Since we’re talking about it, I’m gonna go on a bit of a tangent about More of the Monkees. Many years ago I wrote a very brief ranking of the songs on the album and gave some facts about it, but I think this album represents a lot more than just a collection of pleasant yet often banal pop songs written by a coalition of the alleged best songwriters of the 1960s.
It’s very fitting that the cover is a putrid green shade, the color of dirty money. It featured the Monkees in “groovy” clothes from a JC Penney campaign they were forced to participate in. Not even the cover photo was real, it was spliced together between two separate photos.
Released at the apex of the Monkees popularity, this album was #1 for 18 weeks straight and has sold over 5 million copies in America alone. At that time, the Monkees could have released “happy birthday with a beat and it would have sold a million copies” (a quote attributed to Nez) or an album of various fart noises and it would’ve been a hit, that’s how hot they were at the time (keep in mind this album knocked of their first album off the top of the charts– where it had been #1 for 13 weeks).
This album represents everything critics hate about pop music, and the Monkees as “manufactured pop stars” and the worst part is the Monkees had nothing to do with it. They thought they were recording songs for the inclusion on their TV show. They thought they were wearing the hideous clothes on the album cover for a JC Penney campaign (both were true). What they didn’t know is that Kirshner was planning to release this album while they were on tour without their approval.
“A manufactured image with no philosophy”
This album was made to get as much money out of teenagers pockets and into the pockets of Kirshner and the NYC coalition of writers that he oversaw. On the back of the album he thanks the writers first– before the Monkees. No secret where his loyalty lies. Also on the back cover, his name is so prominently displayed it’s only slightly smaller than the name of the band. This is not a Monkees album; it’s a Don Kirshner album.
Now to delineate from the history lesson from a bit, I will say, despite the gross way in which it was assembled and released without consent, this album has some bops. Obviously “I’m a Believer’ and “Stepping Stone” are classics by any estimation, “Mary Mary” contains killer drumming that is so iconic it’s been sampled numerous times in hip hop, “She” is great dirty garage rock, and Micky’s vocals on “Sometime in the Morning” slay. But every time I hear this album I feel dirty. I feel bad because it sounds like greed and betrayal. The Monkees first album, made with the same coalition of writers and some contributions from Nesmith, has an innocent, carefree tone, much like the symbolic “we’re the young generation” refrain from their theme.
This album just feels cynical and fake. At one of the sessions when Nesmith brought in “Mary Mary” to record, someone in the Kirshner posse scoffed at it but said “well think of how many Mary’s there are,” implying well at least it will make them more money because it has a girls name in the title. This was not about music for them, this was about money. And control.
“There were some tracks that were brought in by producers from New York. The guys, they didn’t like that at all,” says recording engineer Hank Cicalo of The Monkees’ involvement in these East Coast matters. “I didn’t blame them; that was kind of
underhanded. A lot of that was Donnie: they wanted to do it in New York
with their musicians. [The Monkees would] come in, and we’d put vocals
on and percussion, stuff like that. Some of them were very basic; some
of them were full. You’ve got to remember that they were tired. It
was a horrendous schedule with a lot of pressure. So there were times
when a tune would arrive, and it wouldn’t be their tune, so there was
always that bit of intimidation.“
This album simultaneously ruined and helped their career. This album reaffirmed the belief of those in the mainstream press who had started to go in after the Monkees for being a fake band, mere puppets controlled by Kirshner in it for the money.
But Kirshner turned out to be the ultimate loser, when Nesmith and Tork, enraged about being lied to and cut out of the Monkees musical process, only became more outspoken in their desire to have musical control. Eventually they got Micky and Davy on their side and infamously went head to head with Kirshner with a single wall punch (and the blessing of Bert and Bob.)
So while this album discredited their talents at the time, in the end it’s what ended Kirshner’s reign as the Colgems music supervisor.
Peter Tork: “The second record was so angering because Donnie Kirshner was almost militantly out to cut us out of the
process,” says Tork. “It was like he was angry at us. On the back
[cover] of it is nothing but Donnie Kirshner congratulating himself for
having hired all these other good musicians. We were playing our music
on stage, and we were righteously pissed.”
Peter Tork: “We had to buy the album to hear it. Somebody went across the street to the mall and bought the album. We
were on the road at the moment. We were so enraged about it.”
So for me, it’s really hard to assess this album without putting into context the situation that was brewing during its release. This album represents the nasty side of pop fame. So many people think pop stars are just soulless people, controlled, in it for the money. To me that’s what this album represents, at no fault to the Monkees of course, who as we all can see, had no control over their music at all.
It was released to make a quick buck, with no thought for the Monkees or their vision, no thought to even make the recordings that great. Jeff Barry (a producer and Kirshner ally) even said years later, “The guitar
sounds out of tune,” he says. “Now that I’m hearing all of this, it was
kind of like a little hodgepodgey. As I recall, there wasn’t time. I
don’t remember picking these songs. I think [the powers-that-be said],
‘Here, cut these.’ Kirshner being the main supplier of the songs – he
published everything. I always remember urgency. Today you take six
months or a year. Don Kirshner just had all these writers going in and
making demos. The only difference between a demo and master was the
I think in retrospect this album represents the end of an era. This album represented the past; the Brill building stable of writers that wrote so many hit songs in the early 1960s, the nameless faceless backing band that Kirshner never gave credit, the cynical appeal to teenage girls without any heart behind it.
Mere months later the Monkees would be back at #1 for one week (and #2 the entire summer of love) with their own artistic statement: Headquarters. An album that somehow combined banjos, mantras, psychedelic freakouts, pedal steel guitars, sparse arrangements, songs about hippie ideals. It was an album that represented the now. It represented them. A week later it was replaced by Sgt. Pepper and pop music was finally allowed to be taken seriously as art and not music for kids. Old farts in suits weren’t dictating culture anymore, it was the teenagers. And they were tired of the bullshit.