Capsule 1969-70: The Monkees & The Beatles Final Albums
by Fred Velez
During the 10 years the Beatles existed as a recording group they had released thirteen albums. During the Monkees initial 60’s lifetime as recording artists they released nine albums in four years. Both groups showed amazing creative growth as music artists. And in 1970, both the Beatles and the Monkees called it a day. There have been many parallels between the two groups, the Monkees TV show having been modeled after the Beatles movies ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’, with creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider incorporating the cinematic style of director Richard Lester into the series. While Don Kirshner does deserve credit in the commercial success of the early Monkees albums and singles, his refusal to allow the band to perform the music on their own recordings led to the ‘palace revolution’ that led to his ouster from the project and the Monkees being allowed to play on their records, in which their creativity, especially in the case of Michael Nesmith, was allowed to blossom. The results were the classic albums ‘Headquarters’ and ‘Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.’ and the singles ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and ‘Daydream Believer’, all helmed by producer Chip Douglas. In 1967 their TV show was a huge hit, their records topped the charts and they played to sold out audiences at their concerts as they rubbed shoulders with their heroes, the Beatles.
By 1968, both the Beatles and the Monkees were showing signs of fatigue and disenchantment. In 1967 the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein had died and the band tried forge ahead and film their TV special ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ which received mix reviews though the album (released as an EP in England) still managed to top the charts. The Monkees were getting tired of their TV show and wanted to move on, and with Rafelson, Schneider and up and coming actor Jack Nicholson on board, began filming their first full length motion picture. Initially called ‘Untitled’ and then ‘Changes’, the movie was finally titled ‘Head’. Around the time of the filming of the movie, the Monkees released their fifth album ‘The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees’ which charted as high as number three and their TV series was cancelled. The first single released after the shows’ cancellation, ‘D.W. Washburn’, charted as high as number 19, the Monkees last top 20 hit of the 60’s. During the same period, the Beatles had been writing and recording the songs that would eventually be included on their double album ‘The Beatles’, also known as the ‘White Album’. The sessions for the ‘White Album’ become fractious, hinting at the first signs of disharmony in the Beatles camp as each member of the group worked on their own compositions separately and only came together during the actual recording of the songs. Ringo Starr was so disillusioned by what was happening that he became the first Beatle to quit the band, though he eventually came back after some coaxing from the other members. The ‘White Album’ when released would top the charts, though on careful listening the record comes across as more of a collection of solo tracks rather than a group effort.
On the Monkees front, their movie ‘Head’ when eventually released was a commercial failure. Filmed by Rafelson as a statement about media manipulation and over-commercialization, and incorporating an unusual advertising campaign which initially never mentioned that the Monkees were in the movie, the movie confused the fans who were able to catch it in its original run and infuriated the ‘Hip Crowd’ who discovered that the Monkees were in it. Though it contained some of the Monkees’ best music and has since gained a cult following due to its cinematic and artistic creativity, ‘Head’ bombing at the box office was another sign in the downward spiral of the Monkees’ career. Rafelson and Schneider had by this time abandoned the group they had created and moved on to other movie projects which included ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Five Easy Pieces’. Peter Tork, long disenchanted at the direction things were going, stayed long enough to tape their TV special ’33 & 1/3 Revolution Per Monkee’ before quitting at the end of 1968. The special which followed the same media manipulation storyline as ‘Head’ but was not as well-executed, was scheduled to air in 1969 opposite the Academy Awards and tanked in the ratings. The Monkees, now down to trio with Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, soldiered on through 1969, making various TV appearances and releasing two albums, ‘Instant Replay’, ‘The Monkees Present’ and three singles ‘Tear Drop City’, ‘Someday Man’ and ‘Good Clean Fun’ which failed to leave much of a dent in the charts despite featuring some quality material from the individual members. A concert tour with the group backed by the R&B flavored Sam & The Goodtimers failed to draw in the sold out crowds they previously played to during their 1967 and their 1968 Far East tours. Michael Nesmith, seeing which way the wind was blowing, brought out his contract with Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures and took the first steps in embarking on his solo career, fulfilling some contractual obligations in filming some Kool Aid Commercials before officially leaving the Monkees in 1970.
