Artist: The Monkees
Label: Rhino Entertainment
Producers: Adam Schlesinger
Genre: Pop rock
Are they a band? A fabrication? A television show? A music collaboration? Something else entirely? No one really knows. Even asking the members of the group will only get you uncertain answers and confusing Star Trek analogies. Whatever it is they do, though, 1960s pop superstars, The Monkees, are still good at it.
The group was originally put together in 1966 as American television’s response to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, and ended up garnering the same type of fanatic following as their British counterparts. At first, the “four insane boys,” Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork, only sang on the records produced as a compliment to their hit television show, and had little to do with the production and selection of The Monkees’ music. Eventually, though, the actor-musicians revolted and seized creative control of the music. After two seasons of a television show and a failed experimental movie in 1968, however, the group began to drift in their own separate directions. Three members, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones returned to the stage and studio for a reunion tour in 1986, and the entire group came back together for an album and television special in 1996.
Good Times! is the first Monkees album in twenty years, and the first album since the unexpected death of Davy Jones in 2012. The album is a mix of songs written for the group by contemporary rock artists such as Andy Partridge, Noel Gallhager, and Rivers Cuomo, as well as songs written and partially recorded in the 1960s that have been filled in and retouched specifically for this 50th anniversary release. One track, “Love to Love,” features vocals from the late band member Davy Jones, which he recorded in 1967.
Spiritual Content: N/A
Language/Crude Humor: N/A
Sexual Content: There is a reference in the title track to “people wanting people,” which could be taken in a sexual way if you choose to see that interpretation.
Drug/Alcohol Use: N/A
Other Negative Themes: There are a few lines that seem to have a rebellious edge to them, such as “you’ve got no fear of authority” in “Our Own World,” and the lyrics of “Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” and “Wasn’t Born to Follow.” However, these can also be taken as an expression of freedom rather than outright rebellion.
Positive Content: Many of the romantically-themed songs portray very healthy, loving, and selfless romantic relationships. For example, the song “Whatever’s Right” is written from the perspective of an admirer who trusts the person he is in love with to make the right decision, even if it is not the one he is hoping for.
Overall, I think the most positive message that comes from this album is its overall hopeful, happy mood. It’s hard to get bogged down in the sorrows of the world while listening to it.
The title track, “Good Times” was written in the 1960s by a friend of the group, Harry Nilsson. His original vocals, as well as Mike Nesmith’s guitar work from 1968 are featured on this track. Micky Dolenz, the golden-voiced drummer of The Monkees, proves that he can still sing incredibly well in his duet with the vintage tracks from Nilsson. The lyrics are typical of the hopeful feeling this album gives off. They anticipate “Good Times ” to come. I’m not sure if they were more relevant in 1968, or right now.
“You Bring the Summer,” written by Andy Partridge of XTC is a happy, upbeat pop tune reminiscent of some of The Monkees early music. The lyrics aren’t incredibly deep, but are simple, fun, and summer-y. Dolenz’s vocals are lovely, as always, and are complemented well by harmonies from Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. The music is mostly upbeat, but takes a turn for the edgier near the end, hearkening back to the style of bands such as The Beatles and The Byrds in the late 1960s.
“She Makes Me Laugh” was the first single released off this album. It came out on April 28th, nearly a month before the album, and I still can’t wipe the stupid-happy grin off my face that I got when I first heard it. The lyrics, by River Cuomo of Weezer, are all at once sentimental, innocent, sweet, and goofy. Micky Dolenz’s vocals take the listener on an emotional roller coaster from bittersweet nostalgia to youthful delight. The jangly, upbeat music reflects the style of 1960s pop.
Written by producer Adam Schessinger, who also wrote the title track for the movie That Thing You Do (which was, coincidentally, about a 1960s pop band), “Our Own World” follows the same pattern of the first three songs. It is upbeat, driven by Dolenz’s vocals, and sounds vaguely like a 1960s song. The lyrics explore how different relationships and friendships create their own worlds and place their own filters on reality.
