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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Monkees' GOOD TIMES! The Bonus Tracks, The Second Guesses


 http://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_640x430/public/monkees_lead.jpg

As a quick addendum to my recent review of The Monkees' cool new album Good Times!, let's also mention the bonus tracks available in different editions of the album.

The standard 13-track CD of Good Times! is as widely available as that great radio hero Chickenman:  It's everywhere!  It's everywhere!  The digital download album adds two exclusive bonus tracks, "Terrifying" and "Me & Magdalena [Version 2]," to create a 15-track digital album.  The FYE-exclusive CD is 14 tracks, adding one exclusive track called "A Better World."  There is also a 14-track Japanese pressing of the CD, which includes the exclusive track "Love's What I Want."  There is no single version that collects all 17 tracks in one place.  Dag. Nab. It.  A forthcoming Barnes & Noble vinyl package will come the closest, with the 13-track album on LP and an exclusive 7" 45 rpm single of "Love's What I Want" and "A Better World," but still skipping the two digital-only tracks.  Monkees is the root of all evil.

So.  Bonus tracks.  Any good?

LOVE'S WHAT I WANT:  A relative few have heard it thus far, but this is just terrific, a surefire pop single in search of a sympathetic AM radio. It was written by XTC's Andy Partridge (who also wrote the impossibly bubbly 'n' beguiling "You Bring The Summer" for the standard Good Times!), it was produced by Andrew Sandoval (who served with nonpareil distinction as the majority and minority whip on the whole Good Times! project), and it features former Monkees producer-songwriter Bobby Hart (of Tommy Boyce and...) among the studio players.  But I agree with the decision to leave it off the album itself; it doesn't quite fit in.  It is, however, a simply incredible non-album track that's gonna see significant playtime on the Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) music-blastin' contraption (and on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio!)

A BETTER WORLD:  Trying not to let my anger with the local FYE (who refused to let me reserve the damned thing, which was sold out the morning of its official release) affect my objectivity.  Soulless bastards.  Screw 'em.  The song sucks.

Pause.  Breathe.

Okay, that was cathartic.  But honestly, this is the weakest track we've heard in the whole project.  Written by Peter Tork's brother Nick Thorkelson, and sung by Nick Thorkelson's brother Peter Tork, it's an earnest but bland song with good intentions.  Tork's voice has improved over the years--no, really--but this just doesn't move.  And it's not bad, but it's not nearly the equal of either of the Tork-sung tracks on the standard-issue Good Times!

TERRIFYING:  On the other hand, the Zach Rogue-penned "Terrifying" is really good, and it should have been on the regular album.  Not sure what I'd sub out from the standard 13 tracks, but this is just so nice and easygoing, from its casual Beach Boys vibe and characteristically charismatic Micky Dolenz vocal to the sympathetic backing from Monkees 2.0:  Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, with Adam Schlesinger, Mike Viola, and Brian Young.  Given Michael and Peter's instrumental contributions, this would have been the closest to a Headquarters-style band number on Good Times!

ME & MAGDALENA [VERSION 2]:  This faster-paced version of the Good Times! album track suffers only in comparison to the now-familiar contemplative majesty of the version we heard first.  Some have pointed out (correctly, I think) that Version 2 is more akin to what we know as The Monkees Sound, but Version 1 imbedded itself deep into my brain on first listen, and that makes it tougher to embrace this more sprightly reading.  This is a very rare case of me preferring a slower rendition to a faster one.  Version 2's case isn't helped by the fact that I've pretty much convinced myself the song isn't an understated love story, but a sad chronicle of an older couple about to be separated by illness and mortality:  Tell me, Magdalena/What do you see in the depths of your night?/Do you see a long-lost father?/Does he hold you in the hands you remember as a child?...Me and Magdalena/Always leaving early, and sleeping late...But know everything lost will be recovered/When you slip into the arms of the undiscoveredYep; better start buying sympathy cards in bulk. And Version 2 is too peppy to support this theory (though it earns bonus points for sharing some musical DNA with The Velvet Underground, as my This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn pointed out to me).  Let there be no doubt that we're fortunate to have both versions!

Some of my Monkee Fan brethren and sistren have been eager to second-guess the choices made in assembling Good Times! (particularly, it seems, regarding the Davy Jones track); that's their prerogative, the evil Wizard Glick be darned.  I'm not all that interested in messing too much with an album I already love as is.

But I'm human; henceforth, "Terrifying" is part of the album as I see it--much like "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" and "All Of Your Toys" are added to my custom version of the Headquarters album--while "Love's What I Want" is the one I'll spin over 'n' over again as if it were a fave 45 in my ol' vintage Close-N-Play.  I'll play the other bonus tracks, too--I already like "A Better World" more than I did last week, and "Me & Magdalena" is like the hot First Runner Up everyone wants to sleep with. I'll continue to let Good Times! provide the soundtrack to what it promises: good times, with The Monkees.

A bit later this summer, after my initial rush of gushing enthusiasm for Good Times! has an opportunity to stabilize, I'm going to attempt to see where I think its best tracks stand in the Monkees canon.  Toward that end, I'm going to compile a hypothetical two-disc Monkees anthology--with the working title Walking Down The Street--as a summary of The Monkees' recording career.  My only ground rule will be that the collection must include at least one track from each Monkees album--yes, even Pool It! and Justus--and that it would have to fit on two CDs.  It will be unburdened by any specific need to cover all the hits, or all the singles, or this, or that, or the other.  It may wind up having the hits, and the singles, and the yadda, and the yadda, but I won't know that until I'm done.  Oughtta be fun, and I hope it inspires a zillion playlists!  And I wonder how much of Good Times! will be represented. 

C'mon--who hasn't slept with Magdalena?


Monday, May 30, 2016

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 828: The Monkees, and GOOD TIMES!



Good Times!, the new album from The Monkees, was released last week.  I can't remember the last time I felt as much anticipation and enthusiasm for a new album release, and I'm so happy to say that the album lives up to all hopes and expectations.  I know 2016 isn't even half over yet, but I can't see how any forthcoming release could possibly prevent Good Times! from being my Album Of The Year.  Nothing can erase the toll this year's parade of mortality has taken on our collective pop psyche, but it's nice to finally have something to celebrate--wholeheartedly!--in this dismal year.

In addition to The Monkees, we also found time for new music from The Romantics (new single, covering The Animals and The Monkees!) and Clockwork Flowers (new six-song EP Colours Vol. 2:  Blue), and our usual embrace of giddy, exuberant rockin' pop.  Good times?  We'll take 'em!  This is what rock 'n' roll radio sounded like on a good-time Sunday night in Syracuse this week.  This show is now available to download:  http://westcottradio.org/archive/rock_n_roll_radio_2016-05-29.mp3

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org

My review of Good Times!http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-good-times-review.html

My blog on the first single, "She Makes Me Laugh":  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/04/she-makes-me-laugh-monkees-us-singles.html

On "You Bring The Summer," and a girl I knew somewhere:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-bring-summer-girl-i-knew.html

On "Me & Magdalena":  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-monkees-me-and-magdalena.html

And TIRnRR when Davy Jones passed in 2012:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/05/this-is-rock-n-roll-radio-davy-jones.html

TIRnRR # 828:  5/29/16:  Good Times!

