Even if you did not live there the era, you can’t escape songs like “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” or “I’m a Believer” other charting hits.
The Monkees’ recording output was so great that many songs were not released as singles or if they were, they were replaced by faster rising songs. Here are 18 songs that you might or might not remember, but deserve some praise.
As everyone knows, the producers and the studio commissioned songs from staff writers and others for the television show and albums. After the second album, members of the Monkees write more than the occasional song per album. Studio musicians were hired to play on the tracks before the Monkees entered the studio to record lead and backing vocals. The Monkees would continue utilize hired guns, but provided more of the instrumentation. Mike Nesmith proved that he was a capable writer as the years went on. He did show some very good musicianship as did the multiple instrumentalist Peter Tork. Mickey Dolenz was a passable drummer.
Enjoy these songs.
“Take a Giant Step” was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and was the B side of “Last Train to Clarksville” from the first album. This is not a throwaway like many B sides were, this is a fine crafted song with ringing guitars, nice time changes and haunting vocals by Mickey Dolenz. The song was featured as one of their episodes.
“Saturday’s Child”, also from the first album, was written by David Gates, a staff writer before forming Bread where he had many hits. This song has a harder electric guitar edge, but still has the silky Dolenz vocals and melodic hooks.
“I Wanna Be Free” is a delicate ballad written Boyce/Hart and sung by Davy Jones. It was perfect for Jones’ vocals. Really aimed at the youth market, it’s a coming of age song with a gentle string arrangement. No wonder Davy was on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine so much.
“Mary, Mary” written and produced by Mike Nesmith appeared on their second album, but not released as a single. It has a prominent beat and nifty guitar work. This song is a bit more rock than some of their pop ditties. Glen Campbell, Larry Knechtel, Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon and other Wrecking Crew members played on the song.
“She” written by Boyce/Hart and sung by Dolenz is also a heavier song. It pushes along with a determined beat, raw sound and snappy choruses.
“Hold On Girl” is an uptempo ballad sung by Jones. It has an aggressive harpsichord and beat. A very underrated song.
“Lookout (Here Comes Tomorrow)” one of several Monkees tunes written by Neil Diamond. Sung by Jones, with great backing vocals by Dolenz, Jones and Peter Tork. Diamond is listed as playing on the song. Steady rock beat and riffing guitars.
“Sometime in the Morning” written by King/Goffin and sung by Dolenz. This song has undeniable charm. A mid tempo ballad with ringing guitars and keyboards. Dolenz shows why he was one of the best vocalist of the era, soft and then great emotion, his vocal ability could turn on a dime and stay in tune.
“For Pete’s Sake” from the third album was used as the music on the show’s closing credits. It was co-written by Tork and sung by Dolenz. It is a heavy groove song with organ (Nesmith) and guitar (Tork). By this time, the band had won a power struggle with music overlord Don Kirshner and began actually playing most of the instruments themselves, but relying on production and songwriting help.
“Forget That Girl” was sung by Jones. The song could have been on The Beatles’ Rubber Soul or Help!, it has that electric piano/jangling guitar groove to it.
“You Told Me” written and sung by Nesmith, this is a folky Beatlesque song, with banjo by Tork. Upbeat and inviting, you can hear Nesmith’s folk and country influences. Nicely done.
“You May Just Be the One” another gem written and sung by Nesmith. Not a contender for a big AM radio hit, but a solid piece of music and performance. Electrified folk with great backing vocals.
“Words” from album number four. Written by Boyce/Hart and sung by Dolenz, with counter vocals by Tork. This is a heavy, almost psychedelic rock number that The Doors might have done. Tork on organ gives it a spacey, trippy vibe.
“What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?” another country-rocker written and sung by Nesmith. Pretty straightforward, it could have been a Byrds, Buffalo Springfield or Poco song. Not a lot of frills, good guitar work and harmony vocals.
“Don’t Call on Me” continuing the Mike Nesmith songwriting catalogue. This doesn’t sound like Nesmith at all. It does sound similar to “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” in musical arrangement.
“Goin’ Down” was the B side of “Dream Believer” and not even on an album. It was write by all four Monkees plus Diane Hildebrand. The group wrote the music and Hildebrand the words. The music drives, it has a jazz styling and a crazy bass line. Too bad they didn’t do more of these songs.
“Love to Love” written by Neil Diamond and sung by Jones, was only released on a rarities album. It is a nice piece of pop, no classic, but the boys doing what they do best.
“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” The B side of “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” and not released on an album. The Monkees and producer Chip Douglas play all the instruments. Written by Nesmith.
One thought on “The Monkees: Lesser Known Gems”
While I dig “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” or “I’m a Believer”, I agree there’s more to the Monkees than their best known hits. I have to listen to your picks more closely, but based on sampling most of them, these songs sound pretty solid.
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