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The Monkees’ Present Box Set

August 13, 2013 by  
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The Monkees’ Present Box Set

by Fred Velez

For the past several years Rhino Records has released an excellent series of Deluxe Editions of the first four Monkees albums, plus an outstanding series of Monkees box sets focusing on the group’s albums between 1968 and 1969, (‘The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees’, ‘Head’, ‘Instant Replay’), all filled to the brim with outtakes, alternate takes, unreleased songs and period Radio commercials. Included in the packages are booklets filled with rare photos, original album art, interviews and extensive liner notes by Monkees historian and archivist Andrew Sandoval, and a bonus vinyl 45, with picture sleeve, featuring 2 alternate tracks not found in the box sets.

The latest Rhino box set addition is the 1969 album ‘The Monkees Present’, the last Monkees album of the 1960′s to feature Michael Nesmith as a member. (Peter Tork had departed the group in late 1968.) The original concept for ‘Present’ was to a be a two record showcase for each of the Monkees, including Peter, with a side dedicated to each individual group member. After Peter left, the concept was re-thought to a side for each of the remaining Monkees with the fourth side being a group effort. With dwindling record sales and interest in the group, the final product was scaled down to a single LP with the three Monkees having four tracks each spread throughout the album. The album has been considered by fans over the years as the Monkees last good album with several strong songs mixed with earlier recorded tracks, their last grasp at musical creativity, and is sort of the Monkees equivalent of the Beatles ‘White Album’ in the diversity of music found on it. The new box set reveals a whole treasure trove of unreleased recordings, the majority of them real gems. All the tracks spotlight the individual talents of each Monkee and their various musical styles. Some of these songs have appeared in Rhino’s ‘Missing Links’ series, but also include alternate studio versions and mixes of songs first heard in that series of CD’s.

Besides the twelve tracks from the original ‘Present’ album, among the additional treasures included are tracks from Michael Nesmith’s 1968 Nashville sessions, plus backing tracks recorded in 1969 minus vocals. These are particularly fascinating to hear because of the quality of the musicianship by the top notch Nashville/Hollywood session musicians and it’s a shame that no vocals were added to these tracks. ‘Omega’ and ‘Little Tommy Blues’ are just a couple of the standout tracks, the latter being a real cool Blues number, and you can hear the joy in the musician’s voices as they play it, you can tell they were having a great time recording it. Some of the finished songs like ‘Calico Girlfriend’, ‘Little Red Ryder’, ‘Hollywood’, ‘Carlisle Wheeling’ (‘Conversations’) would be rerecorded by Michael Nesmith and be featured on his later solo albums. Other Nesmith tracks like ‘Angel Band’ and ‘Of You’ (which was written by long-time Monkee friend Bill Chadwick and his brother John) are excellent and it’s a shame they were never released at the time. There are also two 1969 remixed versions of ‘Circle Sky’ which is great to listen to, though it makes one wonder why Nesmith felt the need to remix the song twice when it is basically the same version found on the ‘Head’ soundtrack. These various tracks though do point in the direction Michael Nesmith would take when he eventually pursued his solo career after this album was released.

The box set also allows Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones to shine as singers and song writers. Micky’s ‘Little Girl’, ‘Bye Bye, Baby, Bye Bye’ and ‘Mommy & Daddy’ are among his best penned songs, the latter one in alternate versions being a very sharp-tongued, social critique. A great highlight for Micky are several versions of ‘Steam Engine’, one of the best unreleased tracks he recorded as a Monkee, with great guitar work played by Clarence White of the Byrds and a pedal steel solo by future First National Band member Red Rhodes, and heard on some episodes of the Monkees Saturday morning reruns. ‘Steam Engine’ is an excellent song that should have been released as a single at the time. Micky’s talent as a singer is further explored in an alternate unreleased take of ‘You’re So Good’ produced by Michael Nesmith, Micky’s singing on this track is particularly outstanding. The liner notes reveal how much Nesmith encouraged Dolenz in his songwriting. And Micky’s sister Coco assists her brother on backing vocals on some of the tracks, the blend of their voices is marvelous to hear.

