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February 16, 1995 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-02-16

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4- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, February 16, 1995
Monkees reissues will make you a believer -___


By Tom Eriewine
Daily Arts Editor
No other band in history has ever
been like the Monkees. No other band
could be like the Monkees, actually.
Not only have no other band been so
blatantly manufactured, but no other
band has succeeded in being manu-
factured. Also, no other manufactured
band managed to break free from their
creators and release a handful of great,
but under-appreciated, albums,
Now, the Monkees are preparing
to celebrate their 30th anniversary
and their audience has changed. They
may still appeal to the teenagers that
worshipped their television show, but
they're also trying to gain some re-
spect. Thankfully, they have Rhino
Records on their side. Rhino has just
released all nine of the Monkees' stu-
dio albums, complete with remastered
sound, original artwork, bonus tracks
and extensive liner notes. The series
was a labor of love and it shows - as
product, these reissues are some of
the finest ever produced. However,
the question remains for most of the
general public - is the Monkees'
music worthy of this treatment?
Actually - it is.
Initially, the Monkees were manu-
factured, but artifice has always been
a major part of pop music. After the
Beatles' phenomenal success, film and
television producers were anxious to
get some money for themselves -
the Monkees were born. An adver-
tisement was placed in Variety and
hundreds of actors and musicians
showed up for the four available slots.
The Monkees' musical direction
was virtually established before they
had even met each other. Before the
actors were even chosen, there was
music for the Monkees. Tommy
Boyce and Bobby Hart began work-
ing on demos for the show's pilot a
year before production. After the show
was sold, Don Kirshner, the boss of
Screen Gems music, was chosen as
the musical coordinator of the'show.
When Michael Nesmith, Mickey
Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork
finally were selected as the Monkees,


the producers of the project assumed
that the quartet would be happy to act
as puppets. The producers were so
certain that the four wouldn't put up
any arguments that they didn't even
leave the slightest possibility of cre-
ative input from any of the four.
Most of the Monkees were happy
to be actors - that was their profes-

had a ringing guitar hook that was
almost as influential as anything the
Byrds recorded, as well as having an
intricately layered, guitar-laden folk-
pop production. Nothing on "The
Monkees" matches "Clarksville," yet
the best moments are shining ex-
amples of '60s immaculately played

sion, after all. Dolenz and Jones were Thanks to the massive popularity
especially willing todo whateverthey of the television show, "The
were told, which is partially the rea- Monkees" became an enormous suc-
son they were the featured vocalists cess. For Kirshner, that meant that the
on the Monkees' self-titled debut. next album had to be rush-released to
With Jones' slightly smarmy British stores. Kirshner assembled "More of
charm and Dolenz's clear, melodic the Monkees"soquickly thatthegroup
voice and good looks, the duo were didn't even see the finished album
also the likeliest pop stars of the quar- until it was released.
tet; however, they were also the least- "More of the Monkees" was accu-
accomplished musically. Tork, who rately titled -it offered everything that
could play several instruments and the first album offered, only with better
was a gifted comic actor, unfortu- songs. "She" was a pre-psychedelic
nately had a very flat voice; conse- freak-out that was stranger than any-
quently, he never sang on many of the thing on the debut. Weirder still was
Monkees' records. "Your Auntie Grizelda," a rip-off of
Unlike the rest of the group, "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown" that
Michael Nesmith knew exactly what shows why Tork never sang on any of
he wanted to do musically. Before he the band's singles. "I'm A Believer"
joined the group, he had already writ- followed the formula of "Last Train"
ten the hit "Different Drum" for Linda and became the group's biggest hit, but
Ronstadt's group the Stone Poneys; what makes the album so fine are the
he was an accomplished guitarist and proto-garagerockers "Mary, Mary" and
songwriter, pioneering a hybrid of "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." To-
rock and country. From the outset, gether, the two songs lay the ground-
Nesmith tried to incorporate his mu- work for the Monkees' finest album,
sical vision into the group, yet the "Headquarters."
producers didn't consider him wor- Before the band recorded "Head-
thy of consideration. Almost as a con- quarters," they gained musical au-
solation prize, they allowed his coun- tonomy. Furious over the unautho-
try-tinged "Papa Gene's Blues" on rized release of "More of the
the first album. Monkees," the group decided to actu-
It was one of the highlights, but ally function as a band; they decided
the main strength of "The Monkees"' that they would play all of the instru-
was its sheer commercialism. Rarely ments on the record, even if they
has pop been as baldly mass-marked didn't write all of the songs. On "Head-
and enjoyable as the group's debut. A quarters," the Monkees had to prove
result of top-notch professional that, although they were originally
songwriting and producing, the al- manufactured, they were indeed areal
bum had its share of clinkers (Boyce band. Amazingly, the album proves
and Hart's "Gonna Buy Me A Dog" that, not only were they a real band,
was so bad that Dolenz and Jones they were a damn good pop band.
made fun of it while they were record- "Headquarters" brings out the folk
ing - the jokes were left on the .and country leanings of Nesmith's
master take), the high points were writing, while adding an edgy sound.
great pop. "Last Train to Clarksville" In fact, the group actually sounds like

