This guest post is written by friend, musician and Beatles freak Scott Erickson. Thank you, Scott!
Good Times! is the brand-new studio album by The Monkees. It’s been released in conjunction with the Monkees’ 50th Anniversary. The album contains several songs originally recorded in between 1966 and 1969, but were never completed or released. It also contains several new songs written specifically for the Monkees but some of today’s most popular songwriters. Produced and mixed by Adam Schlesinger (of the band “Fountains Of Wayne), it follows the format of the most successful of the Monkees albums. A formula, in my opinion, sadly missing from 1987’s “Pool It!” and 1996’s “Justus”.
Before I give my overall review of the album, let me discuss it song-by-song
01 – Good Times (Harry Nilsson)
Very nice use of Harry’s demo. If they recorded new parts for the backing track, they did an amazing job of matching the sound of the original track. Really nice to hear Micky singing a duet with Harry. The only real criticism I have, is that the song still sounds like an unfinished demo. On the other hand, that demo feel adds to the overall charm of the track. There are some odd vocal ad libs by Micky that have him sounding like he’s using his “opera” voice. But, they pass by quickly enough to be ignored. A really great way to start off the album.
02 – You Bring The Summer (Andy Partridge)
A bouncy, fun tune. Some cool psychedelic guitar sounds. Excellent vocals from Micky. Very clear backing vocals from Peter and Nez.
03 – She Makes Me Laugh (Rivers Cuomo)
Catchier than a social disease. I still can’t stand the lyrics. But at the same time, this song holds up to repeated listenings.
04 – Our Own World (Adam Schlesinger)
For someone that needed to be brought up to speed on the Monkees’ back catalog, Schlesinger has written a first-rate Monkees song. Catchy chorus. Wonderful vocal from Micky (including a “Holly Hiccup”). Really nice Harpsichord work on this one. I think this may be my favorite of the first four songs.
05 – Gotta Give It Time (Jeff Barry/Joey Levine)
The first of the true “unfinished” Monkees songs. The first time I ever heard this song was on a VERY obscure 45 by a garage band called “Freddy & The Four-Gone Conclusions”. Originally produced by Jeff Barry in 1967, this song remained incomplete and unreleased until now. Micky’s on lead again, giving a really ballsy performance. Crystal clear backing vocals from Nez. This one is just a little party.
06 – Me & Magdalena (Ben Gibbard)
A very pretty duet between Mike & Micky. Honestly, I think I like hearing them harmonize more than I like the song itself. It just seems to move at a very slow pace, and never really goes anywhere. My main complaint about this song is the mix itself. Mike & Micky have voices that can blend really well (check out “Auntie’s Municipal Court” from “The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees” for the most perfect example), but that blend is sorely missing here. It’s a pleasant enough song. But really not one of my favorites on the album. I’m interested to hear the “Version 2” iTunes bonus track and compare it to the album version.
07 – Whatever’s Right (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart)
A brand-new-from-the-ground-up recording of another unfinished tune. This one is a Boyce & Hart tune that dates back to late 1966/early 1967. Another powerhouse vocal from Micky that’s supported by great backing vocals from Micky’s sister Coco, Nez, and Bobby Hart himself. If I didn’t know that this was a brand new recording, I’d swear that I could hear Tommy Boyce’s voice in the backing vocals as well. Adam Schlesinger and company really nailed the sound of feel of the Boyce & Hart-produced tunes from the Monkees 1966 debut album. This is a standout cut, and probably the first song on the album that really feels like a classic “Monkees song”.
08 – Love To Love (Neil Diamond)
This track dates back to the same January 1967 sessions (held in NYC) that yielded “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and the original, withdrawn version of “She Hangs Out”. The first time that this song appeared in the US was on the 1982 Rhino picture-disc compilation “Monkee Business”. It was a horrible quality mono mix. In 2006, the multi-track masters for the song were found, and a brand new stereo remix was included on the 2007 “Headquarters” 2 CD Deluxe Edition. While never one of Neil Diamond’s best offerings for the band (hence its remaining unreleased for so long), I wasn’t excited at all to hear that it was being included on the album. After all, we’ve heard this song before. Then, it was announced that Davy’s vocals were going to be used, and the backing track was going to be enhanced with more instruments and backing vocals. Well… There was nothing done to the original song save for adding a scant amount of harmony vocals. There’s been no additional instrumentation. Oh yeah… we get to hear an alternate single-tracked vocal (the original was double-tracked) from Davy. It’s nice to hear his voice on a “new” Monkees recording. But this track sounds a bit out of place here. It’s the first disappointing track of the album…
09 – Little Girl (Peter Tork)
… But it’s not the last. In 1977, Peter performed this song (then titled “Sunny Side Up”) at CBGBs in New York City. He introduced it by saying that he wrote it as “Davy’s follow-up to ‘I Wanna Be Free’ “. So this song has been around since around 1966. Admittedly, this new recording is an improvement over that old performance. It’s just not a very good song. It has some really nice chord changes. The melody is sweet and quirky, and the lyrics are also sweet… maybe a little too sweet. Like “Love To Love”, this one also feels a little out of place. As much as I hate to say it, this is one that I’ll probably skip when I listen to the album (after I’ve fully digested it).
