Sunday, June 26, 2016

How Casual Fans Can Celebrate 50 Years of Monkees Music

There has never been a better time to be a fan of The Monkees than now, as the group celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new hit album and a nationwide tour that's currently underway.

However, if you don't have the time or the budget for all of their recorded output over the last five decades, here's a quick primer on how to enjoy 50 years of Monkees music in just four or five albums.

Greatest Hits (1995)

This 20-track collection provides a good overview of The Monkees' most popular songs from their 1960s heyday, including the trippy “Porpoise Song” theme from their 1968 psychedelic cult theatrical feature film Head. The album also contains the 1986 reunion hit single “That Was Then, This Is Now” from the successful record Then and Now … The Best of the Monkees, as well as “Heart and Soul,” the lead single off the 1987 reunion album Pool It!

An alternative to Greatest Hits is …

The Best of the Monkees (2003)

This album contains five more songs than Greatest Hits, as well as a few different tracks. It also comes with a second bonus disc of karaoke versions of five numbers. Although you get slightly more Monkees music than the previous collection, the main drawback here is that the set is strictly limited to the 1960s, with no cuts from later decades. And some fans will like it more just for that.

Pool It! (1987)

This is The Monkees' first reunion album, minus Michael Nesmith (who was preoccupied at the time with his Pacific Arts music and video production company). It continues the Monkees tradition of other songwriters and musicians composing and performing most of the music. Although it was released during the height of The Monkees' popular comeback tour, it failed to chart. Nevertheless, it is a perfect modernization of The Monkees' sound, with the vocal talents of Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork blending seamlessly with 1980s synth pop.

Justus (1996)

After a nearly 30-year absence, Nesmith finally rejoins Dolenz, Jones, and Tork, and as the title explicitly states, it's Justthem. In addition to singing, all four Monkees wrote, produced, and performed all the music on the album. And the results are remarkable, if not fully appreciated. The Monkees prove they have true garage band grit, but they also exhibit polish and finesse when they need to. This is also the best showcase of Nesmith's impressive guitar skills.

Good Times! (2016)

Twenty years after producing and releasing Justus, The Monkees are back in a big way, celebrating their 50th anniversary with a new tour and this sparkling new album, which debuted at number one on Amazon and number fourteen on The Billboard 200. Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith record new songs and complete unfinished old ones, with the now dearly departed Jones making an appearance via a vintage recording of a Neil Diamond composition. The album marks a return to form, with other songwriters and musicians composing and performing most of the music. The best part is that Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith, now in their 70s, sound as youthful and energetic as ever.
The Monkees magic continues!
--Raj Manoharan

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