Friday, March 2, 2012
33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee - The Monkees
33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee
Zilch MDPM 102
I was at work when a web-surfing colleague announced that Davy Jones had died. It hit me really hard much to my surprise. Part of it was just shock. I saw Jones performing with Dolenz and Tork at the Greek last summer and Jones had looked great. He was vibrant and energetic and seemed at least 10 or 15 years younger than he actually was. But it was more than just surprise, I felt a deep sense of grief, like I had lost a family member. It seemed irrational, but as I thought about it, it started to make sense. I've been a Monkees fan as long as I can remember. I was too young to catch them when they were on the air in prime-time but my sisters and I watched them religiously on Saturday mornings. My sisters adored Jones and we all loved the music. Their cereal box records were the first rock records that I can recall playing. Eventually I discovered the Beatles and they became my favorite group, but I never stopped liking the Monkees and I collected all their records. The Monkees were a big part of my musical life, they introduced me to rock and roll. They were the musical equivalent of a first love. When Jones died, it felt like part of me died with him. It reminded me of how I felt when John Lennon died. Lennon was of course a greater talent and a bigger part of my life, but his death was an act of madness, cruel fate as it were. Jones' death was a reminder of my own mortality, of old age and decline. Ouch. So to honor my childhood idol, I'm writing about this odd little record. It is a bootleg of the soundtrack to the final Monkees television program, their 1969 special "33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee." Peter Tork left the band afterward so it was the final work of the original band until they reunited in the 1980s. It is perhaps the weirdest show ever to air on American network television. The special has been released on DVD as part of the second season release of "The Monkees" program and it is well worth seeing, especially if you like "Head." This record is another story. When it was released in the mid-1980s it was mildly useful, since the show was unavailable. Now you are probably better off just popping in the DVD. The sound quality on this record is awful. It was probably just recorded off someone playing the video, it sounds flat and a little distorted at times. Like so many bootleg LPs it is poorly mastered, you have to crank up the amplifier just to hear it, which amplifies the surface noise as well. The record proceeds chronologically through the special but omits the guest musical performers unfortunately, who include Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and the Trinity, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino. It includes all the Monkees' musical performances as well some bits of dialogue mostly featuring Brian Auger doing his bit as the mad scientist type character he plays in the show. The first musical number features Dolenz doing a soul-style version of "I'm A Believer" with Julie Driscoll. I've never cared much for Driscoll, her stiff singing here makes Dolenz's soul man shtick sound more convincing than usual. Next up is Tork doing the Middle Eastern/Indian influenced "(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love." If anyone else was singing it, I'd think it was a parody, but Tork sounds like he really means it. It could be perceived as ridiculous, but I like it. Nesmith delivers "Naked Persimmon (The Only Thing I Believe That's True)" which is my favorite song on the record. In the show the song is performed as a duet between country Mike and rocker Mike and the song similarly veers between the two styles. Jones has "Goldilocks Sometime" (listed as "Smile" on this album) for his number which is a music hall type number which suits him well. The group tackles "Wind-Up Man" which reminds me of the Mothers of Invention particularly in the cheesy vocal. The song parodies the image of the Monkees as an artificial, manipulated band. "Darwin" (listed as "In The Beginning") is a slight number they do with Brian Auger. The fifties-style "I Go Ape" is a comic number with silly monkey noises and clownish vocals. Side two opens with the big rock and roll production number in the special which they perform with Little Richard, Lewis, Domino and the Clara Ward Singers. It has been edited to include only the Monkees' numbers which are "At The Hop," "Shake A Tail Feather" and "Little Darlin.'" The arrangements are basically faithful to the originals although the vocals are a bit over the top. It is a shame that the guest performances aren't here because they are really good, especially the Ward Singers' performance of "Dem Bones." "A String For My Kite" features Jones singing the sort of wistful ballad that he was so adept at. It could have been a really good song with a little fleshing out. It is followed by Tork playing C. P. E. Bach on an electric keyboard and then comes the grand finale, an epic version of "Listen To the Band" featuring a bunch of guests including the Buddy Miles Express and Brian Auger and the Trinity. It is self-indulgent, but occasionally spectacular. The performance degenerates into a noisy free-form freakout that is probably the wildest music the Monkees ever made. The album ends with Tork warbling "California Here It Comes" with the "it" being Armageddon apparently as the song is accompanied by images of dancers writhing in front of psychedelic footage of atomic bombs and erupting volcanos. As he croons "this is the end" he is referring to the end of California, but I think about the end of the Monkees since this is the end of original quartet (for a long while anyway). This is hardly essential Monkees music, but I would value this record if it sounded better. Unless you are a hardcore fan, you can easily get by with a DVD of the show itself or if you've got deep pockets, the best songs on here were released on Rhino's fancy CD box set of "Instant Replay." I'm happy to have this record, but I got it absurdly cheap and it is definitely not worth its normal price. I guess I could have picked a better record to honor Davy Jones, but at least I'm honoring him. That is more than the bozos at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can say. Rest in peace David Thomas Jones and thank you for all that you've given to me and daydream believers everywhere. Recommended for Monkees fans who don't have DVD players.