THE RAMONES:  Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)
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THE MONKEES:  Birth Of An Accidental Hipster (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Me & Magdalena (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Love To Love (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  You Bring The Summer (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Wasn't Born To Follow (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  She Makes Me Laugh (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Terrifying (Rhino, Good Times! [digital release])
THE MONKEES:  I Was There (And I'm Told I Had A Good Time) (Rhino, Good Times!)
--
THE MONKEES:  Love's What I Want (Rhino, Good Times! [Japanese release])
THE GO-GO'S:  We Got The Beat (IRS, Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go's)
THE FORTY NINETEENS:  Disguise (thefortynineteens.com, Rebooted)
XTC:  Life Begins At The Hop (Virgin, Upsy Daisy Assortment)
VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE:  Don't Call Me Baby (London, Let It Bee)
SQUEEZE:  Another Nail In My Heart (A & M, The Squeeze Story)
--
THE ROMANTICS:  Daydream Believer (K-Tel, single)
THE BEE GEES:  Spicks And Specks (Reprise, Spicks And Specks)
THE SEARCHERS:  Hearts In Her Eyes (Raven, The Sire Sessions 1979-80)
THE BEAT:  Walking Out On Love (Wagon Wheel, The Beat)
LULU:  To Sir, With Love [Museum Outings Montage] (Retroactive, VA:  To Sir, With Love OST)
KIRSTY MacCOLL:  They Don't Know (IRS, Galore)
--
CLOCKWORK FLOWERS:  This Hopeful Town (Clockwork Flowers, Colours Vol. 2:  Blue)
THE FACES:  Stay With Me (Warner Brothers, Stay With Me)
PRINCE:  Let's Go Crazy (Warner Brothers, The Hits/The B-Sides)
CLARENCE CARTER:  Slip Away (Flashback, Slip Away And Other Hits)
THE MONKEES:  A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (Colgems, single)
BOW WOW WOW:  I Want Candy (Sony, Playlist)
--
THE RICHARDS:  Five Personalities (Kool Kat Musik, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
THE JAM:  Beat Surrender (Polydor, Direction Reaction Creation)
RONNIE DARK:  Sarah (Kool Kat Musik, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
THE RAMONES:  Do You Wanna Dance? (Rhino, Rocket To Russia)
1.4.5.:  Your Own World (Beautiful Sounds, Rhythm n' Booze)
JOEY RAMONE & GENERAL JOHNSON:  Rockaway Beach (Rhino, VA:  Godchildren Of Soul)
--
THE MONKEES:  Our Own World (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE BEATLES:  Rain (Apple, Past Masters)
THE MONKEES:  Love Is Only Sleeping (Rhino, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.)
RABBITT:  Locomotive Breath (Floating World, Boys Will Be Boys)
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS:  Who'll Be My Keeper (7T's, Elevator)
SHAUN CASSIDY:  Hey Deanie (Curb, Greatest Hits)
--
THE ROMANTICS:  We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (K-Tel, single)
RONNIE SPECTOR & THE E STREET BAND:  Say Goodbye To Hollywood (Epic, single)
THE MONKEES:  Pleasant Valley Sunday (Rhino, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.)
TODD RUNDGREN:  I Saw The Light (Rhino, The Very Best Of Todd Rundgren)
THE MONKEES:  Sunny Girlfriend [Acoustic Remix Of Master Vocal] (Rhino Handmade, Headquarters Sessions)
THE BENT BACKED TULIPS:  Sweet Young Thing (eggBERT, Looking Through...)
--
THE KINKS:  All Day And All Of The Night (Essential, Kinks)
THE RATIONALS:  I Need You (Rhino, VA:  Nuggets)
THE MONKEES:  Gotta Give It Time (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Sometime In The Morning (Rhino, More Of The Monkees)
THE MONKEES:  Valleri (Rhino, The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees)
THE MONKEES:  The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Rhino, Music Box)
THE MONKEES:  Good Times (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Me & Magdalena [Version 2] (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE MONKEES:  Porpoise Song [instrumental mix] (Rhino Handmade, single)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tonight on THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO

Good Times!  We hear The Monkees have a brand new album out.  We hear it's supposed to be pretty good.  We should probably oughtta play sumpin, right?  Oh.  We.  WILL!  We'll also have more brand-new music from The Romantics and Clockwork Flowers, and we'll have Micky, Michael, Peter and Davy.  Your Good Times! start and end Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO: Davy Jones

As we all continue to dig Good Times!, the fabulous new album from The Monkees, we also remember the Manchester Cowboy Davy Jones, the departed Monkee to whom Good Times! is dedicated.  Here is our playlist and commentary for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl the week of Davy's passing in 2012.


                             

Hello again from This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, your self-appointed source for The Best Three Hours Of Radio On the Whole Friggin' Planet.  Last Sunday's show was dedicated to our Davy, the late David Jones.  We played a plethora of Davy-sung delights, including solo tracks and a track by Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart (and even one credited to Mickey [sic] Dolenz & Davy Jones), but focusing primarily on Davy's work with one of our all-time favorite pop combos, The Monkees.  

(I am tempted to launch into a full-blown diatribe about myopic cretins who still stubbornly, stupidly refuse to give The Monkees their just due in rock 'n' roll history, but I'm just too tired and cranky to form the words right now.  The Monkees should be in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.  And The Monkees will NEVER be in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, ever; never mind the group's enormous and prevailing impact on rock 'n' roll and pop culture, the enduring appeal of their terrific recordings, their unparalleled role in bringing 1960s counterculture to the mainstream via their own weekly TV hijinks, and their pioneering use of rock video.  In the minds of the hipper-than-thou, The Monkees are forever tainted, unworthy, because they were a made-for-TV, manufactured pop group that didn't even play their own damned instruments.

Please. 

Why not apply some of these bogus litmus tests to a few other pop icons?  Let's see:  a teen idol that doesn't write the songs or play on the records?  Fine--no reason for Elvis Presley to be in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, either.  A manufactured band, assembled by management with little regard for musical ability?  Dude, that's The Sex Pistols.  A group sold to the public via shrewd marketing and image manipulation?  The Beatles AND The Rolling Stones, and that's just for starters.  Let's also dismiss all the vocal groups who neither wrote nor played on their recordings, including every Motown act except Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, along with groups like The Yardbirds and The Animals who wrote next to none of their stuff.  Man, it's starting to get lonely in here!

And then toss out all of the above nonsense, and consider the fact that The Monkees transcended all these petty quibbles anyway.  They did write songs (especially Michael Nesmith).  They did start to play on their records.  They did exert some control over their destiny.  Like Pinocchio before them, the puppets became real:  The Monkees became a band.  And, for one final exercise in absurdity, remember that Pet Sounds--rightly considered by many to be the greatest album ever made--was recorded by Brian Wilson and...studio musicians.  The Monkees were more of a real band on their Headquarters album than The Beach Boys were on Pet Sounds

I would say more, but I'm too busy singing to put anybody down.  RIP, Davy.)

THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org.

