Monday, 16 April 2018

Moody Blues Essay: Why Being A Moodies Fan Means You Can Never Go Home


Well done, you made it to the halfway part of the book (or halfway through our 'music' section at any rate!) We can't give you a prize to celebrate I'm afraid though you probably deserve one, but we can shake things up a bit by moving outside talking about our respective AAA bands' discography and moving on to what makes them stand out from their peers and offer something no other band can. In truth these essays kind of run across the whole book and you can read them in any order, but now we've reached the halfway point it's quite useful to take stock of where we've been and why before working out where we will go next. With The Moody Blues you’re pretty safe in the knowledge that where that path will be could be anywhere (though it’s probably not giving too much of the story yet to come away that the paths to travel get narrower from this point onwards). However the band were adamant that there was one path that could never be taken…
Some bands write for their very narrow audiences. Some stick to talking about their particular g-g-g-g-generation. Others appeal only to the lowest common denominator. Some, like The Spice Girls, can’t even do that right. And then there are other bands who aren’t interested in the here and now but the bigger picture. The Moody Blues’ biggest strength and weakness and what makes them stand out from everyone else is their sheer size, for even though the form it takes changes from album to album almost all of their songs (at least on the ‘seven wonders’ Justin ‘n’ John albums before the split) are about nothing less than the evolution of mankind. This story can be told in any order it seems: we cover the caveman grunting years on album six’s [93] ‘Procession’, take in as many musical forms as the band can cram into a six minute two part song suite in 1968 on [48] ‘The House Of Four Doors’ from album number two and zoom off into space and our unfolding possible futures on the whole of album four ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’. What rings true for all of these albums, though, is the question of what life is all for – why mankind was created, what paths he was meant to take and whether he has in fact learnt anything. To traverse in the Moodies universe (where thinking is always the [51] ‘best way to travel’) is to realize that the idea that mankind is always evolving is a con and that in many ways we are going backwards, losing our sense of self in a world full of materialistic greed and avarice and deception. The Moody Blueniverse is a world where anything can happen – and most of it bad, with the only things stable and unbreakable being love for one’s family (this band wrote more songs for their children than any other, from [96] ‘Emily’s Song’ to Ray’s solo tune ‘Adam and I’) and occasionally for a partner (endless love songs from [105] ‘For My Lady’ through to Justin’s solo hit ‘Forever Autumn’).
The Moodies’ journey for mankind is a road that isn’t just long and winding, it’s a labyrinth. In many ways their albums are also about a rite of passage that all of us in our modern age have to go through, to work out who we really are underneath all that 9-5 job pressure, financial restraints and a modern society that keeps up apart from really knowing one another. This is a road that seems to end in destruction, but The Moodies do have happy endings in there too.  also has the capacity to put things right if we all pull together ([98] ‘One More Time To Live’) and find what our true purpose in life is meant to be (most of ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’, which ends up with meditation as the closest to a life-changing answer on [55] ‘Om’ pronounced ‘Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm’), while ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ is split neatly down the middle (where you turn the record over) about whether out future will be great or ghastly. Like all the best groups, The Moodies never pretend to have all the questions (as a quick listen to [110] ‘Don’t Ask Me - I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ will explain) but they are the group that perhaps asked more of these questions than any other, most of them ending with a question mark: [83} ‘How Is It (We Are Here?)’, [70] ‘Have You Heard?, [106] ‘Isn’t Life Strange?’, [39] ‘Forever Afternoon (A Tuesday?)’, most famously [82] ‘Question’ itself which is about exactly this sort of thing and never getting answers that seem to fit. They do however have one theme in common.
One thing you can never do on this strange life path is go backwards. Not for The Moody Blues is there a Kinks like nostalgia for days past. Never is there a sense of childlike wonder that can be found in Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd or mid period Beach Boys. Nowhere is there a nihilistic refusal to grow old the way The Who once snarled. Instead The Moody Blues see life as a chance to grow from nothing into…something. What that something is up to us, just as long as we appreciate that life is all about ch-ch-ch-ch-ange and a turn of the pa-a-a-a-age. You see, without experiences good and bad, we can’t grow – both us individually and mankind as a species in general. [100] ‘You Can Never Go Home’ laments this thought directly: Justin used to know what he was searching for (there’s a hint that it’s the fame, money and prestige that comes with being a famous musician) but once you reach that golden goal you discover that it’s just another illusion. The ‘prize’ that he gets for growing older and coping with situations he hates is that he becomes more and more confused as to what life is really all about. The middle eight of one of the Moodies’ most under-rated songs, though, is one of their greatest moments: ‘All lies, bye bye, never really knew me till today. Now I know I’m just another step along the way’. All that confusion and angst is turned on its head – suddenly this narrator has learnt responsibility and has started to think about the bigger picture, because if what he’s dreamed of getting his whole life can’t satisfy him what can? He will never be the same again as he was as a child.
Which is interesting because children crop up an awful lot in the Moody Blues’ canon. A quick aim at the stars aside, the journey into the stars on album four begins not with a summary of mankind’s glorious exploits (as Pink Floyd would have done) or a lament over the inevitable doom and disaster (as per The Kinks) but with [72] ‘The Eyes Of A Child’. Twice. Once in pure innocent mode – the other in something darker and scarier, as if the narrator is trying to shut his eyes again and un-see everything he has seen, but he can’t – once you’ve learnt something, you can’t unlearn it (at least not in a Moody Blues song).[96] ‘Emily’s Song’ has daddy John wishing he could travel down the road to childhood and innocence with his daughter, but sighs that ‘I cannot go’, that he’s seen too much of the adult world that can never be unseen. [135] ‘I’ll Be Level With You’ runs one reunion track where the drummer comes clean to the children who are, as yet, still babes in arms. Life is going to be one long struggle, but in the end will be worth it (he hopes). The childlike quality looms large in Moodies fare and usually through the eyes of their flautist Ray. After an album of things going wrong and mankind facing ‘Revolution! Confusion! Illusion!’ it’s a relief to wind up at the rabbit warren of [99] ‘Nice To Be Here’ and unwind after the dramas of space in [73] ‘Floating’, while Ray’s songs for his own son (‘Adam and I’) and grandson ([203] ‘My Little Lovely’) are full of longing to dive back down the rabbit hole into a free and innocent childhood world. But The Moody Blues as a whole are all about growing up and home is the one place your road will never take you – because life is chiefly about learning.
This is itself a chief source of many a Moodies Blues song – worrying about whether the life decision you took was the right one and whether you might not be better off on a different path. ‘Yesterday’s dreams are tomorrow’s sighs’ runs [37] ‘Another Morning’, ‘The children playing they seem so wise’. But that’s the trouble – they’re wise because they haven’t yet learnt how to regret, forgive and forget, in an endless cycle mankind can never break. [74a] ‘I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred’ laments Justin, wondering about all those missed opportunities and whether he made the most of his life. Half an album later and there he is, ruminating that [74b] ‘I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million’ and wondering still over everything left unsaid and undone since he was a hundred and still wondering where the time left. For the universe is vast and we are small insignificant fractions of it. The world is no place for confidence: the narrator of [84] ‘And The Tide Rushes In’ finds himself facing calamity every time he thinks he has life sorted, [155] ‘Going Nowhere’ about finding your life on pause after thinking you had found the right path and [136] ‘Driftwood’ about being afraid of being abandoned and lost. The Moodies world (a [152] ‘Blue World’ more often than not) is a place where things can often go wrong and there is always something left to learn. You can never go home and be the same person you once were.