isn't surprising, since
the band was learning
to play together as they
were recording.
"Headquarters" re- ~
mains one of the great
forgotten albums of the x
'60s; there were no big
singles on the album,
yet it contains the fin-
est rock 'n' roll the
group ever produced.
The Monkees may
have peaked with
"Headquarters," yet
they weren't finished
making great music;
their next three albums
were all nearly the
equal of "Headquar-
ters," even if they were
quite different musi-
cally. On their fourth
album, "Pisces,
Aquarius, Capricorn &
Jones Ltd.," the Just another I
Monkees returned to using profes-
sional backing musicians on their
records, all the while retaining con-
trol of the musical direction of the
album. "Pisces" is a smoother record
than "Headquarters," but on songs
like "Salesman" and "She Hangs Out"
the group manages to rock as hard.
Throughout the album, the group
pushes in new directions - harder
country-rock, lush ballads and
psychedelia, all topped off by the
classic single, "Pleasant Valley Sun-
"The Birds, the Bees & the
Monkees" continued to push in
stranger directions, including the psy-
chedelic garage-rock freak-out
"Valleri," the Latin-tinged "Tapioca
Tundra," the flower-power ballad
"Daydream Believer" and the '20s
homage, "Magnolia Simms." "The
Birds" may have pursued many dif-
ferent directions, yet it wasn't as bi-
zarre as "Head," the soundtrack to
their utterly incomprehensible mo-
tion picture. Combining snatches of
dialogue with six gorgeous, lushly

psychedelic songs, "Head" captures
the very atmosphere of 1968 pop cul-
ture. Carole King's two songs, "Por-
poise Song" and "As We Go Along,"
are the two most beautiful songs the
Monkees ever recorded and "Circle
Sky" is one of their best rockers,
especially in the bonus live version.
After "Head," the group's televi-
sion show was taken off the air; soon
afterward, Peter Tork left the band. The
Monkees were beginning to fray, yet
that wasn't clear from the sound of
"Instant Replay." Gathering together
several tracks that had been lying around
the studio for years with some new
songs, "Instant Replay" has its share of
half-baked pop confections, yet there
are several gems, including Dolenz's
strongest songs ("Just A Game" and
"Shorty Blackwell") and Nesmith's in-
creasingly impressive country weepers
("Don't Wait for Me" and "While I
Nesmith continued improving as
a songwriter on his last album with
the group, "The Monkees Present,"
yet the album was their weakest yet.

Shortly after its release, Nesmith left
the band, making the Monkees a duo.
Dolenz and Jones made the extremely
awful "Changes," which refashioned 0
the band as a very white pop-R&B
outfit. (Jones dislikes this record so
intensely, he initially refused to talk
about it in interviews conducted for
the reissue.) "Changes" is amusing as
an artifact, but it is the only Monkees
record that could accurately be de-
scribed as soulless and mechanical.
Three decades on, it is finally pos-
sible to get some sort of perspective
on the Monkees. They never were as
"genuine" or "real" as the Beatles,
Stones, Byrds or Kinks, yet they man-
aged to make their share of great
music. At their best, they made some
of the best pop singles of their era
while pushing into unexpected new
directions on their albums (Nesmith
was certainly one of the visionaries
that gave birth to country-rock in the
late '60s and early '70s). When it
comes right down to it, there aren't
that many groups that could make
that claim.

