Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Minus 5: “Of Monkees And Men” (2016) CD Review

When I think of the bands that have had the biggest impact on my life, The Monkees have to be at the top of the list (well, second to the Grateful Dead). They were my first favorite thing, years before I listened to the Dead, even before Star Wars, even before baseball. And in a year that has already given us a new Monkees studio album (which is really good, by the way), we now get Of Monkees And Men, the new CD from The Minus 5 (though actually this album was previously released on vinyl as part of a Record Store Day exclusive box set). Obviously, The Monkees had some impact on Scott McCaughey, the leader of The Minus 5, too. Of Monkees And Men features not Monkees covers, but songs about The Monkees written by Scott McCaughey. Scott plays the majority of the instruments on this disc, but is joined by other members of this loose group, including Peter Buck and Joe Adragna. I am seriously enjoying this album. The CD cover is also pretty cool, being a play on those teen magazines, and very specifically 16 Magazine, which featured The Monkees on its cover several times.

Each of the four members of The Monkees gets a song on this album. “Michael Nesmith” is more in the folk and country realm, certainly fitting for a song about Michael Nesmith. There is some good pedal steel by Tucker Jackson. This song is great long story (more than nine minutes), opening with these lines: “Michael Nesmith was a fine young man/Took up a guitar in big Texan hands.” And yes, it does mention that famous hat from the television series. It also contains a reference to “Circle Sky” (“And he dreamt of a circle surrounded by sky”), and even contains a little nod to the Solid Gold dancers. And check out these lines: “You choose what to write like you choose a wife/An alternate version of your own life/Accept all the blessings along with the wrath/Veer on and off of each spiritual path” (with the reference to his alternate name, Michael Blessing).  My favorite lines, however, are: “The difference between begging and praying/Between going home and never staying.” Scott adds some nice work on harmonica. And there is even a playful nod to the length of the song: “He told a long story that was almost too long/Ran out of air as he finished the song.”

Davy Jones’ song, “Davy Gets The Girl,” is a sweet-sounding, kind of funny song referring to how in the television series David Jones always got the girl. This song also contains references to a couple of the songs Davy Jones sang in the band, including “I Wanna Be Free” (“He wants to be free, but that’s not the way it’s going to be”) and “Daydream Believer” (“And he believes in all of her daydreams”), as well as a reference to his appearance in an episode of The Brady Bunch (“Saved the day for Marcia Brady”). By the way, he also appeared in the absolutely wonderful 1995 film The Brady Bunch Movie, sort of poking fun at that episode. The backing vocals on this track always make me laugh, echoing “Davy.” Laura Gibson provides the backing vocals here.

Scott McCaughey delivers a somewhat more trippy tune for Peter, “Song For Peter Tork,” with a sound a bit like that of the Velvet Underground. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You find something new but don’t forsake the past/You can play the blues, folk songs, and rock ‘n’ roll/Sing in a choir, try to satisfy your soul/And it works, yeah it works, when you keep on working.” Scott also directly mentions “For Pete’s Sake” (the song used in the closing credits in the show’s second season) in the line “For Pete’s sake, keep on working,” and the follows it with a line from that song, “Love is understanding.” And then Scott adds some banjo toward the end, which is a perfect touch.

“Micky’s A Cool Drummer” contains a “Randy Scouse Git” reference right at the beginning, in its drumbeat. This is a fun song that includes a nod to that hi-hat swipe from “Last Train To Clarksville.” It mentions Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon, who played drums on many of the album tracks (though not on Headquarters, which according to a line of this song is Scott’s favorite Monkees record). There is also a humorous play on the “walk a mile in my shoes” idea with the line “Never criticize a man/Until you’ve walked a season in his TV show.” There is also a direct reference to “Mary, Mary” in the lyrics.

This CD also contains a song about the songwriters. Well, two of them anyway – Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote songs like “Last Train To Clarksville,” “She,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Words” and “Tear Drop City.”  “Boyce And Hart” is not only about their Monkees material, but mentions how they are singers and musicians too, with albums released on A&M with songs like “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” It also refers to their appearance in episodes of I Dream Of Jeannie (“Jeannie The Hip Hippie”), Bewitched (“Serena Stops The Show”) and The Flying Nun (“When Generations Gap”).

Those five songs made up the record’s first side. The second side contains songs not about The Monkees. However, “Blue Rickenbacker” does refer to The Byrds, The Kinks, The Who and The Move. Peter Buck plays a 12-string guitar on that track. Dennis Diken is on drums, and Mike Mills is on bass. By the way, the version on this CD is remixed, and so different from that on the vinyl release. “Robert Ryan Is Among Us” is about the actor who appeared in films like The Naked Spur, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch. I really dig the organ on this track. Ezra Holbrook plays drums on this one. And then “Richmond Fontaine” is a really good song about a Portland band. “We feel the light and darkness all the time/We feel the light and dark at the same time.” The CD concludes with “Weymer Never Dies,” a song about a music-lover, with the feel and power of a eulogy at a service. “What special tune was in the room, what harmony in his head/When he last laid himself down on that Lynnwood motel bed/I ask myself why I wasn’t there, but you know, I just wasn’t/And when it’s going to stop hurting, but you know, it just doesn’t.” Scott plays mellotron and harpsichord (among other instruments) on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Michael Nesmith
  2. Davy Gets The Girl
  3. Song For Peter Tork
  4. Micky’s A Cool Drummer
  5. Boyce And Hart
  6. Blue Rickenbacker
  7. Robert Ryan Is Among Us
  8. Richmond Fontaine
  9. Weymer Never Dies 
Of Monkees And Men is scheduled to be released on August 19, 2016 on Yep Roc Records.

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