This is particularly true in romantic terms. [43] ‘Nights In White Satin’ struck a chord with so many people not because it was sung with such passion (though it was) or because it made a particularly poignant finale to an album all about a typical day in the life of mankind (though it did that too) but because Justin Hayward admitted to being vulnerable, of struggling to work out whether he should run after the departing girl in his life because she’s the only one who’ll ever bring him happiness or whether she’s just another learning curve on his life’s path. He writes romantic letters because he feels love, but he realizes that he can never bring himself to send them. ‘Beauty I’ve always missed’ he sighs, regretting the romances that never quite clicked and the ones who turned out not to be the one after all. For the record Justin married his longterm girlfriend Ann in 1970 (when he was all of twenty-four) and they have what must surely be one of the longest lasting marriages in rock and yet over and over again the theme of the loves who got away keep cropping up in his work: [119] ‘Who Are You Now?’ (First Love Of Mine), [162] ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ and [171] ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’. The one that got away is what keeps this band up late at night and yet it’s a clock that can never be turned (except, of course, in music videos where anything can happen!) and you can never go home, ever.
Other songs have the band wondering where it all went wrong in a much wider generational sense. Just contrast the pure beauty and comfort of [68] ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ with its tales of castles and knights and good guys in charge with other later songs about life in the 1960s and 1970s (even if Camelot is itself a neat analogy, pictured here before Guinevere starts sleeping with Lancelot and things get complicated). [31] ‘Cities’ are full of smug smog and soot, the people treated like the open sewers they walk about, with the population so heavy with people that nobody cares about the individual anymore. [83] ‘How Is It We Are Here’ should be celebrating mankind’s biggest mining project, but knows in its heart that the answer to mankind’s problems lies not underground or in outer space as ‘To Our Children’s has it, but in ‘inner space’, from within. We, as a species, have what we have long dreamt of: creature comforts, robots to help us in our work, a life away from toiling in the fields and working merely to survive. But still we are unhappy, [90] ‘Melancholy Men’ who are [103] ‘Lost In A Lost World’ because mankind has lost the bigger picture. Instead of helping each other to help ourselves we’re in constant competition with each other, an endless cycle of [86] ‘The Tortoise and The Hare’ where everyone is chasing each other’s tail and where our precious time away from the rat race ([40] ‘Evening (Time To Get Away)’) is spent in such tired stupor that the band’s narrator can barely stir himself out of his armchair. We’ve lost focus, worrying about bills and jobs and keeping up with the Joneses, rather than exploring our inner souls, discovering who we are and working out why we are really here (a question The Moody Blues ask more times – and usually more musically – than anyone).
‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ (note the reference to great-grandchildren) is perhaps the ultimate Moodies album in terms of scope and theme. One day I’m going to write an extra feature for my website about the bigger themes that link all (or most) of the AAA bands and why the 1960s and to a lesser extent the 1970s musical landscapes turned out the way they did. Chief place will be the moon landings: what a perfect 1960s project, stretching out into pastures new and providing a clean slate for mankind in the future away from Earth boundaries. Mankind can do anything and be anyone, which is the long strange journey from Beatlemania to psychedelia in a nutshell. Only hang on a minute because even there the complications implicit in 1960s music runs deep: commissioned by a president who was assassinated, overseen by a president who ended up embroiled in lies and scandal, launched to a backdrop of cold war propaganda and nationalism at odds with interplanetary travel, the moon landings was one big leap for mankind but also proved how many more steps he would have to take to be a truly civilised species. Released the month of the Moon landings, ‘To Our Children’s reflects this, trying to sum up the contradictions for future generations. The band didn’t know when they were making it if there would even be a ‘happy ending’ or not, so they hedged their bets just in case Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins ended up martyrs adrift in lonely soul-less space. Mankind gets to have everything he dreamed of ([76] ‘Out and In’ must surely be unique in music circles, a love song to the universe that’s almost sexual; ‘floating free as a bird’ and [80] ‘the sun is still shining, while [75] ‘Beyond’ is a band jam that’s the epitome of excited curiosity), but at a price: lost without his home planet he’s a [77] ‘Gypsy’ in a ‘strange and distant land’, travelling [78] ‘Eternity Road’ looking for answers he will never finds and afraid that he’s alone in the universe after all, left [81] ‘Watching and Waiting’ with the weight of the universe on his shoulders as the only life that has survived and embraced the bigger picture. The album ends on a very down note indeed, but then so do many of the Moodies’ concepts: ‘Days Of Future Passed’ ends with the pained howl of [43] ‘Nights In White Satin’ the night before a morning of going through your life again and pretending the revelation of your life hasn’t just happened; ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ finds only meditation as its answer, a shortcut rather than an answer in and of itself, ‘On The Threshold Of A Dream’ goes round in circles asking [70] ‘Have You Heard?’ following a voyage where everything is different yet the same, the entire history of mankind on ‘EGBDF’ ends with Mike Pinder trying vainly to struggle with ‘all the thoughts inside my head’ on [101] ‘My Song’ and after the false ending of [109] ‘When You’re A Free Man’ (the Moodies’ most ironic title on a song about always being trapped) the final original Moodies album ends up with the band admitting that they haven’t got a clue about anything and have been in the dark as much as their fans ([110] ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’)while ‘A Question Of Balance’ ends with, umm, eating an orange (no, me neither).
So what’ is the answer? Have The Moody Blues spent their entire career thinking about without discovering it? Well not completely. You see the other theme is living in ‘The Present’. No, not the album specifically, but embracing what you’re going through at any particular time in your life and making the most of every opportunity life hands you and to keep people in the present as much as you can, not the past. [113] ‘Remember Me, My Friend’ the Blue Jays urged old friends (maybe even old bandmates) as they tried to move on with their lives. [176] ‘Vintage Wine’ spends a lot of time remembering ‘1968 through to 69’ but it concludes that as fun and wonderful and indeed groovy as the past was, the present is the place to be. [190] ‘Never Blame The Rainbows For The Rain’ tries to put it more poetically (and would succeed were it not recorded with the worst 1980s synths imaginable – in 1991!), that you are a better person for what you’ve learnt and been through and you shouldn’t curse the glorious destination because the road that took you there was so tough. The one truly exuberant track in the Moodies catalogue (at least post the Denny Laine age) is about being given a second chance to be a child, but as an adult. [46] ‘Ride My See-Saw’, a song written by John in response to getting the job he always dreamed of after watching his old school chums go on to big success, is about getting a second chance when you thought you’d lost it – and making sure that you make the most of it this time (and us too – this is a song that invites the audience to play too). That’s the ‘real’ answer and destination for mankind. For if we are doomed to walk down unexplored and scary paths both personal universal, at the mercy of those greedier ghastlier and gloomier than we are, then we should realize that we are not alone in our endless struggles (the Moody Blues – and by association every Moodies fan – is experiencing similar struggles or they wouldn’t sing/listen to them so avidly because, wow, do the Moodies have a committed fanbase even by AAA standards), that we should give ourselves a break because life is hard, a pat on the back for getting through life this far, that we should make the most of the small moments when we’re allowed to be childish in a world that demands that we be grown up and responsible and corrupt far too often, that we should never stop asking why – and that we should allow ourselves to move on. Because even if we can never go home again, the places we end up are pretty interesting and exciting in their own right and who wants to be the same person forever? Now, after being a Moodies fan, I know that I am just another step along the way – and what’s more I feel better that this step is out of my hands.