1969 was not a good year for the Beatles either. Dissension was being felt in the group, especially after John Lennon met avant-garde artist Yoko Ono and began devoting more of his time on projects with her rather than the group he helped form. George Harrison was feeling creatively stifled that his backlog of songs were getting scant space on the group’s recordings. And Ringo was focusing on his acting career after already filmed the movie ‘Candy’ and was preparing to film ‘The Magic Christian’ with Peter Sellers. Added to this mix was the arrival of notorious manager Allen Klein who was hired to manage the money bleeding mess that the Beatles’ Apple Corps had become. Wanting to recharge the band’s creative batteries, Paul McCartney suggested that the Beatles record an album of new material shortly after the release of the ‘White Album’ which they would perform before a live audience, with the rehearsals being filmed in preparation of the show and issued as a TV documentary. The original name of the project would be ‘Get Back’, a reference to the Beatles returning to their live concert roots. The filming of the new material would take place at Twikenham Studios where the Beatles had filmed scenes for their earlier movies. The sessions were filmed throughout the month of January 1969, and from the beginning there was acrimony. The Beatles being night owls weren’t used to coming in early in the morning to be filmed, unlike the Monkees who were used to this daily routine while filming their TV series and the movie ‘Head’. While some great musical moments were captured during the sessions by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the cameras also captured the boredom, creative frustration and growing tension between the band members. One of the moments filmed was an argument between McCartney and Harrison where George told Paul that he would play want he wanted to play or not play at all, whatever would please McCartney. At one point George Harrison announced to the other members he was quitting and left the studios. It took some persuasion to convince him to come back under the provision that they leave Twikenham Studios and that the idea of the live show be scrapped, with the recording and filming to resume at the Apple recording studios. The sessions continued with the addition of fellow musician Billy Preston joining the Beatles in adding his distinct keyboard playing to the recordings. Preston took some of the tension out of the sessions and when the idea of ending the film with a live show raised itself again, a compromise was made to do the concert on the roof of the Apple headquarters building. So on January 30th, 1969, the Beatles along with Billy Preston, the camera crew and their wives and girlfriends, trudged to the Apple building roof, plugged in their instruments and played their new songs live to the frosty rooftops of London, the music being heard by the gathering lunchtime crowds on the street and those who watched the performance from nearby windows and other rooftops, witnessing what would be the final live concert by the Beatles.
The tapes of the month long sessions were stored away, the group members not really interested in plowing through them. Several attempts were made by engineer Glyns Johns to assemble some kind of album from the various tapes, though none were really considered satisfactory. A single was put together of ‘Get Back’ backed with ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ which captured the live feel McCartney was hoping to achieve, the single reaching the top of the charts. The group however were sliding farther and farther apart, John being more involved with Yoko, George working on his own solo material and Ringo concentrating on his acting career as well as putting together his first solo album of Standards. Paul McCartney was also working on his own solo recordings, but still wanted to record one more Beatles album. With producer George Martin they managed to re-gather the other members of the group to do a straight forward Rock album which became ‘Abbey Road’, the last full album the Beatles would record together. At a meeting in discussion of the future of the band where McCartney made the suggestion about touring again, John Lennon shot down the idea and announced that he was leaving the group. It was agreed to hold back on a public announcement until Apple record royalty negotiations had been completed by Allen Klein.
As 1970 began, rumors were flying in the Rock press that there was dissension in the Beatles’ camp. With the documentary of the ‘Get Back’ sessions being assembled for a theatrical release, the pressure was on to issue a soundtrack of music from the film. As George Harrison’s song ‘I Me Mine’ was filmed and to be included in the film but had not been properly recorded, a session that featured only Harrison, McCartney and Starr was set to record the song in what turned out to be the last Beatles recording session. In an effort to put together some kind of album from the multitude of tracks recorded, legendary producer Phil Spector was brought into the project at the behest of John Lennon and George Harrison. Spector listened to the tapes and applied his own ‘Wall of Sound’ techniques to the songs, which include heavy orchestration and choral accompaniment to Paul McCartney’s ‘The Long and Winding Road’, much to McCartney’s displeasure. Under Spector’s watch an album was assembled for a co-released with the finished film, both which had been retitled ‘Let It Be’, and slated for released on May 8, 1970. More acrimony was raised when Paul McCartney in announcing the release of his first solo album ‘McCartney’, also issued a press release that he was quitting the Beatles. The news sent shock waves throughout the music world that the most successful Rock group in history were breaking up, with further repercussions to come with legal action taken by McCartney to remove Allen Klein’s involvement in his business affairs, which meant Paul had to in effect sue his former partners in order to oust Klein as a manager. Due to latter revelations that Klein had made unscrupulous business decisions for his own benefit, the other three Beatles eventually agreed that McCartney’s actions were proper in removing Klein.
