If you are younger than me - and you probably ARE younger than me - then I'm afraid that you'll miss the relevance of the Monkees. In 1966, they were a phenomenon. They were also controversial. I was eight years old at the time, and I loved the band, the television show, the music, all of it. Along with the Beatles, they were a true obsession of mine. Older teenagers, though, cast doubt on my faith and fan-dom. They considered the Monkees to be pawns, a manufactured product who didn't (or couldn't) even play their own instruments. While I vaguely recognized some of their criticisms to be true, it didn't matter in the least to me. Besides, their arguments missed the most fundamental point; the music is good. Really good. While the older kids talked about Jefferson Airplane or the Rolling Stones, I reveled in the Monkees. It was fairly obvious that Davy Jones was not a whiz-bang musician, but the other guys appeared capable of playing, and they all sang great. Mike Nesmith even wrote some of their best songs, so at least he must be playing.
If you were to judge the band by this first album, then we would both be right. Studio musicians perform virtually every song here - including guitar work by Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. What is revelatory is how a band - an admittedly manufactured band - would develop a strong rapport that made good material even better. "Last Train to Clarksville" is a good song, but the Monkees make it a great song. "This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day" and "Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day" are special because the Monkees bring a youthful energy that enlivens them. There are a few gaffs and laughable bits, like Davey's swoon-inducing "I Wanna Be Free" and "I'll Be True to You," but the balance of the record is incredibly strong. "Saturday's Child" still sounds great. Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Take a Giant Step" is one of the most beautiful songs of the decade, and the Monkees version utilizes imaginative Eastern tonalities that make it simultaneously unique and definitive. After this, the best tracks belong to Mike Nesmith. "Papa Gene's Blues" and "Sweet Young Thing" are the work of a fully developed and extraordinarily talented songwriter, so why didn't the naysayers acknowledge this?
This `special edition' release features the full stereo mix on one disk and the original mono mix on the other, with bonus material fleshing out both disks. The difference in the mixes isn't particularly revelatory, but the bonus tracks certainly are. "Gonna Buy Me a Dog (backing track)" rocks harder than the album version, while songs like "All the King's Horses," "I Don't Think You Know Me" and "Propinquity" should have made the album, if only space had allowed. This material is forty years old, and it has been endlessly maligned, but it has withstood the barrage of insults AND the test of time. So many people missed the point, but after forty years, maybe the Monkees will finally get some respect. A- Tom Ryan