Other Moodies related articles from this website you might fancy perusing sometime: 

'The Magnificent Moodies' (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-moody-blues-magnificent-moodies.html
'Days Of Future Passed' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-moody-blues-days-of-future-passed.html

'In Search Of The Lost Chord' (1968)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-22-moody-blues-in-search-of-lost.html

'On The Threshold Of A Dream' (1969)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/news-views-and-music-issue-53-moody.html

'To Our Children's Children's Children' (1969)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-32-moody-blues-to-our-childrens.html 
‘A Question Of Balance’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-moody-blues-question-of-balance-1970.html

'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' (1971)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-49moody-blues-every-good-boy.html

'Seventh Sojourn' (1972)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-53-moody-blues-seventh-sojourn.html

'Blue Jays' (Hayward/Lodge) (1976)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/news-views-and-music-issue-38-blue-jays.html

'Songwriter' (Hayward) (1977)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-112-justin.html 
'Long Distance Voyager' (1981) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-moody-blues-long-distance-voyager.html

'The Present' (1983)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/news-views-and-music-issue-98-moody.html 
'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/the-moody-blues-other-side-of-life-1986.html
‘Keys To The Kingdom’ (1991) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/the-moody-blues-keys-to-kingdom-1991.html
'Strange Times' (1999) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-moody-blues-strange-times-1999.html

‘December’(2003)
http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-moody-blues-december-2003.html 
Surviving TV Clips 1964-2015: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-moody-blues-surviving-tv-clips-1964.html
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1961-2009: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-moody-blues-unreleased-recordings.html
Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-moody-blues-non-album-recordings.html
Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2009: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-moody-blues-non-album-recordings_11.html
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One 1969-1977: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-moody-blues-livesolocompilation.html

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two: 1979-2015 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/the-moody-blues-livesolocompilation_25.html



Janis Joplin: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions


FIVE LANDMARK CONCERTS:

