Nick Bollinger marks the return of prefabricated pop stars The Monkees.
Before Milli Vanilli were disgraced for the sin of lip-syncing to records they had not actually sung on, the most popular example of manufactured stardom was The Monkees.
The Monkees were the corporate-created phenomenon of 60s American pop, and this album opens with a song straight out of that plastic era – though this one has been languishing unheard for almost half a century. It was written by the late Harry Nilsson (who the Monkees’ creators turned to for material on more than one occasion); you can actually hear Nilsson singing and playing piano on this recording, which was made but never released in 1968. It has been resurrected as the opening track – and title song – of Good Times!, an album of mostly ‘new’ material, put together to mark The Monkees’ 50th anniversary. And guess what? It’s all right.
There are several other tracks here leftover from the same era, performed, like most of the recordings the Monkees made, by assorted session legends (though the voices are those of actual Monkees, Mickey Dolenz and Michael Nesmith.)
For the most part, though, Good Times is made up of more recent recordings, featuring the three surviving Monkees (Davy Jones having died in 2012.) As usual, the Monkees are relegated mostly to vocals, and, just like back in the day, they have called on some pretty reputable writers for custom-made material – like ‘You Bring The Summer’, a great sunny pop song from XTC’s Andy Partridge.
There are other customised contributions here from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller – all of whom seem happy to become part of the great tradition of Monkees’ writers that includes Nilsson, Carole King and Neil Diamond, among others. Most of the new tracks were produced by Adam Schlesinger of New York power-pop merchants Fountains Of Wayne, and he’s in his element, crafting ephemeral yet surprisingly entertaining pop.
I remember as a young kid in the late 60s watching the Monkees on our family’s recently purchased television, and realising even then that their antics were a copy of the Beatles movies I’d loved, and wondering if copying was allowed in pop music, because it was certainly frowned upon in school. If it was apparent to me at age ten, then it was obvious to everyone that the Monkees weren’t entirely kosher. And yet their records always sounded sunny and good, maybe even better than they had to be. And strangely, fifty years later that’s still the case.
Songs featured: Good Times, Gotta Give It Time, Wasn’t Born To Follow, You Bring The Summer, Birth Of An Accidental Hipster.
Good Times! is available on Rhino Records.