Part I: The Background
The Monkees released their sophomore effort (or rather, their sophomore effort was released) while their TV show was at the height of its popularity. Musically, the album doesn’t differ all that much from their debut—the ripple effect of 1967 had yet to begin during the album’s recording sessions, and so the album isn’t really all that tinged in psychedelia and out-there soundscapes. That said, it is a decent pop album, even though the group wouldn’t begin to (or be given permission to) realise their artistic potential until their next album (and much like on their debut, the instrumentation here is primarily handled by studio musicians). Boyce and Hart once again make contributions in the way of songwriting (though they don’t dominate this album like they did the last one), and so do a few other big names: Sandy Linzer (known for his work with The Four Seasons), songwriting duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and of course Neil Diamond, who penned the band’s most well-known hit, “I’m a Believer”.
Around the time of the album’s release, the Monkees were beginning to fight back against their management to be allowed to perform as an actual band. Up until then, they’d been refused any sort of artistic freedom and were obliged to merely fill their contractual roles. This album is no exception—it was culled from a series of studio recordings without any intervention from the band themselves. Apparently, they didn’t even know about the album until they saw it in a record shop. Mike Nesmith, the budding songwriter of the group, was the most vocal in his displeasure with the album, calling it “the worst album in the history of the world”. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as that.
Part II: The Album
She: I said that the album isn’t steeped in psychedelia, but the harmonies, sonic textures, and melodies on this album are nevertheless fitting for the year they were released. “She” kicks off the album full of promise. It’s a groovy pop song with bright, emotive vocals from Dolenz. Steady electric guitar chords give the verses a linear, regimented sort of feel, while the middle eight gives way into a looser, more relaxed rhythm, followed by a melodic yet tonally lackluster organ solo. It’s a great album opener, but far from one of the most interesting tracks in the band’s oeuvre. RATING: 7/10
When Love Comes Knocking (At Your Door): Sappy, sentimental Davy Jones. But the chord progression takes a number of unexpected and refreshing turns, and therein lies the beauty of the song (there’s even a chromatic descent—you know how much I love those!). The twinkling in the background adds an almost dreamlike quality to the bouncy, starry-eyed tune. Oh, and here’s a tip: if you hear Davy Jones singing in a saccharine sort of way, don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics—doing so will only hamper your enjoyment. RATING: 7.5/10
Mary Mary: The first of Nesmith’s contributions to the album. Oddly, this is more of a straightforward rock and roller (Nesmith’s songs usually have more of a country-influence to them). Dolenz provides a laid-back lead vocal here on this altogether uninspired track—the song lacks the adventurous chord shifts of some of the other songs, and it feels rather sluggish. Rockers should not feel sluggish. RATING: 5/10
Hold On Girl: Now this is more like it—and I’m not just saying that because of the baroque-influenced keyboard part. But these hazy, somewhat ominous arpeggios are exactly what I associate with this era of music. The chorus provides a sense of relief, as we transition into something more dreamy and gentle. The music perfectly fits the lyrical content too: the tension during the verses emphasizes the sense of disorientation and glumness of the girl who’s had her heart broken while the reassuring tone of the chorus is reassuring and offers a sense of hope: “Now that we are together / Things are gonna be better.” RATING: 9/10
Your Auntie Grizelda: Structurally, this is a blues song, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing; it’s so boisterous and colourful. A fuzz guitar mimics the bassline here, adding a bit of a psychedelic edge to the song. The lyrics are about the titular self-righteous, overbearing aunt of the singer’s paramour—it’s played for laughs, of course, though the song is simultaneously a desperate plea and a solemn warning to the girl, who, much to the singer’s dismay, seems to be taking after her aunt. Peter Tork was the perfect choice for vocalist here; I’ve always thought there was something comical about his conversational singing voice (and that’s not meant to be a slight). The silly, over-the-top vocal improvisations during the instrumental breakdown, however, I could do without. RATING: 8/10
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone: We’re getting a bit more psychedelic now. One of the heavier cuts on the album, “Steppin’ Stone” remains pretty static musically, effecting a sort of drone. The instrumentation and vocals are full of attitude—there’s a real edge to this song. The singer demands to be acknowledged—this is the youth protesting the establishment in attempt to gain their rightful place in the world. Some studio experimentation would’ve improved this one though—potent though it is, it does ultimately fall a little flat. RATING: 6.5/10