Davy Jones shines as a performer, singer and songwriter on this set. Several songs Davy co-wrote with Bill Chadwick are featured. Among the Jones/Chadwick collaborations include ‘If You Have The Time’, ‘Time and Time Again’ along with ‘If I Knew’ and ‘French Song’ written by Bill Chadwick, appearing in various finished and alternate versions. ‘If I Knew’ and ‘French Song’ I consider among Davy’s best Monkees songs on record and Davy was very fond of these songs as well. ‘French Song’ in particular evokes the imagery of an arty, New Wave French romance film, which was Bill Chadwick’s intention when he wrote it. It’s a shame Davy never performed this song live in concert, though there’s a rare appearance of Davy performing ‘French Song’ in the obscure 1971 movie ‘Lollipops and Roses’. And thankfully there’s also a video of Davy performing a shortened live version of ‘If I Knew’ in 2010.

One unreleased Jones/Chadwick gem is ‘How Can I Tell You’ with a very nice vocal performance by Davy. The song itself has a nice, easy listening quality to it and would have been a good song for Frank Sinatra to record, it fitted well with Sinatra’s style. A real revelation is ‘Opening Night’ written by Davy’s former writing partner Charlie Smalls who would later gained fame by writing the Broadway hit ‘The Wiz’. ‘Opening Night’ is a prime example of Davy’s ‘Broadway Rock’ style which really grooves and Davy sings it with lots of gusto and assurance in his performance. Listening to this song makes one wish that Davy had followed his instincts at the time and returned to the stage and Broadway rather than continue down the ‘Teen Idol’ route after the Monkees career puttered out, Davy’s solo career might have turned out a little differently. ‘My Storybook Of You’ by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart features another good performance by Davy of a song he enjoyed and is presented in a couple of versions on the set.

Containing 85 tracks, plus a bonus vinyl 45 of two alternate tracks, there’s a lot to digest in this box set. But with all the gems included, it’s a treasure hunt well worth pursuing. An additional surprise one will find while exploring this collection is that among the musicians playing on the sessions, especially on some of the 1966 and 1968 tracks, is one Peter Tork. So even though this album features the original ‘Threekees’ configuration of Mike, Davy and Micky, the set actually has all FOUR Monkees on it! (For those who get the set, I’ll leave it for you to find the tracks with Peter).

The set is beautifully packaged like the previous Monkees box sets by Rhino, featuring original album art, record ads and rare photos with meticulously written and informative liner notes by Andrew Sandoval who supervised the project.

Like the previous Rhino Monkees sets, this collection not only gives one a renewed appreciation for the original 1969 album, but also for the talents of the Monkees themselves as performers, singers and songwriters. It’s a shame the original ‘Present’ album was not successful at the time, but it’s a nice feeling to know that it has received it’s well deserved due. According to Andrew Sandoval, because the multi-tracks for ‘Changes’ have as yet to turn up, it’s unlikely that a box set for ‘Changes’ will be forthcoming in the future. So, it’s nice to see some tracks like ‘I Never Thought It Peculiar’ and ‘Midnight Train’ on this set to give ‘Changes’ some representation.

If you already have the previous Rhino Monkees box sets, as well as the deluxe editions of the first four albums, then I definitely recommend you add ‘The Monkees Present’ box set to your collection. This may be the last Monkees’ box set, but it concludes the series on a very satisfying high quality note.

