I was excited to see that a track by track review of the Monkees studio recordings was published and eagerly ordered this book hoping it would have a lot of specific detail. I have nothing personally against the author of this book, and I've never heard of him before, but it's great that a 30-something author is a professing fan of the Monkees to the extent he wrote about all these songs and published a book. I did check out some customer reviews of his Beatles book on amazon before purchasing this Monkee book though, and noticed some quickly-posted 5 star reviews that suddenly appeared the day after and the day of negative 1 and 2 star reviews in August 2011 and January 2012 (and that neither of the 5 star reviewers of that book who posted these had purchased the book from amazon, while those who wrote the negative reviews had). That seemed an interesting coincidence when there had been no other reviews posted for months prior to the negative reviews. Will be interesting to see if that happens following this negative review as well.
The Monkees' music appeals to several generations, and the author is young enough to be my son. But to satisfy a first-generation fan, the book has to contain a LOT of new information that hasn't already been presented in other books, or at least a substantial collection of specific, detailed information that is readily accessible in one place. The author's review of each song is his own opinion, of course, but he makes many eye-opening and unexplained comments here. It doesn't have the detail of Andrew Sandoval's book, or the interesting story of Eric Lecowitz's book. In short, except for someone interested in reading the author's personal opinions about the Monkees songs, there is not enough collected, specific information and new information here to satisfy a first-generation Monkees fan. Which I am, having watched the premier episode of the TV show in September 1966, buying the first 45 and debut album shortly afterward, and sticking with the Monkees through their triumphs from 1966-1968, and the failures and reunions since. When you live through it from the start, it's different than looking backwards at history and music and culture in the United States from before you were born.
Here are some comments:
Number One, it is clearly stated this is a book about this author's personal likes and dislikes about the individual songs. Bear this in mind, as sometimes his opinions are strong enough that it makes you wonder exactly what it is he really likes about the Monkees.
Number Two, although he reviews the individual studio tracks, he has NOT included recording dates or information on specific personnel performing on the recordings. Rather, the "Lead Vocalist" is listed, and "Other Monkees Present." That's not enough. Yes, dates of the recordings and personnel on the tracks have been listed elsewhere, on CD reissues, in other books and on websites. Sometimes he does make references to other players in his analysis. But why not do a little extra work and include the full information here on who is playing what instruments when doing a track by track analysis? Why should readers have to look elsewhere to get that information?
Third, there are some disdainful comments about hippies made by the author (e.g., "For Pete's Sake" is referred to as "a simple, naive song of hippy hope" and although he praises the performance as strong and effective, he ultimately dismisses the message as "ultimately rather empty of content." Well, it certainly wasn't empty of content for MY generation, and the MESSAGE the author dismisses was powerful, and chosen as the closing theme song for the TV show during 1967-1968.) These type of comments rankle me as he obviously has a distant and stereotyped impression of hippies.
Fourth, author references Monkees music as bubblegum. That's become a popular description, and the author probably didn't know this, but that term wasn't used to describe the Monkees at the time, in fact the term developed in the late 1960s after chart hits by 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Archies and others such as "Sugar, Sugar" and "Yummy Yummy Yummy, I've Got Love in My Tummy" appeared; and (I was part of this), maturing teens moving on to harder rock dismissed groups that used comedy or appealed to pre-teens, as part of their musical growth. Sure, I suppose the Monkees could be added into that category later on, when the TV show was rebroadcast Saturday mornings alongside cartoons after Tork's departure, but you can't realistically listen to Headquarters, Pisces, Head, or Live 1967 and call this bubblegum music; and as far as Saturday morning cartoon shows go, the Beatles cartoon series was broadcast in 1965 and there were Beatles bubblegum cards too. Not "bubblegum" either. It's a derogatory term, a put-down devaluing the music as disposable. The fact this music has lasted proves it was not bubblegum.
Fifth, regarding "Shades of Gray" - how can any Monkees fan make a comment about this song, "I dislike it intensely." The author does (page 51). In the summer of 1967, "Headquarters" was my favorite album and this is one of the best songs on it. I've never known anyone who hates the song. All my friends listened to it. For years. Musically the song is excellent, lyrically the song is excellent, and both the music and lyrics still stand strong today, 45 years later. If anything it's more appreciated now than when it was released in 1967. He also dislikes "I Wanna Be Free", another great 1960s song reflecting the yearning for freedom from entering into a long-term commitment, and indicates the message is "almost psychopathic". Wow.
Sixth, "Jones is generally the weakest of the four Monkees as a vocalist" (page 55). Oh, boy. Every Monkees fan probably has a favorite Monkee as a vocalist, but the author ranks Jones last? That should be enough to give you a solid idea of the credibility of the personal analyses this book contains.
But two more quick comments:
"Through the Looking Glass" is described as a "plinky, McCartneyesque song", which he keeps waiting to be done. I'm also a first generation Beatles fan. Nothing about TTLG reminds me of Paul McCartney's music. I'm not sure what he's hearing in the song I never have after 40+ years of listening to it. Paul McCartney is probably the greatest composer of my generation, by the way.
And, at least he pegged "Laugh" right.
I have bought and greatly enjoyed several other Monkees books released in the past decade, especially Andrew Sandoval's Day By Day book, and Eric Lefcowitz's 2010 revised Monkee Business. Those are great, great books for 1st Generation Monkee Fans. This book by Andrew Hickey is not.
But, if you're a fan of the author, or became a fan of the Monkees in one of the decades after the 1960's in one of their subsequent revivals, the content of the book as a quick look at their classic albums probably is going to satisfy you.