Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mike Nesmith's Ten Greatest Monkees Songs

Say what you will about The Monkees (no one has ever pulled any punches before), but even the most blinkered, calloused critics admit one thing about the group they deride as “the Pre-Fab Four”: Mike Nesmith is a great, great songwriter. In celebration of ol’ Wool Hat’s 70th birthday today, I’ve put together a selection of his ten best. Or, more truthfully, my ten favorites.

Narrowing this list down was very, very hard, so I had to put some tough restrictions on myself. Naturally, there would be no songs Mike sang but didn’t write, which is why all of my favorite tracks from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones LTD. are MIA. Out went songs he didn’t write for The Monkees, such as “Different Drum” and my favorite of his solo tunes, “Mama Nantucket”. Even after instating those rules, narrowing the list down was still too difficult, which accounts for my final restriction: no songs Mike co-wrote. That meant three of the most painful cuts: “Sweet Young Thing”, “I Won’t Be the Same without Her”, and toughest of all, “Auntie’s Municipal Court”.

You may still notice that some of your favorite Mike Nesmith solo-compositions for The Monkees are missing from the list. Rest assured they are only missing because it would be kind of dopey to create a list with everything the guy wrote for his group. As far as I’m concerned, he never really wrote a bad Monkees song (one might cite “Writing Wrongs” as an example. I’ve always found it hypnotic and scary, though I can understand why someone else might dismiss it as pretentious rubbish). In any event, here’s the cream of a particularly healthy crop.

1. “Papa Gene’s Blues” (1966)

The Monkees were hardly taken seriously during their own time, but they were subtly innovative as early as their very first album. Nothing in 1966 sounded quite like Mike’s Cajun funk “Sweet Young Thing” (which he was forced to co-write with Gerry Goffin and Carole King) or the exhilarating Tex-Mex jambalaya “Papa Gene’s Blues”. With its rising and falling chord progression and simplistically joyful chorus, it remains one of Nes’s freshest compositions. With its tapestry of percussion and twangy guitars, it is one of his most enthralling productions.

2. “You Just May Be the One” (1966)

Mike’s commercial instincts are even sharper on the ridiculously catchy “You Just May Be the One”. With its cautiously romantic lyric and jittery bass riff, the track was a classic even before it appeared on LP. Several months before The Monkees remade the track for Headquarters, Mike cut a version with studio musicians that was regularly featured in season one of the “Monkees” TV show. With all due respect to the band—and Peter’s amazing bass playing—the Monkees’ version sounds a little too bare bones compared to the nearly overproduced studio-musicians version. I also prefer how Mike rattles off the title line rapidly instead of slow-drawling it as he does on the slightly less exciting Headquarters remake.

3. “Mary Mary” (1967)

Mike didn’t exactly write this for The Monkees. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded “Mary Mary” half-a-year before it appeared on More of the Monkees, but no doubt most people are familiar with the version spotlighting Glen Campbell’s gut-twisting blues riff and Micky’s soul stirring R&B vocal.

4. “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (1967)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

News Round Up: Zone, Kit, Spock, Ravi, and ‘The Who FAQ’

Many apologies for the lack of new stuff on Psychobabble this past month, but my absence here has allowed me to make great progress with The Who FAQ. I am now more than halfway through the first draft of my book, and if I continue working at this rate, I should have it finished before the spring. That means regular Psychobabble posts may resume sometime in March. I do, however, have a couple of decent-sized features on the way for late December/early January.

Until then, I need to get caught up with some news items that have slipped past this site since the beginning of December…

1. Actor Carey Elwes is gearing up to make his directorial debut with a bio-pic about the late Who-manager Kit Lambert next spring. Elwes is working closely with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend to make his profile of The Who’s troubled mentor as authentic as possible. Former Mojo editor Pat Gilbert supplied the script. Elwes has also been developing a comedic depiction of the meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon called Elvis & Nixon starring Eric Bana as the former and Danny Huston as the latter for a while, but it looks like the Kit flick might beat it into production.

2. Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer is currently at work on yet another “Twilight Zone” revival. This will be the fourth time someone thought they could do what Rod Serling did (and that’s not even including the 1983 feature film or the Leonardo DiCaprio helped TZ feature that’s been in development for the past four years). Like the original series, Singer’s “Twilight Zone” will air on CBS… assuming it doesn’t suffer the same fate as “Mockingbird Lane,” the dodgy “Munsters” remake he directed for NBC that didn’t go further than a pilot.

3. On December 11, Visual Entertainment Inc. released a massive 21-disc “In Search Of…” box set. Included are all 146 episodes of the creepy, Moog-synthesizer-smothered documentary series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, as well as a bonus disc featuring an adaptation of Brave New World starring Nimoy, Daniel Dae Kim, and Peter Gallagher. I’m trying to get my hands on a review copy of the set, but I’m not holding my breath. You can order In Search Of… The Complete Series on here

4. Finally, a quick mention of the recent death of Ravi Shankar. I’m sure you’ve already read plenty of tributes to the genius, but I’ve been feeling terribly remiss about not tossing in my respects. Most relevant to Psychobabble, Ravi Shankar helped spark the short-lived raga-Rock craze that gave us all those mesmeric numbers George Harrison created in the mid-sixties, as well as similarly enthralling pieces by the Stones, Donovan, Tomorrow, Traffic, The Cyrkle, Procol Harum, and every other pop band that navigated their ways around the sitar’s 20-something strings. But let’s not forget the man’s own music: blindingly virtuosic, but also subtle and pastoral. Side A of his Portrait of Genius is surprisingly lacking in showy displays of skill, and Shankar’s sitar often plays backup to the percussion and woodwinds. Then on Side B, he lets it rip on the dazzling twenty-minute “Raga Multani”, which says more about his brilliance than any amount of words could. So, here it is (somewhat edited, unfortunately):

Monday, December 10, 2012

Another 'Who FAQ' Poll! Vote for the Most Underrated Who Songs!

Once again I am reaching out to my fellow Whooligans for some input as I busily toil away on The Who FAQ. Last month I picked your purple-heart riddled brains about your favorite solo albums (that poll is still open, by the way). Now I'd like to know what you think are The Who's most underrated songs. I'm looking for songs that weren't hits, songs you won't find on The Ultimate Collection, songs that have never been used as a "CSI" theme, songs that if you shouted requests for them at a Who show, Roger would be like, "Huh?" and Pete would hit you with his guitar.

So choose up to five of your favorite odds and sods, and I'll profile the biggest winners in The Who FAQ. Hit me with your selections in the comments section below. Have at it...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: 'Movie Monsters in Scale'

Mark C. Glassy has a Ph.D in biochemistry. In 1982, he invented the first human antibody used to treat cancer. So what the hell is he doing making models of monsters? Having fun, of course, and fun is the real purpose of his new book, Movie Monsters in Scale. Sure, he offers plenty of pointers that may help you assemble, paint, and decorate your own models and dioramas, but as someone who never acquired that hobby, I still really enjoyed his book because gawking at his model collection is a lot of monstery fun. The problem is that his contributions to these packaged kits are largely down to his paintjobs, and most of these photos are in black and white. So Glassy spends a lot of time describing paint jobs we can’t really appreciate. There are 24 color pages to give a taste of his talents, but this book really should have received the full-color treatment.

Get Movie Monsters in Scale at here:

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