If I was asked to name the top 5 (or even top 10) musical artists that mean the most to me I would find it incredibly hard to do. I’d spend days agonising over who to include and would want to change it immediately I’d finished. If I was asked to pick one band that would definitely be in the top 10 my first answer would probably be The Monkees.
Good Times! has been released to coincide with the band’s 50th anniversary and is their first release since Justus in 1996, and the first since the death of Davy Jones. These factors do lead to the very real likelihood of this being the last time we’ll get a new Monkees album. The very, very good news is that, if it is to be their last album, it is among the best of their career and one of the best albums released by anyone this year.
In common with their most successful albums of the late 60s, Good Times! features the pre-fab four on all the vocals and mixes them in with a team of top quality session musicians to produce the album. The album was produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, and his love for the band and the sounds of the 60s is evident throughout.
The title track kicks things off in great style and symbolises the album by mixing session work from 1968 with additional instrumentation from the contemporary band. Songwriter Harry Nillsons’ original vocal is mixed as a duet with fresh vocals from Mickey Dolenz (perhaps the most underrated singer of his era) and the scene is set for a fun-filled collection.
The album features a batch of songs written by songwriters from first time around (Nilsson, Neil Diamond Goffin & King, Boyce & Hart) alongside a song apiece from each of the surviving members. In addition to this a crop of contemporary artists provide a healthy handful of tracks for the record (although given that only Zach Rogue is an artist who arrived this century, and his song didn’t make the final album*,’ contemporary’ is a bit of a push).
The least successful of the new songs is by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller and the knowing title ‘Birth of an Accidental Hipster’ is as clumsy as their attempts at a psychedelic pop mash-up. It isn’t a bad song, and the performances are great, but it doesn’t match the overall song-writing quality here. I also have issues with Noel Gallagher being included as a songwriter on the album, should someone who once derogatorily stated about Blur “People say we’re the Rolling Stones and that Blur are the Beatles. We’re the Stones and the Beatles. They’re the fucking Monkees!” be given the honour of writing for such a wonderful band?
The playing is superb throughout and Tork and/or Nesmith play on most of the tracks here. The session musicians capture the band’s classic sound perfectly, and there is a real magic to the tracks recorded across a 49-year period.
First and foremost this is a Monkees album, and each of the original members delivers great vocal performances here. Dolenz has the bulk of the tracks and sounds like he is enjoying every minute, Tork delivers what may be the definitive version of ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’ and Nesmith takes the lead on Ben Gibbard’s ‘Me and Magdalena’ (which may well be the best song of the year so far). An updated session of a Davy Jones vocal gives the late-singer a presence on the album. It is a typically sweet tune and sits perfectly in the middle of the album, his distinct voice sounding great with Dolenz and Tork adding harmonies.
It is a wonderful album and one that I know I’ll return to again and again over the coming years. What is pretty unique and special about the record is that it manages to be one of the best albums of 2016, and also sound like one of the best albums of 1968.
By Dorian Rogers
*The tracks that didn’t make the album include one by Zach Rogue, a second Partridge song, a song written by Peter Tork’s brother and a different version of ‘Me and Magdalena’. These tracks are available variously on the digital release or through a few country specific releases. It would have been good for Rhino to have put a second disc of these tracks for the people who purchased the CD or vinyl on first release.