March Through Time: The Monkees

Time was, the Monkees were a “guilty pleasure” for many. Time has rightly been kind to the group, and they’ve undergone a near-complete re-assessment. Did they all play on their early records? Well, no. Did The Byrds play on theirs? Did the Wrecking Crew play on everybody’s (except The Turtles’)? Good – and sometimes great – music is just that.

  • The Monkees (1966) – Solid pop debut showcasing impressive range of styles, and making the point early that Michael Nesmith in particular was a creative force to be reckoned with.

  • More of The Monkees (1967) – A cash-in, to be sure; the band learned of its existence when they saw it in stores. But it’s hard to find fault with an album that boasts at least four classic songs.

  • Headquarters (1967) – With the passage of time, this is widely seen as the breakthrough, the one in which the group asserted itself. And it is in fact a very good record, one on which the members either played the instruments or oversaw the sessions. But the real Monkees triumph was to follow.

  • Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967) – If you can only own one – and you really should have more – this is the one. It’s a remarkably mature album (“Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” notwithstanding), balancing the autonomy of Headquarters with the wise use of outside writers and players. Plenty of great songs, a few classics, plus the debut of the Moog synthesizer (“Daily Nightly”) and two phenomenal deep-cut tracks in “Love is Only Sleeping” and “The Door Into Summer.”

  • The Birds, The Bees & the Monkees (1968) – Commercially, the group was over the hump by this point, and it didn’t sell as well. Today it’s a somewhat overlooked gem, with the stellar “Tapioca Tundra” and “Valleri” as highlights. My dear, recently departed friend Keith Allison co-wrote “Auntie’s Municipal Court” with Papa Nez.

  • Head (1968) – The Monkees get really weird. For a soundtrack LP, Head is typically hit-or-miss. But its best parts are near transcendent. Carole King’s “Porpoise Song” may be the greatest thing they ever did (and if not, it’s close). Peter Tork turns in two of the record’s best cuts with “”Can You Dig It?” and “Long Title.” And a second Carole King tune, “As We Go Along” is a thing of beauty.

  • Instant Replay (1969) – The bottom fell out quickly, and not just because Tork left. Instant Replay dates from after the TV show’s cancellation, and while there are some fine songs, the album is best exemplified by “Tear Drop City” a thin rewrite that attempted to recapture past glories. Better than you might expect, though.

  • The Monkees Present (1969) – It’s hyperbole to call this one the Monkees’ answer to the White Album, but it’s the product of a similarly disconnected group. If you know more than one song on this LP, you’re pretty hardcore. Nobody involved brings their best, unfortunately.

  • Changes (1970) – Now down to a duo (Micky and Davy), this record bears the fingerprints – for better or worse – of Jeff Barry. If you know even one song from Changes, you’re a fanatic. It’s not terrible, but neither is it memorable. The group capitulated shortly thereafter.

  • Pool It! (1987) – Riding on a resurgence of popularity (thanks, MTV!) Davy, Micky and Peter got back together for a tour. We’re glad they did; it was loads of fun. They also made an album. They needn’t have; it’s dreadful and ‘80s’dated. An embarrassment to all involved.

  • Justus (1996) – A true reunion (with Nesmith). You’d think that would make it better than Pool It! And it does, though not by much.

  • Good Times! (2016) – Late in the game, the group (including a posthumous appearance by Jones) made a wonderful record that burnished the group’s legacy. Many musicians who owe a debt to the Monkees helped make it, and Good Times! is just that. Definitely worth owning.

  • Christmas Party (2018) – Many of the same people who helped make Good Times! were involved in what was even then announced as the final Monkees LP. It’s not terrible, but as with most holiday records, even when it does work, it only does so for about two weeks in December.