Hey hey, remember the Monkees revival of the ‘80s? MTV rebroadcast the classic ‘60s musical comedy series, and included bumper segments featuring the band (well, Micky, Peter and Davy, anyway). The success of that run led to a reunion tour (I saw them at the Omni in Atlanta; it was as fun as one might expect).
That success also led to a compilation album, Then & Now… The Best of the Monkees. Released on two different labels (one a single-disc, the other a double LP), that collection featured a good selection of the group’s most beloved songs. And both versions featured three previously-unreleased tracks featuring Tork and Dolenz. Nevertheless credited to The Monkees, those tunes weren’t earth-shaking, but they were pretty good. Of particular note – and relevant to this review/essay – was the song that provided the album’s title. “That Was Then, This is Now” was written by Vance Brescia, leader of the group called The Mosquitos.
The Mosquitos had a character that might remind listeners of Hamburg-era Beatles: tight songs with tighter arrangements, burning energy, enthusiasm and good humor. The group was quite popular in and around New York City, where they were apparently thought of primarily as a live act.
But as this new 2CD collection from Kool Kat Musik shows, The Mosquitos were able to capture the searing live performances in the studio, too. As the liner notes point out, This Then Are the Mosquitos contains nearly everything the group ever committed to tape. And while “all killer, no filler” is a shopworn phrase, it applies here: whether a given track is from the studio or sourced from any one of a dozen-plus live venues in NYC or beyond, it deserves inclusion here. Whether it’s an original or a well-chosen cover (like the careening “Hippy Hippy Shake”) it classifies as must-hear.
And in case you were wondering, yes, “That Was Then” is included in this set. And with all due respect to Micky Dolenz, The original is better. Way better, in fact. In an alternate universe and timeline, it could have served as The Wonders’ signature song in That Thing You Do! Yes, that good.
It’s a rare pleasure to stumble across recordings from 40-plus years ago that warrant attention and appreciation. This is just such a case.