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Given how short her career was, Janis performed one hell of a lot of live shows: around 65 under her own name or with the Kozmik Blues and Full Tilt Boogie Bands, plus a whopping three hundred or so as part of Big Brother and The Holding Company (who often played twice in one day). It’s a real shame that Janis never lived long enough to release a live album (at least in her lifetime, as a finalised part of her canon) because the difference between her studio recordings and her live recordings are often the difference between night and day. On album Janis’ perfectionist side peeks through (well, maybe not the rushed first album but the other three – and yes part of ‘Cheap Thrills’ was indeed live, I grant you), but on stage it’s all power, all emotion, all adrenalin. Luckily Janis had enough fans who smuggled all sorts of tape recorders to her shows, even in her pre-fame coffee house days, which means that if you look long and hard enough (both in record shops and unofficially via, say, Youtube) you’ll find that her live career was more comprehensively covered than most of our stars. Every song in every show is different too, with Janis unable to do anything except wear her heart on her sleeve – some shows are happy, some are sad, some are sheer unadulterated misery depending on what is happening in her life at any particular time. We can’t list them al (and many of the best gigs are out on ‘Blow My Blues Away’ anyway. However here are five gigs that might be considered amongst her most important.
1) Where: Top Of The Tangent Club, Palo Alto, California When: April 5th 1963 Why: First Gig Setlist: Unknown
Janis had been singing for friends and family and borrowing tape recorders from everyone she knew since her college days, with her first ever appearance in front of people being Woodrow Wilson Junior High’s Glee Club in 1957 and her first ‘adult’ performance being at a loosely organised ‘Hootenanny’ on New Year’s Eve 1959 in Port Arthur (the first time many of her friends realised she could actually ‘sing’). Janis also performed a few gigs as a ‘guest spot’ across 1962 with her pal Chet Helms and may well have sung a few songs while working as a waitress in a Louisiana bowling alley in Summer 1962, but for shy Janis this is her first time up on stage on her own with nowhere to hide and the first moment when music was a ‘career’ rather than a ‘hobby’ you might say).At this point in time Janis is twenty-one-years old and very unknown – her Texas accent and upper class ways probably made her stand out a mile in the seedier end of California. In truth we don’t know much about this gig – or the string that followed – and Janis was just one of many folk singers trying to make the transition to rock and roll in this period. However there was always quite a crossover between folk and blues and Janis would have stood out even this early on by hurling covers of Howlin’ Wolf, Jelly Roll Morton , Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey songs into the mix too. Janis is, at this point in her life, spending long periods of time unemployed, gaining the odd short-term job to fuel her growing drink and drug use and spending much of her time begging on the streets – as a result music was a really useful means for her to make money, any money, however little it paid (in contrast to many AAA bands who appeared at coffee houses for ‘kicks’ and didn’t need the money). In other words Janis probably took requests too, however unsuitable, though the bulk of her set was probably much as we hear it on her 1962-1965 tapes. Hope is just around the corner though – this very same month she meets Peter Albin, future bass player with Big Brother and The Holding Company and vows to stay in contact as much as she can. Janis’ ‘big breakthrough’ in the summer goes wrong though: invited to appear at the Monterey Folk Festival (four years before the rock and roll one that will make her name), she has to decline, because she’s just been arrested for shop lifting, not to mention coming off worst in a street bawl and nearly dying in a motorcycle accident! This was, you could say, a busy time for Janis...
2) Where: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco When: June 10th or 11th 1966 Why: First Gig With Big Brother Setlist: Unknown but a set from a week later includes the following: [35] Let The Good Times Roll [36]  I Know You Rider [37] Moanin' At Midnight [38] Hey Baby [58] Down On Me [39] Whisperman [56] Women Is Losers [40] Blow My Mind [41] Ooh My Soul! [66] Ball and Chain [50a] Coo Coo [42] Gutra's Garden [47] Harry
This is – maybe – where Janis’ career and Big Brother’s coincides, at the venue of their favourite hunting ground where they were the unofficial ‘house band’ and where they will go on to perform many miraculous gigs together (some fans dispute the date by the way and some even list it as the 6th June; in truth few people at the time would have been paying attention!) Big Brother had been successful locally and had already made a name for themselves with their fiery improvisation moments and were talked about a lot, but all in the band were agreed that they needed a lead singer – or better still a ‘front man’. It was Janis’ old friend and Big Brother manager Chet Helms who first suggested the idea of a ‘front woman’ instead; at the time Janis had been drifting as an unsuccessful solo act and had failed an audition to join ‘The 13th Floor Elevators’. The band recall that their first re-action was defensive: they were already one of the big quartet of bands in San Francisco up until that time and this was a big vchange in their sound. Sam Andrew was concerned when he first saw Janis who ‘didn’t look like a hippie yet and ion fact looked like my mother’, Janis wanting to make such a good first impression that she’d gone back to her Port Arthur roots and dressed up nice and pretty, the way other girl singers did back then. For her part she feared that Big Brother were going to be an all-boy’s club that wouldn’t leave her space to be herself. It took about a year for both singer and band to truly melt with each other and the first re-actions to gigs was more ‘Wha?’ than ‘Wow?’ But both sides persevered, with Big Brother slowly losing their early original material they’d written for themselves (a huge chunk of which was performed here) and turning it around to the band originals that will make up the first album, plus [66] ‘Ball and Chain’, a song Janis had already been performing solo on occasion but could now fully go for with a band behind her. In time audiences will love it, with this gig spookily almost a year to the day before the ‘Monterey’ break through, but at the time they weren’t sure; this is however, a key gig – the first time that voice was heard in front of that band. Oh for a time machine to go back and see it...
3) Where: Monterey Pop Festival When: June 17th 1967  Why: Breakthrough! Setlist: [58] Down On Me [61] Combination Of The Two [47] Harry [67] Roadblock [66] Ball and Chain
The organisers were doing Big Brother a favour. Though the band had been offered a record contract by local San Franciscan label ‘Mainstream’ already (bought up by Columbia in their haste to sign Janis following this gig), nobody was talking about them yet in the same breath as the Airplane or The Dead or even Quicksilver Messenger Service. Only San Francisco really knew this band before the gig – but everyone from around the globe was talking about them afterwards. The camera crews were told to go on a break after Chet Helms decided not to let his band be filmed ‘for free’ and nobody protested it: after all, not many of the organisers even knew who they were. Given what was generally considered the ‘lowest’ slot on the middle day of three (second, after Canned Heat and before yet another future Janis boyfriend in Country Joe and his Fish), Big Brother were introduced, rather rudely, by Chet who recalled his ‘hitch-hikes across the country’ with band and singer and that they were ‘four gentlemen and one great great broad’ (both sides of that statement will be disputed in time!) The band though owned the stage with a well-controlled and disciplined yet still deeply exciting run through all sorts of songs, most of them originals. Intriguingly the band seem to have disowned their first and rather hurried album even before it’s out in shops (Columbia will pounce on the album after seeing the response the band get at this gig and buy the rights up) with only the opening song ‘Down On Me’ taken from there. ‘Harry’ too is an oddity, soon to be abandoned by the band, but which nicely shows off their playful side at this generally playful gig while ‘Roadblock’, attempted later in the studio, will be abandoned when the band can’t play it with quite as much flair as they did this day. The reason the band stand out, though, are the previews of songs to be heard on their second album ‘Cheap Thrills’, Sam’s ‘Combination Of The Two’ and the song’s lone cover ‘Ball and Chain’. Both are so stunning that the crowd, treated to folky frivolities on the Friday, are overjoyed at having something deep to sink their musical ears into – it seems odd that the blues brings so much joy, but makes much more sense when you see hear the performance and just what it means to everyone in Big Brother, not just Janis. The band are hastily brought back on the Sunday night too for a reprise, mostly for the sake of the cameras but partly so that the band can soak up the limelight. Janis, so in control on the Saturday, is in truth rather overwhelmed, but no matter: this is her festival and Big Brother’s and life will never be the same for her again.
4) Where: Stax/Volt ‘Yuletide Thing’, Memphis When: December 20th 1968 Why: First Gig Without Big Brother Setlist: Unknown, but gig from a month later includes: [93] Raise Your Hand [77] As Good As You've Been To This World [75] Maybe [63] Summertime [78] To Love Somebody 'You're The Only One Who Really Knows' [28] Walk Right In [81] Work Me Lord [64] Piece Of My Heart [66] Ball and Chain
It was probably a good idea for the still-unrehearsed Kozmik Blues band to make their debut when everyone was drunk and/or merry. As part of her agreement with leaving the band, Janis worked out all the previously booked Big Brother shows which ran right up until December 1st. That didn’t leave Janis long to rehearse and put the band together and early performances were rough in the extreme, with all-new songs to learn, all but one of which will appear on ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmik Blues Again Mama’ alongside three Big Brother favourites. To be honest, I haven’t heard one comment from anyone who remembers being at this soul review show, which suggests that most people – including the band – were too out of it to care. A second gig in a more sober setting the following night in a multi-band bill in Memphis was seen, though, and was widely panned. The January 1969 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine spent a whole article explaining how Janis had ‘lost it’ without Big Brother (a follow-up even refers to her as the ‘Judy Garland of rock and roll’, blaming her poor show – rather unfairly – on substance abuse) and the critical tide all followed. However the Kozmik Blues Band were better than reputation suggests: the bootlegs reveal that while the band were never tight, even in a Big Brother kind of a way, their highs got more frequent as the gigs went on and by the end of a sprawling 1969 tour (which took in Janis’ only European gigs) were turning into a very worthy band indeed. This is, you could say, the turning point in Janis’ career and it took her death to be the ‘critic’s darling’ again. Note the presence in the set-list of ‘You’re The Only One Who Really Knows’, a Nick Gravenites tune the band will perform at almost all their gigs but which won’t make the final album.
5) Where: Harvard Stadium, Boston, Massachusetts When: August 12th 1970 Why: Final Gig Setlist: [92] Tell Mama [99] Half Moon [102] Mercedes Benz [100] My Baby [74] Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) [75] Maybe [63] Summertime [87] Full Tilt
Astonishingly, both audio and pictures exist for what turned out to be Janis’ last live show – a gig which at the time was just one of many, a tour not ended so much as put on hold to enable the singer to work on ‘Pearl’ in the studio. A stunning set of photographs, seemingly taken from the front row, also exist and – together with the murky sound – they make for an eerie study. Did Janis seem more upset than usual? Was she visibly or audibly out of her head on booze and drugs? I’d say not. The Janis we have here has by now had four years of experience working a crowd and Janis is bursting with life and energy, ripping into the single best performance of ‘Tell Mama’ out there (odd that it didn’t make the final running order for ‘Pearl’, then) and her energy beaming out from even layers of murk on bootleg (and even the ‘cleaned up’ edition released as ‘Last Concert’). This is all the more astonishing given that the band have been delayed a couple of hours and the audience are restless – as the emcee announces at the start, the band’s equipment had been stolen the night before and they were hustling about trying to find new instruments. The band had been left to twiddle their thumbs backstage – an ad hoc stage that, weirdly enough, some of the audience up high could see (with comments from fans that Janis spent most of a ninety minute delay stock still, reflecting in her own head and spookily calm – the ‘little girl’ to Janis’ ‘pearl’ maybe). The Full Tilt Band do sound slightly rusty when they hit the stage, but Janis, the calm at the eye of the storm despite her vocal power and energy, is fully in command and rarely sounded better (Monterey?) ‘Yeah?’ she answers a heckler at one point. ‘I’ll take you on, one at a time if I have to!’ before launching into that famous cackle. Sadly the band only perform a short show, but then that was par for the course back in 1969 and Janis had it written into her contract that she only had enough energy to perform at her maximum for forty minutes. For once in her career Janis isn’t using the tour to plug a particular album – she already has big plans for ‘Pearl’ but is well aware that the album most fans can buy in shops is still ‘Kozmik Blues’ so we get a neat combination of both, with old favourite ‘Summertime’ the very final song that Janis ever sang (‘Full Tilt’ being a ‘play-out’ instrumental for her backing band). It’s a particularly thrilling performance, with Janis improvising a lot on a song she knows better than the others in the set (‘She’s so good looking to me babe, so no no no don’t ya cry!’ being her last words on stage).  We never wanted her to go – and she really shouldn’t have gone so soon – but it’s as good a way out as any. 

