It's kind of amazing that in these 21st-century times a band that is arguably a throwback to the 1960s is providing much-needed solace during these turbulent times we've been enduring.
It is particularly heartwarming to listen to the new Monkees album called Christmas Party and finding that -- in its own way -- it's every bit as enjoyable as their equally unexpected reunion album from a couple years back, Good Times. If you missed my review of that album, please click here to jump to it.
So what makes The Monkees' Christmas Party so special? Well, it's again produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne and features some of today's great songwriters who are crafting tunes for the band much in the way that Carole King and Neil Diamond did for the group back in the 1960s. The album opens with one by Andy Partridge, the leader and founder of the band XTC -- a charming Ronnettes-like clap-a-long earworm called "Unwrap You At Christmas." It's a fun frolic full of frisky word play, a great way to start the album. You can watch the animated video for it by clicking here.
There are a bunch of new originals on The Monkees' Christmas Party including the feisty "What Would Santa Do" written by Weezer's Rivers Cuomo and REM's Peter Buck co-author's the rockin' title track.
Part of what makes this album special is the choice of classic cover tunes. So you'll hear Mickey Dolenz's owning everything from Big Star's "Jesus Christ" to Charles Brown's bluesy classic "Merry Christmas, Baby." Mike Nesmith croons a slightly country-fried version of the Nat King Cole chestnut "The Christmas Song." Mike also elevates a gorgeous song from the 1940s by Claude Thornhill called "Snowfall" in a lush, dreamy production this side of Sunflower-era Beach Boys and Ingenue-era k.d. lang. It is really that lovely. I've heard others do this: NRBQ does a jaunty version, which you can hear on Tidal by clicking here and Tony Bennett does a dreamy version as well (click here) But Mike Nesmith's arrangement has this sort of swinging laid back country-jazz pop ease that is just calming and wonderful. Kudos must go to Mike's son Jonathan who plays all the instruments and sings those rich backing harmonies.
One of the other great surprises on The Monkees' Christmas Party is a cover of Roy Wood's holiday classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday". For those of you who don't know Roy was the cofounder of the Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne so his songwriting credentials esteemed. This song came out after Roy left ELO and has gone on to become an enormously popular song overseas, hitting the Top 5 on the UK charts several times over the years! Those of us who are fans of Roy know this song well (and thus, yes, we consider it a "classic"!).
It's also quite special to effectively hear our beloved "Prefab Four" doing justice to a song written by one of the actual "Fab Four" (whom they were modeled after to begin with). The Monkees' take on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" is terrific, with lovely acoustic guitar signatures replacing the now-dated-sounding synthesizers Sir Paul used on his original version back in the day. I really like it!
One of my other favorites on the album is sung by the dearly departed Davy Jones and it's a little Hawaiian Christmas flavored ditty called "Mele Kalikimaka" -- pure holiday joy!
If all this wasn't enough if you go to Target to get your copy of The Monkees' Christmas Party on CD it comes with two bonus tracks including "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" written by Howard Kaylan (of The Turtles and Frank Zappa's Mothers and Flo & Eddie fame!). "Riu Chiu" comes from The Monkees' TV show and was previously released on the deluxe edition CD reissue of The Monkees Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones album (which you can hear on Tidal by visiting here or up on Amazon here).
We hope you have a very merry, wonderful holiday time with The Monkees' Christmas Party.