In the Teen Magazines, a blurb announcing that Michael Nesmith had officially quit the Monkees and was forming his own band did not receive the media attention of McCartney’s statement, though many Monkees fans who were still loyal to the group were equally upset by the news. Nesmith’s announcement was followed by the news that Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones would continue as the Monkees and would soon be releasing a new album in the group’s new configuration as a duo. Despite a backlog of quality songs, the powers that be at Colgems Records made the decision to book sessions for new songs to be recorded for the next album. Jeff Barry who had recent success writing and producing records for the Archies and had produced the Monkees biggest hit single ‘I’m A Believer’, was hired to produce the sessions for the next Monkees album. With Andy Kim, Barry co-wrote several songs for the album, ‘Oh My My’, ‘Do You Feel It Too?’, ‘I Love You Better’ and also penned his own ‘Tell Me Love’, and co-wrote ‘Ticket On A Ferry Ride’ and ‘You’re So Good To Me’ with Bobby Bloom. Barry also pulled a song he wrote for the Monkees in their earliest 1967 sessions ’99 Pounds’ for inclusion on the album. Other songs written for the album included ‘It’s Got To Be Love’ by Neil Goldberg, ‘Acapulco Sun’ and ‘All Alone In the Dark’ by Steven Soles and Ned Albright. The rest of the album was fleshed out by Micky Dolenz’ ‘Midnight Train’ which had first surfaced as a demo with Micky’s sister Coco during the ‘Headquarters’ sessions and which Micky recorded properly in 1969 and ‘I Never Thought It Peculiar’ by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who had helped steer the Monkees early success with their first single ‘Last Train To Clarksville’. The Boyce & Hart track replaced the song ‘Time And Time Again’ written by Davy Jones and long-time Monkees friend Bill Chadwick, which would not see inclusion on the album that would be titled ‘Changes’ till it was reissued on CD in 1994. The album title ‘Changes was ironically the original title for the Monkees movie ‘Head’. While Dolenz and Jones handled the recording sessions as professionals, ‘Changes’ was in essence a contractual obligation, Jones in later years voicing dissatisfaction with the record.
April 1970 saw the release of the ‘McCartney’ album, put together from self-recorded sessions at Paul’s home featuring several tracks like ‘Teddy Boy’ and ‘Junk’ which McCartney had first submitted during the ‘Get Back’/’Let It Be’ sessions. One song off the album ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ would become one of Paul McCartney’s most popular tunes. McCartney had vocally insisted that his solo album be issued prior to the Beatles next album, and after an angry confrontation between McCartney and Ringo Starr when Starr delivered a message from Lennon and Harrison to delay the release of Paul’s album, the rest of the Beatles acquiesced to McCartney’s demands and allowed him to have his way. The group’s ‘Let It Be’ album was released in May of 1970, a month after the ‘McCartney’ album. As with previous Beatles’ albums, the record topped the charts, though initial disappointment was voiced by both the press and the fans. After the slick George Martin production of the previous ‘Abbey Road’ album, the Phil Spector embellished ‘Let It Be’ got mixed reactions. The Beatles had previously announced that the album would be a return to their roots as a live band, and to some respects with the tracks recorded on the Apple roof like ‘Dig A Pony’, ‘One After 909’, ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ and a reprise of ‘Get Back’ they were able to capture that live feel. Other tracks, however, were subjected to Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ techniques, in particular Lennon’s ‘Across The Universe’, Harrison’s ‘I Me Mine’ and to McCartney’s displeasure ‘The Long And Winding Road’ with it’s over the top orchestration and choral arrangement which overwhelmed the simpler and sparser Beatles’ arrangement that McCartney preferred. As producer George Martin would cheekily remark years later that the credit on the album should have read ‘Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector’. (Paul McCartney would later spearhead the ‘Let It Be-Naked’ release which removed the Spector production and presented the music closer to how McCartney originally envisioned it.) As noted, the album was another hit for the Beatles and would be the last album released during the lifetime of the group. And after the magnificence of the previous ‘Abbey Road’, the true final album recorded by the Beatles, ‘Let It Be’ as the final released group album, while it had its merits, critics like the New Musical Express’ Alan Smith wrote “If the new Beatles’ soundtrack is to be their last then it will stand as a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop” in expressing their disappointment with the record. The cover of the album and movie poster featured four separate photos of the Beatles’ faces, an adequate representation of a fractured group. John Lennon’s ad lib quip at the end of the album and film closer ‘Get Back’; “I’d like to say thank you and on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition!” became an unintended and appropriate goodbye from the Beatles to their fans. The solo careers of John, Paul, George and Ringo had begun.