“Gotta Give it Time,” by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine features some vintage tracks from 1967. The music is a bit grittier than some of the songs leading up to it, but that is balanced out by the smooth vocals provided once again by Micky Dolenz. The lyrics, though not the most profound, discuss how love takes time and cannot be forced.
“Me and Magdalena” may be the emotional centerpiece of this album. There are a lot of good, fun songs on Good Times!, but this song seems to be on a whole different level. Dominated by heart-wrenching harmonies from Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz (who have some of the best and most underrated harmonies of pop music), this song by Benjamin Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie has a far more somber feel than any of the songs leading up to it. It seems to take a sacred look at the little things in life, in the face of the big things in life. The lyrics that sticks in my head are: “But know everything lost will be recovered when we drift into the arms of the undiscovered.” This might just be the ultimate Nesmith/Dolenz team-up, and that’s saying a lot considering their past harmonies on songs like “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Love is Only Sleeping,” and “The Door Into Summer.”
Songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart are as much a part of The Monkees’ legacy as any of the four front men. “Whatever’s Right” is one of the many songs they penned for the group in the 1960s, and I’m surprised that it’s only now being released. This is the song I mentioned earlier, about the trusting admirer, who is leaving the fate of his relationship in the hands of the person he loves. Once again, Micky Dolenz takes the lead vocals, and the music, with hints of organ, fits well with the rest of the album.
“Love to Love” was written in the 1960s by Neil Diamond and recorded by Davy Jones for The Monkees, though it wasn’t released at the time. The lyrics play out like a traditional pop love song about unrequited affections. It is great to be able to hear Davy Jones’ voice on this album, even though he passed away in 2012. Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork added harmonies for this album, making it an all-around Monkees production.
“Little Girl” was written by Peter Tork during the early days of the group for his band mate, Davy Jones, to sing. Now that it is finally being recorded, Peter Tork has taken up the lead vocals and dedicated the song in memory of his friend. It is a very sweet, heartfelt love song. Some of the most thought-provoking and unexpectedly deep lyrics are: “Leave your castles in the sand/We cannot save them from the sea/Come with me.”
“Birth of an Accidental Hipster” is a genre-bending song by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, with an alternating melody and lead vocals that are split between Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. It conveys a sense of adventure and grandness, and has a bit of a stage-musical quality in places. The personalities of the writers, vocalists, and musicians all shine through, making for an incredible collaboration.
Another vintage song, “Wasn’t Born to Follow”, was written by acclaimed songwriter and regular Monkees contributor Carole King. The song was recorded by The Byrds in 1968, and by King herself in 1980. Peter Tork gives a mature and reflective performance of the poetic and beautiful, albeit slightly cryptic, lyrics.
A recent composition by the seasoned songwriter of the group, Michael Nesmith, “I Know What I Know,” is a thoughtful, introspective piece. The lyrics and music are simple but profound. The feeling of need and reliance on others resonates with what we know to be true about the human condition.
“I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time)” is one of Micky Dolenz’ favorite catchphrases to use in interviews about his time as part of the pop music scene of the 1960s. He wrote this song together with producer Adam Schlesinger. The music is driving, fun, and reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The lyrics are a bit repetitive and don’t have much substance, but are a fun reference back to the hope of “Good Times” that dominates the title track.
The album cover is very nostalgic. The little blue sketches have a retro vibe and include many callbacks to The Monkees’ television show and early career, such as the “Monkeemobile” (the car from the TV series), the iconic eight-button shirts the band wore during the first season, and the “Monkeemen” uniform they wore during superhero fantasy sequences. The images fit well together, and the entire design for the merchandise and tour is very cohesive. I personally think that this is one of their most aesthetically pleasing album covers.
The album Good Times! is an emotional road trip through the past 50 years of Monkees music. There is a nice progression from more upbeat tunes, to more reflective ones, and, finally, a fun and slightly goofy ending number. The writers and musicians who collaborated on this album have taken special care to maintain The Monkees’ style and sound without being completely tied down to one particular musical era. Overall, this is a perfect celebration of the group’s 50 year career, and a great reminder that there are still many good times to come.
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