My first introduction to The Monkees occurred in the 1980’s when MTV first started replaying their television show in honor of their 20th anniversary. I was almost ten at the time and the show was amazing. On top of the basic humor the show presented, the music sealed the deal for me in terms of being a fan. Last Train to Clarksville, I’m A Believer, Pleasant Valley Sunday. Classics.
As we celebrate their 50th anniversary, why are we still talking about them? If you think about it, the show started with the most cynical of concepts. Some producer wanted to make a low rent version of A Hard Day’s Night. That’s not exactly a concept that transcends the ages. What is so special about them?
To me, it’s the group themselves. These four guys took a basic television show and through sheer determination and focus, turned a job on a television show and became an actual music group. Nothing was going to stop them from accomplishing their goal which I have respect for. Music critics may have snubbed their noses at them but if there’s anything that represents the spirit of Rock and Roll, it’s what The Monkee’s were able to accomplish.
In honor of their 50th anniversary, I figure I would list my favorite songs from the group. This would be the list of songs I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island and the only thing I had to choose from were Monkee’s songs. This is a purely subjective list so if your favorite song is not here, that doesn’t make it bad.
- Daddy’s Song- This is from the soundtrack to their movie Head. It’s written by the legend Harry Nilsson and man, Davey Jones knocks it out of the park. His song and dance bit in the movie are the highlight for me, apart from the Frank Zappa cameo near the end. On an old box set, there’s actually a version of this song that Mike Nesmith sang which just doesn’t work for me. Davey was able to take the pain in the song and amplify it with his cheery vocals.
- What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round? – This is a Mike Nesmith classic. A basic love at first sight story, it’s about a young man who meets a woman in Mexico, kisses her, and gets scared, leaving town. The song is about that guy’s regret. It’s a simply country rock piece but it works and man, it’s great to sing to in the car.
- Goin’ Down – Written by Mickey Dolenz, I don’t know how he breathed singing this. It’s a nice, fast paced song that vocally is a challenge. It recently was featured in an episode of Breaking Bad.
- Randy Scouse Git – Another Mickey song, it’s a great song that juxtaposes a happy trip to London with the war in Vietnam. It’s a bit unsettling but it’s a great representation of what folks must have been going through in that era. Trying to live a normal, happy life with images of war and society looking to keep folks from your generation down.
- Daydream Believer – This song is pure schmaltz. It’s sappy. Yet it works. While the lyrics make no sense, the pure joy Davey is able to evoke while singing the song makes it to where you can’t help but smile when listening to it.
- She Makes Me Laugh – This one is from their latest album Good Times. Penned by Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, Mickey belts out an instant classic with this song. What’s so great about it is that they’re able to make the song made in 2016 sound as if it were made during their 60’s heyday. And singing along with it, if you aren’t singing the chorus you have no soul.
- All Of Your Toys – This is an interesting one. Recorded in the 60’s, due to Don Kirschner not willing to release the song, it didn’t see the light of day until 1987 when the album Missing Links came out. Which is a shame because this song is great. It’s a simple love lost type song and great to sing too. Mickey seemed to get those more than the others.
- The Girl I Knew Somewhere – I love the vocals in this song. Mickey and Mike have dueling vocal bits near the end of the song which is great.
- Tapioca Tundra – A weird, country rock type piece infused with a little bit off the psychedelic sound that prevailed in the 60’s, Mike Nesmith wrote and sang a great song.
- Pleasant Valley Sunday – In the show, you knew when Mike Nesmith hated a song. In Daydream Believer, while he has a guitar in hand, he’s clearly not playing anything resembling a song. With Pleasant Valley Sunday, he had something to do and he went to town. The song itself is great, evoking life in suburbia with the rest of the world going buts around you. The guitar though, amazing.
- Valleri – Another Davey Jones song, vocally knocked out of the park with gusto. And another piece of guitar magic from Mike Nesmith.
- Sweet Young Thing – A straight up country song from Mike Nesmith. He doesn’t get enough credit for laying some of the seeds that blossomed in the 70’s with artist like Linda Rondstat and The Eagles. He, along with Graham Parsons, were two artists that helped bring about the fusion of country with rock. (Are there others? Of course.)
- Porpoise Song – Last but not least, their magnum opus. Porpoise Song, written by the great Carole King. It was featured in their movie Head. To me, this is on my list of one of the greatest songs ever written. (Any greatest songs of all time list is purely subjective so calm down.) When I first heard it, I had to make sure it was actually a Monkee’s song because it was nothing like they ever did before. It almost gives a Pink Floyd type feel to the piece. Regardless, you can’t have a collection of Monkee’s songs without this masterpiece.