The Monkees on the Joey Bishop Show in 1969 with Mike Nesmith. Micky and Davy’s image would be used for the cover of the ‘Changes’ LP.
In June of 1970 the Monkees album ‘Changes’ was quietly released to record outlets with little fanfare. The album’s production by Jeff Barry brought Micky and Davy back to the groups’ earlier ‘bubble gum’ Pop period of the first two Monkees albums. After previous excellent and well-received albums like ‘Headquarters’ and ‘Pisces’, Barry’s production made the album sound more like an Archies album than a Monkees one. Despite his professional efforts, Jeff Barry was unable to replicate the success he had with the production of ‘I’m A Believer’. Despite songs from the album being featured on episodes during the Saturday morning reruns of the Monkees TV series , ‘Changes’ became the only Monkees album during their initial period to not make a dent in the charts, though the lead-off single ‘Oh My My’ did manage to chart at number 98. A second single pulled from the album, ‘Acapulco Sun’, was issued in Mexico where it became a minor hit in that country. Micky and Davy did make some promotional appearances in support of ‘Changes’, including a music video for ‘Oh My My’. Despite earnest efforts, ‘Changes’ was a commercial failure and the records’ initial pressing was limited, making it for a long time, before being reissued by Rhino Records in the 1980’s and 90’s, the rarest of the Monkees’ commercially released albums. Peter Tork commented about a Music industry joke at the time that Micky or Davy were going to quit and one of them would release an album as ‘The Monkee’. Peter also pointed out an observation that on the albums’ cover Micky and Davy were facing away from each other. The photo used was taken from a 1969 appearance on the Joey Bishop Show that had originally included Michael Nesmith. (In an additional irony, the 1986 Rhino reissue of ‘Changes’ would chart in the Billboard Top 200). Dolenz and Jones recorded one more single together with producer Jeff Barry, ‘Do It In The Name Of Love’/Lady Jane’, which was issued as ‘Mickey Dolenz & Davy Jones’ on Bell Records in 1971. As with the previous album release, the single failed to chart. With their contractual obligations having been met, after over five years together with various degrees of success and failure, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones went their separate ways pursuing their own solo careers, and the Monkees’ 60’s saga came quietly to an end.
First Solo Albums by Paul McCartney and Michael Nesmith
Shortly after the release of ‘Changes’, Michael Nesmith reemerged on the scene as a solo artist with his group the First National Band with the release of his first proper solo album (after the 1968 all instrumental ‘The Wichita Train Whistle Sings’) ‘Magnetic South’, produced by Elvis Presley’s producer Felton Jarvis. The album, comprised of songs that he had originally written and recorded while in the Monkees, it would feature Nesmith’s first hit ‘Joanne’ which received decent radio airplay and was covered by artists like Andy Williams. ‘Magnetic South’ featured a blend of Country Rock, a genre Nesmith was championing during his stint in the Monkees, and would also be pioneered by artists like Gram Parsons, Ricky Nelson among others. Critics who had initially dismissed Nesmith while he was in the Monkees started to take notice of his new material. He would follow up ‘Magnetic South’ in 1970 with ‘Loose Salute’ which featured another hit single for Nesmith, ‘Silver Moon’. While he would have various degrees of success and disappointments with his recordings for RCA, Nesmith’s material as a solo artist would grant him a degree of admiration and respect that initially eluded him in the Monkees. His later ventures in to the emerging field of music video would earn him an additional level of industry respect. The Monkees themselves would reemerge to renewed success in the 1980’s due to the reissue of their TV series on MTV and the re-release of their recordings.
1970 ended with both the Beatles and the Monkees disbanding in a cloud of acrimony and disappointments. Through the 70’s and beyond the parallels would continue, where the members of both groups would encounter various degrees of success and failure as solo artists, with the fans supporting them through the good and the bad. As the decade of the 70’s started with an air of uncertainty for the future of the Beatles and the Monkees, as the decade pressed on for the two groups and their fans, the ride was just getting started.
Fred Velez, 2014
Author of ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees From A Fan’s Perspective’