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Traveling Monkberries: Rhino’s Barrel of New & Old

the monkees, rhino records
Rhino Records drops some new Monkees music on us as we wait for the release of their spruced up TV series BluRay Box Set. All 58 episodes of snarky lunacy that melded the Marx Brothers with pop culture of 1960’s West Coast America will appear in the midst of innumerable bonus features. Those extras include the group’s only feature film Head as well as the even more challenging final television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. The mega-set can be ordered at the Monkees’ official website only, and is limited to 10,000 copies world wide.
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Hey-Hey! Monkee Micky Live @BB King’s Blues Club

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When I was a little girl, I fell in love with the antics of the made-for-TV musical foursome, The Monkees. Each week Davy, Peter, Mike and Micky sang and played their way into our hearts. With hits like Pleasant Valley Sunday, Last Train the Clarksville, I’m a Believer and Daydream Believer, written by some of the era’s best known songwriters (Carole King, Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart), the music group (comprised of young actors and musicians) rocketed to fame. Some of my fondest memories can be traced back to those early days watching, and singing along with, The Monkees.

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Long after The Monkees ended their TV series and the band broke up, we still enjoy their hits. I’ve been fortunate enough to see one particular Monkee three times now.

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Micky and Friends…
Micky Dolenz is always a treat. Whether he is performing with The Monkees (as in the reunion tour I had the good fortune to see two years ago), or on his own, he never fails to entertain. Last week, I saw Micky on stage with his own band, which includes his sister Gemma ‘Coco’ Dolenz (vocals, percussion), Wayne Avers (guitar, vocals), Dave Alexander (keyboards, vocals), John Billings (bass), Aviva Maloney (saxophone, keyboards, vocals), and Rich Dart (drums).

Fun and self-effacing, the energetic 69-year-old Dolenz (in his trademark hat and vest) performed two sets (mostly Monkees hits) and sounded very much as I remembered him. Although I was disappointed he couldn’t play guitar (not drums like we were used to seeing in the TV series) on Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze this time around due to a wrist injury (Supposedly in a tussle with 19 Somali pirates he had to fend off with a cocktail olive sword!?!? I wonder if Tom Hanks was around for that?), that didn’t stop him from giving his all. From Mary Mary, to Steppin’ Stone, to Words (one of my favorites), the hits kept on coming, with the crowd singing right along for emphasis.

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Noteworthy Moments…
Long-time singing partner, sister Coco, had the spotlight a few times herself, surprising and delighting the crowd with Different Drum (made popular by Linda Ronstadt and written by fellow MonkeeMike Nesmith) and Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

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For me, the enjoyment of a fellow Whovian in the audience (dressed as David Tennant’s 10th Doctor), complete with Sonic Screwdriver, just added to my entertainment and amusement. All roads lead back to Doctor Who for me, but I digress…

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Andy Says…
It’s hard for me to set aside nostalgia and sentimentality and why should I? A good time was certainly had by all. And for fans, both old and young, Micky Dolenz and Friends kept us singing and dancing in our seats all night long.

If you get a chance to catch them in a city near you, I urge you to see Micky and his band. You won’t be disappointed. Many thanks to BB King Blues Club (my first time there and hopefully not my last) for the opportunity to cover the show.

Links and More…
For more on Micky Dolenz, his tour dates, music, and theatre performances, visit his site.
For more on Coco Dolenz, check out her site.

Goin’ Back: Carole King’s Legendary Demos Released

Carole King - The Legendary Demos

I just finished reading The Wrecking Crew, Kent Hartman’s overview of the session musicians that played on so many Top 40 radio hits (to be reviewed here shortly), and began Carole King’s memoir A Natural Woman when along comes this perfect sonic compliment to both. Carole King – The Legendary Demos is exactly as its title describes, a collection of 13 of King’s recordings originally created to pitch her tunes to the various artists who sometimes turned them into million selling hits.