TIRnRR # 619:  3/4/12

THE RAMONES:  "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" (Rhino, End Of The Century)
THE MONKEES:  "Kellogg's Jingle" (Rhino, Missing Links, Vol. 3)
--
DOLENZ, JONES, BOYCE & HART:  "I Remember The Feeling" (Varese Sarabande, VA:  The Songs Of Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart)
THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS:  "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)" (MCA, All The Leaves Are Brown)
THE SWEET:  "Fox On The Run" (Capitol, The Best Of Sweet)
THE GRASS ROOTS:  "Let's Live For Today" (Rhino, Anthology)
THE MONKEES:  "Every Step Of The Way" (Rhino, Pool It!)
METHODIST BELLS:  "Undercover" (www.methodistbells.com, A 1000 Miles Of Turpentine)
--
THE MONKEES:  "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (Colgems, single)
THE MONKEES:  "Iranian Tango" [from THE MONKEES TV series]
HERMAN'S HERMITS:  "There's A Kind Of Hush" (Abkco, Retrospective)
LAURIE BIAGINI:  "A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World" (n/a, A Go-Go Girl In A Modern World)
JACKIE LOMAX:  "Sour Milk Sea" (Apple, VA:  Come And Get It)
THE MONKEES:  "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (Rhino Handmade, Summer 1967)
THE BEATLES:  "I Want To Hold Your Hand" (Apple, Anthology 1)
--
DAVY JONES:  "Girl" (Bell, single)
THE SEEKERS:  "Georgy Girl" (EMI, Ultimate Collection)
JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS:  "Love Is Pain" (Blackheart, I Love Rock 'n' Roll)
THE SMALL FACES:  "Lazy Sunday" (Snapper, The Definitive Collection)
THE MONKEES:  "Love To Love" (Rhino, Missing Links, Vol. 3)
PETER NOONE:  "Oh, You Pretty Things" (EMI, HERMAN'S HERMITS:  Singles Collection)
--
THE MONKEES:  "You And I" (Rhino, Instant Replay)
THE SMALL FACES:  "Song Of A Baker" (Snapper, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake)
THE MONKEES:  "Star Collector" (Rhino, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.)
THE SONICS:  "Have Love Will Travel" (Norton Busy Body!!!)
FREDDY MONDAY:  "I Want To Be Your Davy Jones" (iTunes)
TROLLEY:  "I Woke Up" (Easter, Things That Shine And Glow)
--
THE MONKEES:  "I Never Thought It Peculiar" (Rhino, Changes)
THE STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK:  "Incense And Peppermints" (Rhino, VA:  Summer Of Love)
THE MONKEES:  "Daddy's Song" (Rhino, Head)
R.E.M.:  "Begin The Begin" (IRS, Lifes Rich Pageant)
THE MONKEES:  "I'll Be True To You" (Rhino, The Monkees)
THE BEACH BOYS:  "Sloop John B" (Capitol, Pet Sounds)
--
THE MONKEES:  "Forget That Girl" (Rhino, Headquarters)
THE SMALL FACES:  "Get Yourself Together" (Snapper, The Definitive Collection)
MICKEY [sic] DOLENZ & DAVY JONES:  "Do It In The Name Of Love" (Rhino, THE MONKEES:  Changes)
THE YARDBIRDS:  "A Certain Girl" (Rhino, Ultimate!)
DAVY JONES:  "Who Was It?" (MGM, single)
BENNY SPELLMAN:  "Fortune Teller" (EMI, VA:  Crescent City Soul)
--
THE MONKEES:  "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) [TV version]" (Rhino, More Of The Monkees)
THE BENT BACKED TULIPS:  "Sweet Young Thing" (eggBERT, Looking Through...)
DAVY JONES & CHARLIE SMALLS:  "A Girl Named Love" [from THE MONKEES TV series]
SAM COOKE:  "Chain Gang" (RCA, The Best Of Sam Cooke)
THE MONKEES:  "Looking For The Good Times" (Rhino, The Monkees Present)
THE COASTERS:  "Poison Ivy" (Zoom, Rollin' With The Coasters)
--
THE MONKEES:  "Look Down" (Rhino, VA:  Missing Links, Vol. 3)
BILLY J. KRAMER & THE DAKOTAS:  "Bad To Me" (EMI, The Definitive Collection)
THE MONKEES:  "Cuddly Toy" (Rhino, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.)
THE SEEDS:  "Pushin' Too Hard" (Rhino, VA:  Nuggets)
THE MONKEES:  "I Wanna Be Free" (Rhino Handmade, Summer 1967)
THE KINKS:  "Susannah's Still Alive" (Sanctuary, The Ultimate Collection)
THE MONKEES:  "Early Morning Blues And Greens" (Rhino, Headquarters)
BIG STAR:  "In The Streets" (Big Beat, VA:  Thank You, Friends)
THE MONKEES:  "Valleri" (Rhino, The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees)
THE MOPTOPS:  "Christine" (Not Lame, VA:  Full Circle)
THE MONKEES:  "Daydream Believer" (Rhino, The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees)
BIG STAR:  "September Gurls" (Big Beat, VA:  Thank You, Friends)
THE MONKEES:  "Outro" [from THE MONKEES TV series]
THE MONKEES:  "The Girl I Left Behind Me" [backing track]

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Monkees: GOOD TIMES! review

Heh--my first album review in well over a decade.  The Monkees brought me out of retirement!
 http://www.monkees.com/sites/default/files/the-monkees-good-times-cover-art-final-1200x1200.jpg



In the novel Glimpses by Lewis Shiner, the protagonist develops the power of time travel, but a very specific sort of time travel:  he is able to travel back in rock 'n' roll history, and he tries to help artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors complete works that were left unfinished in the real-world timeline.  Our hero's crowning achievement is shepherding Brian Wilson through the completion of The Beach Boys' unrealized 1967 masterpiece Smile; returning back from '67 to the novel's present-day setting, the now-completed Smile is released, and is embraced by fans worldwide as an unexpected, enduring source of pure joy and happiness.

Don't worry:  no one's going to compare Good Times!, the new 50th anniversary reunion album by The Monkees, to the mythical 1967 Smile, nor even to Brian Wilson's 21st-century version.  But the above scenario is pertinent to today's discussion, for one simple reason:  just as Smile caused pop fans in the novel to rejoice, The Monkees' new album likewise inspires a delighted grin, a smile that grows wider and wider upon repeated listening.   Good Times!  Never has an album been more aptly named.

It's a gift we may not have really anticipated.

Many of us know this story by heart:  The Monkees were formed in the mid-'60s by neophyte TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who cast singin' actors Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones alongside singin' musicians Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork as the titular struggling rock 'n' roll combo in a new weekly television series; the series debuted September 12, 1966 on NBC.  Music mogul Don Kirshner was brought in to make Monkee music, bringing with him songwriters and session players, and directing the TV show's four young stars to sing, Monkees, sing!  The records sold.  And sold.  And how!  A # 1 single, "Last Train To Clarksville."  A # 1 album, The Monkees. Another # 1 single, "I'm A Believer."  Another # 1 album, More Of The Monkees. Buoyed by success, but chafing under Kirshner's control, The Monkees sought a more active role in their musical efforts, and were allowed to play on their recordings, and given a (somewhat) larger say in their fortunes.  More great and even greater records followed, but the TV show ran its course; after the dismal box office failure of The Monkees' bitter, brilliant feature film Head, The Monkees' pop success faded.  Tork left.  Nesmith left.  In 1970, Dolenz and Jones killed the lights on their way out, too.  The TV show's two seasons were rerun again and again, across the course of generations.  There was a partial reunion (without Nesmith) in the late '80s, and all four regrouped in 1996 for a new album, TV special, and a brief UK tour; both reunions ended in a flurry of bickering.  Dolenz, Jones, and Tork returned for an acclaimed 2011 tour that embraced The Monkees' vast recorded legacy as never before.  Jones passed away in 2012.  To the surprise of...well, everyone, Nesmith rejoined Dolenz and Tork for a fantastic reunion tour in 2012-13.  Nesmith eventually withdrew from touring again, leaving Dolenz and Tork as The Last Monkees Standing (and Touring).

This was the state of Monkee affairs when word of a 50th anniversary reunion album leaked in February of 2016.  The questions came unbidden:  Would Nesmith participate?  Hell, would Tork?  Would it be a glorified Micky Dolenz solo album?  Would it be any damned good at all?  And how could these blasphemers presume to do this without the late Davy Jones?!

The answers arrived in a slow-cooked stew of guerilla hype and sly rumors let slip.  By the time of its release, we knew that Good Times! would be prepared under the auspices of Monkees superfan Andrew Sandoval and producer Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains Of Wayne and That Thing You Do! fame).  The album would be a mix of new recordings--including songs written by each of the surviving Monkees, as well as songwriting submissions from XTC's Andy Partridge, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Hibbard, and the Britpop Modgasm pairing of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller--with unfinished (and now finished!) '60s stuff from the vaults.  Micky, Peter, and Michael were involved; Davy would be represented by a remixed 1967 recording, with new backing vocals from Micky and Peter.

This could have been a recipe for a big ol' mess.  Instead, Good Times! has a good shot at being the best pop album of 2016.

Good Times! starts and ends with explicit exhortations of good times to be had and good times to be remembered.  The album opens with a title track written by the late Harry Nilsson; the track is actually Nilsson's 1968 demo of the song, with Nilsson's 1968 voice dueting with present-day Dolenz, a potentially scary prospect that avoids being ghoulish by just being so much freewheeling fun. You can feel Dolenz's affection for his departed friend in every loose 'n' swingin' hoot and holler.  The album closer, "I Was There (And I'm Told I Had A Good Time)," co-written by Dolenz and Schlesinger (based on Dolenz's oft-told anecdote of being at a bacchanalia with The Beatles), likewise swaggers with satisfied pride in all the gusto grabbed along the way.  It's not strictly essential, but it's not a throwaway, either.  Perhaps that's the nature of good times.

And in between those two tracks?  Oh Lordy--Good Times! is just magic.

Micky Dolenz--one of the most underrated pop singers of the rock 'n' roll era--is given three brand-new pop confections, all made with real sugar, and they're irresistible.  Andy Partridge's "You Bring The Summer," Rivers Cuomo's "She Makes Me Laugh," and Adam Schlesinger's "Our Own World" are light and sunshiney in all the right ways, as if More Of The Monkees had been made in 2016, and someone found a way to beam its tracks directly into the radio that plays inside your head.  "Radio-ready" is one of this blog's favorite phrases, describing perfect pop music that is so pure as to be undeniable, the stuff you wish you were listening to right now on a car radio turned up way too loud. Man, pop tunes don't come any more radio-ready than these.  Speaking of More Of The Monkees, Dolenz also gets to sing two songs that date back to that 1967 album:  the Jeff Barry/Joey Levine "Gotta Give It Time" is a sturdy garage-pop nugget, its backing track completed in 1967 by the Kirshner hit machine, now with newly-added vocals by Dolenz (and uncredited backing vocals by Nesmith); Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's "Whatever's Right" was also submitted for The Monkees in '67, but this is an all-new recording (with Hart himself joining in on vocals).  At 71, Dolenz can still bend a pop tune to his will like no other can, and all five of these tracks (plus the two "Good Times" celebrations) give him ample opportunity to do so.

