One of the greatest misnomers about the Monkees is that the manufactured band failed to create its own material. During the group’s early days, some of the greatest songwriters of the era – Carole King, Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart – crafted tunes for the playful act, which was created for a TV series.
However, much changed after the inventive, ambitious and amusing Monkees TV show became a hit. The Monkees started writing their own songs after control freak Don Kirschner, who was a producer/publisher, was booted from the camp. The catchy and often surprisingly deep songs by vocalist-guitarist Mike Nesmith are among the most distinctive and finest of the Monkees’ surprisingly deep canon.
“You Just May Be the One,” “You Told Me” and “Listen to the Band” were all written by Nesmith, and each hold up more than a half-century later. Nesmith, 78, and vocalist-drummer Micky Dolenz, 76, are the surviving Monkees after the deaths of vocalist-guitarist Peter Tork in 2019 and vocalist-percussionist Davy Jones in 2012.
It’s fitting that Dolenz has recorded “Dolenz Sings Nesmith,” which drops today, since the latter often penned songs for the former to belt out with their band. However, “Dolenz Sings Nesmith” features only cuts Nesmith sung with the Monkees or outside the popular band.
“If I recorded the songs Nez wrote and I sung with the Monkees, I would be covering myself,” Dolenz said while calling from Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon. “There is no way I would ever do that. What’s the point?”
Dolenz and producer Christian Nesmith, Mike Nesmith’s son, made certain that the songs recorded would be rearranged. “I didn’t want to make a karaoke version of Nez’s songs,” Dolenz said. “I let Christian run with it, and he did a great job.”
The harmonica-driven version of “Different Drum,” which was a smash for Linda Ronstadt when she fronted the Stone Poneys, works as a folk-rock track. “Circle Sky,” a pop-rock tune from the Monkees’ quirky film “Head,” is turned inside out with Eastern strings. “When I heard the direction of ‘Circle Sky,’ Indian raga, I was like, ‘Where did that come from?’ I really love that ‘Circle Sky’ sounds nothing like the Monkees’ version.”
With the exception of “Different Drum,” much of what Dolenz recorded was deep cuts. That wasn’t Dolenz’s plan. It just happened that way. “I would have loved to have recorded songs like ‘Joanne’ and ‘Listen to The Band,’ but how do you do ‘Joanne’ without the yodel or ‘Listen to the Band’ without the band or the horn section?” Dolenz said.
“This project was really challenging, and Christian was up to that challenge, and it was so fulfilling for us because we both love Nez’s work.” Nesmith is a well-respected musician, but Dolenz believes the magic comes from his close friend’s words.
“Nesmith is a great poet,” Dolenz said. “His words are just so moving, and he creates such great imagery in his songs. I love singing Mike’s lyrics. I’ve wanted to do this project for years, and it finally happened.”
Nesmith and Dolenz will embark on the Monkees farewell tour, which kicks off Sept. 10 at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. The jaunt commences 55 years after the Monkees TV show debuted.
“From the start, there were a lot of people who didn’t get the Monkees, and to this day, they still don’t get the Monkees,” Dolenz said. “The Monkees went right over a lot of people’s heads. People were used to an organic, homegrown group, and then you have the Monkees, who were a TV show about a group.
“It was an imaginary band living in an imaginary beach house. People said we were trying to be the Beatles, and that wasn’t true. It’s a show about a group who wanted to be the Beatles, but we were an imaginary band.”
The closest project to the Monkees is the legendary Spinal Tap, the hilarious fabricated metal act featured in the brilliant mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” arguably the funniest music film of all time. Dolenz counters with “Glee,” a TV show about a fictitious glee club. “They were like us since they all could sing and act,” Dolenz said. “They could do it all.”
Dolenz and Nesmith are ready to write the final chapter of the Monkees without Jones and Tork. “I wish they were with us,” Dolenz said. “When Davy died, it was so shocking. It came out of nowhere. We all thought he would live longer than he did when he died (at 66). Peter’s death wasn’t shocking. He was sick for years. We were all pulling for him. And now it’s Nez and I. I’m glad we’re still here and able to perform.”
Dolenz is looking forward to kicking off the tour in Spokane. “It’s great for me because I love the Pacific Northwest,” Dolenz said. “It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I love lakes, trees, mountains and forests even though I live in Los Angeles. I’m not a sunny beach guy, but give me the mountains, and I’m happy. I can’t wait to start our tour there.”
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