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)