Peter Tork was never The Monkees' key singer, but he acquits himself quite well on his two tracks. The first is "Little Girl," a song Tork originally wrote as a follow-up to "I Wanna Be Free," a popular Davy Jones-sung ballad from The Monkees' eponymous debut in 1966. While Jones never quite got around to recording a version of "Little Girl," Tork's all-new rendition is amiable and likable.  But Tork's lead on the Carole King/Gerry Goffin "Wasn't Born To Follow"--a track begun in the studio in 1968, with added vocal by Tork in 2016--is an understated triumph, one of the best performances that Tork has ever given on record.

Still, it's Michael Nesmith who ultimately puts Good Times! over the top.  His own song "I Know What I Know" is disarming, quietly mesmerizing, uncluttered, and fascinating--yet it's still somehow the least among the three tracks with Nesmith lead vocals.  Ben Gibbard's "Me & Magdalena," with harmony and counterpoint vocals from Dolenz, is full of hope and/or heartbreak--one is never quite sure which--but the song just aches with love's promise and life's compromise; regardless of whether the song reflects the heart's ongoing victory or an imminent, devastating loss, it is unforgettable.  The album's tour de force is the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster," where Nesmith's co-lead vocals are again complemented by Mr. Mick.  This track certainly calls to mind Gallagher's old band Oasis, but it sounds equally like THE Great Lost Monkees track.  It would have fit in well on 1968's The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees album; it would have fit in well on the soundtrack of Head.   It's a freakin' psychedelic pop masterpiece, and it may be one of the all-time greatest tracks to ever bear The Monkees' brand name.  Make no mistake:  if Good Times! had been completed without this track, it would still be a terrific album, maybe a great one; the inclusion of "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster" tosses that "maybe" away, and ensures that yes, Virginia (and Sandra, and Mary, and Valleri, and Fern), The Monkees have indeed made a great album in 2016.

The late Davy Jones is represented on Good Times! by Neil Diamond's superb pop song "Love To Love,"  which was recorded in 1967 but unreleased until the '80s.  Its inclusion here is curious; it's certainly a wonderful track, one of Jones' best, but it's hardly a rarity.  Although this is its first appearance on a proper Monkees album, the track has been on compilations and repackages galore.  It is slightly remixed for Good Times!, with Davy's original double-tracked lead vocal stripped to a single track, and with new Micky and Peter backing vocals on the chorus.  So yeah, an odd choice. Still, a great song's a great song. "Love To Love" had a circuitous path to get here, but it's a nice remix, and none should complain about it finally taking its rightful place on an actual Monkees album.

As a 50th anniversary celebration, Good Times! was specifically designed to include key figures from The Monkees' history.  There are The Monkees themselves, of course (including Davy), plus songwriters Boyce & Hart, King & Goffin, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and "I'm A Believer" producer Jeff Barry, the late "Fast" Eddie Hoh (drummer on much of The Monkees' best album, 1967's Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.), and even Don Kirshner is sorta represented by the 1967 studio musicians performing on "Love To Love" and "Gotta Give It Time."  Notable MIAs would be songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who wrote "Shades Of Gray" and "Love Is Only Sleeping"), and especially Chip Douglas, who produced both of The Monkees' best '60s albums, Headquarters and Pisces, and played on them as well. Douglas played an enormous role in The Monkees' emancipation in '67, and it would have been a kick to see him involved in here somehow.

Reunion albums are tricky, especially if it's a reunion of a group you loved a long, long time ago.  There have been a handful of interesting reunion records by '60s groups--The Animals' 1977 album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted comes to mind, as well as The Beau Brummels in '75, and The Beach Boys' more recent That's Why God Made The Radio--but you'd be hard-pressed to find many reunion albums that could truly stand shoulder-to-shoulder among any group's best-loved work. Hell, until now, you'd be hard-pressed to find one.  But Good Times! pulls it off--unexpectedly, miraculously, and convincingly--and can be considered right alongside the much-loved records The Monkees made in the '60s.  Even its sequencing evokes the arc of The Monkees' original recording career, from the prefab, peerless pop of the earliest tracks, skipping the self-contained hey-hey-we're a-rock-band of Headquarters, but running full-force into a contemporary Pisces, Birds & Bees, and Head, even subtly suggesting a post-1968 version of The Monkees if Tork had stayed in the fold.

With its mix of studio hotshots (particularly Schlesinger, guitarist Mike Viola, and drummer Brian Young on the new Dolenz-sung tracks) and bona fide contributions from The Monkees themselves, the album's approach recalls the heyday of the Pisces record, mixed with a bit of the ol' Golden-Eared Kirshner More Of The Monkees method on Dolenz's sugarpop tracks.  "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster" then builds a bridge to the psychedelic heights of Head, and the whole damned thing should just make you gleefully, willfully giddy.  If this is The Monkees' swan song, they'll go out on top.  If they do more in the future...well, that would be welcome, welcome news.  Good times?  GREAT times.

Oh, and next stop?  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  What on God's green earth is there still left for The Monkees to prove?  We're believers, anyway.
 

10,000 Miles High: The Monkees, Batman, and BRIGHT LIGHTS!


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Forgot to mention that this blog passed 10,000 views last weekend, largely due to Monkees fans who've followed links to get here from Monkees Live Almanac and the Steve Hoffman forums.  Anticipation for The Monkees' new album Good Times! has reached a fever pitch, and for good reason.  I've been listening to it non-stop all week, and it will be the subject of Friday's blog post--my first album review in over a decade!  As I started writing the review, I hoped the process would be like riding a bike, and it was--I fell off several times, just like the last time I rode a bike.  Consistency!  Nonetheless, the review is nearly done, and should be posted tomorrow.  (SPOILER ALERT:  I like the album a lot.)

For those thinking of attending our July 3rd  BRIGHT LIGHTS! Syracuse New Wave Rock 'n' Roll Reunion, please be advised that tickets are on sale NOW, and are going fast.  As noted previously, this is a smaller venue than the 2014 show, so a sellout before the day of show is a real possibility.  The show takes place at Funk N' Waffles' downtown Syracuse location, 307-313 South Clinton Street.  Show starts promptly at 7pm, with sets by Tom Kenny, The Flashcubes, Screen Test, The Trend, The Dead Ducks, Maura & the Bright Lights, and a tribute to the late Norm Mattice, performed by The Richards:  guitarists Paul Armstrong and Mark Doyle. bassist Steve Steele, drummer Ed Steele, plus a special guest vocalist who'll be familiar to fans of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl--and no, it's not Dana & Carl!  We are the on-stage hosts, though, and we will be making a short appearance with one of the other acts on the bill.  You can't miss this one!  Sunday, July 3rd at Funk N' Waffles downtown, where all the lights are bright!  Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door (if available), so get 'em here.

The day after I posted my Batman-Aquaman pulp story The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, which was my love letter to Bronze Era (aka 1970s) DC Comics, DC Comics rolled out  DC Universe Rebirth, which is itself a love letter to past eras of DC Comics.  As a fan who still buys comics every week, I've been put off by a feeling that DC doesn't care for middle-aged nerd...um, readers, so I've been buying DCs with less and less frequency.  On the evidence of DC Universe Rebirth, I'm guessing DC missed me, and wants me back.  And if this book is an indication of what I can expect from DC in the near future, then I'm ready to try 'em again. 

(Incidentally, if you like this blog, do me a favor:  check out that Batman story linked above, and tell me what you think.  My attempts at fiction don't get a lot of traction or attention; I'm delighted that my pop music punditry resonates with folks, and I'll continue with that, but I'd like to hear feedback on the fiction stuff, too.  Honestly, I thought the Batman story was among the best things I've ever written, and it may just lie outside the wheelhouse of people who visit here (or it just may be not as I good as I think it is), but the only comment I got about that story was from my lovely wife.  And she has to like me--I pay the car loan!)

