By Winter of 1966 into ’67, America was in the grips of Monkeemania. What began life as a TV version of “A Hard Day’s Night” had exploded into a full fledged phenomenon. There was “The Monkees.” The groundbreaking, subversive TV series spearheaded by Bob Rafelson & Bert Schneider, staring four young actors/musicians—Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz. But there was also The Monkees, the musical side to this that had, right along with the TV series, exploded into the top of the charts with their debut single “Last Train to Clarksville.”
In the months leading up to the show’s debut, the musical side was largely looked at as just making a soundtrack album. Headed by label head Don Kirshner—who had an ego the size of Texas and then some—Kirshner saw his chance to mold The Monkees into being “bigger than The Beatles” and he succeeded. But every single part of The Monkees’ saga can be pointed to one event has the incident that changed everything. The release of their second album on January 9, 1967—“More Of The Monkees.”
The Monkees themselves were in the middle of a grueling schedule, making a TV series by day, recording albums by night. Kirshner’s idea of making pop records was to overload and then pair it all down to a record—a staggering 34 songs were recored for “More of The Monkees”—which only has 12 songs on it. Though The Monkees had grown uncomfortable with the image of “this is a band” and not “this is a soundtrack” that had been presented to the world—all four of them were from musical backgrounds, and Nesmith is one of the great innovators of Country Rock.
Even the show’s producers were concerned with how much they were increasingly being cut-out of the music side’s production. The Monkees weren’t even told their second album was out, they found out on tour when a member of their production staff went into a J.C. Penney’s and saw it for sale. The Monkees rebelled. Demanding creative control over their music output, Kirshner balked and had the attitude of “You signed a contract. Sing the songs, take the money, be quiet.” But they didn’t just do that. They wanted to be in control as the music sales soon surged beyond the ratings of the TV show—and in perhaps the only time in history—the producers in charge of the series sided with them.
But as they took control of their music and fate into their own hands, “More of The Monkees” would become the band’s biggest selling album—staying at number one on the Billboard charts for a staggering 18 weeks! The album’s lead single “I’m a Believer” went Gold before it was released thanks to 1,051,280 advanced orders. “More of the Monkees” is a perfectly fine record—though their best stuff would come later, now that they had control of the music. It’s also an album I have a soft spot for—it was the first Monkees album I ever owned. I was 12 years old and wanted to get a song I heard on the show that wasn’t on the greatest hits package. Even some 30 years later, the TV show was still selling records (which is how Monkeemania 2.0 began in 1986 when MTV aired the show and caused a whole new generation to fall in love with The Monkees).
The arguments of The Monkees band or not have been long set aside and put to bed. They are a beloved band and the one thing I have bonded with more people over than anything else. You know who else loves The Monkees? Rhino Records, who for the last decade or so have been doing amazing reissues of the band’s catalog—the newest is a gloriously over the top, three CD box “super deluxe” edition of “More of The Monkees.” This box set version of the album comes with an overwhelming (in a good way) 93 tracks, and is limited to just 4,500 copies.
I own this album in several forms. There’s the CD issue from the mid ‘90s I’ve had since I was 12, Rhino’s 2006 two-disc deluxe edition—with the both the album’s stereo and mono mixes, plus bonus tracks—and an original vinyl from 1967. Without question, this is the finest release of the album yet. New remasters of both the mono and stereo mixes are included—both sound the best they ever have on a CD release of the album—especially the Mono mix, which has so much more punch and presence than it did on the 2006 release.
Almost all of the 34 songs recored for the album are included, and nearly every single track on the album has a new stereo re-mix made in 2017—at the time the final stereo mixes were usually a generation or two away from the original master tapes due to the limitations of four track recording technology at the time—these new remixes, from my understanding—take the generation gap away and provide a nice, brighter version of the songs than what was on par with stereo mixing of the mid 1960s. The highlight of this box full of highlights, are the earliest known recordings of The Monkees’ live—playing together—and yes it is them playing—in Arizona in 1967. Nesmith kicks off the concert by saying “We hope this will disprove some rumors.”
This is an amazing collection, and a must own for a Monkees die-hard like me. A band who got so much crap for decades, it’s nice to see that their catalog has received about the best treatment of any band’s could have with these lavish, box set editions. See you next week.