10 – Birth Of An Accidental Hipster (Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller)
This is just a fantastic track. Alternately psychedelic rock, pop, and tin-pan alley, this song is all over the place in a good way. It combines the best elements of vintage Monkees songs like “P.O. Box 9847”, “D. W. Washburn” and (dare I say it?) “Writing Wrongs” and blends them all together into a 3:30 mini-symphony of pop bliss. Nez handles part of the lead vocals, and Micky handles the other part. Production-wise, this song is right in Mike’s wheelhouse. Truly a highlight of the album.
11 – Wasn’t Born To Follow (Carole King/Gerry Goffin)
The final “unfinished” song on the album. This song was originally recorded during the sessions for “The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees”, and the same backing track used here appears in its original unfinished form on the Rhino Handmade deluxe 3 CD Edition of BBM. This is by far the most surprising cut on the album, featuring a brand new, absolutely wonderful lead vocal from Peter Tork. I don’t think I’m too far off the mark when I say that I think that this is the best vocal performance Peter’s ever committed to tape. Another absolute highlight, I feel that had this song been finished and released in 1968, it would not be nearly as good as it is now.
12 – I Know What I Know (Michael Nesmith)
On the few occasions that Papa Nez sits down and writes a real love song, he usually gets it right. Previously released on his website as a solo recording, it fell flat for me, and I didn’t care for it. This time, it took another producer to flat-out nail it. Adam brought out the pure beauty of the lyrics and melody. He kept the accompaniment simple. A little piano, a little acoustic guitar, and an instrumental middle section with a Mellotron(!) string quartet. Nez’s voice is clear and strong here. Based on the solo version, I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy this song. But damned if it’s not one of my favorite tracks on “Good Times!”. Finally, there’s a song here that I can actually say that I love!
13 – I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time) (Micky Dolenz/Adam Schlesinger)
Micky is fond of telling the story of how the Beatles threw a party for The Monkees in 1967, and including “….I’m told I had a good time” as a punchline. He’s been telling that story for the better part of 20 years now, and I cringed when I read that it was being used as the title of a song. But, horrible title aside, this is another song that’s just plain fun. Considering the story of that party, the unmistakable “Sgt. Pepper” feel of this tune is hardly coincidental. Bonus tracks (I haven’t heard yet) notwithstanding, this is a really fun way to close out the album.
I’m too young to be a first generation Monkees’ fan. I “discovered” them in 1986 via MTV. The very first CD I ever bought was “Then & Now… The Best of The Monkees”. I’ve been a huge fan for the past 30 years (has it really been that long?). I remember buying “Pool It!” in 1987, and liking a couple songs, but being disappointed with the album as a whole. In 1996, the unthinkable happened; all four Monkees reunited for an album. This time, there would be NO outside musicians. Not only that, there would be no outside songwriters. All the songs would be written, and all instruments & vocals would be performed by Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike (who would also produce). Unfortunately, the results were almost unlistenable. In fact, the less said about “Justus” the better. That’s why when the news about “Good Times” several months ago, I was interested. But, I refused to get my hopes up. I think that was a wise decision. While it’s not without its faults, I like this album a hell of a lot more than I had anticipated I would. It is a very good, solid little album. For the most part, the songs are wonderful little pop tunes. There was a lot of talk in the fan community that this would basically be a Micky Dolenz solo project. I’m thrilled to say that is not the case. The entire group (including the late Davy Jones) is represented here. Lead vocals are primarily handled by Dolenz (as was ALWAYS the case on every album), and are shared by Nesmith, Tork & Jones. What really makes me happy though, is the amount of involvement from Michael Nesmith. Nez has always liked to maintain some degree of control of whatever project he’s involved in. But on “Good Times!”, he seems quite content to let Adam Schlesinger handle the reigns. Not only that, Mike sounds like he’s very happy with, and quite proud of the results. You can hear him singing harmony vocals on just about every song. He’s really a part of this album, and he sounds great. That brings me to another point. The vocals on this album are really top notch by everyone. Even Peter Tork, who has never been considered a strong singer, comes out swinging for the fences this time around. And what can be said about Micky Dolenz’s voice? Good lord! The man is 71 years old and his vocals are better now than they were 50 years ago. He’s got one of the best voices in Pop/Rock music. He really shines throughout the album.
In summation, Good Times! is exactly the type of Monkees album that the group needed to leave as their legacy. And it’s exactly the type of Monkees album the fans deserve. If the Monkees and Donnie Kirshner had been able to reach the compromise where Donnie would pick the songs, but let the guys have a more active role in the studio, “Good Times!” is the type of album that would have been made. Happy 50th Birthday to the Monkees… Let the “GOOD TIMES!” roll!