- Higher and Higher - with The New Monks (Claude's Music Works single MW 1002, 1981)
(*) CD-only bonus tracks