How the Monkees Declared Independence on ‘The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees’
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By the time the Monkees released The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees in April 1968, they had been on a nonstop roller-coaster ride for a solid 15 months. Record after record, live appearances and shooting their TV show made for an exceptionally busy schedule. Except for the soundtrack to their movie Head, which came out later in the year, The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees would be the last album released by the original four-member group.
Featuring more than half of its material written by band members, The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees ranks as a favorite among longtime fans. Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork supply guitar and are aided by familiar names from Los Angeles’ famous studio brigade, including Al Casey, Joe Osbourne and Hal Blaine.
The album kicks off with one of Davy Jones‘ finest compositions, “Dream World,” followed by one of Nesmith’s best, the Micky Dolenz-sung “Auntie’s Municipal Court,” which casts a glowing haze of country psychedelia and is co-written by Paul Revere and the Raiders guitarist Keith Allison. Another Nesmith winner, “Tapioca Tundra,” follows, and it’s still hard to pin down decades later. (The band memorably pulled this one out of mothballs during a 2012 tour, to the delight of many Nez-heads.)
“Daydream Believer” is one of the Monkees most beloved songs and for good reason: It’s one of the most perfect pop songs you’ll ever hear. Jones’ signature tune hasn’t aged a bit. Nesmith’s “Writing Wrongs,” on the other hand, features a darker, ominous vibe accompanied by heavy pounding drums and moody organ. Then, out of nowhere, the song changes course midway, soaring into a weird jazz odyssey that borders on proto prog before returning to the heavy thud that dominated the first half of the song. Clocking in at more than five minutes, “Writing Wrongs” is the last thing you’d expect from a “manufactured pop group.”
Things get back to normal for “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” and “P.O. Box 9847,” which is penned by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who were responsible for so many of the Monkees’ early hits. John Lennon was inspired by an old show poster for Sgt. Pepper’s‘ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”; The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees‘ “The Poster” tries to tell a similar tale, but it’s not nearly as good as the Beatles song. “Magnolia Simms,” another oddball Nesmith cut, attempts to replicate an old ’20s recording with vinyl pops and hisses and a skipping needle. Even though Nesmith hated “Valleri,” another hit single, it stands out on the album and features great work by session guitarist Louis Shelton.
The record ends with “Zor and Zam,” one of the group’s all-time best. Set to marching-band drums, the song slowly builds over an antiwar tale. “Two little kings playing a game / They gave a war and nobody came” may have gone over the heads of the Monkees’ preteen audience at the time, but it served as a perfect complement to the album’s jazz-inspired freakouts, vintage ragtime riffs and psychedelic pop. Maybe because of this, The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees was the first of the group’s albums to not reach No.1 (it stalled at No. 3). But it did sell a million copies, primarily fueled by the chart-topping “Daydream Believer.” Still, it’s one of the band’s finest records, a great representation of the era and an even better pop album.
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