Embryonic Journey…
Demos offer a glimpse at a song’s embryonic state and insight into the writer’s initial intent. It’s always interesting the hear how a songwriter interprets their own works when definitive versions have been rendered by others and are ingrained in the public mind. The author’s version usually pales in the shadow of the hit but King’s demos reveal that her distinct phrasings and pronunciations were often copied directly as if learned phonetically. There is a lot more “Carole” in the hit versions than one would have imagined. Her vocal arranging skills, honed from her high school days, are well represented in even her earliest tapes. Background and response vocals were for the most part copied verbatim by the recording artists and producers. While you’d would be hard pressed not to prefer Aretha Franklin’s (“You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” you’ll also be surprised to hear how closely the feel of the demo is followed.

Stripped to basics, tunes like “Take Good Care of My Baby” point out the melodic nuances and rhythmic patterns King delineated in her piano work. It’s enlightening to examine how arrangers took many of those simple cues and turned them into lush string or horn counterpoints. Alternately you can hear how efficiently King could pitch a tune by approximating the style of established artists. Her harmonies on what became The Everly Brothers hit “Crying In the Rain” highlight that ability.

You Win Some, You Lose Some…
A perfect example of how demoes could be surpassed or lost in the translation is heard on the first two tracks. While Carole’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” offers a lyrically sophisticated rumination on the quirks of 1960’s suburbia it lacks the signature guitar lick we’ve all come to associate with the tune. The Monkees version, produced by Chip Douglas (also the tune’s bassist) introduced Mike Nesmith’s fuel injected riff (based on George Harrison’s “I Want To Tell You”) and set it on a trajectory for the top of the charts.

On the other hand The Monkees reading of “So Goes Love” as recorded for their eponymous first album, but left unreleased until the first Missing Links compendium, totally misses the mark. King’s demo reveals it as “one that got away”. Had it been completed more closely to her demonstration tape – especially the complex background harmonies – it could have easily been a chart topper.

Ladies (and Gentlemen) of the Canyon…
Eventually Carole King left her Brill Building roots and along with Joni Mitchell, Jackie DeShannon, James Taylor and CSNY helped to usher in the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter model that became a staple of 70’s FM rock. Her album Tapestry, sold millions of copies and made her a star in her own right. Quite honestly the demos for songs King made famous herself are less exciting to hear because they feel less revelatory.

SkeletonPete Says…
It’s an exceptional treat to have these sometimes bootlegged recordings available in excellent condition to explore. They are as enjoyable to hear as they are historically valuable. What’s missing for me? I would have loved the inclusion of two gems from The Monkees soundtrack to Head, “Porpoise Song” and “As We Go Along.” With her memoir topping the New York Times best seller list and interest renewed in the author’s back catalog I’m hoping a second helping of legendary demos will be in the offing soon.

Riding the Backs of Giraffes for Laughs

I was going through some old back-up disks recently and found a folder with Garageband files from when I was first learning the program. This cover of my favorite Monkees tune “Porpoise Song” – the theme from their cult classic film “Head” – is probably the best of what I had archived. The original, recorded by the Monkees in 1968, is a great slice of psychedelia penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

The “Head” album, though a rather disjointed mash of tunes and soundbites from the movie contains, does contain another of the Monkee’s best songs (IMHO) in the King and Toni Stern co-write called “As We Go Along”. It’s a beautiful open tuned acoustic guitar piece that builds in intensity based on it’s Jack Nitzche arrangement, which was conducted by producer Russ Titelman. Sessions for these tunes included loads of the Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip musicos including Neil Young, Danny Kortchmar, Leon Russell, Ry Cooder, Ralph Schuckett (then of Clear Light, later of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia). Mike Ney, also of Clear Light, is the drummer on “Porpoise Song”.

I can’t hold a candle to that crowd, but it was fun dissecting the tune and working up my own rendition. I may go back and rework it someday (I’ve been singing the lyrics phonetically for 40+ years) but for now hope you enjoy.