Sometimes, cool things just sneak out right under your nose. Such was the case with a series of very sweet 180-gram colored vinyl resissues of late period Monkees LPs courtesy of the folks at Friday Music. The company made a big splash before Christmas last year with the uber limited edition run of 500 orange vinyl copies of The Monkees Greatest Hits (a collection out of print since 1969 believe it or not!).
What got lost in the sauce were the reissues of the last three 1960s-era Monkees LPs, also on colored vinyl. Each comes in deluxe gatefold sleeves with beautiful period accurate artwork on the outside, and cool related bonus images inside (lyrics, 45 sleeves, etc.). Even the Friday Music labels mimic the original Colgems design on the disc. Each LP comes in a plastic lined inner sleeve and a thick plastic outer sleeve (they are not shrink wrapped, which I think is fantastic -- I always suspect that shrink wrapping contributes to warping of LPs).
As audiophile releases, you may well question whether the 180-gram pressing is overkill. I argue: it couldn't hurt! Mastered from the original mixdown masters, these sound pretty much identical to original pressings I own (of two of three anyhow). While these are not dynamic range masterworks like Dark Side of the Moon, there are cool moments that benefit from the low noise floor. And for the price (well under $25 a piece via Amazon) they are a great deal. If you can find pristine original pressings of these albums, you'll likely pay more more.
Here's how they stack up:
One might consider this The Monkees' Magical Mystery Tour given this album's technicolor cover art and the mish-mash of unreleased and new tracks. Horns and strings that kick off the album on the rollicking trippy "Through The Looking Glass" led by Mickey (it could have been an outtake from their Head album, or easily fit onto a Turtles album from the period, for that matter). Mike Nesmith's "I Won't Be The Same Without Her" is a lovely harmony-dreched Byrds-meets-Mamas&Papas pastiche, replete with country-tinged guitar touches and plenty of tambourine. "Me Without You" is a neat rewrite of The Fabs' "Your Mother Should Know," giving Davy a chance to show off his theatrical roots. Likewise, Mike gets to show off his growing prowess as a writer of great country western songs on tunes like "Don't Wait For Me" and "While I Cry" (remember, Nesmith wrote hits for the likes of Linda Rondstadt and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band around this time).
Even Davy contributes an original with his shockingly aggressive psychedelic rocker "You And I" (is that perhaps Neil Young or Stephen Stills on lead guitar?). "Tear Drop City" was recorded in 1966 and sounds it -- dropped in to the nicely paced track listing, the tune sounds a bit out of place with its erzatz "Last Train To Clarksville" guitar riffing. It is a cool little song, but you can hear why it was left in the can -- it was released as a single which only reached #56. Overall, however, Instant Replay was a promising collection that made it to #32 at the time surprisingly enough -- apart from Monkee fanatics I've me over the years, I have never met anyone who had this album (or any of the ones discussed below) at the time (I know, you're shrugging "whatever" at this point, right?). Anyhow, the good news is now you can hear what you missed the first time 'round.
Available on 180-gram red vinyl for under $25 via Amazon
If Instant Replay was their Magical Mystery Tour, this album might well be considered The Monkee's White Album (it apparently originally was going to feature a side for each member, but Peter left the group around this time so it was pared down to a single LP). Quite possibly my favorite of the late period Monkees discs, this album is an eclectic mix of country-rockers, psychedelic pop and flower-powered vaudeville, all with a surprising amount of lyrical candor and social commentary. It has some killer tunes on it such as "Listen to the Band," "Good Clean Fun" and "Oklahoma Backroom Dancer." "Mommy & Daddy" is a amazing trippy psychedelic pop song written by Mickey Dolenz dealing with social issues (the plight of the American Indian, drug abuse, Vietnam, etc.) that is as close as the Monkees get to doing a conceptual homage to Frank Zappa (tackled like-themes on We're Only In It for the Money a year earlier, particularly the song "Mom and Dad"). Mickey's "Bye By Baby Bye Bye" is also a nifty acoustic folk rocker -- these were grown up Monkees, no doubt. "Ladies Aid Society" could be an outtake from The Kink's Village Green Preservation Society. Apparently the Monkees toured for this album backed by a seven piece band -- I wonder if any concert recordings exist? I'd love to hear this material in a live setting.
Available on 180-gram yellow vinyl for under $25 via Amazon
This last album finds The Monkees reduced to a duo and expanding their horizons a bit more to the pop realm. This is perhaps due to the influence of Jeff Barry with whom the band reunited for this 1970 set - he produced many of their early hits and was then enjoying success driving hits for The Archies (Don Kirshner's cartoon made-for-TV band follow up to The Monkees, btw). Changes is a nice album, with a nice mix of early 70s singer songwriter type pop sounds ("Ticket on a Ferry Ride") and groovy rockers like "99 Pounds" and the single release "Oh My My." Curiously, its the least Monkee-sounding album of them all. Nonetheless, if you liked groups like The Cowsills, The Partridge Family, The Seekers and other vocal pop bands of period, you'll enjoy Changes.
Also vailable on 180-gram green vinyl for under $25 via Amazon