Remembering the Monkees 20th anniversary tour, 30 years ago

The Monkees released a new album titled Good Times! on May 27th. It's their first new studio album in 20 years (since Justus in 1996), and their first album following the 2012 death of founding member Davy Jones. In short, Good Times! is very good, and has been well-received, both critically and commercially. The album was recorded by surviving original Monkees members Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith; one lead vocal track recorded by Jones in 1967 is utilized for the song “Love To Love”. Also, Dolenz and Tork have embarked on a North American tour which will run until October. What brought about these events? 2016 marks the Monkees' 50th anniversary.

I was not yet born when the Monkees debuted -- on TV and on record -- in 1966. However, I do remember when the Monkees embarked on a 20th Anniversary Tour in 1986, and the recordings that resulted from that particular reunion 30 years ago.

During their 1986 reunion tour, the Monkees played in over 100 North American cities over the course of seven months. The tour was a huge success, setting off an incredible new wave of Monkeemania. MTV showed episodes daily from the '60's TV show, and sales of the band's back catalog - as well as the compilation album Then And Now...The Best Of The Monkees - soared. The Monkees' surprising resurgence helped to legitimize them as more than just a "fictitious" band created for a TV show.

20th Anniversary Tour 1986 was a live album recorded during that tour, sold in double-LP and cassette formats at stops on the Monkees' 1987 tour the following year. It was not properly issued on a record label, and it was not labeled as an album by The Monkees; instead, it was billed as an album by Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork. (As usual, Nesmith sat this tour out, joining the other three on stage only once -- but that's another story). It’s surprising that this album was never released commercially, because it’s everything that most listeners would want it to be. It’s consistently entertaining, with the three Monkees deftly trading vocal duties and repartee reminiscent of their TV show. Their eight-piece backing band was solid and professional. The sound quality is very good, despite the between-tracks choppiness. The song selection includes nearly all of the Monkees’ best-remembered hit songs (most of them pre-Head), as well as their then-new songs “That Was Then, This Is Now” and “I’ll Love You Forever” (the latter of which finds Davy Jones sounding quite Lennon-like in this setting), and Tork’s “MGB-GT”. If you’re wondering who sings the lead vocal on Nesmith’s “Listen To The Band”, all three of them tackle it in two minutes. And you may want to note that the closing rendition of the Monkees TV theme is only an instrumental performance by the supporting musicians. We really couldn’t have asked for a better souvenir of the 1986 tour than this fun-filled album. (Note: The same album was later available on CD from the Monkees fan club in 1994, simply titled Live!).

The success of the 1986 tour resulted in much Monkee business during the following year. The same trio embarked on another tour in 1987. And during that same year, two very different attempts were made to update the Monkees – in both sound and concept – for the ‘80’s. Unfortunately, both of those attempts were ill-fated.

One of those attempts was made by the real Monkees. Dolenz, Jones, and Tork recorded an obligatory new studio album (their first in 17 years) titled Pool It!, a boring bag of store-bought synth-pop songs that bear no resemblance to the Monkees songs of old. The Tork-penned-and-sung “Gettin’ In” is the danceable high point, but the other two Monkees are not heard to good effect here. Jones is mostly stuck singing weak saccharine ballads, including his own “(I’ll) Love You Forever”. The Dolenz-sung songs show a bit more enthusiasm, but the cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” is the only half-interesting one. Pool It! is currently available, but is not recommended.

The new wave of Monkeemania also led to the formation of a new quartet called the New Monkees in 1987. This quartet recorded one self-titled album, and starred in the syndicated New Monkees TV series which lasted only 13 episodes. The show, produced by Columbia Pictures Television, was an embarrassingly inept attempt to create a new musical situation comedy series that updated the original Monkees TV show concept for the MTV generation. This idea may have had some potential, since the musical interludes on the original Monkees episodes are often considered to be among the earliest music videos, but the New Monkees series just fell flat on its face.

The New Monkees bore no resemblance to the old Monkees, except maybe in terms of cuteness. Bassist Marty Ross had previously played in a power pop band called the Wigs; the other three New Monkees were Larry Saltis (lead guitar, vocals), Jared Chandler (guitar, vocals), and Dino Kovas (drums, vocals). The music on their self-titled New Monkees album was the type of commercial pop-rock fluff that was prevalent in the mid-‘80’s, just before the explosion of hair-metal; think Mister Mister, the Outfield, Glass Tiger, Cutting Crew, etc. The New Monkees album was far from the worst recording to come out of that school. It was well-produced, and the band did have talent; Saltis’ guitar leads gave some of the songs a stronger spine than many others from that place and time. But it’s an expendable album just the same. Where the original Monkees’ songs were written by top-tier songwriters of the day, the New Monkees’ songs were written by the likes of John Parr, Eddie Schwartz, and Tom Cochrane (their cover of Cochrane’s “Boy Inside The Man” is one of the more noteworthy tracks). The New Monkees album is a lightly likable footnote, nothing more.

Davy Jones / Micky Dolenz / Peter Tork - 20th Anniversary Tour 1986

Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork "20th Anniversary Tour 1986" (no label, FSH 71110) 1987

Track listing:

1. Last Train to Clarksville
2. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
3. (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
4. Cuddly Toy
5. Goin' Down
6. Pleasant Valley Sunday
7. I Wanna Be Free
8. Your Auntie Grizelda
9. She
10. For Pete's Sake
11. That Was Then, This Is Now
12. Shades of Gray
13. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
14. No Time
15. Daydream Believer
16. Listen to the Band
17. Randy Scouse Git
18. I'll Love You Forever
19. MGB-GT
20. Valleri
21. I'm a Believer
22. (Theme From) The Monkees

The Monkees - Pool It

The Monkees “Pool It!” (Rhino RNIN 70706) 1987

Track Listing:

1. Heart and Soul
2. (I’d Go The) Whole Wide World
3. Long Way Home
4. Secret Heart
5. Gettin’ In
6. (I’ll) Love You Forever
7. Every Step of the Way
8. Don’t Bring Me Down
9. Midnight
10. She’s Movin’ In With Rico
11. Since You Went Away
12. Counting On You

New Monkees - New Monkees

New Monkees "New Monkees" (Warner Bros. 9 25642-1) 1987

Track Listing:

1. What I Want
2. Do It Again
3. I Don't Know
4. The Way She Moves
5. Boy Inside the Man
6. Burnin' Desire
7. Whatever It Takes
8. Affection
9. Carlene
10. Corner of My Eye
11. Turn It Up