Awright--done whining for now.  Review of The Monkees' Good Times! tomorrow!  Lessee if I can get this damned bike to stay upright.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

UNFINISHED AND ABANDONED: Pop Compilation CDs

Unfinished And Abandoned digs deeeeep into my unpublished archives, and exhumes projects that I started (sometimes barely started) but abandoned, unfinished. I am such a quitter.

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Some years back, after I'd written the liner notes to Rhino's compilation Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s (a compilation which I did not assemble), an independent record label contacted me about putting together some pop compilation CDs.  The intent was to create compilations that would be commercial, aesthetically viable, and economical (i.e., the tracks could be licensed cheaply, ideally avoiding major labels).  Nothing ever came of any of this; I did my part, so I guess it's not exactly something that I abandoned.  Here are the notes I submitted for these proposed compilation CDs. 

POP SAMPLER (which is in dire need of a catchier title).  The vague parameters I had in mind were mid-to-late '70s/early '80s pop and power pop, though I fudged it on several tracks.

1.  DWIGHT TWILLEY:  "I'm On Fire [unreleased live version]"  This is an unconfirmed possibility, but Twilley's office has indicated that such a track might be available.  (Tracks by the original Dwight Twilley Band, featuring the late, great Phil Seymour, would apparently not be available due to the usual legal yada yada yada.)  This is certainly worth further investigation.  

2.  BIG STAR:  "In The Streets" (aka "That '70s Song")  Cheap Trick is covering this as the new theme song for TV's That '70s Show.  We might be able to use Big Star's studio rehearsal version, found on Norton's recent Nobody Can Dance CD.  Failing that, perhaps we could use the live version from Big Star's Live CD on Rykodisc (though the Norton track is far better).

3.  BADFINGER:  "Baby Blue"  Live version from Rykodisc's Day After Day CD.

4.  THE ROMANTICS:  "Little White Lies"  The Romantics' debut indie single from 1978, still owned by the band and never reissued.  It kicks, too.  (The single's B-side, "I Can't Tell You Anything," is also worth considering.)

5.  THE PLIMSOULS:  "A Million Miles Away"  Single on the Shaky City label, originally distributed by Bomp!  This could probably be licensed from Plimsouls guitarist Eddie Munoz or perhaps through Bomp!
6.  THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES:  "Shake Some Action [U.K. single version, 1976]"  This is a completely different version of the song, recorded a year later than the familiar title track of the group's first LP for Sire.  This has never been issued in the U.S., and it may or may not belong to Sire--it was originally a demo for Capitol, actually, but Capitol passed on it, and Sire did eventually release it as a single.  I'm listing it here in hope that it's available for us, but I'm resigned to the probability that we ain't gonna get it. 
                                    --OR--
            "Shake Some Action" (live version from Live at the Whiskey A-Go-Go '79 album, issued by Lolita in France, 1985)
                                    --OR--
            "You Tore Me Down"  The first single released by Bomp!

7.  THE FLASHCUBES:  "No Promise"  My favorite power pop band (so their inclusion on this CD would basically be my tip, I guess), with their best-ever recreation of the Raspberries sound.  There are two versions of this available, one of which was included on the group's Bright Lights CD.  I'd opt for the earlier version instead, but either one's great.

8.  THE RAMONES:  "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend"  Pre-Sire demo side, presumably available from Marty Thau.

9.  BLOTTO:  "I Wanna See The Monkees (I Wanna Be A Lifeguard)" Alternate version of the group's best-known tune, with different lyrics, done for NYC radio (WNEW, I think?).  I wouldn't place any firm wager on a clean copy of this still existing, but it's worth a shot.  Could also use "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" and/or "When The Second Feature Starts," though I see both of them as better choices for a New Wave Summer CD.

10.  THE NERVES:  "Hanging On The Telephone" (indie EP track, 1977).  Song later covered by Blondie, written by The Nerves' Jack Lee.  The other Nerves were Peter Case (later of The Plimsouls) and Paul Collins (later of Paul Collins' Beat).  Rhino licensed this from Jack Lee for the Come Out And Play power pop anthology in 1993.

11.  SHOES:  "Tomorrow Night"  1978 Bomp! single.

12.  MARSHALL CRENSHAW:  "Something's Gonna Happen"  1981 12" single for Alan Betrock's Shake label.

13.  20/20:  "Giving It All"  Bomp! single.

14.  THE SMITHEREENS:  "Got Me A Girl" (from Girls About Town EP, 1980).  From the group's self-released debut EP.

15.  THE dB'S:  "Black And White"  This was originally a 1980 single on Shake, and was subsequently used on the group's first album--not sure if the single and LP tracks are identical. 

16.  THE BARRACUDAS:  "I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again" From the 1981 Voxx LP Drop Out With The Barracudas.

17.  THE MOSQUITOS:  "That Was Then, This Is Now"  Title track from the Mosquitos' 1985 Valhalla EP, and the original version of the tune redone to Top 20 success by the reunited Monkees in 1986. 

18.  PAUL COLLINS:  "Walking Out On Love"  This was credited to The Breakaways (which also featured Peter Case, Collins' ex-partner in The Nerves who went on to form The Plimsouls) when Bomp! exhumed it for its Roots Of Powerpop CD.  It was credited to Paul Collins solo when first issued in '79 on Bomp!'s Waves, Volume One anthology, and was subsequently redone by Collins' next group, The Beat, for their debut LP.  And that's probably more information than you actually need. 

19.  PEZBAND:  "Stop!  Wait A Minute"  (from 1978 Laughing In The Dark LP on Passport).  Rhino licensed this from band member Mike Gorman for Come Out And Play.  Gorman is currently a member of Off Broadway, who recently released a live album on the NMG label outta Phoenix.

20.  THE REAL KIDS:  "All Kindsa Gir" (Sponge single, 1977; re-recorded for Red Star LP, 1978).  Either version's cool.

21.  THE SCRUFFS:  "Teenage Girls" .  Originally a 1978 single on the Power Play label, this was more recently the title track of a Scruffs CD issued by Northern Heights.  

22.  ROY LONEY AND THE PHANTOM MOVERS:  "Steppiní Around"  Former Flamin' Groovies frontman, from his 1989 The Scientific Bombs Away!! LP on Norton.

23.  THE POPPEES:  "If She Cries"  1975 Bomp! single.

24.  THE SPONGETONES:  "(My Girl) Maryanne" (from 1984 Torn Apart EP on Ripete).  This was reissued by Shoes' label Black Vinyl on the Beat And Torn CD just a few years back

25.  THE RAVES:  "Every Little Bit Hurts" Recorded early '80s, eventually released on the Past Perfect Tense CD.  Very Beatley! 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

CHEAP TRICK.  I suppose this is # 1 on our wish list, but they spent the bulk of their career on Epic, so there might not be much that's suitable for our needs.  They're basically independent now, though, and they're still a killer live group, so perhaps there's a recent live version of "Surrender," "I Want You To Want Me," or "Dream Police" that we could snag.  Ken Sharp might know....

THE KNACK.  I've been e-mailing some folks regarding the possibility of a live "Good Girls Don't" or (if we must) "My Sharona," but have gotten no response.  


THE RASPBERRIES  The group's pre-Capitol demos exist, and are said to be pretty good (though they don't include any of the group's best-known tunes).  I've gotten nowhere in my attempts to find out more about these; again, maybe Ken Sharp has some ideas.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS Real long-shot, especially since the recently-reunited group is getting set to wage legal war on Arista and their former manager.  However, there was a Japanese-only release in the mid-'80s called Live In Japan, and that may be available from the band itself. 

THE RUBINOOS  I think Disney owns Beserkley now, so we'll probably forget about licensing studio tracks.  Live tracks, maybe?  I can contact Tommy Dunbar's wife for further inquiries.



NEW WAVE SUMMER 

1. BLOTTO:  "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard"  From 1980 indie EP. 

2. BLOTTO:  "When The Second Feature Starts"  1981 single.

3. THE B-52's:  "Rock Lobster"  Original 45 version, though I haven't heard it in years and don't remember the label.  Yeah, a fat lotta help I am....

4. DAVE EDMUNDS:  "London's A Lonely Town" You may know the story on this Tradewinds cover better than I do--I've never actually heard it, only heard of it.  I think this surfaced on one of the original Pebbles albums, and never elsewhere. 