THREE KEY COVER VERSIONS:

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) The ‘difficulty’ with this book is that Janis didn’t write that many of her own songs – and those aren’t usually the ones covered. It’s also fair to say that even though Janis made songs like [64] ‘Piece Of My Heart’ and [66] ‘Ball and Chain’ her own, they were strictly cover versions of songs made famous long before she was born. We have, however, found three songs well worth listening to – including two originals and one song written for her by her friend Nick Gravenites and given to his ‘other’ band to sing instead...
1) [95] Buried Alive In The Blues (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, 'Better Days' 1973)
It’s a real shame that Janis never lived to record that one last vocal intended for the ‘Pearl’ album. I don’t think it’s just morbid fascination but I’ve always been fascinated by this song, which is effectively suicide by music and which would have been the perfect ‘coda’ to Janis’ career. You see, it’s also a fantastic song, with Nick Gravenites clearly understanding Janis’ personality in this angsty soul-bearing song about disappearing inside a dark hole unable to ‘laugh’ or live the life other mere mortals ‘do’. For all that, though, the arrangement of the backing track as released on Pearl (as [95b]) sounds as if Janis asked her musicians to put a ‘twist’ on the music, to make it into a happy-go-lucky comedy song despite itself, laughing at herself. Characteristically, her one time beaux is far more ‘po-faced’ and sings the tale as a lament, not suiting the song as well as Janis would, with a roar rather than a purr. Still, though, the atmosphere in the room is electric, with Janis having died only three years before, and some of Gravenites’ words are beery clever: ‘Sunday morning everybody’s in bed, I’m out in the streets talking out of my head, this old brick wall ain’t heard a word I said, I’m buried alive in the blues!’
2) [102] Mercedes Benz (Taj Mahal, 'Senor Blues' 1999)
Equally, I love the roughhouse but fun blues of Taj Mahal (but sadly discovered his music too late to give him a whole book of his own – maybe next time? If I can recover from doing this lot?!) His career started maybe a little too late for Janis to notice him (his big chance, as the opening act for the ‘Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus’ in December 1968 fell apart when that band decided they’d been upstaged by The Who and wouldn’t show their faces on TV that yuletide after all). Janis would surely have loved the fact that a respected black blues musician was covering one of her songs, but typically for Taj he doesn’t make things easy for himself and goes for ‘quirky’ over ‘authentic’ and even sings the first verse of this song a capella, showing just how rough and weathered his voice had become by the time of his fifties at the end of the 20th century. IT’s a very ‘Janis’ thing to hear what was once the biggest comedy moment in the Joplin songbook delivered as a full-on blues lament – but somehow, thanks to the respect of the singer for the material, it somehow works. The finger-picking behind the next two verses is sublime. 
3) [79] Kozmik Blues (Katie Melua, 'Live At The 02 Arena' 2008)
By contrast, I don’t generally think much of Katie Melua, who is to Janis what a whisper is to a roar and whose pretty, commercial tones are no match for raw power and feeling. And yet Katie’s had a run of cover songs recently, mostly from one of her many live shows, that prove that she can really ‘get’ this music when she tries. ‘Kozmik Blues’ is an incredibly hard song to sing – it has no chorus, not many words and a lot of pain, so for anyone to even attempt this song gets several marks in my book (this book?) Much more than that, though, Norah ‘lives’ this song, slowing it down even from Janis’ version and sounding as if she’s straining at the leash for life to ‘let her go’. Yes it’s a prettier version than Janis’ and can’t compare, with the vocal turning this into every other Katie Melu song out there. But that guitar sound, the chatterbox phrases (that go in such a different direction to Janis’ slowed down lines) and the gutsy roar into full power when Katie finally stops learning the song and sings it from her heart is powerful indeed. We might make a blues singer out of her yet...

Other Janis Joplin related articles from this website you might be interested in reading:
'Big Brother And The Holding Company' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/big-brother-and-holding-company-1967.html

'Cheap Thrills' (1968)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-24-big-brother-and-holding.html

'I Got Dem Ol' Kozmik Blues Again Mama!' (1969) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/janis-joplin-i-got-dem-ol-kozmik-blues.html

'Pearl' (1970)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/news-views-and-music-issue-102-janis.html
Non-Album Songs 1963-1970 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/janis-joplin-non-album-songs-1962-1970.html
Surviving TV Clips 1967-1970 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/janis-joplin-surviving-tv-clips-1967.html
Live/Compilation/Outtakes Sets 1965-1970 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/janis-joplin-livecompilationouttakes.html



 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Monkees Essay: A Manufactured Image With No Philosophies?


