This year has been a bittersweet one for The Monkees, beginning with the passing of Davy Jones in February at the age of 66, and ending with the conclusion this month of the reunion tour of the remaining Monkees.
This has led me to listen once again to Justus, an original studio album that was released during The Monkees’ 30th anniversary in 1996. It is the first album to feature The Monkees writing, producing, and performing all the songs entirely by themselves, and the last album to feature all four Monkees.
The Monkees have always been famously maligned for not writing their own songs and playing their own instruments on the majority of their hit recordings in the 1960s. Still, The Monkees at one point outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, proving that music lovers and buyers connect above all else with the songs themselves and the singers who sing them.
On Justus, The Monkees prove that in addition to being fine singers, they are also excellent musicians. In fact, they’re so good that it’s easy to forget that they’re playing the instruments in addition to singing. Micky Dolenz plays drums, Davy Jones plays percussion, Peter Tork plays bass and keyboards, and Michael Nesmith (the predominant holdout from various Monkees reunions throughout the years, and the one who looks the least like his former self) plays guitars.
My favorite songs on the album are Nesmith’s progressive, rollicking redo of his Monkees tune “Circle Sky,” the Nesmith-penned rant rocker “Admiral Mike” with aggressive, in-your-face vocals by Dolenz, the Dolenz hard rocker “Regional Girl,” Tork’s Cars-like “Run Away From Life” sung by Jones and featuring an ‘80s-style synthesizer solo, Tork’s haunting “I Believe You,” Dolenz’s self-reliance and self-empowerment ode “It’s My Life,” and Jones’s album-closing anthem “It’s Not Too Late.”
In light of the fact that Davy Jones is the first of The Monkees to leave us, it’s especially fitting that his are the last lead vocals on the album, especially on a song that could be as much about the relationship of The Monkees as it is about the relationship of a couple.
Because of this, no matter what the remaining Monkees do or don’t do, they will never have any unfinished business.
Personal Monkees Tidbit: I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Tork in the early 1990s at a local cable television station where I had been working. Tork was the latest in a long line of vintage celebrity guests on the poor man’s David Letterman show that was produced there. I was working master control for the station (I had nothing to do with the show at the time), and Tork came in asking for a bandage for his nicked finger. (I had actually met him earlier in the evening and gotten his autograph on a Monkees LP.) I don’t remember whether I was able to give him a bandage or had to refer him somewhere else, but, ah, what a memory! --RM