5. CHRIS STAMEY AND THE dB'S:  "The Summer Sun"  Rhino licensed this from Stamey for the Come Out And Play sampler.

6. KYLE VINCENT AND TOMMY DUNBAR, FEATURING SCOTT McCARL:  "On The Beach"  Stretching things a bit to call this "new wave," but I'll settle for pop guy Vincent joining forces with The Rubinoos' Tommy Dunbar and The Raspberries' Scott McCarl on a Raspberries cover.  Originally recorded for a Raspberries tribute (and, incredibly, not used on that trib), this has only appeared on Pop Under The Surface, Volume Two, a pop sampler from Sweden's Yesterday Girl label.  Kyle's fans are vocal and loyal, and their support would be A Good Thing.

7. THE ROMANTICS:  "Let's Swing"  Originally issued on a Bomp! sampler album called Waves, reissued by Bomp! on a cash-in Romantics mini-LP or something shortly after the group's first album was released.  It hasn't been heard from since.

8. THE BARRACUDAS:  "Surfers Are Back"  From the Bomp! album Drop Out With The Barracudas.  Alternate track:  "Summer Fun," a British hit single from the same album.

9. THE BARRACUDAS:  "His Last Summer"  Also from Drop Out With The Barracudas.

10. THE B-GIRLS:  "Fun At The Beach"  Bomp! single.

11. THE TEARJERKERS:  "Syracuse Summer"  Terrific application of the Brian Wilson treatment in tribute to the mercurial climate of Central New York.  Written by The Flashcubes' Gary Frenay. 

12. EUCLID BEACH BAND:  "There's No Surf In Cleveland"  Eric Carmen-produced gem, released on the Cleveland International label.  I have a feeling Sony owns this, but it's not definite.

13. THE RAMONES:  "Surfin' Safari"  Released only on the Japanese version of their Acid Eaters album.  Available?  Well...I'd bet not.  It'd be a shame to do a New Wave Summer set without including The Ramones--"Rockaway Beach" and "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" are obvious choices here--but it may be beyond practical control. 

14. THE LAST:  "Every Summer Day" From their debut LP on Bomp!

15. THE FLASHCUBES:  "Muscle Beach"  From the group's Bright Lights anthology.  Actually not one of their best numbers, but still energetic as hell and good for our purposes.

16. THE SMITHEREENS:  "Girl Don't Tell Me"  Beach Boys cover from The Smithereens' debut indie EP, Girls About Town.  Never reissued.

17. RODNEY AND THE BRUNETTES:  "Little GTO"  Bomp! single, with L.A. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer backed by Blondie.

18. THE SEX PISTOLS:  "Holidays In The Sun" (demo)

19. BLONDIE:  "In The Sun" Is there a pre-Private Stock/Chrysalis version of this?!

20. THE FLESHTONES:  "B.Y.O.B."  From ROIR/Red Starí' Blast Off! album.

21. THE DICTATORS:  "I Live For Cars And Girls"  If the studio take can't be had, is there a live version available?  ("California Sun" would also be good.)

22. THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES:  "Sealed With A Kiss" (from 1992 Rock Juice album on Michael Goldberg's National Records label, which was affiliated with Heyday

23. THE RATTLERS (WITH JOEY RAMONE):  "On The Beach"  Hey, a Ramone makes it in!  1979 single on the Ratso label--Rattlers frontman Mickey Leigh is Joey's brother.  This was re-recorded (without Joey) for the group's 1985 Rattled LP, and the subsequent CD reissue includes the single's B-side but not the original version of the A-side.  There might even have been a legal problem with using Joey's vocals--which would, of course, suck.  

2016 POSTSCRIPT: As noted, nothing ever came of any of this.  I was also hired by BMG to compile a Buddah Records bubblegum compilation, a project which was also stillborn (though at least I got paid for that one).  Ultimately, it turned out that if I wanted to put together a pop compilation CD, I'd have to take more direct action.  The first This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation was issued commercially in 2004.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze

                                         
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I may be prouder of this than I have any right to be.  In the 1970s, when I used to fill notebooks with vague notions of things I wanted to write, one of my ideas was for a story in The Brave And The Bold, a DC Comics title that teamed Batman with different guest-stars from the DC Universe.  At the time, it never got past the title:  Batman and Aquaman in "The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze."  Many years later, I wrote a quick prose version of the story and posted it in a comics discussion group.  I liked the way it turned out, and figured I'd return to it someday and flesh it out.  Now, I have.

I don't think there's any current commercial market for short-form Batman prose fiction; if Warner were still publishing Batman short story collections, I'd submit this in a heartbeat.  In my mind, I can see illustrations by the late Jim Aparo, intermingling with my over-the-top purple pulp prose.  I can't begin to tell you how much fun this was to write. If you're a fan of Bronze Age DC Comics, and any of this makes you think of Steve Englehart or Denny O'Neil, then I did my job.

All characters are copyright DC Comics.  Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger.  Aquaman created by Paul Norris. Poseidon's Labyrinth is all me. 


Snow fell heavily on Gotham City, a white blanket that covered all without concealing the grit and grime beneath it.  As even the snow itself was engulfed by the dark shadows of Gotham's twilight, the city's denizens of night came out to play...and to prey.

At Gotham's docks--never the safest part of town, even at high noon on a sunny, summer day--the evening shroud of darkness further emboldens its scavengers, its predators...the lawless, amoral element who break the law and victimize the weak, the good, and the innocent impartially.  Criminals. Gotham's greatest citizen knows them well:  a superstitious, cowardly lot.  They think themselves fierce and mighty, fearless, beyond the reach of the law. But they fear him. Oh, how they fear him.

On this evening, a family from out of town--from some faraway place that was safer, saner--found itself separated from its tour group.  The man, the woman, and their young son, all of them so far removed from any familiar surrounding, blundered into the wrong place at the wrong time, the worst time.  Already nervous, scared, they were surrounded without warning.  The chill air of the docks was nothing compared to the cold dread that gripped them as a gang of five thugs circled them, demanding money, demanding tribute, demanding blind terror, laughing and scowling at this poor family's plight. The mother clutched her son. The father did his best to shield his loved ones from harm, and to surrender his wallet to these assailants, but knowing with sick certainty that would not be enough to satisfy these four evil men.

Wait.  Four evil men?  Hadn't there just been five of them?

With a gurgled scream, that fifth attacker crumpled to the pavement, bruised and beaten, entering a long, painful slumber that could not be described as the sleep of the just.  His four companions exchanged a miserable glance through the glittering, grimy snow--they knew. They'd lived in Gotham long enough to know, and to abandon hope.  They would resist.  They would fight.  But their battle was already lost.

A phantom of black and gray moved among them, striking too quickly to be real.  Two more fell to the ground, their weapons scattered, their bodies wracked with pain.  Another tried to run, but stopped short as a black-gloved hand reached out from nowhere, gripped his throat like a vise, and then a black fist sent him into unconsciousness as well.

Only one of the thugs remained.  Still armed with a knife, buoyed by the false bravado of his own desperation, the criminal lurched toward the boy and his mother, seeking hostages.  It was the stupidest thing he had ever down in his misspent life.  For now, he had drawn the ire, the anger, of this relentless wraith of vengeance.

His weapon was gone before he knew it.  His intended victims were beyond his reach, before he knew it. He stood alone, face to terrible masked face, with the cold fury of The Batman!

The last thug fainted.  It was a mercy he did not deserve.

With the brief battle over, The Batman's grim stance shifted, softened.  He turned his attention to the family he'd rescued.  No longer a figure of swift and merciless justice, The Batman transformed into an angel of mercy, tending to this family, making sure they were unharmed, unafraid.  He knew, firsthand, the awful cost criminals could inflict upon a family. More than anything else he ever did--more than solving the evil conundrums posed by The Joker or The Riddler, or the coy charade he played with The Catwoman, and even more than saving the universe itself alongside his friends in the Justice League of America--The Batman had dedicated himself to protecting the innocent.  He remembered well the ache of innocence lost.  He became The Batman to prevent that sort of loss, to make sense of the senseless, whenever and wherever he could.

