The Monkees Bring Back Good Times

In 1965, The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety ran an ad that read: "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series." With around 400 hopefuls showing up to audition, the pool was finally narrowed down to four men; Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, and Davy Jones. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had found the stars of their musical sitcom “The Monkees.”

50 years after the release of their debut self-titled album, The Monkees are heading out on tour for their golden anniversary. To kick off the tour, the band released their 12 studio album Good Times, which featured tracks written by the three surviving members, along with notable musicians such as Carole King, Neil Diamond, and Benjamin Gibbard on May 27. The album quickly moved to no. 1 on Amazon, with Classic Rock Magazine’s Dave Swanson calling the band's latest work “nothing short of a masterpiece.”

Listening parties for the newest album occurred across the country, bringing fans young and old out to celebrate America’s favorite made-for-TV band.

And fans sure do have a lot to celebrate.

While the album is full of wonderful tracks, it started out a bit weak. The first three tracks; “Good Times,” “You Bring the Summer,” and “She Makes Me Laugh,” are all upbeat and catchy, albeit corny. Written by Harry Nilsson, XTC’s  Andy Partridge, and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, respectively, the songs seem dated, perhaps serving as a throwback to the 1960s tracks that made The Monkees a household name. Although musically strong, the lyrics of these tracks were a bit too timeworn for this listener.

After the first three songs, the album shifts. With songs like “Me and Magdalena,” and “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” audiences hear the lyrical depth that matches that of Monkees classics such as “I Want to Be Free” and “Take a Giant Step.”

“Me and Magdalena,” written by Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, is the first track on the album that audiences hear guitarist Michael Nesmith singing lead. While he isn’t sure how involved he will be able to be with the anniversary tour, Nesmith’s contributions to the golden album are nothing less than extraordinary. His familiar twang, mixed with wonderful harmonies with Dolenz, created a solemn track that is quite unusual for the band. 

“I Know What I Know,” written by Nesmith, also showcases the lyrical talent that the guitarist brings to the table. Lyrics like “Someone alone always dreams of/the perfect one, someone in love” easily reminds listeners of Nesmith’s solo career, specifically the 1971 album Nevada Fighter. Although the late Davy Jones was most likely to sing lead on a ballad, Nesmith proves with his two lead vocal contributions on Good Times that he too is more than capable of crooning out a track or two.

Another highlight of the album is the track “Love to Love,” written by Neil Diamond. With an upbeat intro that bordered on psychedelic, I was preparing to hear Micky Dolenz take lead vocals. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Davy Jones’ familiar English accent taking on something he was known for: a love song. Jones, who died of a heart attack in 2012, and to whom the album is dedicated, recorded the track in the 1960s, although it was never released.

Although the band now tours without Jones, they have made a point to never forget their friend, who they affectionately refer to as “The Manchester Cowboy.” On “CBS Sunday Morning,” Nesmith discussed the memory of Jones that is ever-present during Monkees shows to this day.

“Micky said, ‘Well, how am I going to sing Daydream Believer?,’ and I said ‘Well you can’t. It doesn’t belong to us anymore. It belongs to them.” Similar to the screens showing Jones singing “Daydream Believer” during shows, “Love to Love” is another reminder that the Monkees will always be a four-piece band.

One thing that this listener needed more of from this album was vocals from Peter Tork. The bass player takes the lead on the Carole King track “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” and “Little Girl,” which Tork wrote in response to the Monkees classic “I Want to Be Free.” While he doesn’t sing many tracks for The Monkees, his contributions to this album, along with his cover of “Take a Giant Step” on his 1994 solo album Stranger Things Have Happened prove him to be an underrated vocalist. Tork tracks add a different vibe to the album. His mellow voice counteracts the exuberant vocals that Dolenz typically belts out.

That’s not to imply that there is anything wrong with Dolenz’s vocals. His energetic and cheerful tracks, whether on the latest album or any of the band’s previous works, is largely to thank for the Monkees worldwide success. “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time),” written by Dolenz and Adam Schlesinger, which Dolenz described as musically sounding “very tribal,” is one of the most lyrically upbeat songs on the album. Being the last track on the album, the line “We’re here/and we’re going to have a good time” sums up the album, and the 50 years worth of music that The Monkees have created, very well.

It might be too early to call, but I imagine Good Times is the album of the summer. However, it’s more than that. As mentioned earlier, the first tracks of the album were a reminder of the earlier Monkees work. As the album went on, the tracks gained significant lyrical depth and had more modern themes. In many ways, this is similar to the path that The Monkees went down. At the start, the four men were grouped together to be a television band. However, the group survived after the show ended after two seasons. Outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Monkees moved past the label of being a “fake band” and proved themselves to be four talented musicians. And, 50 years later, they are still able to get music lovers of all ages excited for more Good Times.