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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.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Reconsidering The Monkees, Part 4: HALL OF FAME [A Single-Disc BEST OF THE MONKEES]

Concluding our 50th anniversary reassessment of The Monkees' recorded legacy. We started with a 4-CD set called Rows Of Houses That Are All The Same, graduated to a 3-CD set called Only True In Fairy Tales, and Monkee-walked our way through a 2-CD set called Walking Down The Street. Today, it all comes down to just one disc.

Some time in the early '80s, one of those Rolling Stone record guide books discussed The Monkees' Greatest Hits and More Greatest Hits, a pair of perfunctory best-ofs that were the only two Monkees LPs in print at the time. Given Rolling Stone's long-standing disdain for the artistic worth and viability of our favorite made-for-TV rock 'n' roll group, it was heartening that the writer of this guide entry conceded that yeah, there was some pretty good pop-rock released under the aegis of The Monkees' brand name; then, of course, he immediately squandered his sudden capital of good will by insisting that one LP was the most Monkees anyone could ever need. A second Monkees collection? Ridiculous!

Bang. Zoom. 

That was one of the cleaner two-word replies that came to mind when I read that Rolling Stone entry more than three decades ago. But time wounds all heels: in 2016, even Rolling Stone sees fit to honor and praise The Monkees, both in its pages and on its website. It took 50 years, but The Monkees are, at long last, finally reaping that same elusive reward once demanded by Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin; you know how to spell it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

For Monkees fans, it's no revelation that the group's catalog merits diving much, much deeper than just the surface pleasures of the biggest hits. We own all twelve of The Monkees' individual albums, including the splendid 2016 work Good Times! We own the three Missing Links vault-raids of originally-unreleased tracks from the '60s. We usually spring for the Rhino Handmade multi-disc expansions of the original Monkees albums (with their exclusive bonus 7" singles), probably some permutation of the 1967 live concert recordings, and often at least one of the many, many Monkees career anthologies (the four-disc Music Box for me). The good folks at Rhino, charged with the task of caretaking The Monkees' product, are well familiar with the repeated mantra of the modern Monkees fan: Just take my money, dammit!

The release of Good Times!, a record that will certainly be my Album Of The Year for 2016, prompted me to wonder how its tracks should be considered alongside what we already knew as the best of The Monkees prior to its release. I'm undecided where Good Times! would sit in my personal ranking of The Monkees' albums; it probably wouldn't do any worse than the # 6 spot, and it might place a slot or two higher still. But which of its tracks belong with The Monkees' all-time best?

As an exercise in pure fandom--I am as God made me, you soulless infidel--I decided to go through all of The Monkees' tracks released to date, and compile hypothetical 4-, 3-, 2-, and single-disc sets of The Best Of The Monkees. Considering how reluctant I was to leave cherished Monkees tracks off the four-disc edition, I can state with certainty that a single-disc Monkees collection would never be adequate to slake my rampagin' Monkees jones. But it could be a cool comp for the car, right? Let's see! Sequenced for maximum Monkees motorvatin', I give you...

The Monkees: Hall Of Fame (Carlgems 005)
A Single-Disc Best Of The Monkees

1. Last Train To Clarksville
2. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
3. Me & Magdalena
4. Words
5. Valleri
6. Sunny Girlfriend
7. You Bring The Summer
8. Regional Girl
9. For Pete's Sake
10. Listen To The Band
11. Porpoise Song (Theme From "Head")
12. Oh My My
13. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
14. I'm A Believer
15. All Of Your Toys
16. Heart And Soul
17. Daydream Believer
18. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
19. What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?
20. Sometime In The Morning
21. Love Is Only Sleeping
22. Someday Man
23. You Just May Be The One
24. Cuddly Toy
25. Pleasant Valley Sunday
26. (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone

Lost in transition from two discs to one (and each one of these broke my fragile li'l heart):

"Randy Scouse Git"
"Sweet Young Thing"
"Mary Mary"
"Circle Sky"
"You And I" (from Instant Replay)
"Steam Engine"
"Goin' Down"
"Papa Gene's Blues"
"Birth Of An Accidental Hipster"
"Tapioca Tundra"
"Love To Love"
"Nine Times Blue"
"As We Go Along"
"I Wanna Be Free"
"She Makes Me Laugh"
"(Theme From) The Monkees"
"Shades Of Gray"
"If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again"
"Some Of Shelly's Blues"
"Daily Nightly"
"Forget That Girl"
"The Door Into Summer"
"Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again"
"Early Morning Blues And Greens"
"Daddy's Song"
"You Told Me"
"I Don't Think You Know Me"

That was rough. So many fave raves left behind! But we did what we could.

Before embarking on this project, I set ground rules that would require each disc to fit within the 74-minute mark, and each compilation would need to include at least one track from each of The Monkees' twelve studio albums. I came close on the first requirement (I figured Rhino's crack engineers could make up a few seconds here and there), and I honored the second requirement until I got to this final, single-disc phase: there are no tracks here from the Instant Replay album. The closest we have is the non-LP single "Someday Man," which was included on Rhino's expanded reissue of Instant Replay in 1995. I could have swapped "Someday Man" for the Instant Replay LP track "You And I," but "Someday Man" seemed a better fit for the package.

(The rule governing representation of each Monkees album did save both "Regional Girl" from Justus and "Heart And Soul" from Pool It!; I like both of these tracks just fine, thanks, but I don't like them better than "She,""Randy Scouse Git," or "Sweet Young Thing," which could have been saved from the chopping block if I didn't need to represent Pool It! or Justus. There was no such requirement for the Missing Links compilations, but I'm surprised that "All Of Your Toys" was the only originally-unreleased '60s track to make the cut.)

And how did Good Times! fare? It's represented by two tracks, "You Bring The Summer" and "Me & Magdalena," both of which I consider to be among the best of The Monkees. My favorite Good Times! track remains "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster," but I needed to make room....

And that concludes our Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) journey through The Best Of The Monkees. Look for a 50th anniversary Monkees post within the next week or so, and tune in to This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl on Sunday, September 11th, from 9 to Midnight Eastern at www.westcottradio.org for a special show called 50 YEARS OF THE MONKEES. For now, once again: MonkeeMen, AWAY!!!