Well done, you made it to the halfway part of the book (or halfway through our 'music' section at any rate!) We can't give you a prize to celebrate I'm afraid, though you probably deserve one, but we can shake things up a bit by moving outside talking about our respective AAA bands' discography and moving on to what makes them stand out from their peers and offer something no other band can. In truth these essays kind of run across the whole book and you can read them in any order, but now we've reached the halfway point it's quite useful to take stock of where we've been and why before working out where we will go next. As far as The Monkees go it’s almost time to take the last Train To Clarksville already – but they’ll be back for three reunion projects to cme. The question is, which are the real Monkees to bring back – the ‘real’ bunch of musicians, the ‘fake’ television characters or the weird and uniquely subversive hybrid that existed towards the end of their original run?...
In these essays in the middle of these books we’ve been trying to look at what made a band unique and stand out, what made them special enough for me to want to get to know them enough to write a zillion words on each of them and why I believe they belong in this series. The Monkees is perhaps Alan’s Album Archives’ most divisive band. To some of our readers they’re the epitome of everything that went wrong with music and meant that we ended up (*shudder*) with The Spice Girls that they’ve been campaigning against for fifty years. For others they are the only manufactured group in history to overcome their origins, turn the tables on their creator and spend half their career laughing at the craziness of fame. When The Monkees sang on [  ] ‘Ditty Diego’ that they had a ‘manufactured image with no philosophies’ though they were clearly lying. I put it to you, dear reader, that The Monkees caused more subversism to the nation’s youth than any other band of the 1960s (even The Beatles), but that they did so in such a manner that they could get away with it at tea-time on Saturday nights (before Dr Who and after Jukebox Jury). How did they do it?
Well, The Monkees suffered from being the only group on our list that were dreamt up and marketed before they even existed. The infamous advert that started the whole thing was tailored to teenagers of that particular point in time (1965-1966): ‘MADNESS! Auditions: Folk & Roll Musicians & Singers wanted for acting roles in new TV series. Want spirited Ben Franks types. Have courage to work. Must come for interview’. That’s pretty specific in as much as any short job advert can be – nowhere does it say that the producers want rebels, philosophers, free-thinkers, radicals or even musicians (the four Monkees were hired as four actors who could sound right saying the lines and didn’t look too daft with instruments in their hands). However the subversion is already there is you know where to look for it: if you’re wondering who Ben Franks is, I don’t think they mean the rugby player or the philosopher but the coffee house on Sunset Boulevard where post-beatnik pre-hippie teenagers used to hang out. It is, not coincidentally, the site where hippie rebellion first took flight in a big way against the law with the famous ‘sunset strip riots’ of 1967 when teens were fed up of following a city curfew and Ben Franks refused to cut their twenty-four-hour opening times (and as references in Mike Nesmith song [  ] ‘Daily Nightly’ and TV episode ‘Find The Monkees’). It’s probably not a coincidence too that the place was named after American president Benjamin Franklin, but in a shortened slang-heavy version of his name that made him more hip and contemporary. There was a feeling amongst 1960s American youth culture that the adults had somehow got society ‘wrong’ : Vietnam was still raging, Korea had just finished, they had been born into World War Two and lived under the threat of conscription. They also lived in a land that was changing societal rules everyday – women were slowly edging closer towards equality, civil riots were slowly gaining coverage and mafia and gangs were slowly fading out. The 1960s was in many ways an era that lied to itself (and itself from the inside) when you scratch under the surface and realize exactly what was happening, but at it’s best was a hopeful time that anything could happen and that things could change. The Monkees, by being the group aimed at the youngest audience of rock and roll and pop fans, was central to this in a way few people realized (except perhaps Frank Zappa, who saw them as counter-culture rebels and the perfect starting point for anarchy, which is why he appeared in both their TV series and their one and only feature film).
There’s a difference here already. To get The Monkees on our screens Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider effectively sold this series to Screen Gems as a cute series to hook teenagers that wouldn’t scare the mums and dads away and with a huge marketing potential for tie-in records. They agreed to use tried and tested (and very 1950s sounding) producer-writers in Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, brrtought on board 1950s expert Don Kirshner (who was, truth be told, more than a little confused by the new 1960s model of teenager) and most of the staff writers on the TV series came from the world of sitcoms and music hall, not the music worlds (lead writers Dee Caruso worked for The Smothers Brothers and Gerald Gardner worked for Red Skelton, while they both worked for secret agent comedy ‘Get Smart!’ – other writers Jack Winters worked for The Dick Van Dyke Show and Treva Silverman – one of the first women scriptwriters in the business – worked for The Mary Tyler Moore Show). The people making this show are from yesteryear (actually they were all in their thirties at their latest, but in a decade when things changed by the week this made a lot of difference) and the youngest people were Bert and Bob in their late twenties. It’s not exactly an attempt to get youth onto screen the way it really was by using young people to write. Interestingly it’s the directors who buck the trend (James Frawley ends up working for The Muppets and gets his directorial debut with ‘The Royal Flush, making him surely one of the only directors to ever get an Emmy award nomination for his first completed piece of work) and the cast.
The Monkees was set up so that everything around them could be safe and stable, something that elder generations could understand (which is why so many of their jokes come straight out of The Marx Brothers, who in their day were every bit as subversive as The Monkees’ first season). But they weren’t: Bert and Bob could oh so easily have cast famous actors in the four main parts. The Monkees themselves spoof the sort of thing an ‘adult’ version of The Monkees might have become in ‘Head’ when Davy is going out with sweet Annette Funicello and worrying about making enough money as a violin player. It could have been awful – and that’s where ‘The New Monkees’ (a sequel launched in the 1990s) went wrong: somehow things had changed by then so the 1960s was the era of the adults and rather than be allowed to be teens from the 1990s they were often the ‘oldest’ people in the room (the show isn’t actually that bad but compared to the original is like comparing the original TV series and film re-make of ‘Bewitched’, The Monkees’ closest on-TV predecessor in terms of jokes and youthful energy). But they didn’t: The Monkees were four unknowns. They could have been you watching at home. Indeed, the cleverness of the series is that they were probably exactly like you watching at home at a time when The Beatles inspired everyone to start a band and yet not everybody couldbe lucky enough to make a living at it.
That in itself is huge and the entire ‘philosophy’ The Monkees were centred around. Nobody on television was representing this particular generation whose main drives weren’t always sex and gang warfare as before but music. The ideal wasn’t being a sportstar, a politician or a purtlizer prize winning writer but to be on stage with The Monkees (or date one of them). Putting something on television is a subversive act if it’s something that has never been seen before. There’s a reason Hitler spent so much of the Nazi annual budget on films even at a time of great depression: he wanted people who didn’t understand him to see the re-actions of people who did and feel they were missing something. There had never been a series before The Monkees where the youngsters were the heroes, not the punchline for a joke about long haired layabouts. What’s so brilliant about the first TV series and to some extent the first two albums is that The Monkees manage to straddle the line of beinbg just cute enough for the parents to buy them or watch them – and cheeky enough for the children to want to. There are so many additional first in the series too: it’s easy to forget now every programme is twice and quick and fast but the cuts made between scenes must have been incredibly tiring for a viewer at the time of a certain age – and incredinbly exciting for their offspring (The Monkees generally used twice as many camera shots as other programmes of the day). The music ‘romp’ scenes too are quite unlike anything ever seen before (if you somehow missed ‘A Hard Day’s Night’) and felt so different and fresh. Filmed on the hoof by a young unknown cast and shot by unknown hungry directors, it’s a radical re-think of how TV programmes were made and particularly on screen rather than in the studio The Monkees was a genuinelty daring pioneering programme that at least half of the shows on today owe something of their DNA to, if only for the directors and programme-makers who were inspired by it.
The brilliance too is in the casting which manages to give a little something for everybody: Davy is cute – but they don’t try to soft-soap his very 1960s teen outlook; Mike is responsible and in charge – but that doesn’t stop his character butting heads, thinking he can do better and running for mayor over crooked politicians or fighting for justice; Peter is sweet and silly, but also very mystical and doing his own thing, as early as the first episode ‘proper’ where his belt buckle is out of line to everyone else’s; Micky is groomed as the perfect teen hearthrhob with the gorgeous voice – but he’s also wildly unpredictable, so that you never know what he’s going to do next. The Monkees, especially in 1966, is a triumph of getting the mixture just right between what will work on television in 1966 and what will work with audiences. The Monkees’ production team stumbled out it remarkably quickly too, although in retrospect it’s no surprise the oddly angular and unlikeable characters in the pilot went down so badly on first viewing (the characters are much sharper in ‘The Royal Flush’ where instead of being introduced the programme makers assme we’re already friends and that we’ll ‘catch up’). It worked too: across 1967, when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones got too heavy and serious, The Monkees outsold them both combined – the only act to outperform on the charts round the world that year was, err, the cast of ‘The Sound Of Music!
Then the big revolution of 1967 happens and the world’s critics get the odd idea that The Monkees aren’t a real band but hired actors (no shit Sherlock: that’s why they had auditions!) and The Monkees stop being cool. The confusion comes from a variety of sources though that the programme-makers probably couldn’t have predicted. There had never been a series quite like The Monkees before and nobody quite knew what the rules were. At the same time The Monkees were aping a band and a movement for whom authenticity was king – it’s no surprise that the bands who actually lasted, rather than being a short-lived craze, were the ones for whom music was a matter of life or death. For The Monkees in the series too music was a serious matter of life or death. Plus the band were unknowns who used their own names rather than stage ones (though Micky was supposed to be ‘Micky Braddock’ until the elevbenth hour, his acting nom de plume from the ‘Circus Boy’ days). Musicians came from nowhere and somehow ended up as actors (just look at A Hard Day’s Night) so surely this was the same? But of course it wasn’t. The Monkees was an artificial construct, as opposed to simply using a real existing group of musicians who already played together because that’s not how the programme was sold – it was intended at first to be a programme about the 1960s youthful revolution shot from the outside, not experienced firsthand from the inside.
