Many a believer still enjoys them with not a trace of doubt.
“We’re outselling Beyoncé on Amazon. Who woulda thunk?” asked the Monkees’ lead vocalist Micky Dolenz during a concert at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre this past Friday night.
Earlier that day, The Monkees had released Good Times!, their first album in 20 years. As I write this, The Monkees are not outselling Beyoncé whose controversial Lemonade is at number one at Amazon’s list of downloadable LPs. However, Good Times! ranks a respectable eighth, just ahead of Adele’s 25. When you consider that buying tickets to an Adele concert is only slightly less difficult than having an audience with the Pope, it’s quite a remarkable feat. Who would have thought in 2016 that the Monkees would find themselves in the company of Beyoncé, Adele, Radiohead, Drake, Justin Timberlake, and Blake Shelton?
Indeed, it has been 50 years since the Monkees were unleashed on American and the world. Who in 1966 could have imagined that their music would endure for generations? After all, they were a fictional band constructed for TV. It could be said the Monkees were the original Spinal Tap. But Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork found a way to transcend that medium and become a genuine rock ’n’ roll band. Songs like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Daydream Believer,” “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” and “(I’m Not) Your Steppin’ Stone” would become part of the pantheon of rock music.
In 2016, the Monkees are now two — Dolenz, 71 and Tork, 74. Sadly, Davy Jones died of a sudden heart attack in 2012 at the age of 66. Jones’ death prompted Nesmith, 73, to rejoin a band he had distanced himself from since the end of the ’60s to participate in several tours between 2012-2014 before retreating once again. However, this did not prevent the Monkees from beginning the night’s set with the Nesmith-penned, rockabilly-inspired “Listen To The Band.”
From there, the Monkees went straight to “Last Train” followed by their surprise 1986 hit “That Was Then, This Is Now.” We would also be treated to some lesser known Monkees’ songs such as Tork’s “Your Auntie Grizelda” and “She,” which showed Dolenz in fine vocal form.
Despite its high sales, the Monkees only saw fit to perform one song from Good Times! — “She Makes Me Laugh” written by Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo. I was disappointed not to hear the title track as it was written by the late Harry Nilsson and derived from a demo he recorded in 1967. Nearly half a century later, it is now a duet between Dolenz and Nilsson. All things considered, Monkees fans were more than happy to hear another voice from beyond the grave. Davy Jones’ vocals would be featured on both “Daydream Believer” and “Shades of Grey.” The sound of Jones’ voice was the highlight of the show.
I should mention that the Monkees concert was quite the multi-media extravaganza. Clips from old Monkees episodes would accompany the songs. Perhaps the most interesting accompaniment occurred with the Nesmith-penned “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” in which they showed the clip from the episode featuring Julie Newmar in which all four Monkees fell madly in love with her. Who wouldn’t have competed for Catwoman’s affections in the late ’60s?
The video presentation continued during the intermission featuring several of their TV performances. I particularly enjoyed “Tear Drop City,” which they performed on The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour. Seeing that was special given that I saw Glen Campbell in that very same theater four years ago.
Believe it or not, Dolenz still has the shawl he wore when he first performed “Randy Scouse Git” (the first Monkees song for which he got a songwriting credit) and performed on stage with it along with the drums he played. Dolenz wrote the song following a party with the Beatles about which he quipped, “I’m told I had a great time.”
Both Dolenz and Tork would have the spotlight to themselves with their interpretation of classic rock ’n’ roll songs. Dolenz performed Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the song he performed at his audition for the Monkees TV show, changing his life forever. Meanwhile, Tork performed Jackie Wilson’s “Higher & Higher” on banjo, which he described as “Motown meets the Appalachians.” Tork recorded this song in his only solo album Stranger Things Have Happened, which was released in 1994.
A great deal of the Monkees’ success owes to the songwriters with whom they worked — Neil Diamond, Nilsson, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, John Stewart, as well as Carole King and Gerry Goffin. I particularly enjoyed their performances of Goffin & King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “The Porpoise Song” from the ill-fated, but now cult classic movie Head, which featured Jack Nicholson shortly before he attained superstardom in Easy Rider. “The Porpoise Song” gave Dolenz yet another opportunity to show off his ageless vocal chops. It is the Monkees at their most melancholy and at their finest. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it is also my favorite Monkees song.
“Valleri” comes a very close second with its great lead guitar by session player Louis Shelton of Wrecking Crew fame. Unfortunately, “Valleri” was omitted from the set. Given that it was a song with a lead vocal by Jones, perhaps neither Dolenz nor Tork felt they could do it justice either alone or together.
But they couldn’t get away without playing “I’m a Believer.” As Micky Dolenz put it to the youngsters in the crowd, “I was singing this song long before Shrek.” It’s now been 50 years. But the Monkees are still giving fans good times. And there’s a good chance there will be more to come.