When the Monkees first began thinking about recording a new album to celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, they had a lot more questions than answers. “We were saying, ‘What can we do?'” says Monkees singer/drummer Micky Dolenz. “‘What is feasible? What is realistic in terms of touring and TV to support it? What kind of album would it be? Would there be multiple producers? Multiple writers? Would all three of us even be on it?'”
Their confusion was understandable. Ever since the Monkees called it quits back in 1971 due to rapidly dwindling public interest and the simple fact that half the band had quit, their activities were largely limited to periodic reunions tours with lineups that seemed to shift every time they hit the road. There were two new albums (1987’s Pool It! and 1996’s Justus), but neither of them made a real impression with fans or critics and were instantly forgotten by all but the most devoted fans.
The hope was to finally record a Monkees album that could be compared to their classic 1960s LPs, such as Headquarters, the Head soundtrack and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The group’s trademark is owned by Rhino records, and label executes Mark Pinkus and John Hughes were quite eager to will this project into reality. “They wanted to build up their own catalog,” Dolenz says. “And not just be a catalog company for other people’s material. The new regime over there was quite interested in exploring what new things we could do.”
They began reaching out to songwriters known to be Monkees fans – Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and XTC’s Andy Partridge – to see if they’d contribute new songs, and they pored through the vast Monkee vault in search of discarded Sixties tunes they could flow into the album. They also phoned up Fountains of Wayne frontman Adam Schlesinger to ask if he’d produce it. “My eyes lit up when they said his name,” says Monkees guitarist/singer Peter Tork. “He wrote ‘That Thing You Do,’ which is a perfectly balanced piece of music. It manages to not be derivative, yet completely evocative of the time it’s supposed to represent. It’s one of the few neo-Sixties songs I’ve ever heard that actually worked.”
Schlesinger, who was a Monkees fan as a small child and rediscovered them in the mid-Eighties when MTV began airing reruns of their old television show in blocks, didn’t take much convincing. “I said I really wanted to make the record sound like a classic Monkees record,” he says. “I didn’t want to update their sound. I just wanted to do it really well. That doesn’t mean making it overtly retro. It just meant making it sound like what I would want to hear a Monkees record sound like.”
A key part of that sound is the voice of Davy Jones, who passed away from a heart attack in 2012. Luckily, they were able to unearth a previously unreleased 1967 recording of Jones singing Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love” that required little more than some new background vocals before it was ready for release. Also in the vault was the Carole King/Gerry Goffin tune “Wasn’t Born to Follow” (which now has a new vocal from Tork), the Jeff Barry/Joey Levine song “Gotta Give It Time” and Harry Nilsson’s “Good Times!” that he wrote in 1968 specifically for Dolenz.