The revolution where The Monkees took back control from Don Kirshner, with Bob and Bert letting them, was perhaps the bravest thing any TV cast has ever ever done. Micky compares it to ‘Leonard Nimoy becoming a Vulcan’ after years of telling us it was like ‘Pinocchio realy becoming a little boy’. It’s the first time that fictional creations had attempted to become ‘real’. And The Monkees philosophy changes overnight: they are no longer made for younger teenagers who think they’re cute but for slightly older, even more subversives. Parents aren’t meant to love The Monkees of the second TV series the way they do the first series. The scripts become full of improvised jokes about drugs and sex and see guest appearances from Frank Zappa and Charlie Smalls (one of the first black people to appear on TV in a documentary segment that wasn’t *about* black musicians and their colour or ‘subversive music’). The Monkees act more like themselves, from their hair to their clothes to their improvised remarks to the fact that they have a bigger hand not just in the music but the scripts (with one episode written by Micky) and direction (with Micky and Peter both in charge for episodes). This is actually a bigger revolution: Leonard Nimoy, Vulcan or not, didn’t start filming all things Star Trek until the 1980s and no other cvast had as much imput into their acting work as The Monkees did. The problem, though, is that the revolution happened so fast on TV that the production team aren’t ready for it yet: there aren’t legions of fans who’d grown up on The Monkees and wanted to write for them and there were no other junior writers, so the establishment figures were instead asked to write ‘groovier’ and The Monkees lose the balance they once had.
Things are easier going in the music world. The musician half of The Monkees (Mike and Peter) had been trying to get more involved from the beginning and Nesmith especially had been producing sessions from almost the minute The Monkees were cast. Faced with letting The Monkees become a rejected con in the same way Milli Vanilli were twenty years later, Bert and Bob sensibly let The Monkees prove just how much they can do. They got lucky. The odds are huge against four people hired as actors with some musical background also being great composers and before The Monkees only Mike had ever tried (with varying success). Somehow The Monkees became four talented composers all with their own distinct styles. All four would have individually been heralded as the big creative voice in any band formed around them – The Monkees got four (even Davy, the last to start writing, becomes arguably the best by the time of the split in 1970). They went out on concert tours where they actually played their own instruments in front of millions of fans (and sounded a lot better than many bands in the 1960s too). They made albums where they played every single note except a tiny bit of bass work and some strings were by them and them alone (far less outside work than that used by, say, The Beatles) and then came clean on the back sleeve. They started picking the material – and a subversive lot it was too. Until 1968 Harry Nilsson couldn’t get a song placed with any act because he was seen as a bit too daring and revolutionary – [  ] ‘Cuddly Toy’ one of his most subversive songs about a gangbang with The Hell’s Angels and a biker chick, ended up on both album and in the TV series. [  ] ‘DStar Collector’, about a groupie looking for sex, ends up being sung by teen idol Davy. [  ] ‘Zor and Zam’ is the cry of a generation – two fat Kings nobody voted for in an endless feud where everybody suffers until the population dodge the draft and refuse to turn up. Tork comes up with [  ] ‘For Pete’s Sake’ in which a whole generation have got to be free and that peace, love and understanding will win (back in the vaults Peter’s [  ] ‘Lady’s Baby’, about how sex results in children when you really love somebody, is also daring as hell for 1968). Micky comes up with a song named [  ] ‘Randy Scouse Git’ – something even The Beatles wouldn’t dare use – and later [  ] ‘Mommy and Daddy’, a song that I still consider one of the most ground-breaking songs by any act (especially in the unreleased version, but also the censored one, with it’s cries to ask teenagers and pre-teens to see through their parents’ fakery and to ask uncomfortable questions about American Indians and The Wild West, about pills, about JFk’s assassination and wars). Even Davy gets into the act with [  ] ‘War Games’ as classy an anti-war protest song as anything The Monkees’ competitors were writing.
Somehow that still wasn’t seen as enough though. The Monkees had been sold so spectacularly as something ‘safe’ that elder potential fans couldn’t see past the marketing strategy. Younger fans too dropped The Monkees like a hot brick for the most part when the music papers (and their older siblings) decided that if they didn’t play their own instruments they couldn’t be ‘cool’ (even though The Beach Boys and The Mamas and Papas didn’t either and nobody ever mentioned that; oh and as well as making twice as many records as most bands The Monkees also filmed fifty-six TV shows in a two year period – over one a fortnight. It’s a wonder they found the time to make ‘Headquarters’ by themselves).
What bothers me is that The Monkees never pretended to be anything other than what they were. Watch enough TV series and you soon get the jokes that this is an artificial construct (more on that in our essay on The Monkees and postmodernism here) – the scriptwriters all live in a hut and don’t speak English while being ordered to write by a man with a whip, the series being born out of perspiration not inspiration; the director often gets involved asking for the cast to do something differently; the stage-hands and prop dressers often get involved – they’re even introduced to the viewer in the Christmas episode. The big one though and the revolutionary bit that people miss is the invention of the ‘one minute short’ segments that appeared almost from the first (when ‘The Royal Flush’ was genuinely under-running) . Putting the characters aside, we see real questions asked to real people and see a whole new side to The Monkees: Peter is suddenly much more serious, Mike much more angry and Micky much shyer (only Davy ‘fakes’ his character self for many of the chats). The subjects covered range from what they got up to between filming sessions (proving they have a life) to the impact of their sudden fame (proving they are different to the characters of the show) to the generational divide (something nobody was speaking about on television – and certainly not on the side of the kids). Nowadays every programme seems to have its own outtakes section (something else Shrek nicked from The Monokees, along with the humour and ‘I’m A Believer’!); none did before The Monkees where reality and fiction live hand in hand with each other. Even on the records The Monkees were one of the first to include un-posed shots of people actually making music (headquarters) or that mentioned the songwriters involved proudly on the back covers (see Don Kirshner’s rolecall on ‘More Of The Monkees’, an odd thing to do in retrospect at the height of the ‘don’t play their own instruments’ backlash).
This is one of the great ironies of our times, with The Monkees dismissed as being irrerverent and philosophy free pap pop not worth listening to. The Monkees, in their new-look period, had reached the point where they encouraged to be outright revolutionaries. There has never been nor will there ever be a TV show as astonishing as ‘The Monkees In Paris’ (in which The Monkees get fed up of always doing the same old jokes and take off for an episode long romp set to music, before coming home to do the same thing all over again – complete with a genuine outtake thrown in where an elder guest star gets stroppy over their unprofessionalism). There has never been music as groundbreaking as ‘You and I’, where Davy actiuvely taunts his audience for making him yesterday’s news and moving on to a new face. And there will never, ever be another ‘Head’, where a supposed pop act use their last throw of the dice (with the funding for the film so far ahead it couldn’t be pulled) to attack everything fake:Hollywood, the music business, the way TV shows are made, societal norms, war as something real rather than a sport and ultimaterly the band themselves who try so hard to break free and even commit suicide to escape their fate, but still somehow end up as props carted away to the warehouse at the end of the film (‘33 and a Third too’,m the biggest difference being that this latest production team clearly hate The Monkees too – Head still loved them). Far from being a fake and empty bit of pop, The Monkees are as real as any band that doesn’t exist can be and as revolutionary as any show on at tea-time on a Saturday can be. Anyone who doesn’t get that or thinks The Monkees aren’t a ‘proper’ band who ‘count’ as anything other than marketing frolics is so badly missing the point.
That’s left a problem though. The Monkees keep returning because their audience want them so badly – in 1976, 1986, 1996 and err 2012 (I had money on a reunion in 2006!) But what Monkees ought to return? For the most part it’s the original fictional Monkees as they were created: teenage heart-throbs still trying to get a job (the music videos for ‘Pool It!’ like [  ] ‘Heart And Soul’ get this spot on as three Monkees wake up after twenty years in a freezer to find they need to make a music video – and the low budget video for [  ] ‘Every Step Of The Way’ is exactly what ‘our’ Monkees would have made; less so in ‘Episode 761’ which just has The Monkees stuck where they always were until the end – when suddenly this infamously penniless band is suddenly popular and remembered with a love and respect that doesn’t quite fit). On stage too The Monkees generally play with an outside band and sing the songs they did in their early years (which must have sucked no end – especially for Peter who once gave us [  ] ‘Can You Dig It?’ and [  ] ‘Long Title’ and finds himself back to singing [  ] ‘Your Auntie Grizelda’ for a living). But even then The Monkees sneaked a bit of extra in: amongst the hits and the regular tours are ones like the four-way one in 1996 (when The Monkees played every single note themselves again, garage band style) and 2002 (when, minus Mike, Peter became the band’s de facto music director and they started doing rarer, more unusual and more adult material). The most recent reunion, 2016’s ‘Good Times’, is an odd hybrid – half the time The Monkees are their cute younger selves updated for the 21st century; at other times gthey’re the subversive band they were in 1969 before fate – and lessening record sales – took them right back to where they started, with Micky and Davy singing other people’s cutesiepie pop songs for a living. The Monkees career is a rollercoaster ride and fans of one era don’t necessarily like the others. However one thing no one can ever claim (if they are looking) is that this is a band who were manufactured behind the image – or that they had no philosophies. The Monkees had several, the most notable being to always be authentic and true to yourselves in life – even if, as a band or as hired actors to be a band, they couldn’t.

