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Monkee Business Revisited

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Last winter, while Fishof was busy convincing the recalcitrant Monkees to tour, the executives at MTV, headquartered one floor above him, were simultaneously mulling over how to present the fifty-eight Monkees episodes they had acquired from Columbia Pictures. The rock-video channel aired forty-five shows back-to-back one weekend in late February, ran two episodes a day in March, three a day in April and then repeated the weekend marathon in late June. "We've never received such a volume of mail," said MTV's Freston. "We were dumbfounded by the whole thing."

At the same time, Rhino and Arista were giving the group's records a second lease on life. One and a half years ago, Harold Bronson, a cofounder of the California-based reissue-oriented Rhino label, licensed rights to the Monkees' nine original albums. The initial batch of reissues included lesser-known, post-TV-show albums. The label had intended to lead off with the first four Monkees albums but delayed their release until the original master tapes could be tracked down. The wait proved fortuitous: Rhino's reissue of The Monkees, More of the Monkees, Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricom and Jones coincided with this summer's tour and TV hoopla, and all four albums entered the charts simultaneously.

Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, Arista records began assembling a greatest-hits package. Arista staffers Roy Lott and Mitchell Cohen, unaware of any impending Monkees activity, began batting around a track lineup back in December. For them, it was a "weekend project," a labor-of-love package to celebrate the band's anniversary. By February, they'd learned that a reunion tour was in the making, and Lott asked Dolenz if he and the others would be interested in recording some new songs. Tork and Dolenz assented, and the two cut three new songs in mid-May with producer Michael Lloyd. Jones chose to pass on the project.

The finished album, Then & Now… The Best of the Monkees, comprises eleven old songs and the three new tracks. Already, "That Was Then, This is Now," a cover of a song by the Sixties-influenced New York City band the Mosquitos, has bulleted into the Top Twenty, and the album has sold 600,000 copies. A new album for Arista, involving the three current Monkees, is tentatively in the works for next year, and even Nesmith may participate in a TV movie that's on the drawing board. Dolenz, Jones and Tork are not involved with another project in the offing – a new series from Columbia Pictures Television based on the original Monkees TV show.

Miraculously, two decades after their creation, the Monkees are making people happy again – especially concert promoters. The Monkees' hour-long show includes twenty-two songs and a goodly dose of their whimsical personalities. Micky is still the group's resident maniac, stopping the show with his knee-dropping, speed-rapping, James Brown-style performance of "Goin' Down." Peter, the Monkees' best musician, sings amusing novelties like "Auntie Grizelda." And little Davy Jones still manages to melt the girls' hearts, holding hands with swooning audience members while crooning "I Wanna Be Free."

Just what is it about the Monkees that has hit such a resonant chord in 1986? The songs, written by such pop stalwarts as Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond, Carole King and Harry Nilsson, hold up surprisingly well, as do the Monkees' well-produced records. The TV shows were witty and well written, and precursors of today's "video music." Exposure has kept the Monkees' name alive over the years. They now have a three-tiered following of original fans with a born-again interest in the Sixties; another audience that watched them in syndication in the Seventies; and that group's younger siblings, whose route to Monkeemania was MTV.

There may be generations of unborn Monkees fans still to come. In the meantime, however, Harold Bronson of Rhino Records has the final word on their present-day success: "People are responding to those elements that were unique about the era that the Monkees embrace – the exuberance, the adventurousness, the artistry. All of those elements that are lacking today."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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