Ginsberg box is good harbinger of reading tonight

Wlhat people reall'y
want to know is.
will they end up
in' there as well?,
"Poignant, astonishing...
a compelling and
heart-breaking story:"
-7he itew eflWrk7mes Book Reviez

By Dirk Schulze
Daily Arts Writer
Few American poets have had such
a profound effect on the course of
poetry in the 20th century as Allen
Ginsberg. As a beat writer and friend
and colleague of such writers as Jack
Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and
Gregory Corso, Ginsberg helped shape
the artistic culture of the 1950s through
Where: Hill Auditorium
Time.7;30 p.m. tonight

such works as "Supermarket in Cali-
fornia," "America" and his most im-
portant poem of that period, "Howl
(For Carl Solomon)."
Always extremely outspoken, dur-
ing the 1960s he fought, danced and
laughed alongside the anti-war move-
ment and later with the gay rights
struggle. For 50 years, Ginsberg has
been such a fixture of American cul-
ture that his image was recently used in
a Gap ad, the proceeds for which he
donated to the Naropa Institute. Now,

there is the opportunity to remind our-
selves just how seminal and important
his poetry is through two different out-
lets: The release on Rhino Records of a
4-CD box set of Ginsberg's recorded
work entitled "HolySoulJellyRoll" and
tonight's reading at Hill Auditorium
with Patti Smith.
The sheer volume of material on
the box set is overwhelming at first. It
ranges from a 1949 tape of him reading
at a friend's party with jazz playing on
the radio in the background to an ap-
pearance at a concert by the Clash with
the band backing him and from a previ-
ously unreleased recording of "Howl"
(captured the first time it was read in
public) to a 1993 reading of "Hum
Bom." Much of the work has remained
unreleased until this point, oravailable
only in the Library of Congress or on
albums that went out of print almost as
they were released.
The version of "Howl" included on
the first disc is particularly revelatory.
Though Ginsberg had not yet found his
voice as a reader (still sounding quite a
bit like Dylan Thomas), there is a spe-
cial quality to the tape, a spark that
kindles slowly as the audience, loud
and somewhat uninterested at first, is
drawn into the poem through the cas-
cading images ofpartone and is carried
away by the power of parts two and
three. Also included is a reading of
"America" from the same date as
"Howl," with the audience treating the
poem and lines like "Go fuck yourself
with your atom bomb" as a form of
stand-up comedy.
Ginsberg's greatestpoem, "Kaddish
(For Naomi Ginsberg)," is presented
from a reading in 1964. If the box set
were to contain no other poems than
this and "Howl," Ginsberg's status as a
true American voice would be con-
firmed. The poem lasts for over an
hour, the swaying rhythm climaxing
again and again through the five sec-
tions. Like "Howl," Ginsberg's tone is
uncertain at first but the poem quickly

asserts itself and takes over the read-
ing, guiding his voice through its ex-
tended breath lines. "Howl" may be
what made him famous and, in certain
circles, notorious, but it is "Kaddish"
that shall carry Ginsberg into poetic
Much of disc three is taken up with
Ginsberg's renditions of William
Blake's poems. He sets them to music,
usually one or two chords, and the
recordings feature a variety of musi-
cians, including Bob Dylan and Bill
Frissell. "September on Jessore Road"
and "Father Death Blues" form the
highlights of disc four, the first
Ginsberg's answer to Dylan's "Sad-
Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" and put
together out of a combination of 1971
sessions with Dylan and a 1983 re-
mixing session in which a string quar-
tet was added. "Father Death Blues"
is a far shorter but no less striking

poem in the tradition of "Kaddish."
The liner notes for
"HolySoulJellyRoll" are nearly as valu-
able as the recorded material. Along
with a bit of biographical information
and short commentary given by ahand-
ful of people close to him, Ginsberg
himself reflects upon every poem and
song included in the box;relating how
some were written, how others were
recorded and what inspired the rest.
Allen Ginsberg is one of the most
important voices in contemporary
American poetry. His work has had a
profound effect on all who followed in
his footsteps. The other opportunity to
reacquaint yourself with his poetry
comes tonight at Hill Auditorium,
where he will read "Kaddish," a poem
almost never read in full due to its
length. Theman is truly an integral part
of modern American literature. Do
not miss him.


Allen Ginsberg, one of them old fogey beat poets, reads tonight at Hill.






" IMU 9;


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