The distant wail of sirens drew closer--help was on the way.  As The Batman looked up into the cold, dark Gotham sky, he saw the symbol that horrified criminals and gave a light to those that needed light in a blackened, brutal city:  The Bat-Signal.  Commissioner Gordon had summoned him.  His work here at the docks was done for now.  Evil had been vanquished, its perpetrators taken into custody, their intended victims now safe and sound with the help of arriving police and EMS workers.  The Batman disappeared into the snowy night.
--
In the undersea realm of Atlantis, the royal family's mood was sad, brooding, a simmering cauldron of pain and regret.  It had been three years--three years to the day--since that horrible moment that the mighty king and queen of Atlantis would never forget--a stinging memory they could never escape.

Arthur, Jr.  Little Arthur had been the only child of Aquaman and Mera, a healthy, happy child that admiring fans on the surface world--delighting in the legend of this Camelot beneath the waves, and its fabled First Family--had nicknamed "Aquababy."  Only three years ago. Three years gone already.

There is no comfort in knowing, with absolute precision, when was the worst day of your life. You can shudder and pray that an even worse day never comes, but that offers no solace, no succor.  You can only cling tight to those who remain, to those you love, and beg the fates for the strength to endure.

Three years, damn it.  Aquaman and Mera held each other close, and mourned their loss yet again.

Their adviser Vulko appeared at the doorway.  He did not want to disturb his lieges in this private moment of sorrow, but he knew he must.  My king, my queen, said Vulko.  It is time.
--
At police headquarters, Jim Gordon knew The Batman would answer his call for help.  Gordon knew that The Batman would appear suddenly and silently on the rooftop, and Gordon wouldn't even be aware of Batman's approach and arrival, no matter how much Gordon thought he was prepared for it.  One second, Gordon was alone, or at least thought he was alone.  A second later, he was speaking with The Batman.

It's Freeze, said Gordon.  He has visitors at Arkham, and they're asking to see you there, as well. And Batman, Gordon paused. searching for the right words.  One of the visitors is a friend of yours.  With a few more hurried words of explanation, the conversation was ended. The Batman vanished once more, leaving Gordon in mid-sentence.  Alone on the rooftop. Again.
--
Arkham Asylum was Hell, perhaps literally.  Designed as a hospital for the criminally insane, Arkham seemed an earthly counterpart of Dante's Inferno, a desolate place of misery, despair...and madness. Its freakish inhabitants never had any hope to abandon in the first place. Killers. Monsters.  Madmen.  And, worst of all, a laughing maniac whose clownlike visage haunted the nightmares of all who had ever met him.  If they were lucky enough to survive the meeting.

But The Joker was silent this night; he hadn't been sedated--the staff at Arkham knew from dreadful, repeated experience that their medications had no effect whatsoever on the insane harlequin--but in a self-imposed catatonic state.  It was nothing new.  The Joker often withdrew into the murky labyrinth of his own demented psyche, no doubt plotting yet another crazed scheme that could only make sense to him, and to him alone.  The Scarecrow whimpered in the corner of his cell, the master of fear ironically consumed by terror himself.  The Penguin simmered with sheer anger.  The Mad Hatter smiled sweetly.  Poison Ivy licked her lips, and preened and pouted, writhing seductively.  Tweedledum and Tweedledee bickered.  Two-Face, deprived of his trademark coin, paced nervously, undecided.  False Face, as always, protested his incarceration, insisting that The Batman had captured the wrong man.

The Batman moved past them all, unseen.  No one had let him into Arkham's secure facility. No one ever had to "let" The Batman in anywhere.

In a central office, deeper within Arkham's recesses, a petty bureaucrat complained that he was done wasting time, sick of waiting for that masked vigilante, The Batman.  The Batman resisted the temptation to actually say Boo! to this tin-plated blowhard; The Batman's characteristically sudden appearance nonetheless silenced the mouse in mid-roar.  The Batman had already surveyed the room, and identified all of its occupants:

City Councilman Arthur Reeves, a vain, egotistical nothing who valued red tape above human accomplishment; not an evil man, but not a good man, either.

Lois Lane, a fiery-mannered reporter for that great metropolitan newspaper, The Daily Planet, in Metropolis.  They had a mutual friend.  Lane was one of the most capable, most courageous people The Batman had ever met.

Colonel Steve Trevor, an Army veteran and United Nations liaison, a man whose bravery and unerring moral compass had earned The Batman's respect.  They also had a mutual friend.

Dr. Marshall Englehart, acting interim director of Arkham during a prolonged investigation that had ensnared the facility's permanent management.  The Batman had only met him twice, but had been impressed with Englehart's compassion and skill in a thankless job.

Aquaman.  One of the most physically powerful individuals on the planet.  His status as the ruler of the sovereign nation of Atlantis further made him one of the most diplomatically powerful individuals on the planet.  The so-called King of the Seven Seas could accomplish nearly anything he wanted.  He and The Batman had been friends and allies for many years, since the formation of the Justice League of America, though they had also, upon occasion, been on opposite sides of a dispute.  The Batman suspected that might be the case again this evening.

And there was one other present:  an Arkham prisoner in a refrigerated holding cell. This was Victor Fries, aka Mr. Freeze, a supervillain whose tragic history did nothing at all to ameliorate the brutality of his crimes against the citizens of Gotham.

The Batman needed no reminder of Mr. Freeze's story.  Victor Fries had been a scientist, deeply in love with his wife Nora.  When a fatal disease was poised to take Nora's life, Fries developed a unique freezing process to preserve her until he could find a cure. But Fries' compassion for his wife did not extend to others, as Fries committed violent crimes to fund his research and experiments. An accident turned Fries himself into a frozen freak, incapable of surviving at anything greater than subzero temperature.  He developed a unique cryogenic suit to preserve himself, and a weapon to generate deadly freezing force.  Nora's own subsequent death further turned Fries' heart to ice. Mr. Freeze had murdered dozens of innocents in the coldest of cold blood.

And The Batman knew:  these people were planning to set Freeze free.
--
Aquaman spoke:

Seven seas, and seven crystals.  Atlantean legend tells us of seven mystic crystals, scattered and hidden by the god Poseidon in the deepest, darkest depths of Earth's oceans.  And it is foretold that on one precise day, at one precise moment, the crystals can be assembled together and frozen together by a powerful force beyond nature or magic.  In that moment, Heaven will open to accept Earth.  The dead will live again--all lost souls restored--and the whole world will enter into an eternity of peace and harmony.  All sins will be forgiven.  All of the people of the world will be reunited with their departed loved ones, all living in peace, now and forevermore.

That moment is two days from now.  I will assemble the crystals.  Mr. Freeze will supply the cryogenic force I need.

Atlantean legend is fact.  I know this to be true.  This is not a matter of faith, but a matter of things as they really are.  I have seen enough to verify that.

I am done with mourning.  I am through accepting my loss.  I have the ability to set things right, and the will to see this through.  The matter is decided.

Arguments ensued.  But Aquaman was correct:  the matter had already been decided.  The American government, wary of needlessly tempting the ire of the King of Antlantis, was grudgingly wiling to cooperate, and to allow the Atlantean head of state to extradite Mr. Freeze.  Aquaman apologized to his caped friend; the king had asked The Batman to be here, but only as a courtesy.  Mr. Freeze was freed from his cell, and placed into Aquaman's custody.

Free at last, Mr. Freeze addressed the assembled parties, from the weasel Reeves to his hated foe, The Batman.  We share tragedy, Freeze said, his tone as cold and dead as it always was.  Perhaps we share nothing else, nothing at all in this empty world.  Freeze did not actually grin; it was but a trick of the light. But that we do share.  That we all share. Perhaps, he paused, noticing within himself an unfamiliar sensation; Freeze felt the warmth of hope.  Perhaps now is the time that we can alter our fate.

And, with that, the plan commenced.

--
In Atlantis, Mera dealt with unrest.  The Cult of Poseidon--a devout sect of religious extremists--had learned of the king's plan to fulfill the ancient prophecy:  to unite the crystals and freeze them together, to raise the dead, but with the help of an unclean surface dweller!  Heresy!  Foul, unholy heresy!  A mad cleric rallied his supporters to overthrow the absent king and his consort, but Mera's own fantastic powers were more than sufficient to thwart the attempted rebellion.  Aided by Aqualad and the Atlantean Royal Guard, Mera routed the cleric and his cadre of militants, but were unable to prevent their escape.
--
The Batman returned to his cave.  To prepare.  And to brood.
--
Poseidon's Labyrinth was the key.  An impossible, instantaneous portal to all points under the sea, Poseidon's Labyrinth was a path fraught with peril, from an unknown location hidden from all.  Even if one could locate this fabled path, none but the strongest--the bravest and the boldest--could ever hope to navigate its deadly course.