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow): Yeah, this is unimpressive album filler. This Neil Diamond–penned track features a dynamic shift during the chorus, but offers little much else of interest. The steady beat, accentuated by handclaps, is the most appealing aspect of the song. Davy’s breathy I love you’s at the end, however, are cringeworth enough to derail the track entirely. RATING: 3/10
The Kind Of Girl I Could Love: Okay, this is trademark Nesmith. Country twang, infectious Peggy Sue–like rhythm, and a whole lot of melody. An underwhelming guitar solo is one apparent flaw, but it doesn’t really detract from the song much. More than anything, this song’s a promise of great things to come from a developing songwriter. The “You do something to my soul that no one’s ever done” section is easily the highlight of the song. RATING: 8/10
The Day We Fall In Love: Don’t let the modulated opening to this song fool you; this is not a good song. This is the antithesis of a good song. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to get Davy to speak the lyrics in an overly-intimate, breathy tone? (That’s a rhetorical question; I know exactly what they were trying to do with this song.) The tragedy here is that the instrumental, sappy though it is, isn’t actually all that bad. Shame about those vocals. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call this a spoken word piece. Absolutely awful. RATING: 1/10
Sometime In The Morning: This is a bit of an odd one out—lyrically, this song’s much more mature than the rest of the album. The singer’s reflecting on how being in love with this person has opened their eyes to all the beauty of the world; it’s a really pretty song, penned by Goffin and King. The guitar arpeggios have a weightless, serene feel to them here—the smitten sense of wonder really comes through in the music. Dolenz’ vocals here are delicate and sensitive to fully convey the potency of the lyrics. RATING: 8/10
Laugh: The penultimate song on the album has a very Monkees sort of feel to it, from the playful instrumental to the seemingly innocuous lyrics that are actually critical in nature when you break them down (the song’s basically saying that everything kind of sucks, but no one’s really paying attention because they’re too absorbed in the music, which serves as a form of escapism). There’s even a bit of Beatlesque snark here: “Laugh when you go to a party / And you can’t tell the boys from the girls”. But, if you’ll notice, I don’t really have much else to say about this one. RATING: 6/10
I’m A Believer: Is it blasphemy to say that I don’t really like this song? Like most people my age, my first exposure to this song was through the awful Smashmouth cover. Then I learned it was a Monkees song. Then I learned it was actually a Neil Diamond song. Okay, I can see why this was such a big hit. But it’s just so lacking in energy: Dolenz’s vocals are downright lazy and the beat just sort of bops along. It’s danceable, sure, but it’s hardly exciting. The melody is timeless, I suppose. All in all, it’s not a bad song to be known for, but it’s hardly the pinnacle of the Monkees’ discography. RATING: 7/10
Part III: The Album
Aesthetic: Let’s be honest, there wasn’t much thought put into this, was there? The album sells because of the Monkees brand, and that’s that. The cover is bland an unappealing with an ugly photo of the band set against a pukey green. “More of the Monkees” is a lazy title. It is apt though—there’s really nothing musically that distinguishes the songs here from those on the first album. The two are completely interchangeable. SCORE: 1/5
Artistic Merit: The bare minimum, in this case brought to the table by the various collaborators rather than the band themselves. At this point, the Monkees were still very much a manufactured band, and this was a manufactured pop album. It’s not a bad one, but there’s not much to impress here beyond a handful of catchy tunes. SCORE: 1/5
Flow: The album’s listenable in the sense that the songs all have a similar aesthetic, but as I’ve already mentioned, so did the ones on the last album. This isn’t so much an album as it is a collection of songs to be released as singles and featured on the TV show. I mean, I say that like it’s some sort of revelation but it’s not—that’s just a fact. The songs were recorded for the show, the album was compiled for a quick buck (seriously, look it up). SCORE: 3/10
CLOSING REMARKS: I’ve criticized this album for not being all that forward-looking, but that’s really a bit of unfair; it’s not like there wasn’t pop music in 1967. There was plenty of it, and as far as 1967 pop goes, I’m not sure it gets much better than the Monkees. And while the later albums are a lot better, the first two albums are really what the whole Monkees mythos is built upon. At any rate, don’t pass this one up just because it isn’t an artistic masterpiece—as I hope I’ve made clear, there’s plenty here to merit a listen.
FINAL SCORE: 55