Fred Velez, 2013

The Monkees Present Box Set

Track List:

DISC ONE:
1 Little Girl
2 Good Clean Fun
3 If I Knew
4 Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye
5 Never Tell A Woman Yes
6 Looking For The Good Times
7 Ladies Aid Society
8 Listen To The Band (fake stereo mix)
9 French Song
10 Mommy And Daddy
11 Oklahoma Backroom Dancer
12 Pillow Time
13 Time And Time Again (November 1969 stereo mix)
14 Down The Highway (November 1969 stereo mix)
15 Steam Engine (November 1969 stereo mix)
16 If You Have The Time (November 1969 stereo mix)
17 Angel Band (November 1969 stereo mix)
18 Rose Marie (November 1969 stereo mix)
19 I Never Thought It Peculiar (No strings & backing vocals – August 1969)
20 Of You (November 1969 stereo mix)
21 Kicking Stones (1969 mix)
22 If I Knew (Bill & Davy’s stereo mix)
23 The Crippled Lion (November 1969 stereo mix)
24 My Storybook Of You (Tommy & Bobby’s stereo mix)
25 Carlisle Wheeling (November 1969 stereo mix)
26 French Song (LP master with alternate ending – stereo)
27 Hollywood (stereo)
28 My Storybook Of You (“New” 1969 stereo mix)
29 Circle Sky (“New” 1969 stereo mix)
30 Kool Aid spot

DISC TWO:
1 The Monkees Present radio spot
2 If I Knew (TV Mix mono)
3 Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye (mono)
4 Looking For The Good Times (mono)
5 Ladies Aid Society (1969 mono mix)
6 Listen To The Band (single mix)
7 French Song (TV mix mono)
8 Mommy & Daddy (1969 mono mix)
9 Circle Sky (1969 “New” mono mix)
10 Penny Music (TV mix mono)
11 Apples, Peaches, Bananas And Pears (1969 mono mix)
12 Of You (1969 mono mix)
13 I Never Thought It Peculiar (1969 mono mix without overdubs)
14 Kicking Stones (1969 mono mix)
15 Listen To The Band (LP version true mono mix)
16 If You Have The Time (1969 mono mix without Moog)
17 Midnight Train (TV mix mono)
18 My Storybook Of You (mono)
19 Steam Engine (mono)
20 Time And Time Again (November 1969 mono mix)
21 Mommy & Daddy (7/1/69) stereo mix 3
22 I Never Thought It Peculiar (September 1969 mono mix with overdubs)
23 Bye Bye Baby Bye (July 1969 stereo mix)
24 If You Have The Time (1969 mono mix with Moog)
25 Mommy & Daddy (7/2/69) stereo mix
26 Time And Time Again (November 1969 alternate mono mix)
27 Monkees Greatest Hits radio spot

DISC THREE:
1 Little Girl (take 7)
2 Calico Girlfriend
3 If I Knew (take 11)
4 You’re So Good (alternate mix)
5 Little Red Rider (alternate mix)
6 If You Have The Time (take 4)
7 Music Bridge “We’ll Be Back In A Minute” (take 12)
8 Listen To The Band (alternate stereo mix)
9 French Song (take 3)
10 Mommy And Daddy (May 13, 1969 stereo mix 9)
11 Thank You My Friend (backing track – take 4)
12 Pillow Time (Takes 8 & 9)
13 How Can I Tell You
14 Steam Engine (1969 rough stereo mix)
15 Time And Time Again (take 1)
16 Good Afternoon (take 14)
17 Opening Night
18 Lynn Harper (backing track – take 8)
19 Music Bridge “We’ll Be Back In A Minute” (take 18)
20 The Good Earth (alternate take)
21 London Bridge (backing track – take 4)
22 Music Bridge “We’ll Be Back In A Minute” (version three)
23 A Bus That Never Comes (backing track – take 9)
24 Omega (backing track – take 8)
25 13 Is Not Our Lucky Number (backing track)
26 Michigan Blackhawk (backing track – take 4)
27 Little Tommy Blues (backing track – take 5)
28 Till Then (backing track – take 2)

VINYL 45:
A Good Clean Fun (alternate mix with extra percussion)
B Mommy & Daddy (7/10/69) mono mix

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