But this world has never known an individual stronger, braver, or bolder than Aquaman, the king of the seven seas.

Atlantean technology allowed Mr. Freeze to accompany the sea king into the darkest depths of the ocean, able to withstand the crushing pressure, to breathe without air, and to navigate this strange terrain as surely as if he were stalking a victim in Gotham City.   The location of Poseidon's Labyrinth--an unsolved mystery since the dawn of time--was no mystery at all to Aquaman, whose unparalleled knowledge of all Earth's oceans (combined, one might guess, with a thing or two he may have learned about the art of deduction from a dark-cloaked ally in the Justice League) led this disparate duo to Poseidon's Labyrinth within a day's trek.

The defenses of Poseidon's Labyrinth?  The demonic guards, the intricate deathtraps, the impenetrable, impossible maze itself?  Aquaman and Mr. Freeze passed through them all, fiercely and confidently, and ultimately with the apparent ease of a surface child passing through a wave of bubbles on a warm spring day.  And now, they stood at the center of Poseidon's Labyrinth:  a massive world within a world, a cavernous land beneath the top of our planet, and beneath the bottom of the ocean.  Its vistas stretched farther than any eye could see, and extended beyond that to...everywhere.  Everywhere!  It was here that the world's new fate would be decided.  Aquaman turned to Freeze and gave the order:

This is your undersea world, Freeze. This is where we set things right.
--
The experiment seemed on the verge of success; even the dread Batman, watching from far away via video screen in his own subterranean lair, was willing to see where this seemingly mad plan of Aquaman and Mr. Freeze plan would take them.  In Freeze's undersea world beneath the Arctic Circle, the atmosphere was tense, expectant--cautious in its optimism, unsure whether hope was a leap worth taking, or a bottomless chasm waiting for all to fall within, lost forever.

Mera had joined her husband in the Labyrinth.  Aquaman had assembled the crystals.  For thousands of years, the seven crystals had remained hidden from mortal view, their very existence a thing of legend:  mystic crystals that could restore the lives of loved ones taken too soon. But nothing in all of the world's oceans could remain a secret from the King of the Seven Seas.  Aquaman had dared the perils of Poseidon's Labyrinth, with none other than Mr. Freeze at his side.  Ironic that Mr.Freeze, an evil scientist who had done so much harm in the past, now stood poised to be Aquaman's salvation--and perhaps the salvation of all the world, as well.

Life restored!  Freeze understood.  Hadn't he lost his own beloved wife, unfairly, unacceptably? He became the frozen scourge of Gotham City to seek vengeance, but what if he used his knowledge, his power, to seek redemption instead?  Might he even be allowed to once again gaze upon Nora's face, to hold her hand, to feel her embrace?  Might even the notorious Mr. Freeze be allowed...a second chance?

Freeze focused his device upon the seven crystals.  The frigid force of his formerly terrible weapon caused the crystals to shake, vibrate, shimmer and, slowly, to expand and glow.  Shapes began to form before the assembled crowd--teasing, immaterial shades at first, but soon the shapes solidified, became more defined and definite.  And all saw someone familiar taking shape.

Poseidon's Labyrinth had linked the undersea world of Mr. Freeze with undersea sites all over the world, each separated by thousands of miles but still mere steps away through the magic of Poseidon's Labyrinth.  In Sub Diego, survivors of that city's cataclysm saw family members and friends, lovers, children, all taken from them when the disaster hit greater San Diego, now seemingly alive, returned to them via the strange combination of Mr. Freeze's science and the magic of the crystals.

In fabled Atlantis, Aqualad stared unbelieving as his love Tula, who'd perished defending Atlantis during the Crisis, smiled at him and moved forward for a kiss.  The effects were felt in the surface world, as well, as specters of the past became present.  In rural Kansas, an elderly couple named Kent blinked at the once-familiar sight of sunlight shining on the Smallville farm where they had lived, and loved, and passed away; on the outskirts of Gotham, a husband-and-wife team of trapeze artists, The Flying Graysons, picked themselves off the dusty ground where'd they'd met their sudden violent end years before. Even in the heavens themselves, in a distant solar system, a planet that had once circled a giant red sun--a planet long gone--began its impossible return to the realm of the living.

In Freeze's stronghold, the process was nearly complete.  Nora was there, gaining form, beaming at Mr. Freeze and delighting in his redemption.  And Aquaman and Mera, speechless, wept with transcendent joy to once again gaze upon their infant son, Arthur, Jr. These were not illusions, not clones or recreations, but loved ones actually--miraculously!--returned to the living.  Freeze had triumphed!

An explosion made the triumph short-lived.

Using Poseidon's Labyrinth as his own conduit, the renegade Atlantean cleric and his cult of supporters suddenly rushed into Freeze's undersea world.  Screaming at Freeze for his heresy, both in defying death and for defiling Poseidon's mystic crystals, the cult scattered the crystals. Aquaman and Mera responded in kind, valiantly seeking to repel the invaders, while Mr. Freeze sought desperately to maintain the cryogenic force needed to complete his work with the crystals.  His resurrected souls began to fade.  Feverishly, he sought to replace the crystals in their precise locations. But, with a frenzied blow, the mad cleric broke free of the mighty Aquaman, and destroyed one of the crystals.

The good people of Sub Diego shrieked as one. Aqualad felt his soul die again, along with his soulmate.  The returned were all lost again.  Nora was gone.  Arthur, Jr. was gone.

Gone, too, was Mr. Freeze's interest in redemption.

With the cold stare familiar to many of his victims in Gotham, Mr. Freeze turned his weapon on the mad cleric.  The cleric's blood froze instantly; he barely had time to realize his own life was forfeit before a blow from Mr. Freeze shattered his body to icy pieces.  The cleric's followers were next, all dispatched to a frigid hell before Aquaman and Mera could voice an objection.  If they would have objected at all.

But now Mr. Freeze's cold fury would expand beyond his undersea world.  Sub Diego would perish.  Atlantis would die.  All of the world's oceans would become the icy domain of Mr. Freeze.

Even while consumed with his own grief, Aquaman would not allow that.

As Mera commanded hard water forces to pummel Mr. Freeze, Aquaman summoned the mightiest creatures of the depths to subdue his recent ally.  There isn't much in all of the world that could hope to withstand the unleashed power of the Sea King, but Freeze struck directly at Mera, felling her; Aquaman's concern for his wife overcame his own tactical sense, and soon both Aquaman and Mera lay at the feet of the mad Mr. Freeze, with nothing to save them, or the oceans, or the world.

But something odd, unexpected occurred. As Mr. Freeze prepared a killing stroke that would finally remove Aquaman and Mera from his path permanently, his beloved Nora came into his mind.  Nora...!  So close, yet never to be seen again.  Freeze looked down with sadness at his foes, and thought of their love for each other, and again of his love for Nora.  A tiny flicker of warmth yet remained in the frozen felon's dead heart.  There would be other days.  Perhaps he would still freeze the entire ocean, or perhaps he'd return to Gotham and put the hated Batman on ice first.  It didn't matter.  Nothing really mattered.  He would have his revenge served cold.  But he didn't care to have it tonight.

As Aquaman slowly stirred, he saw Mr. Freeze withdraw.  By the time Aquaman and Mera had recovered, Freeze was gone, untraceable, vanished in Poseidon's Labyrinth with all entrances frozen fast behind him.
--
Watching on a video screen in the Batcave, The Batman had observed it all, helpless to intervene, unable even to investigate the veracity of what he thought he'd seen, as images of his own parents had appeared before him.  So close, yet never to be seen again.  We share tragedy; Freeze had been right about that.  But the best of us, at our bravest and our boldest, are not defined by our tragedy; we are defined by how we persevere, by how we seek to make sense of the senseless.  Mr. Freeze would be returning to Gotham City soon. The Batman would be ready, and the battle would rage on.  The battle would always rage on.

But for now, The Batman rose from his perch and made his way to the Batmobile.  It was time to return to Gotham City.  There were evil men to punish.  There was sense to be made, order to restore.  And there were innocents to protect.