Other Monkees articles from this site you might be interested in reading: 
'More Of The Monkees' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/more-of-monkees-1967.html

'Headquarters' (1967)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-10-monkees-headquarters-1967.html

'Pisces Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD' (1967)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-18-monkees-pisces-aquarius.html

'The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees' (1968)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/news-views-and-music-issue-34-birds.html

'Head' (1968)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-27-monkees-head-1968.html

'Instant Replay' (1969)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/news-views-and-music-issue-64-monkees.html

'The Monkees Present' (1969)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/news-views-and-music-issue-148-monkees.html

'Changes' (1970)  
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-95-monkees.html
‘JustUs# (1996) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/the-monkees-justus-1996.html
'Good Times!' (2016) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-good-times-2016-or-are-they.html
'Only Shades Of Grey' : The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/university-dissertation-monkees-in.html
Auditions, Screen Tests and Pre-Fame Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-monkees-auditions-and-screen-tests.html
Surviving TV Clips http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-monkees-surviving-tv-clips.html
The TV Series - Season  One (19966-1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/the-monkees-tv-series-season-one-196667.html
The TV Series - Season Two (1967-1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-tv-series-season-two-1967.html
'HEAD/33 and a third Revolutions Per Monkee/Episode #761' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-head33-and-third.html
Monkee Sidetrips: The Boyce and Hart Catalogue http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/monkees-side-trips-boyce-and-hart.html
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1967-1975
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-livesolocompilation-albums.html
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1976-1986
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-livesolocompilation-albums.html
Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1987-2014 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-monkees-livesolocompilations-part.html